National Commentary

Post-Orlando, Part 3: ‘LGBT Identity Project’

nfbenton-mugThis has been a period of much enlarged news and commentary coverage of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people in the U.S., as it has been an unusual confluence of Gay Pride month, with mass and colorful parades and festivals in major U.S. cities, President Obama’s declaration of the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village as an official national monument, the one-year anniversary of the official federal legalization of gay marriage, the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots of 1969, and of course, mixed in with all these good things, the horrific mass killing of 49 at the gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

With all the ink, actual and electronic, devoted to these events in the major media, I could find only one reference to just who LGBT people are, after all, to what makes us “tick” beyond assumptions of alternative sexual orientation. It came from a prominent national (and gay) columnist who included an offhand quip that “brunch, that most public of activities, became a verb thanks to us.”

But the debate still rages, if muted, about what it means to be gay, and as a predicate of that, what kinds of lives and identities are the most fulfilling for gay people to pursue and embrace. As a “gay pioneer” I have written on this subject extensively beginning in 1970.

The glib response that it is different for everyone does not do this any justice, nor provide any encouragement or guidance to oncoming generations of new LGBT people.

Are we LGBT people just like everyone else except for who, or what gender, we’d most prefer to be physically intimate with? As a people, do we do best by conforming to the dominant “straight” culture of white picket fences and Sunday cook outs? No one ought deny the value of such pursuits of happiness for those who crave them, but does that really define us?

Or, should LGBT people realize their true calling by being strident non-conformists and outliers? Should we stand against dominant heterosexually-defined and oriented culture?

It is remarkable how much the leading, mainstream LGBT organizations, and their allies, fail or actively refuse to speak to this important subject at all. They never have.

In such a moral vacuum that leaves each to their own, ostensibly in the name of freedom among diverse choices, the only visible themes are calls for equality, an assumed virtually irresistible attraction to, for men at least, an Adonis-like model of the physically ideal male, and the desire to gather in the presence of others like ourselves seeking the pleasures of the flesh on club dance floors or social media.

In this context, the pursuit of a permanent companion for marriage seems high-minded and almost radical. For some who’ve partaken of the gay club scene over time, a wonderfully special “one” is even painfully longed for, although in the fog of such scenes the perpetual hunt for the next object of desire, the next image to flip to on Grindr, undermines that by, among other things, introducing an unintentional emotional insensitivity that makes a sustained relationship most difficult.

In this urban culture, which hasn’t changed much for the LGBT world over a considerable time, the common denominator becomes the equivalent of soft pornography, which is what dominant LGBT print and online gay publications are filled with.

Unfortunately, that does little for every LGBT person who is not qualified to play in the heady leagues with such images of youth and muscle. To the contrary, this relegates most to demeaning voyeur standing, if not for those young enough a panicked effort for a time to qualify, to occasionally score, and above all, never get old.

I wrote my collection of 100 short essays, published every week in a Washington, D.C. gay magazine for two years now in a single volume, entitled Extraordinary Hearts, to counter this with a better more fulfilling way for LGBT people to consider themselves and value their lives. Most have elevated levels of kindness and beneficial creative impulses, for example.

Clearly, the “gay establishment” doesn’t favor this approach. But it lays the groundwork for announcing a new “LGBT Identity Project.”