Watching the HBO adaptation of Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart last month, I was especially moved by the scene where a lesbian shows up to volunteer for GMHC because a friend of hers had died of AIDS and she wanted to do something to help. Not only was it a touching moment, but it powerfully brought back the '80s, when lesbians and gay men were actually united in causes, without any of the rifts that have long characterized those two strands of the community. In 1987, when I went to my first meeting of ACT UP--the AIDS activist group Kramer cofounded after his split from GMHC--I was amazed to see a room without gender barriers. The group furiously brought gay men, lesbians, and others together, all united in the war against the powers-that-be for ignoring the horror of the AIDS epidemic. There wasn't time to second-guess who you were fighting alongside--you just held hands and dove right in, anxious to make a difference. Not many lesbians had been stricken with the disease, but the women were still out in force, fiercely reacting to the LGBT devastation and the need to rally for survival.Rather than gays versus lesbians, it became gays and lesbians versus the homophobic other, and I thought the combination would rock our brother/sisterhood forever.
At the time, a gay pundit wrote a stinging magazine article wondering why lesbians were so involved in ACT UP, but I never wanted to question it, elated that they had joined in the insurgence while helping create a unified front. You know, a community!
Well, the "unity" has once again left our community. The LGBT sphere has increasingly become a string of villages that rarely connect, even on the battlefield. Gay men and lesbians, in particular, often seem to be at opposite ends of a disheartening divide, hardly joined in deep-seated LGBT-ness. At queer nightclubs, the idea of a mixed crowd died long ago, and in fact, not only do gays and lesbians have separate hangouts, but those places are for niches within the groups. And if you want to try adding a woman into a gay-bar mix, you're most likely going to hear yelps of "Fish!" as the guys lose their hard ons and frantically duck behind the DJ booth for cover.
Yes, a handful of women turn up in the crowd, but those tend to be frustrated and/or adventurous straights, not lesbians, thereby keeping the internal LGBT wall up and strong. The truth is that so many partying gay men are focused on being with mirror images that they shun their Sapphic sisters, feeling no more connection with them than they do with anybody hetero.
And it's not just at the bars. I don't see enough lesbian/gay loving going on anywhere, unless it's a guy watching Ellen or a woman checking out Modern Family. But out in public, in broad daylight? Forget about it. Gay guys (just like straight guys) are obviously too driven by their genitals, and conversely, the presence of men could remind lesbians of the patriarchal society that's been rammed down their throats and made them numb. True, those are gross generalizations, but they're the kind that gay men like me make--and lesbians hate them and stay away!
Peter Staley--one of ACT UP's founders--agrees that "ACT UP was probably our most empowered moment of gay men and lesbians working together," but he doesn't feel that was the end of the unity. "The marriage equality movement has had similar moments during state by state battles," Staley asserted to me. "There's at least one event or benefit a week for some AIDS or gay rights group in this city, and they're often nicely integrated."
Yikes. This wasn't helping my theory at all, and gay men don't like to be argued with. So I turned to lesbian activist Ann Northrop, who was also in ACT UP and was a Hetrick-Martin educator. Alas, she didn't exactly back me up either. (Typical lesbian, lol.) Northrop feels the severe lack of chemistry I'm talking about is a male/female thing more than a gay/lesbian one, and in fact she thinks the absence of a sexual charge between lesbians and gays makes it easier for them to come together than their straight counterparts. "Heterosexual men and women like each other even less than gay men and women," insisted Northrop. "Gay men and lesbians lack the sexual imperative, so they can separate more easily and come together with less tension."
Well, I'm thrilled to hear that the continuing struggle for equality might still be bringing both groups together, but I'm not seeing enough of that, too many of us acting more like wary strangers than beloved siblings. I don't even hear dismissive remarks about "dykes" anymore--lesbians are simply not on many gay males' radar at all, unless they turn up as an occasional Fire Island DJ or an awards show host. The situation has become truly isolating, and as for you lesbians who disagree, let's get together and talk about it. In the same room.
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
I talk to a lesbian friend of mine all the time--if Drag Race winner Bianca Del Rio counts as a lesbian, lol. At a special event at the club Arena held by Spin Cycle P.R. last week, I wished Bianca "Happy Pride, trademark of Heritage of Pride," joking about the recent battle between that org and two promoters over word usage. "Happy Trannie!" she corrected, then confided to me, "I was just in Dallas when Lady Bunny called and said, 'Do you want to talk about trannies?' "
But Bianca had some other more pressing topics to share with the crowd. She promptly took the stage to announce, "I ain't go no album, I ain't got no song. All I got is $100,000!" She added that if failed contestant Laganja Estranja had been scheduled to appear that night, the place would have been empty because: "She's an asshole!" She then instructed us to applaud for the evening's DJ, Mimi Imfurst, noting, "You look good, Mimi. You're in the dark. Best fucking lighting you ever had. The RuPaul lens. You can't see you!" (Having copped the jackpot, Bianca was clearly able to calmly go back to RuPaul jokes. Yay!)
The prize winner left us with her Pride plans: "I'm going to be on a float--also known as Darienne Lake."
LADY GAGA: "I'M GAY!"
A one-person Pride parade, Lady Gaga brought her lavish gay pep rally the Art Pop Ball to Atlantic City this weekend, where a bunch of us press people thrilled to the mix of Sid & Marty Krofft-style theatrics and yay-gay messages.
We stayed at the sleek Borgata, dropped by the raucous club HQ, then dined at Caesar's Palace's Nero restaurant, where Atlantic City's openly gay mayor Don Guardian told me he saw 100 twinks lined up on the boardwalk when he was riding his bike that morning and realized, "Lady Gaga!"
And at Boardwalk Hall that evening, the Lady wasn't bluffin' with her muffin' as she served up surreal production numbers interspersed with spicy self-help sermonettes, mostly aimed at those mascara-laden young gays.
She told us that she and friends used to take 2 a.m. buses into A.C., where they rushed the gambling machines, "and we had nothing to lose but the $75 we had in our pockets!" The edge of glory indeed.
She said that since she played the town six years ago, so much has changed in terms of gay visibility and acceptance--"So we're here to celebrate the kingdom of the Little Monsters and the force you've been along the way. You've spread love and equality You've fought against prejudice!"
Momentarily away from the plus-sized Venus fly traps and hurricanes of confetti, she sang "Born This Way" at the piano, as her talking points seemed to get more than a bit self-referential. "It's not about if you fall down," pontificated Mother Gaga. "It's about if you can get back up.
"If you're doing anything in life that makes a difference, you will be criticized the whole time. It takes a lot of bravery to be who you are, and I want to tell you how proud I am to be a member of the community.
"They told me I was too gay," Gaga went on. "They told me I was too glam. Can you be too glam? They told me I'm too arty. Well, just because I'm gay and love art doesn't mean I'm invisible!" (Applause, applause.)
And the same goes for the Monsters, apparently. One wrote letter a letter saying "Born This Way" made her feel less different and way more confident. Gaga singled her out in the crowd and said, "You're not different. You're human. Some are straight, some are gay." Then she invited the girl to come backstage after the show for a meet-and-greet and a "fake kiss"! The woman remains the full-feathered queen of the pansexuals. (Pannies?) She could probably even get gay men and lesbians talking.