Every so often, on the Internet or in discussion, the concept of post-gay comes up. Often it’s brought up by people who don’t even know the phrase but do know the concept. Post-gay is the idea that the queer community, even though we haven’t yet gotten our full civil rights, will soon be just like everyone else; that we will not need to define ourselves by our sexuality anymore than a heterosexual might.
Whenever this comes up it irks me to no end. Do people have their heads in the sand? Don’t they look around? Yes, some scholars have deemed that we’re in a post-feminist era, while others have declared a post-black era. However, I’m pretty sure if you ask women or African-Americans you’ll find that most do not agree that we live in a post anything. Every day women are fighting against the rollback of their reproductive rights, something that would be completely unnecessary in a truly post-feminist world. In a post-black world the invalidation of Affirmative Action laws would be a non-event, there’d be no press coverage, the NAACP would not object – in fact, they’d have no membership. On a more simplistic level, ask yourself this question, in a post-black world we would even know what the phrase driving-while-black means? These are just a few examples of why these concepts are complete fallacies.
One of the steps in obtaining full civil rights for all minorities is to convince the majority that you’re like them; that we’re all human and that at the end of the day we’re more similar than different. Certainly, there’s truth to this. It’s not simply a tactic to gain civil rights. But, I think we take it too far. While I believe we all deserve the same rights and should be treated the same under law, we are clearly not all the same.
Different does not mean unequal. I’ve had many close female friends. They think differently. They have different experiences of life. They have different choices to make. None of that makes them less than I am; or less deserving of equal rights. It just makes them different. And the same goes for my African-American friends. We have many similarities, common interests that allow us to be friends but I would never be so rude as to say my experience of this country is the same as theirs, because it’s not. We’re different.
To say that we’re in or about to be in a post-gay era is to ignore the minority groups that have come before us and to ignore that they continue to struggle with misogyny and racism. Yes, for both groups the fight for equal rights under the law is pretty nearly complete and you could say that they’ve each moved into another era. But it’s an era that would more appropriately be called post-equality. Women and African-Americans are both in a post-equality era where they continue to fight for acceptance and continue to fight those who would chip away a their equality.
And that, I think, is where we’re heading. The queer community is heading into a post-equality era. When we achieve our full civil rights that’s where we’ll be. Post- means after. After-equality. Not after-gay. That suggests that we’re somehow not going to be gay after we achieve our full civil rights. I find that offensive. Of course, we’re going to still be gay and some people are still going to hate it and we’ll experience the same kind of push back that women and African-Americans have experienced.
I’d also like to point out that the entire concept that in a post-gay world individuals will not define themselves by their sexuality presupposes that heterosexuals do not define themselves by their sexuality. Of course heterosexuals define themselves by their sexuality. It only appears that they don’t because heterosexuality is so woven into our society as to go unnoticed. Yes, when we reach a post-equality era the homosexual experience will become similar to the heterosexual experience. But similar is not the same. While they are listed as synonyms in my nifty Apple dictionary, “similar” means resembling without being identical while “same” means identical. I think this is where some of the problem comes from. I think we hear these words and don’t always apply the correct meanings. Heterosexuals hear that gays want equal rights. They translate that to mean we want to be the same. But that’s not entirely correct. We want the same legal rights. Who we choose to be and how we choose to live the parts of our lives not governed by law is and will always be different than heterosexuals.
So, why does this bother me so much? For one thing, I feel that the phrase post-gay diminishes the, admittedly small activism in my own life, and the much larger activism more heroic individuals have pursued. It’s as though what’s meant is “Okay, done with that, now let’s forget about it and we’ll all be the same.” The other thing that bothers me about the term, of course, is that it’s applied to fiction. Post-gay fiction. This is fiction where the main characters sexuality is not relevant. He or she is gay but it’s not important to the story. I’ve read books that might be classified this way. They can be enjoyable but mostly they just seem to me as though the characters have been de-sexed or, worse, hetero-sexualized in order to appeal to a wider audience. To me, writing post-gay fiction is more a marketing concept than a path to good writing.
As far as literature goes, what we will see, and may be seeing signs of it, in a post-equality world is what you see in woman’s fiction and African-American fiction: both have strong genre fiction written specifically for those audiences, and both also have books that crossover into the mainstream. Books that crossover will not have to fit a post-gay ideal anymore than women’s fiction or African-American fiction needs to. The best example I can think of is Toni Morrison. Many of her books have crossed over to mainstream success. I’ve read of couple of them and I would never describe them as post-black. You see, it’s the audience that will be changing. To get ahead of the audience and create characters who sexuality is irrelevant is not necessary. In fact, I believe it’s homophobic. We need to keep writing fiction where a character’s sexuality is relevant and trust that the audience will catch up.
I’ve titled this blog “Why I’ll Never Be Post-Gay” because I think the identity I’ve spent a lifetime building, just as so many others have, has merit. I think the differences I see in the queer community are worth recording in my characters. It’s precisely these differences that post-gay fiction would shove aside in favor of characters who aren’t noticeably different.