What Will Gay Culture Look Like in 2035?
As I wrote “Future Queer” for The New Republic, I spoke with many writers and activists, and asked for their predictions of what queer culture might look like in 20 years.
In their answers I found both a faith that the Internet will connect us and a faith that it will divide us, a desire to archive the stories of the first generation lost to AIDS more carefully, and an excitement about the way our sense of gender is changing us both as individuals and as a community. I'd like to share some of the responses I received:
I’m 44 and I lead a very domestic gay life: a same-sex legal marriage, with a child. At 20, if you told me this would have been my life, I'd have laughed at how ludicrous you were being. Even at 30, I wouldn't have believed you.
I still struggle with the term "wife" and feel weird, even after all these years, kissing in public, though I was always out in college and at work—that's generational, the shame is just ingrained. I hope subsequent generations don't feel it.
In 20 years, my hope, at least, is that we don't assume our kids are heterosexual from the moment they're born, and that we don't use words like "tolerance" because really, it's intolerable. In terms of things "queer," the discourse is changing at a fast clip right now. Gay and lesbian would seem, to those outside the mainstream, old hat—“homonormative,” if that's a thing.
We're having ever-evolving conversations about the meaning of gender, more people are coming out as trans, and trans, it seems, has evolved into a kind of continuum, which is exciting. I do wish everyone involved in the conversation would listen to one another more.
We've come a long way in the past decade. But it took years to get to this point. Let's not forget how new this is, and that rights can be taken away from us, just like that. So, in 20 years, it isn't out of the realm of possibility that we may still be right here
In the early Aughts, my friends and I spent our Saturday nights at a gay dance club in the Bronx called the Warehouse, a cavernous former loading dock turned into a makeshift gay club for men of color who were looking for either sex, love, or a strong drink.
Despite the club’s seemingly specific clientele—African-American men who slept with other African-American men —it really was a big tent affair.
At the time, pre-Internet, the Warehouse was the only show in town, so if you wanted to find young gay black men in a social setting, you had to make your way to the Grand Concourse and find them among the thugged-out neighborhood boys,
turned-out fashionistas, discourse-ready academics, closeted choir directors, musical theater majors, and black body-boys with their gym-ripped bodies. We all had to co-mingle with each other.
The Warehouse, as cliché as it sounds, was awash with a vast assortment of black queer humanity. I partied, had sex with, and befriended folks who were for all intents and purposes, despite our shared racial experiences, not me (a geeky book nerd). Needless to say, I learned a lot, about fashion, art, working out, and Sondheim.
I think snapshots of our queer future can be found on our current social media platforms. I envision all us becoming more entrenched in our echo chambers of personal interest.
Queer poets talking to other queer poet about poetics, gay Republicans talking to each other about fiscal conservatism, queer art school kids talking to other art schools kids about visual aesthetics,
Bears talking with other Bears about all the happenings at Bear Week in Provincetown. Big tent parties will become a thing of the past.
My thought is that by 2035 the mainstreaming of queer life in America will be so complete that our concerns will turn to historical preservation, and the documentation of harder times and battles. Well, some of us will have those concerns.Many will simply take advantage of the freedom they have, never knowing what we fought for so they could have it. I could go on about how important I think it will be to remember and highlight the work of the lost generation. AIDS decimated our community, and our creative community was especially hard hit.
Many of those artists were the same ones on the front lines of the culture war. May their work be sought out, brought back, made available for future generations.
After the first LGBT president, we will look back with fondness and nostalgia at the bad old days before we got sucked into the marriage industrial complex. We will miss the communities we constructed filled with freaks and weirdos, who instead of racing toward the mainstream, refused to embrace it.
We'll have realized that the PTA is boring and suburban potlucks are still filled with the bad food and worse fashion we remember from our childhoods. We'll long for the poetry, plays, memoirs, novels, and essays we wrote
—and only we read—in order to share our stories, as well as the media, congregations, and organizations we invented to fight for our rights and everyone else's. We will miss being referred to as an army of lovers.
Queer has been gentrified—decontextualized from organizing and made into an aesthetic devoid of relevant political critique. My hope is that in 20 years we will have abolished "queer," and recommitted ourselves to organizing against "colonialism"
and "capitalism" instead (which I believe is a different political project), but it's looking increasingly bleak. Which goes to say that in the future we'll probably see more of the same: a few good under-resourced people fighting the fight nonetheless!
In 20 years, and ideally much earlier, I would like to see all members of the LGBTQ+ community be on equal political footing. This may mean retiring the transphobic history of the LGB(t) label itself, and moving towards a more encompassing and less unwieldy term like “gender and sexual minorities” (GSM).
The priorities of this fully unified community must be set according to the needs of its most threatened members. This means that a majority of community resources should be devoted within the next five years to fighting harassment and violence especially against trans women of color; trans-specific suicide prevention;
and obtaining the same legal protections for trans people as for gays and lesbians in areas of employment, education, healthcare, government, and all other civil institutions.
The absence of true equality in the GSM movement would result in the continued fracturing of a community that must be unified against the forces of male-dominated patriarchy that oppress all of us.
I don't know what the future of being queer is, but I do know what I would like it to be: queerness in all forms, transgressive and politically active and aware, with equal rights for everyone, those who want to marry, and those who just want to fuck. And, on the selfish side, in 20 years, there had better be an app for femmes to find other femmes to get down with!
You have to take inequality and climate-sea level rise into account. A foot or more in sea levels will impact many of our LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender/Transexual, Intersex) traditional places of safety—NYC, Boston, San Francisco.
And if we let inequality continue rising, it will undermine the economic gains LGBTIs have made, particularly in these safer areas. San Francisco already feels less gay with the intense influx of straight tech men. Lesbians are now centered in Oakland.
What does the future hold for LGBT+ media?
The LGBT+ community is, arguably, more visible than ever but the media sector dedicated to covering its issues is increasingly struggling to thrive. The Drum talks to the industry’s biggest players to find out where its future lies.
Despite a commitment from mainstream media outlets to cover LGBT+ topics through dedicated verticals, given the challenging media landscape of the past year there are simply fewer staffers to cover the biggest issues facing the community.
“The mainstream news world saw it as an opportunity,” says Tag Warner, chief executive at Gay Times. “I think that was done as this kind of surge.And then they realised they were entering a complex space that requires a deal of knowledge, understanding and sensitivity."At the start of the year, BuzzFeed’s decision to lay off 15% of its workforce came under scrutiny when it was accused of letting go of people of colour and LGBT+ employees
– including its deputy LGBT editor and LGBT video producer. Anecdotally, when The Drum spoke to people within other publications who did not want to be named, when push comes to shove, these editorial sections are often the first to go.
But it’s not just mainstream news outlets making cuts. Despite being a social network of 4 million daily users in about 200 countries, Grindr struggled to make the books balance in its publishing division. Earlier this year, it was forced to lay off the whole editorial staff of its LGBT publication ‘Into’, claiming the company was pivoting to video.
And in some instances, a migration towards LGBT-first publications is sometimes too alluring, meaning retaining talent is a problem. Conde Nast set up ‘Them’ in 2017, becoming the publishing house’s first LGBT-focused title. It was led by Phillip Picardi but after less than two years at the helm, he made his way to Out to become its editor-in-chief.
But LGBT-first publications are also feeling the strain from a time of media uncertainty. In June this year, under Picardi’s steerage, Out went through its second round of staff cuts. Parent company Pride Media said it was due to a lack of funding and an increasing number of unpaid ad placement and commission fees.
Meanwhile, in July of this year, the LGBT+ news platform Gay Star News closed down. In an article, now taken down, the online publisher admitted that while it has always been a tough business, “this year, it got unexpectedly much tougher”. It has since returned to business following a buyout by Iconic Labs, which rescued it from oblivion.
And while the web has given a platform to minority issues, keeping such outlets alive and kicking is a constant battle as they contend with the same issues facing all publishers.
Gay Life in Berlin Is Starting to Echo a Darker Era
BERLIN—The fetish cruising bar Bull is a place of pilgrimage in Berlin for more than one reason. To patrons, it is a 24-hour safe space that caters to every palate. To the British historian Brendan Nash, it is a symbol of “Babylon Berlin,” a golden decade of LGBT freedom in the city in the 1920s, when the bisexual Hollywood star Marlene Dietrich mixed with prostitutes and transgender dance-hall girls.
“There’s been a gay bar of some kind at this address for more than 100 years,” Nash, an energetic 54-year-old, explained to a walking tour he was leading as he gestured enthusiastically at a neon sign outside, which featured cattle with large nose rings.
Chuckling, he told the group that an elderly woman nonchalantly wanders through Bull with a sandwich cart at 5 a.m. in case anyone is hungry. “There is nothing that she has not seen,” he said.
Germany has long been lauded for its liberal attitude toward sex. It recently passed laws allowing same-sex couples to marry and adopt, and just became the first European country to legalize a third gender. But LGBT-rights groups have warned of a parallel rise of violent homophobia in mainstream politics.
Since the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) Party stormed into the Bundestag last year, its politicians have called for homosexuals to be imprisoned, vowed to repeal gay marriage, and denounced those suffering from HIV.
Such attacks not only symbolize yet another seismic, global shift to the right. They are also reminders of Germany’s fascist past and, rights groups worry, signs of dangerous future clamp-downs on vulnerable minorities
Berlin is a powerfully queer place—gay culture, politics, activism, clubs, and sex reverberate through the city. Crowds here dance under confetti rain at annual Christopher Street Day, or gay pride, parades.
A fierce campaign is under way to protect intersex children from surgery, and antiracism protesters regularly drown out far-right rallies. But “Germany is not the shiny, progressive country it wishes to be portrayed as,” says Katrin Hugendubel,
the advocacy director of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association in Europe (ILGA-Europe), which represents more than 1,000 LGBT organizations.
In 1918, when Bull’s predecessor first opened, Weimar-era Germany was embarking on a scandalous decade. Gay communities in New York, Paris, and London faced the threat of imprisonment, financial ruin, murder, or even execution.
Berlin’s reputation for wild immorality and its unusually liberal law enforcement, by contrast, helped turn the city into Europe’s undisputed gay mecca.
By the 1920s, Berlin was home to an estimated 85,000 lesbians, a thriving gay-media scene, and around 100 LGBT bars and clubs, where artists and writers mixed with cross-dressing call girls who supposedly inspired the Some Like It Hot director Billy Wilder.
Magnus Hirschfeld’s revolutionary Institute for Sexual Science openly lobbied for the decriminalization of homosexuality and helped transgender men apply with government agencies to live legally under their new gender. Audiences,
straight and gay, queued up at Eldorado, a Jewish-owned nightclub where trans women and drag queens performed and gave paid dances to visitors. There, patrons watched the drug-addled, bisexual Anita Berber star in naked dances named after narcotics.
In 1929, the British writer Christopher Isherwood, whose pivotal years in Berlin were brought to life in the film Cabaret, wrote in his diary: “I’m looking for my homeland and I have come to find out if this is it.”
Isherwood is something of a passion for Brendan Nash. With a shaved head, a hooded jacket, and an endless supply of racy anecdotes, Nash is not your average armchair academic.
For the past eight years, he has transported tourists and earnest gender-theory students back in time to search for the ghosts of their pioneering heroes, as part of his popular LGBT walking tour around West Berlin’s “gayborhood” of Schöneberg.
But lately, the tour has taken on a different meaning. Instead of merely teaching history, he’s drawing parallels with the present.
“1932 was the 2016 of its age,” Nash explained to a rapt group, muffled in thick coats in the bright, cold sunshine. Passing around a 90-year-old one million Deutsche Mark note—a legacy of the period’s hyperinflation, which drove many people to embrace populist politicians
—that he had found at a flea market, he added: “Desperate people in poverty were being promised jobs, that they could ‘take back control’ and ‘make Germany great again.’”
The electorate voted, and the National Socialist German Workers' Party, which would become the Nazi Party, in November 1932 won the largest share of the vote, taking up 196 seats in the Bundestag, a shocking result for a group that had garnered less than 3 percent of ballots just four years earlier
On May 6, 1933, the Institute for Sexual Science was looted and same-sex dancing was banned. From 1933 to 1945, an estimated 100,000 LGBT individuals were arrested. An extraordinary decade of sexual freedom was over.
Nash talked ardently of the comparisons between the rise of fascism in the 1920s and 1930s and modern German rhetoric. “When I read political speeches from 1932, I think to myself, I heard someone say that on the six o’clock news last night,” he said.
How to Discuss the Far Right Without Empowering It
The current political mood in Germany is unstable, with old fractures reopening between the conservative East and affluent West. In September 2017, the AfD made history when it became the first overtly far-right party to sit in the Bundestag in 60 years.
Founded in 2013 as a fringe, anti-migrant group with alleged neo-Nazi links, it is now the third-largest party, with 92 seats in the Bundestag and a representative in every state.
Since the AfD’s arrival, the LGBT community has experienced “unbearable incitement of hatred,” says Micha Schulze, the managing editor of the LGBT news site queer.de. He cites AfD politicians calling same-sex marriage a “national death” and posting an obituary on their website mourning “the German family.”
Reported hate crimes against LGBT individuals in Germany rose by roughly 27 percent in 2017, according to the German Interior Ministry—a figure that Schulze and other LGBT groups claim is “the tip of the iceberg.”
In October, the AfD co-leader Alexander Gauland, who has vowed to repeal same-sex marriage, was accused of paraphrasing a 1933 speech by Adolf Hitler. The same month, the party launched websites to recruit child informants to spy on teachers expressing political opinions, including those in favor of LGBT rights, in the classroom.
The party pushed the youths to then “denounce” the teachers anonymously online. Christian Piwarz, the culture minister in the state of Saxony, called the move a “despicable mindset of snoopery...from the times of the Nazi dictatorship or the Stasi.”
On December 7, the sexual-health charity AIDS-Hilfe Sachsen-Anhalt Nord e.V. criticized the AfD representative Hans-Thomas Tillschneider for a Facebook post that echoed Nazi-era propaganda against homosexuals by claiming that HIV sufferers were “martyrs of a disinhibited, hedonistic, hypersexualized society.”
It’s Time to Drop the ‘LGBT’ From ‘LGBTQ’
Given the AfD’s homophobic reputation, it is perhaps surprising that 39-year-old Alice Weidel, its other co-leader, is a lesbian who lives with her female partner and children. But instead of advocating for LGBT rights,
the former investment banker wants to protect gay Germans from “dangerous” Muslims whom she has called “headscarf girls, welfare-claiming knife-wielding men and other do-nothings.” The party even has a vocal LGBT group called “Alternative Homosexuals” that opposes migrants
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