John R Selig

Writer. Photographer. Podcaster. Outspoken.

Disappearing Gay Cultural Identity

Originally Heard on the John Selig Outspoken Podcast

John Selig Outspoken – Episode 12
The 1979 Gay Pride Flag designed by Gilbert Baker
The 1979 Gay Pride Flag designed by Gilbert Baker

One of the principal reasons that I decided to produce “John Selig Outspoken” was a growing concern that I have sensed a disappearance of our gay cultural identity. I’ve noticed that our community has been going through a metamorphosis for several years. Since I came out in middle age I am keenly aware that a number of the elements that I grasped onto as I came out have been in decline.

It will come as no surprise to those of you who have listened to a few episodes of “John Selig Outspoken” that that I am a voracious reader. I became addicted to books in college. In fact my first full–time job was working for Dodd, Mead & Company, a respected New York publishing house, between graduating from college and starting my MBA. I represented their college textbook line on college campuses for nine months throughout New York, Pennsylvania, Ontario, Canada and the mid–western states. As I came out in 1990 I read everything I could get my hands on.

Today, there are far fewer books available and the number of LGBT bookstores has shrunk dramatically. The ones that remain have a tinier selection of books on their shelves. True, Barnes & Noble and Boarders stock a few shelves of LGBT books each and has a larger selection. However, neither the mega–chains or Amazon provides the same experience on has when browsing through a LGBT bookstore and happening upon books on a wide variety of topics.

The number of LGBT periodicals has also shrunk along with the size of the ones still in publication. I remember when the “Advocate” had at least twice as many pages as it currently does.

PlanetOut became the world’s largest LGBT media company when it bought the “Advocate,” “Out,” Alyson Publications, RSVP Cruises and in November of 2005 for $31.1 million. When PlanetOut went public on the NASDAQ in October 2004 their stock traded at $9.00 per share. By July of this year their stock’s value had plummeted to $1.59 per share, a decline of 83% in less than three years! PlanetOut almost folded this summer until Bill Gates along with other investors rescued them this July with an investment of $26.2 million. PlanetOut reported a quarterly loss on August 10th of this year of $5.6 million on top of a $6.4 million loss the previous quarter.

Many local LGBT newspapers and magazines have ceased publication. Here in Texas the “Texas Triangle,” the statewide LGBT newspaper ceased publication a few years ago after being turned into a newsmagazine for a short time under new ownership.

The Internet has a plethora of information on every topic imaginable and I consider it the most important information source invention in my lifetime. As a seasoned researcher I spend hours seeking out information. I find that many people don’t have as much talent as I do in this area so I wonder how many people simply do without information that they would have otherwise found in periodicals and books.

Not only is our community faced with major changes within our information channels but the LGBT hubs in the major cities are going through some major changes as well. The Oak Lawn area in Dallas is amongst the major gay hubs in the country with LGBT clubs, restaurants and retail shops lining Cedar Springs Road. During the past five years apartment complex after apartment complex and home after home in Oak Lawn have been bulldozed to make room for expensive townhouses and condos which haven’t been affordable to a vast number of LGBT residents who have lived in the neighborhood for years. So many gays have been forced to flee to more affordable parts of the city while wealthier straight people have moved into the regentrified community. Most of the shops, clubs and restaurants experienced a serious decline in business after the horrors of 9/11 and business never have truly recovered. In spite of the large number of new expensive residences that have multiplied in this area, many shops and restaurants have been shuttered. Many of the clubs in this area, which were nearly exclusively gay five or ten years ago, now have a mixed clientele.

I understand that many of the other gay meccas around the country have experienced similar trends. I’ve been told by friends that West Hollywood has become so expensive that many gay residents have relocated elsewhere with some moving as far away as Palm Springs to find more affordable housing.

Certainly many neighborhoods in cities have been in flux for years. New York City’s Harlem was one of the hottest sections of Manhattan in the roaring 20s. During my childhood in the New York area Harlem was a slum riddled with drug dealers, prostitutes and crime. Today Harlem is becoming a fashionable part of New York again.

Still, I think that the gay neighborhoods have been in decline for another reason. As our community has become more out and open with our families, friends, employers and society, as a whole there has been a trend to assimilate. Being gay isn’t as shocking to mainstream America as it was twenty years ago. So more gays have felt comfortable leaving our cities’ cores and moving to suburbia. Many have curtailed or even ceased socializing in the gayborhoods. Some have decreased membership and participation in LGBT organizations as well.

Assimilation has many pluses. However, losing our gay cultural and identity has a downside. We are far from obtaining parity in civil rights with the rest of America. I don’t see the same commitment to activism that I did fifteen years ago. Assimilation has lead to more complacency. Although the Democratic Party is saying many of the right things to gain the support of our important LGBT voting bloc, the conservative right remains hell bent on continuing to marginalize gays as much as they can. Social conservatives won’t cease their efforts, even if the Democrats win the White House and maintain control of the Congress in next year’s election.

It is important that gays continue to protect our culture and patronize LGBT businesses and media and support LGBT organizations not only to help them survive but to also keep our own lifeline in place.

© 2007 John R. Selig. All rights reserved.