Ronald Reagan thinks he’s Darth Vader. Secretary of the Interior James Watt has been running amok with our natural resources for three years, but really only upsets the majority of Americans when he trashes the Beach Boys. Gay men have been contracting a deadly disease called AIDS for four years -with the death toll now over 500 and climbing fast – and Newsweek just noticed! Women are being gang raped in bars to applause from appreciative audiences. New York City, where estimates of the gay and lesbian population reach one million, once again defeated a gay rights ordinance. In last year’s elections in El Salvador, the United State government paid for the printing of a “good-guys vs. bad-guys” comic book that was dropped from the skies by the hundreds of thousands – one frame depicted leftist guerillas torturing a cow!
What passes for gay and lesbian “community” here in Denver seems more fragmented than ever as we see individuals and organizations going for each others throats at the slightest provocation All spurred on by righteous indignation, of course!
The Free Congress Research and Education Foundation has recently funded the publication of a research project by the Reverend Enrique Rueda, a Roman Catholic priest. The book is titled The Homosexual Network and is nearly 700 pages long! This tax exempt organization concerns itself with focusing on “trends” affecting the stability and well-being of American family life. Needless to say, this group feels that the lesbian/ gay liberation movement of the past 30-plus years is a de-stabalizing threat to the American family! Oh dear. A good part of this book is just a listing of gay and lesbian support groups and organizations around the country – and if the Denver listings are any indication – they only scratch the surface of what actually exists in homosexual networking! But still it is 700 pages! Twenty-five years ago the gay and lesbian organizations in existence could be listed on an index card! We had the Mattachine Society, One Inc., and Daughters of Bilitis!. So what has the phenomenal flowering of gay and lesbian energy the past several decades been if not the creation of community? I would suggest that most of this has just been ground work. It has been the creation of thousands and thousands of family units. (The energy for this flowering of family units has originated almost exclusively from the coming-out process.)
We are very diverse families – loosely connected by the sparkling thread of our sexual preference. Several years ago the slogan for Gay Pride Week here in Denver was “We Are Family” – however, it would have more correctly been billed
“We Are Families.” We are at a stage in our r-evolutionary growth where we are stymied from wearing these many family groups or clans into a viable community. Those who try soon burn out or go crazy! Why is that?
One possible explanation for our predicament coalesced in my mind recently while reading an article in The Advocate about Morris Right. Morris was instrumental in the creation of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Community Center – a gay activist/pioneer for many years in the Los Angeles area. In this article, one of the quotes attributed to Morris was this: “I think assimilation kills us. I see no need for it. When you take a close look, you discover that gay institutions are all imitative of heterosexual ones. They’re all vertical, and we gay people are horizontal, community-based.” Very simply interpreted, I see vertical behavior as exerting “power-over” someone – treating them as an object. Horizontal relating, on the other hand, does not involve inflicting one’s own ego over others, but instead relating as equals.
It is very easy to understand why we continue to do nothing more than imitate heterosexual institutions. Harry Hay, one of the founders of the modern gay movement in America, was speaking to this when he said, “For the world we inherit, the total Hetero-male-oriented and dominated world of tradition and of daily environment, the summum bonum of our history, our philosophy, our psychology, our culture, our very language of communication … all are totally subject-object in concept – in definition – in evolving – in self-serving orientation, men and women are – sexually, emotionally, and spiritually – objects to one another.” Vertical behavior has been institutionalized in every society on earth and a basic fundamental manifestation of that is sexism – men exerting power over women (and homosexuals !)
So how are gays and lesbians by nature more horizontal and less vertical? Well, we start out that way initially, perhaps very subliminally, by perceiving ourselves through our sexual attraction as equals – male to male and female to female. We bypass the male-female attraction and pass go on the basic “power-over” game that is so much a part of heterosexual relationships.
Our homosexual preference, however, is only the fragile seed of a horizontal community-based mode of moving in the world. Since we imitate the heterosexist order we also behave all too vertically. Sexism, racism, classism, looksism, and the like are all vertical behaviors that keep gay and lesbian peoples isolated from one another and prevent the formation of true community.
Starhawk, a feminist witch, has formulated this concept of “power-over” and talks about countering this life destroying mode by fostering “power-from-within.” In Dreaming the Dark, Starhawk says, “If we are to survive the question becomes, how do we overthrow, not those presently in power, but the principle of “power-over.” Yes, how indeed?!
If we have learned anything in the past thirty years it is that homosexuals are not a homogeneous bunch. Quite the opposite! We represent a microcosm of the whole – coming from all class backgrounds and races – from every nation on earth – multifamilial The cultivation of our diversity, which we are great at when not into some assimilationist trip, is one of our greatest liberating tools. It is, of course, the coming out process – ‘Yes, I am different, that’s okay and I want the space to explore this further!1 The paradox being that once this diverse group of people is brought together by the slender thread of sexual preference the extensive surface differences soon have us repelling away from one another – back to our smaller and much safer little gay and lesbian family units. It’s time to move beyond this, dears we need to leave our nests.
If we are willing to try, how do we go about becoming the horizontal community-based people we are by nature? Starhawk says, “To call forth power-from-within, to free ourselves, we must be willing to move beyond self-interest, to cease grabbing for the carrot and flinching from the stick. We must be willing to. We must be willing to give away.” Sounds good, but personally I know how hard it is to put aside one’s own agenda and listen. It’s hard not to want to make my agenda ‘the agenda.’ It’s much harder to share my ideas, listen closely to those of others, and then to consensually work toward a resolution. This will be difficult, requiring much loving patience, respectful confrontation and tons of healing, nurturing acknowledgment arid-support. If we as diverse gay and lesbian family units and clans can pull it off – so can all wo-man-kind – because that is what we are. They, the hetero-world, have to look for excuses to come together we’ve been given a reason – our homosexuality!
This formidable task needs to begin with an honest look at our own personal vertical behavior in relation to other gay and lesbian people. Do we relate from a vertical mindset with our lovers, friends, and sexual partners? In other words, do my needs come first and their’s second?
If you belong to a gay or lesbian organization, take a look at how you’re moving in it. Take a look at it as an organization – is it vertical, is it a heterosexist imitation? Are we merely creating a Gay Elks Club, a Lesbian Daughters of the American Revolution, or a Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce? Or are we about something nurturing, creative, and truly community building? We are very good at imitating straight society – we’ve had to be able to do this in order to survive. But we’re a strong and powerful people, strong enough to move beyond this now! Certainly in a city with as many gay and lesbian family units as Denver has – we can take care of one another!
Once we’ve begun this process in ourselves and in the groups and organizations to which we belong, perhaps a networking can really begin. Go to a bar or bath you usually avoid because it’s ‘not your crowd.1 Hopefully you’ll be able to get in – but that’s what we’re working on here – so expect that there will be setbacks. Have an organization you belong to call another group (the more different from yours the better) and arrange to get together around something – anything! – to initiate some contact and exchange.
Let’s see, how could this work? Well, the Alexander Foundation could have a potluck with GREAT men. The women running the women’s coffeehouse could extend a special invitation to the Rubber Husbands. A Three Sisters patron could go to the Highlands for a game of pool. The Health Task Force of the GLCCC could throw a lawn party for the Gay and Lesbian Health Alliance. The Rocky Mountaineers could attend a fairy solstice circle. All you community center haters could attend a GLCCC board meeting. The Sisters of Erotic Affirmation could invite the Dignity membership over for cocktails.
It can be done while maintaining mutual respect for each others viewpoints and space! Hopefully this contact would initiate respectful dialogue and not a lot of trashing and shouting. We’ve done that before – and, in fact – we’re real good at it. The only problem is that it hasn’t gotten us very far.
We all have some very serious and very real differences in how we perceive the world and how we move in it. I do believe, however, that our homosexuality is the key to unlocking horizontal community among ourselves and eventually among all wo-man-kind. With laughter, tears, pain, and lots of hard work we can overcome the vertical, we can stop moving from a space of “power-over.”
“We’re longing to go home to some place we have never been before – a place, half remembered, half envisioned. We can only catch glimpses of it from time to time. Community … community means strength that joins our strength to do the work that needs to be done. Arms to hold us when we falter. A circle of healing. A circle of friends. Some place where we can be free.” — Starhawk