Welcome to ¡Hola Papi!, the advice column where John Paul Brammer helps people work through their anxieties, fears, and life's queerest questions. If you need advice, send him a question at [email protected]
I'm a gay transgender man, though I tend to keep the "transgender" part under wraps most of the time. I also live in a fairly small and conservative town. This makes talking about my childhood awkward unless I just say "my parents grew up in the city so we didn't really do a lot of outdoorsy stuff.” It's true without being too detailed, so that response is usually enough to get some pressure off me.
Anyway, I don't really have much interest in certain things considered part of "gay culture.” I watch Drag Race and follow some past contestants on social media. I feel a certain glee when characters in fiction I already like turn out to be LGBTQ. And while I'm not too familiar with the history of the Pride movement, I would love to learn more about it.
But that's about the extent of it. I simply cannot even pretend I like Katy Perry or Will & Grace. I've tried watching Sex and the City only to wonder if I'm supposed to like any of the characters. I'm basically someone who's been described as "Judas Priest gay.” Is there something I'm missing that's supposed to help me enjoy these things? Does this sound like a matter of preferring documentaries over other genres? Or is this just not as uncommon as I probably think?
Out of the “Fruit” Loop
Oh, Loop. Cariño. Mijo.
You dropping Katy Perry and Will & Grace as current gay cultural references in this letter tells me that it’s our job to protect you. You’re not doing anything wrong and if anyone tells you different you let me know and I’ll come to school myself and tell them off.
Also, can we talk about how iconic you are for telling your hometown that you never went outside as a kid and that’s why they never saw you? You deserve to be answering people’s letters, not me! You have some things figured out that the rest of us don’t, tbh.
But on the subject of feeling out of the loop when it comes to “gay culture,” I do think I can be of some help. First, you should know that gay culture isn’t real. I mean, yes, it’s real. But culture is difficult to pin down. What is it? Is it memes? Is it language? Is it wearing a bonnet and signing your name on the Devil’s Leger in Puritan New England? Yes. It’s all those things, and much, much more, because it’s defined by manifestations of human activity regarded in the collective.
Basically, things become gay because you are gay and you are doing them. That’s sort of how it’s always worked. If you look at what becomes gay culture online, none if it makes sense. Mothra is a beloved character from Godzilla and she’s gay now. Iced coffee became a meme for some reason. People reached back into 2012, dug up Nicki Minaj’s seminal classic Roman Holiday, and turned it into a meme. I’m not even sure that one’s “gay,” per se. But it feels gay.
Intellectualizing these things is fun from an anthropological perspective and can tell us something about how niche communities interact. But collectively it doesn’t represent a blueprint for how to be gay. There are gay cultures all over the world, and while there are many crucial similarities, like being othered in society or, I don’t know, running a depressing blog, there are also key differences in cultural vocabulary, how they see themselves, and how they would see you.
As long as you’ve got an open mind to things and you aren’t judging anyone, you don’t have to like anything other people like. It can be fun to find like-minded people who enjoy the same things you do, and Drag Race is a prominent example, but the same is true of all kinds of pop cultural phenomena. I recently saw The VVitch, made some tweets about Black Phillip, and suddenly I was connected to fans of The VVitch and stanning a goat. Is it gay now? Who cares! Culture dictates us to an extent, but we also dictate culture. You have some agency here.
If we have to pressure ourselves to engage in certain things just to feel gay enough, then in my opinion we should be looking for those things in the shared struggle of the LGBTQ+ community. The next gay meme will be seizing the means of production from the bourgeoisie. But in the meanwhile, please enjoy Judas Priest and (I’m assuming) Bianca Del Rio’s Twitter account and don’t feel too bad about not liking Katy Perry. Although her last single was definitely a welcome return to form.
Here’s a list of Pride history books to check out for your reading pleasure and general education.
Con mucho amor,