The shifting nature of queer culture

So there’s yet another Generation X person holding forth about the “fragility” of millennials, specifically LGBTQIA millennials.

Argh. I wish my generation (and the Boomers) would stop with constructing millennials as fragile and having a victim mentality.

Yes, sure, college-age kids see everything as black and white. So did we when we were that age. They will grow up and learn some nuance. And as a university professor it’s her job to din some nuance into them, and an understanding of queer history.

Every generation thinks it is the most radical there has ever been, and looks upon its elders with pity. It’s part of being young (at least it is in Anglo-American culture). And every older generation rolls its eyes and points out that we did manage to achieve some liberation from oppression.

There were plenty of rigid assholes in our generation too. How about the fact that when I was at university (1986-1990) there wasn’t an LGBT society: there was a separate lesbian society and gay society. Nothing for bisexuals and transgender people. And the lesbian society was full of people who thought that having sex with men, or looking femme, or even having sex with women, was “selling out to the patriarchy”.

A lot of gay and lesbian culture in the eighties and nineties was very biphobic. Feminists were very transphobic (some still are). And no-one was allowed to enjoy kink, according to some feminists.

It’s true that many younger activists are busy erasing the contribution of drag queens and transvestites to LGBT liberation. But these attitudes are no less obnoxious than some of the ones held by earlier generations of queer people.

Let’s not pretend that everything in the LGBT garden was rosy until the “fragile” millennials “ruined” it with their trigger warnings and their campaign for same-sex marriage and their alphabet soup (not that there’s anything wrong with anything on that list, nor are millennials the only ones campaigning for those things). It really, really, wasn’t.

Like any subculture, there are good bits and bad bits and mediocre bits.

Like any subculture, there is constant dialogue with “mainstream” culture. Sometimes mainstream culture adopts, co-opts, or appropriates things that subcultures have created. Sometimes subcultures get partially assimilated into the mainstream, as their ideas become trendy.

The queer movement is still defining itself and its categories. It may be helpful to compare it to feminism and its “waves”. The first wave was about getting legal rights, the second wave was about changing attitudes to women, and the third wave is about intersections with other rights movements (LGBTQ, Black, disabled). Allegedly there’s a fourth wave but it looks very similar to the third wave. Along the way, we have had to go back to first wave concerns (getting legal rights), and to second wave concerns about changing attitudes. And there are some people who are still stuck in the essentialist attitudes of the second wave; while some elements of the second wave anticipated the ideas of the third wave.

The LGBTQ movement could broadly be said to have gone through a similar process (but complicated by the AIDS crisis). First, we needed to dismantle legal discrimination against LGBTQ people, and get some legal rights. Then we needed to challenge and change homophobic attitudes in society (this is an ongoing effort). And we need to understand how LGBTQIA concerns intersect with those of other groups.

The overculture has a nasty habit of pushing back and undermining rights that have already been gained. It’s our job to keep pushing for legal rights, keep trying to change attitudes, and keep being mindful of other oppressed groups.

What would be really great would be if we didn’t all attack millennials with “activism was more fun in my day”. Plenty of the current generation of activists have a sense of humour. How about having a dialogue with them instead of attacking their concerns in glossy magazines? If we all work together, we might get somewhere.

Millennial guy

Millennial guy is chill.
[Public Domain photo]

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2 thoughts on “The shifting nature of queer culture

  1. Working together is a two-way street. Many younger people don;t understand the history as well as you do; don’t understand that there was a time when there were no legal rights and that now we have to focus on winning hearts and minds – without alienating the natural allies who have been fighting the battle for decades. And therein is the curse of youth – impatience.

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