I am not proud to identify as heterosexual. That’s not to say that I’m a self-hating straight person, or that I’d opt to desire other men if given the conscious choice. I just don’t care enough about sex to worry about the gender identity or sexual phenotype of the person to whom I’m attracted.
At the same time, I do “know” that I am a straight male. Not necessarily a zero on the Kinsey Scale—maybe a one or even a two (more on this later)—but straight enough to realize that I am entering dangerous territory in opining on the gay rights movement. My perspective is ineluctably tainted by subjectivity, and my sexual apathy likely isn’t shared by many—Freud would tell me to see a psychoanalyst before my repression manifests itself in some more troubling form.
As we approach the threshold of marriage equality and full legal rights for gay folks, I wonder how far we’ve progressed toward that elusive goal of social acceptance. That is to say, are we really any closer to embracing the fact that people of the same gender, or those who don’t fit the gender binary at all, are physically attracted to one another?
Gay intimacy remains taboo and sensationalized in a world in which film and print regularly depict the personal lives and bedroom activities of heterosexual couples. R-rated movies contain enough heavy petting and exposed heterosexual flesh to render this 19-year-old a squeamish mess, yet I can recall few mainstream American productions in which two men or women did the same. The recent attention bestowed upon the French film “L’inconnu du lac” by director Alain Guiraudie may herald the arrival of a new era of acceptance, though this movie remains confined to the art house.
Why has marriage equality advanced even as progress on screen has, for the most part, stalled? The fault lies with the notion of gay pride itself. Before you burn me in effigy, however, I encourage you to at least finish this op-ed—after all, it’s the least you can do for a man who may have just sealed his political fate.
I’m not saying that sexual minorities need to accommodate the manifold sensitivities of straight people—that would simply hinder the cause of social equality while promoting a perverse sort of double consciousness. Rather, the sharp distinction between “gay” and “straight” has become a sexual binary that perpetuates a notion of otherness, when all sexual affinities should be understood as part of the same spectrum.
The gay community, however, is just as much a part of the national landscape as any other marginalized group—to ignore this reality would be tantamount to ignoring Jim Crow for the sake of better race relations today. The challenge, then, lies in recognizing and affirming gay history while seeking integration with the rest of society on terms that recognize the equality of all sexualities.
Institutions such as the Office of BGLTQ Student Life here at Harvard are counterproductive because they promote the sort of separateness that must be overcome. A superior alternative would be a single GSD (gender and sexual diversity) office that could assist students of all sexual orientations and gender identities, from straight to asexual to transgender, as they navigate the waters of sex and relationships.
To suggest that we need separate institutions for separate groups is to forsake commonality for an “us” and “them” mentality.
Surveys and indicators such as the Kinsey Scale are equally harmful as well as indicative of the sexual paranoia that grips our society. As Paul Rudnick points out in a 2011 piece in the New Yorker, we have a prurient compulsion to scientifically categorize our differences; just consider the burgeoning collection of letters in—and the number of groups that are excluded from—the acronym LGBTQ. For a change, let’s ditch the labels all together—not in a jejune way that overlooks difference, but in a way that accepts diversity as part of a larger whole. I’m not a number or letter, but a human being, and that’s true of us all.
Gay pride, however, seems to be here to stay for the time being, and it might just be the best response so long as the legal cards remain stacked against the gay community. After all, a separate existence is better than no above-ground existence at all.
But at the same time, I feel that the sexual and gender identities of the people we love are of so little import that we must ultimately discard what strikes me as an outmoded, disjointed way of looking at the world. We all owe the gay pride movement our thanks for helping to bring our laws into the modern era, but it’s time to move beyond the politics of separate but equal and embrace the things that make us the same.
Ian R. Van Wye ’17 is a Crimson editorial writer living in Thayer Hall.