August 18, 2010

Gays in existential drift since AIDS and homophobia have been fading?

A comment in the previous post asks about asabiya among gay man -- that is Ibn Khaldun's term for solidarity and capacity for collective action. He used it to describe what force led tribes outside the center of power (nomads, barbarians, whatever you want to call them) to band together and overrun the civilized urban elites.

I don't have much connection to the gay world, aside from having one friend on Facebook who's gay (a "Facebook-only friend," as they say, not actually in my social circle). But based on the picture of the past 20 years, in which everybody seems to be losing the solidarity and sense of purpose they had from the '60s through the '80s, I'd guess the gay community isn't as tightly knit and ready for action as it used to be. I tried looking through the General Social Survey for questions that would bear on gay solidarity, but there aren't any. Still, here's anecdotal support (via Ray Sawhill's blog) from a gay man long familiar with The Movement:

What disappoints me most about the current state of the gay movement, if you can still call it that, is that most gays have settled for this really rigid, obvious, and stereotypical idea of what it means to be a homosexual. It's become a very facile, consumerist identity without any substance, purely decorative and inert, and strangely castrated.

I think he's describing most groups of people after the early '90s fall in violence ended three and a half decades of wild and solidaristic times -- caricature, consumerism, decoration, impotence. He doesn't come right out and say that the ties that bind are pretty loose by now, but that seems a safe inference from the quote.

This massive social shift must have been even more pronounced among gays because they weren't just the recipients of random opportunistic violence, which is bad enough, but were also targeted in virtue of being gay. That will bind actual or potential victims together more than if there isn't a clear targeting of victims based on group membership. Plus AIDS looked like the Black Death, and again nothing pulls people together like a common threat.

Once the violence rate dropped in the early '90s, so must have gay-bashing. Violence is just one component of the overall wildness that started falling then, also including a decline in risky sexual behavior. After putting a lid on their previously reckless ways, AIDS stopped wiping out gays at the same rate and may have become less virulent. With those two large threats absent from a gay man's life today, he feels no need to band together with others and revive ACT UP. Instead they've done like the rest of us and fallen back into the default state of competing against each other in a variety of petty status games.

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