Dick Hebdige, a subculture theorist, argued that members of a subculture distinguish themselves by obvious tangible differences, such as appearance, clothing, slang, interests or behavior. It is easy to see how these characteristics would have been exemplified in the gay community decades back: clothing and hairstyles counter to the norm, behavior perhaps uncommon or unusual in the context of one’s sex, and so on and so forth. Today, of course, the gay community is arguably no longer a subculture at all. Forty years or so has brought homosexuals leagues closer to actually becoming a part of mainstream culture. The overwhelming progress still leaves one to wonder, however, if the socialization of the gay community threatens the many compartmentalized groups of people who have found refuge in the blanket-termed “gay society”. While homosexuality is finally being seen as “normal,” it is only because it took fifty years for mainstream to get used to the idea of lesbian and gay relationships. So what about our own “subcultures”? Are they still left behind?
Imagining the gay community as a group with visible boundaries is nearly impossible. After all, the term “gay” has grown to mean, quite literally, anything other than heterosexual. One who is labeled gay by the masses could actually identify as bisexual, transgender, asexual, queer, genderqueer, intersex, polysexual, pansexual, and the list goes on. So what happens to them as the exclusively homosexual population gains acceptance?
Here is where the importance of subculture comes into play. Homosexuality, when looked at in recent years, has eased its way into mainstream culture by pleading normality. Activists and politicians worked tirelessly (and effectively) to convince the conservative traditionalists that “The Gays Are Just Like Them,” recognizing that any form of otherness found no place for acceptance in society. Commercials, films, and television shows (when we were lucky) strove to paint gay couples into cookie-cutter family images and relatable plotlines. For the most part, this was realistic. It was and is true that sexual orientation really does have little affect on appearance or gender, so why should gay men only be portrayed as the effeminate, fashion-gifted girl’s-best-friend? And vice-versa, why should a lesbian ubiquitously tout a tool-belt and spiked haircut? Gays and lesbians alike have demanded time and time again to see themselves accurately portrayed in the media, and doing so has done our cause well. Mainstream society is (for the most part) convinced that the homosexual is normal-looking and normal-acting enough to have earned their rights.
Where, then, does the male-to-female transgendered member of the gay community fit into mainstream “normalcy”? Or do they at all? What about the polysexuals? The intersex? The genderqueers? Never before has it been so clear that this glorious community of ours is really and simply made up of the “leftovers,” the “others” who have been cast away from the greater population. It seems that while the general hate for homosexuals declines (read: declines slowly and hesitantly), other members of the community still suffer exclusion, discrimination, and violence.
The agenda of the collective gay community as a whole has not been to affirm that two people of the same sex deserve the same rights as two of the opposite sex; it has been instead a demand for equality and recognition of all people, relationships and loves. So if “gay” passes society’s normalization test, will those who defy gender standards do so as well? And what of those whose identities are not even understood by the majority of people. What does intersex or pansexual actually mean?
These are the new questions for our community to be concerned about. Before we can become settled and complacent in our own newfound rights, we must look at our other queer brothers and sisters as equal members of the community, and then we must stand for their acceptance as we stood for our own. That process begins with understanding them and how they identify. Find out what being “poly” means, strive to understand how we are all so beautifully different. Ignorance ends in knowledge, after all. Everyone can look in themselves to find how they define normal; when we identify our own narrowness, it is all too easy to see how those who oppress us harbor it as well. Perhaps it’s time to redefine what “normal” really means, or even if it has a meaning at all. After forty years of homophobic heterosexists insisting that the homosexual surely cannot fit into the “normal mold,” it may be worth considering whether such a thing exists at all.
One battle won certainly does not mean that the fighting is done, and until there is an understanding that there are as many acceptable ways to live as there are people in the world, our war is not over. Perhaps it is best said in the ruling of Brown vs. Board of Education—the American Supreme Court case that ended racial segregation in schools: “Do not ask who among us is the most oppressed. Ask how discrimination against any group of people affects their status as equal citizens.”
by Lauren from Life as an Underage Lesbian