Assimilation into the mainstream is largely celebrated, but is it erasing gay culture? Only if we let it.
By Mike Fleming  

As the equality floodgates seem to open after decades of slow leak, the gay landscape is changing. Now unprecedented gains are creating new challenges and spurring a debate that has the potential to usher in a New Normal if we conduct it wisely.

Marriage equality, adoption rights and the right to serve openly in the military are taken by some as automatic passes to join the mainstream and leave gay identity behind

“I look forward to the day being gay is no more significant than being left-handed,” wrote Evan Urguhart in Outward. “It will not dictate to which cities they move or what cultural products they consume. They will lack that inner sense of their unique vulnerability or unworthiness that you and I still have to deal with.”

Others mourn the loss of queer culture that made being gay special, unique and worth saving. Not to mention, they argue, that “straight culture” perpetuates a system that caused the very sexual and gender-based oppression that we worked so hard to overcome.

In the rush to embrace traditional relationships as defined by heterosexual marriage, the gay community is discarding the very sexuality that the Supreme Court has validated,” writes Patrick Moore in Beyond Shame: Reclaiming Radical Gay Sexuality.

To complicate matters, others of us are left cold to any positive changes by the remaining lack of rights. It’s hard to celebrate progress with issues still on the table like employment protections, access inequities within our own community, bigoted state legislators literally out to get us, and rampant cases of hate and discrimination.

Good Problems to Have 

At first glance, it would seem as if we’re left with two distinct sides of an intimidating fence. Those on one side dive headlong into full assimilation of heteronormative traditions, while those on the other reject those standards whole cloth in efforts to keep gay life, well, gay. 

To listen to some argueyou’re either for equal status within the status quo, or anti-establishment. Period. You get married, buy a house in the suburbs and have babies, or you think that those who do have lost the very essence of what queer culture has rallied to attain: It’s own identity.

But it’s harder – and ultimately more beneficial – to admit that we’re not one or another, to work toward compromise in the middle to enjoy the best of both worlds. But it’s very American of us not to.

As a country, we love to pick sides. Heroes and villains. Black or white. Love and hate. Good vs. evil. All or nothing. You’re either with us or against us. A Clinton candidacy isn’t nearly as interesting to vote for without Trump to vilify and vote against (and sadly for some, vice versa).

And yes: Though perhaps decreasingly, many Americans still salivate over a good Gay vs. Straight rager. While “they” say gays would infect straight society with immoral homosexual and transgender cooties that threaten their very way of life, “we” snub their lives in return.

The Us vs. Them dynamic rears its head amidst our own, too. Even in tragedy, the community was divided when 49 LGBT and allied partiers were killed by an emotionally conflicted gunman in an Orlando nightclub. Some celebrated a dramatic shift in public perception that reported the news matteroffactly, without sensationalizing the gay angle. Others were just as disappointed that coverage wasn’t “gay enough” and ignored LGBT issues in the case. 

Even in ways that we came together, some wanted to choose up sides and fight. In our anger and sadness – yep, it was both, and no one had to choose  – some of us missed an opportunity to see both sides and meet in the middle 

Ultimately, it’s a great problem to have when you’re battling for how you want your inclusion representedIn the past, we had to rail against a total lack of inclusion. The norm in news coverage involving gay people used to mean ignoring Orlando while over-noticing mass killings of straight people. 

That still leaves room to grow, for news outlets and the general public to acknowledge that the shooter’s acceptance of gay people, perhaps even of himself, should be investigated more closely. After all, it’s that very shame we have to conquer to avoid hate crimes against LGBT people.

But the question remains: Does acceptance mean blind assimilation? Do we have to lose what’s great about gay life to have it all? The question rose a couple of times between characters on – speaking of love-it-or-hate-it binaries – the HBO series Looking:

RichieSometimes you have to leave things behind so that you can move forward.
PatrickAnd sometimes you don’t, and you get to have both.

Pssst: Stop It. 

Gay infighting knows no bounds. Ask a dinner table of gay friendfor their views on drag, open relationships, racism within the gay community, bottom shaming, having children, non-profit spending, public displays of affection, inequities in healthcare access, or hell, even mixed prints. 

Voices will raise. Then ask those same friends about whether gay acceptance means blind assimilation. Heels will dig in. Now ask the same questions at a larger, more diversified LGBT gathering. Fur might fly.

Pssst. Stop it. 

We don’t have to choose sides. The emerging gay Renaissance Man can have it all. And that goes double when it comes to gay identity and equal civil rights.

Want to get married? You now literally have every right to. Want to eschew the system? Please do. Maybe you want to define your relationship outside legal parameters. Maybe you want to have a wedding, but not in a house of worship. Maybe you want to have it in a church, but one without walls. 

And it’s not just marriage. Move to a better school district, or alternately vow to stay in town forever. Catch a circuit DJ at Jungle Atlanta and an EDM favorite at Terminal West. Read your gay glossy – hint – as well as mainstream newspapers, respected business journals and silly BuzzFeed blogs. Network with the Atlanta Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, and have lunch with professionals in your local trade organization. Join the gay softball league and your alumni association’s football boosters. 

We can have the best of both the gay and straight worlds. While having the same choices as everyone else is good, making them your own is even better. Gay culture was founded on a fight for variance and diversity, a battle for justice, and right to be whatever and however we choose in or out of conventional parameters. That doesn’t have to change just because some of us also want a Subaru and a white picket fence

Even if assimilation continues at the rapid pace we’re already experiencing, it’s a safe bet that our very gayness will persist. It will be there as we fight for what remains unsettled. Maybe gay identity will morph to suit new needs. Maybe mainstream and the gay cultures will change each other for the better. 

Being gay doesn’t have to stop meaning being fabulous. Rather than doing old things in old ways, you can keep doing everything in new ways, all ways, and as determined by each one of us and his personal set of priorities

Keep your gay identity and your demands for social justice, as well as the trappings and perks of equality. Have it all. Nothing is stopping you. All options are on the table. That’s a good thing.