Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Minority Report

I'm currently re-reading the autobiographical book Modern Nature by Derek Jarman, and I was really struck by the following passage in the book:
"When I was young society seemed so totally restrictive I found that the time I did not spend on the piers or bath houses wasted. The heterosexuality of everyday life enveloped and asphyxiated me. I numbed myself to this life - something which all gay men and women do even if they bury the hurt of it."

I found this quite a powerful statement. Jarman is writing in the context of his own upbringing in England during the '50s and '60s, and the new conservative Thatcherite Britain of the late 80's. An environment that spawned the infamous Clause 28. I was in London in 1988 and remember vividly the anger of the anti-Clause 28 movement and AIDS activism. The justifiable feeling that gay people were being invalidated, demonised and allowed to die.

In his films and his writing Jarman takes a very sex positive stance, which I admire. It's probably hard to imagine these days, but beats and bath houses were at one time a primary social outlet for gay men not just a sexual one. For some men they still are the primary place where they can connect with other men.

It was the statement about being enveloped and asphysxiated by the heterosexual world, and numbing oneself and burying the hurt of it that really got me. I have to say that this kind of rang true in parts for me. Especially as a young man, and as a teenager, I craved any kind of representation I could find. Validation I guess. I still do seek out films, tv and books that have gay characters. If the statistic that gay people make up approximately 10% of the population is true, even today there isn't 10% of the public media that represents me. Everything from advertising to politics parades an endless stream of heterosexual singles, couples and families.

It is true that the times and environment where I live is a much more positive and accepting one that the one Jarman was writing from. Even still, it is somewhat hurtful to look around and rarely see myself and my gay brothers and sisters represented.

It might sound like an odd suggestion, but the day I see a gay couple mixed in with all the other couples in a Coke commercial I'll feel like we've reached some sort of milestone.


Sunshine said...

This is so true, although I'm personally dubious about the 10% figure. I think in reality, it's more like 5-7% tops. In any case, I know exactly what you mean. I've always found gays within the main stream invisible and when you do find them occasionally, you feel as though you're part of this secret society like vampires. I know what you mean by the Coke ad though. Mine's the Nissan Patrol ad where they show different "families" would find the car suitable. Why don't they show a gay couple, seeing that they are recognising "alternative family units"?! Hopefully, things will continue to get better.

Michael said...

I sometimes laugh at my persistent and pervasive ferreting out of ALL things gay in pop culture. Even now, as a grown man, it's like I'm starving for it. Is it validation? I think it's just the constant need to feel like "us" instead of "them" after all those years growing up other.

The Other Andrew said...

Michael, I still think that's a form of validation. Yes, I do it too. If we were better represented we wouldn't have to look so hard.

Sunshine, I guess because sexuality is hard to quantify it's hard to establish a true % for how many people are gay. I mean, do you or don't you include bisexuals, people who have gay sex but don't 'identify' as gay?...

Michael said...

Yes, of course. My clumsy wording made it sound like I was contrasting "validation" with the "us/them" thing, when I meant to say it was much the same.

As for percentages, I agree wholeheartedly that sexuality is hard to quantify. It's fluid! ;-)

The Other Andrew said...

Fluid! *snerk*

"Clumsy" is not a descriptor I've ever considered for you Mr Mike. I guess Freakgirl will be able to confirm or deny that one... ;P

Anonymous said...

about 8ish years ago I read part of a (seemingly quite even-handed non-political scientifically bent*) article which put a figure at about 5-7%, so I think Sunshine is on the right track.

that didn't include bisexuality. they didn't give a figure for this, as has already been mentioned, it seems quite fluid, and depends heavily on how you want to construe the term. I wish I could remember more about the article. it was good.

I guess as a straight chick it's hard to imagine an 'us' and 'them' because of being in the majority?

which is not to say that what you're writing about isn't for real! it is. I agree.

I find it so hard to believe it's a point of descrimination... really. sexuality is just one facet of anyone's being - descrimination because of it seems so... stupid.

but I also believe that pinning one's whole exsistence/sense of self on that one facet to be unbalanced. by the same token, I don't have to contend with hostility about my sexual preferences, so of course I don't have to be as focussed about them. does that make sense? I'm in no way raining on anyone's Mardi Gras parade here ;-)

I also have always had a (relatively stupidly) naive idea of love and attraction just being about love and not gender per se. so I never saw an 'us' and 'them', just people who love and are attracted to each other. I still sometimes like to think gender doesn't have a thing to do with love. it's people.

mind you, that's not taking into account lust for hawt bodies etc ;-)

* ha ha, I said bent!

The Other Andrew said...

Speedy, gay men and women sometimes get accused of focussing too much on their sexuality... but I think you can almost equate that to saying that feminists are too much focussed on being women. It sort of doesn't stand up to scrutiny.

Only with gay people we are even more invisible (well, most of us!). People will assume you are straight unless you make it clear you aren't, it's because heterosexuality is the dominant culture. You kind of have to raise your hand and ask for acknowledgement, and let's face it it's same-sex love and attraction that sets us apart.

The gay community is very sexualised, but it's the most obvious expression of our difference in many ways. Sometimes it's done to shock and give the finger to the establishment, at least that's true with much of Mardi Gras for instance. To me being gay is less about sex and more about who I love - other men. I'm hardwired that way.

Mikey (The Lovely Ex) said...

I agree with Sunshine (and Speedy) on the 5-7% issue. And I too can't stand that Nissan Patrol commercial. Alternative my arse! I had this conversation with The Gay Porn Star and his girlfriend (no you didn't read that wrong) on the weekend. He didn't really get the "why is it always about being gay" stuff. But I explained it to him (using the old "blue eyes/brown eyes" sociology metaphor) and he got it in the end (ooh err...).

I figure there's hope still. I feel we're about to come out of the repressive attitude we've had over the last 5 years or so and move into a newer era of inclusiveness with the rise of more (small "l") liberal governments in the US and (hopefully) Australia.

Besides, "young people" do seem to have less of an issue with it and increasingly less. I still remember very fondly the time when I met my god daughter (she was about 5) with her parents at Peters of Kensington (homeware emporium for you OS types). I was there with a (female) friend of mine from work. Anyway, Andrew and I were going out at the time and Rachel (the god daughter) had always seen me with Andrew. She seemed a bit phased in the store at the time and I only found out from her parents later that she was confused. When they got home, she asked her parents "Why was Michael with a girl"... It cracked me up when I heard it. Now that is what I call inclusiveness.