Gay men: lose the attitude
A high-school friend once wryly noted “You have a horseshoe up your ass, Teeter!” after I bounded to my feet unscathed from yet another nasty fall.
In the decades that followed, life’s twists left me with scars one might expect for a man of my advanced middle years. But here’s the news: at 56, the “lucky” label still fits. Nope, no horseshoe in my nether region (though there might be room), just the good fortune of receiving a lot of help along my wobbly way. Like many others who have survived HIV, I’m grateful to be alive. But more than that, I’m happy, happier than I’ve ever been. And that’s saying something for a positive greybeard in Vancouver’s high-attitude West End “Village”, arguably the most discriminatory of Canada’s queer communities.
Here, a pleasant hello, prompting a smile or at least a curt nod in most city neighbourhoods, is returned to sender untouched, skillfully unnoticed. A head turns, eyes shift, a street is crossed—whatever it takes to avoid engaging a common passerby. Farther down Davie Street, a second greeting attempt, another return to sender, then another, and another. And in the social venues of our Village, a disquieting discourse: “Queen…girl….pig…girl…whore…girl…bitch…cocksucker…girl…tart…cunt…girl.”
If the audio were available, oft-heard Village banter might be placed in a high-school locker room or a weight room, the mantra of a tough lad urging a grunting buddy to push a little harder. But no, the location of the skanky talk is a plush gay diner, a fetish workshop, a Pride cruise, a night at the baths, or an evening at the Pumpjack Pub. So many references to girls by guys who talk of heaving, throwing up at the thought of a vagina. Childish, you bet. It seems many of us still think of Mommy when a woman enters the room.
Hard to take, isn’t it boys, the truth that many of us are as screwed up about sex as the straight sods who doggedly look to Christian churches, even masturbation-intolerant Catholic priests, for sexual guidance?
So much irony, calling each other girls when we are as deathly afraid of women as many straight men are.
So why am I so fucking happy? Because I’m finally getting it. And it’s not about women; it’s about sex. Sex scared the shit out of me, and it doesn’t anymore.
Accepting my bit of the dysfunction here was the first step to getting it. Getting over my “attitude”, the notion that my shit didn’t stink. Taking responsibility for my craziness, my sadness, my anger, my cruel blows; recalling my coldness (men snagged in my traplines, toyed with and dismissed), the women I ignored (missed because they were in my way).
The second bit was realizing that sex is a hell of a lot more fun when I stick around to enjoy it instead of floating off in fantasy. And it’s all good—especially the kinky, stinky, slithering, slimy stuff—as long as it’s consensual, it doesn’t hurt me or my partner, and it’s within the law, or at least in private. It’s enough to put a smile on any face. Of course the other bit, the hardest bit, is remaining open to my priorities: my friends, my writing, my bike-riding, my workouts, my walks by the ocean.
Sounds simple enough, but it’s taken me a hell of a long time to get here. And I still have a long way to go. My biggest stretch involved taking the time to address my feelings, figuring out what the hell works for me, finding the strength to cast aside the judgment, hypocritical messages. So much shit to wade through. But I’m getting there. The way forward is complicated by the resistance by many to owning their shit, passing it off as an entitlement, a special gift of sorts, “attitude”. And it’s getting in the way of growth, intimacy in our Village, my home since 1985.
It’s ironic that communities taking ownership of the word pride (one gay organization took legal action, claiming exclusive use of the word) are so riddled with internal cruelty and judgment. Though, of course, that’s often the way with a minority so ridiculously misunderstood, so horribly abused. Earlier in my career, I specialized in reporting on First Nations issues. There, too, there was internalized anger, red-hot rage bottled up, unspeakable pain, self-loathing, throngs of families mourning the premature death of a loved one, suicidal behaviour on a massive scale.
Our pain, our confusion, has now been packaged and marketed. And we’re a big hit, an international sensation. We’re here, we’re queer, and we’ve got attitude! The “attitude” industry—stereotyping gays as nasty, elitist, and narcissistic—is financing, producing, and promoting celebrity and high-fashion content across the media spectrum, displacing and smothering serious sexual-liberation and human-rights content. Trending now… attitude.
The sarcastic, biting gay caricature is old news, a carryover from the “attitude” reflected in 1970’s groundbreaking gay-themed movie The Boys in the Band. A Rotten Tomatoes review notes the homophobic tone made famous in the movie: “The self-loathing was deplorable.” Another reviewer notes: “At times some of the actions are so cruel you have to wonder how these people could of been friends before and how could they still be friends after.”
Plug the words attitude and gay into Google and up come Attitude magazine, “attitude” travel agencies, “attitude cruises”, “attitude” skiing, “attitude” greeting cards, and “attitude” coffee cups.
Turn on the TV or radio and you find “attitude” presented with the standard sissified flair, the word girl liberally lacing the commentary. We get “attitude” weather, an “attitude” social calendar, and “attitude” fashion critiques. “Attitude” producers (mostly straight men) cleverly use gays to cross boundaries women have fought long and hard to protect. Judgment is passed regarding tit size, ass size, weight, and height. “Attitude” reeks of malicious, sexist commentary that a straight man could never get away with but a gay packaged with “attitude” can.
Although the word attitude has several meanings, the first recorded usage of the phrase “cop an attitude”—in a 1976 platform-shoe advertisement in the Oakland Tribune—seems to best fit what the attitude industry has in store for us. The text beside a posh pair of shoes on a suited man says: “Cop an attitude, with altitude—dressy slip-ons…”
There’s no question that producing material that includes realistic sexual discussion is more interesting, more vital, more important; it’s just that asinine, infantile mainstream types believe editorial themes promoting trendy shoes, holiday packages, and telephone-chat services are more financially lucrative. Gay publications are increasingly usurping the old role of village priests and ministers, prescribing select sexual behaviours, dress codes, and entertainment venues in concert with “attitude” promoters.
We are bombarded with literature that shuns talk of feelings while promoting a brand-based image, slicing our queer communities into those who have and those who have not. Those with money buy “attitude”: fancy shoes, holiday packages, trending clothes. Those without money? Well, too bad for them.
The following Ciao.co.uk review of Attitude, one of Europe’s best-selling gay magazines, speaks of the dumbing-down of gay publications, which, of course, fits perfectly with the mainstream agenda. The review was one of several under the headline: “Gay men and their attitude problem”.
“Attitude magazine conforms to most of the hackneyed ideas about gay men and their lifestyle that every other magazine uses—just dressed up with more gloss.…If you scratch beneath the surface, this magazine is a seething pool of hypocrisy and double standards.”