Thursday, March 3, 2011

Survival Skills and Gay Sub Cultures

It is widely accepted that all beings and social groups develop “survival” skills, thus the questions are what are those skills, and in what particular contexts and specific conditions they are required and used. Some of these skills are constructive to the self and the group; others might not help surviving at all. Eating healthy foods helps; wars necessarily do not. Some of these skills can be detrimental to a given generation or an individual at specific time and place but can be seen as protecting the person or the group in the future.

Groups on the margin of the circles of power develop certain strategies that they use when dealing with those who are qualitatively, racial, ethnically or sexually different from those who control decision making, rules, and mores. As previously indicated, some of these strategies might be detrimental to the group. As a child in Puerto Rico I used to hear the expression, “hay que mejorar la raza” (the race must be improved), and this self hating statement implied in some form the survival of your descendants since the race the speaker was referring to was a race being abused and discriminated. At it meant marrying outside of your race.

Up to Stonewall days some gays used survival skills that included masquerading attitudes and images, oral, visual and literary, as well as engaging in self denial discourses. Straight acting is what gay men do when they behave in “macho type” behaviors. In the Spanish-speaking gay sub culture the straight acting gay man can change from the macho type depending on the group surrounding him. In the company of other gay men he most probably will “soltará su trenza” or “se le saldrán las plumas.”

But straight acting can also be a form used to deny the connection to the larger gay world; one that is perceived as weak and effeminate. A similar behavior is found among members of certain ethnic, racial groups or economic classes when they claim that they are not like selected others. This distancing leads them into formulating stereotypes or repeating what the ones in power say about the particular groups being persecuted or discriminated. As an advisor at an urban institution I came across an Afro-Cuban woman who swore that Puerto Ricans were lazy and unable to manage the USA system. Here she was in front of a Puerto Rican professional guiding her through the institution and she repeated what she most probably heard others say about this particular ethnic group. This survival strategy is based on the need to be accepted by the group in power, thus supporting and perpetuating the reasons for discrimination and, therefore, avoiding being identified with the discriminated ones.

Stone wall and AIDS brought about a change in what can be discussed publicly, even if it is only for the purpose of understanding the so called homosexual condition. It also brought the need to organize politically, educationally and medically. Four decades later the public discussion of the homosexual condition is still a threat to many, not only the religious fundamentalists, Taliban or Catholic League, but also it is a menace to many middle of the road liberals. If these post Stonewall days the Smithsonian recently censored gay related images. Yet, to be silent about it is not what most gay men and lesbians are willing to accept. Self censorship is no longer a given as a survival skill; on the contrary is openly viewed as a repressive tool.


luis said...

It is wildly accepted and desirable to be virile.if you're not, then you're a second class citizen within the cannons of the gay culture. Moreover, now with implosion of gay websites for cruising and hooking up, the majority of ads look for the so called straight acting man. what exactly this mean? that i am less than thou 'cause i got this fem voice? self hatred is getting out hand!

gerardo torres said...

I agree with you and this pattern is not only found among gay men but among other groups who live on the margins of power. It is no accident that the reactionary forces in the USA are led by a woman, Sarah Palin. Saludos y con la frente en alto... Gerardo