Why do I care about “gay” men? It depends on how you define them, which is part of what makes them interesting. They are a “thought category” rather than a species. The actual phenomenon of sex with the same sex is present in a low percentage of mammals of several kinds, which includes humans, but that’s only part of the story. The real story is how cultures deal with such a difference. Some say “Aauugh! kill!” Some say, “Come sit by me, dahlin’.”. Some just shrug.
Our still-recent sexual revolution changed everything for everybody, at least those who had access to birth control in the form of a pill, those who had been part of the extreme physical life of war, those who were seeing a heterosexual pattern of hedonism that stiffed families, those women who had been earning a living doing “man’s work,” and close after that the disappearance of hard physical labor that men used to do when machines took over.
I suppose the first grownup gay man I knew personally, if only slightly, was the uncle of a classmate in elementary school. He was her mother’s brother, a young man quite cultured in the Portland, OR, early Fifties. He took the two of us to the ballet and briefly we stopped by his apartment for some reason. It was the first time I’d been in an apartment building that had carpeted halls. His place was elegant. In my mind, therefore, gay men were a civilized and elite group. I did not see them as evil vampires.
In the great chess game of social competition, any “group” is of interest from a sociological point of view. But then individuals from that group can be of interest from a psychological point of view. Even more powerfully from a narrative point of view. Any characteristic that causes a person — esp. a child — to become isolated, search for answers, struggle through ordeals and confusions, and finally find “the others” is engaging in what Joe Campbell called the Hero’s Journey, which is a big part of our American mythic history. But we don’t like the versions in which the hero dies, suddenly and for no reason.
Today is World AIDS Day. The drugs are good but not curative, the cost of them is sky-high, the distribution of them is complicated by extortion and blackmail on an international level, and STILL people don’t know they have it. The venues of blood-borne contagion — sex and injected drugs — require secrecy, even secrets from oneself. I don’t have AIDS. I have Aging. It is a behavior-related condition, like AIDS. You can hasten or delay it by what you do.
Beyond that, I’m interested in the narratives about any individual interacting with social groups, particularly individuals in a diaspora, dispersed from their origins but carrying them inside — the way all of us carry DNA and memes from our ancestors. That means indigenous people, sexually atypical people, red-heads, and metaphor-gifted people. That last means the visionaries, the writers, the painters, the musicians who crave expression enough to do the daily practice that makes masters.
Some cultures, fearing dissension, will try to suppress individuals, but when it comes to the artists, authorities can only compress and politicize the objects of their fears. Persecution teaches them to cooperate, to care for each other, and to keep on going through the dark in the belief that if dawn doesn’t come for them, it will for someone else.
Because this is World AIDS Day, there will be tweets and posts and formal essays. The group of young men that I’ve been following for the last decade have posted the public service videos they’ve made by matching their stories with images. Real Stories Gallery. Don’t look for them if you’re prissy or scared or coping with the world by denying everything outside your local horizon.
Gay people are like indigenous people in that their identifying traits are so stigmatized and stereotyped that those who haven’t been clued in cannot recognize them. Indians and gays are scattered among us, unrecognized. The first Indians I knew, Miss Colbert (Chinook) and Mrs. Eagle (Sioux) were elementary school teachers in Portland, OR. No one thought about it. Mrs. Eagle was quiet but taught my brother to read at last. Miss Colbert was a respected tribal elder who wrote books.
Red-heads. Oh, you know about “Anne of Green Gables,” esp if you’re a liberal who watches PBS. Although the real story, which was Lucy Maude Montgomery’s story, ended in her suicide. Her life was one of struggle. My mother used to ask me why I couldn’t marry a nice Presbyterian minister. Lucy Maude did that. He was bipolar and she spent her life trying to feed their family (2 sons) and fend off curious people so he could keep his congregation. She even preached in his stead if his emotional paralysis were active. She wasn’t an orphan. Her father abandoned the family. She lived with him and his young wife for a little while as a near-adult. It was loveless.
Back to boys who come to puberty with the realization that their body is not responding to girls but to other boys. This difference can make them pull off to the side, marking them as vulnerable because exceptional, and attracting those who will exploit that. How they respond will be unique to the other factors in their lives and might turn out happily. But in times as chaotic and treacherous as ours, with as many drug-gripped families as ours, with as much floating violence as our culture supports, a boy needs both luck and help.
A pretty and bold boy can do well for himself, seemingly, if he engages in sexwork. Until he gets beat up. Or worse: the usual STD’s and then HIV. Often contracted in prison while serving a sentence for drug use, used for numbing to do sexwork.
Why should an old woman care? I’m in a place, a small town next to a rez on the high prairie, where HIV is rare and yet it’s here. It hits all levels: the low because they’re dumb and the high because they’re gifted enough to be traveling participants in conferences and panels where they are exposed to temptation among the elite. Once HIV affects people one cares about, how can you turn away?
Some people will say the very fact that I live here and am not an activist except by writing amounts to “turning away.” But activists don’t have the time to read and ponder that is my antidote for Aging Syndrome. I’m leaving a snail trail that is probably already fading, but it’s not nothing. Most of the time I’m not alone — there is a diaspora of people who care.