The San Francisco Examiner online has a big section on Gay Pride Week. It reminded me of why I’ve always found gay self-identification strikingly different from all other major group identifications.
There is no doubt that people tend to try to find like people, and this is true whether they group themselves by religion, ethnicity, profession, education, skin color, dog-ownership, sports fanaticism, neighborhoods, political ideology, etc. I know that as a Jew, even a non-religious one raised outside of the Jewish community, I still have had, throughout my life, enough Jewish identity to play Jewish geography when I meet someone new who happens to be Jewish. Opening gambit: “Where are you from?” Wait for answer. Then, the question: “So, do you know….?”
I also play lawyer geography, which revolves around “Where did you go to law school” and “Where do/did you practice law.” It’s amazing how often one finds a nexus. I can also play the game based on having grown up in San Francisco, especially since I went to a high school that drew students from all over the City.
What’s interesting about gay identification is that it’s the only major group that self-identifies by sexual behavior. I know that there are arcane subgroups, people who are into S&M or some such stuff, who also seek out people of common sexual behaviors, but they’re neither a political nor a social movement.
As you know, while I’m very cautious about making swift and ill-thought out changes to our social and political systems based upon homosexuality and its attendant self-identifiers (transgender, bisexuality, etc), I’m quite libertarian about what people do in the privacy of their own homes. I really don’t care with whom you sleep, as long as its consensual and you keep the details to yourself. I don’t expect you, if you’re gay, to keep that fact to yourself. After all, the mere fact that I have a husband is a public announcement that I am heterosexual, isn’t it? Nevertheless, beyond the identity of your partner, which you are allowed to share with me, there is nothing more I want to know about your sex life.
What I’ve noticed over the years, though, is that, because the only thing that distinguishes gays from others is their sex life, politicized gays have become very opening about place their sex lives front and center. I can see why they do it. If they don’t, they’re just you and me, only with different bed mates.
Why does this behavior matter? Because of the way in which Gay Pride celebrations, played out on the streets of San Francisco, tend to be overtly sexual.
Years ago, before I had children, I went to see the Gay Pride Parade, which marches proudly down Market Street, San Francisco’s main street. It starts with Dykes on Bikes, which is somewhat amusing, if you don’t mind that 50% of them are naked women on a public street. Then the floats come. I have no problem with the proud police officers, and fire fighters, and lawyers, and hospital workers, and parents and friends, etc. Even then, though, I was prudish enough to have a big problem with the proud (and naked) genital wrappers (if you don’t know, you don’t want to), or the proud (and naked) partner whippers, or the proud (and naked) whatever else should be confined to the bedroom kind of people. (Although not as out there as the Folsom Street Fair, Zombie’s gallery of photos from that show, many of which are quite x-rated, gives you a good idea of what marches down SF’s streets on your average Gay Pride parade.) All I could think of as I watched these people flaunt their bedroom behavior as a way of cementing their identity was “This is tourist season. What if a family unwittingly comes across this parade?”
As for me, I think I would be very much more sympathetic to the Gay rights and Gay pride movement if it would observe a “less is more” philosophy. When one adds to the fact that I’ve always been a bit of a prude the fact that I’m now a mother, I see in myself less and less sense of fellowship with a group that’s gone from being downtrodden to being a group that flaunts its often extreme sexuality in the very streets on which my little ones walk. A gay lawyer is someone with whom I can identify. A gay genital binder who uses a social/political parade to demonstrate his sexual preferences just offends me.