Wednesday, October 31, 2007

We Are Everywhere, Virtually

It occurred to me this evening that the ease with which kids are able to come out now has a lot to do with the internet. I saw a 14 year old identify as a lesbian on Myspace. I'm sure there's more than just that one rogue girl. Though I am certainly in favor of rogue girls.

I've known for a couple of years that kids, at least city kids, were able to come out a lot younger- I have by no means conducted any scientific research, but my best friend has twin teenage girls.

Now, her girls are straight, but since early junior high they have had girl friends that 'went with' other girls, 6th and 7th graders who identified as "Bi" have been traipsing through scout meetings, cheerleading practice and slumber parties (now that's a kettle of fish right there...Mom-friend called me once, as friendly lesbian uncle, to ask if I thought she should watch the gay girl 'couple' a little more closely at the slumber party- I said hell yes, gay or not, 13 is too young to be having sex) that she has chaperoned.

Don't the wrong idea- this is not some Williams-Sonoma catalog family I'm talking about. I'm the only lesbian they know (unless you count all of the women I've dragged to their barbecues...), and when Mom and I first met, I was the first lesbian she'd met.

Mom and Dad are both working class, the girls are at run of the mill city schools with other working class kids. There's no liberal agenda at play in these schools or in these homes, just a lot of Steelermania. You wail on people for being Brown's fans, not gay. No gay/straight alliance going on here, just some good old fashioned American "It's none of your Damn business, you don't pay my bills." (A stance I think the gay community should adopt more of.)

We were watching the news together once when the flap over Gay Marriage in Mass. erupted into the living rooms of Middle America, and my dear friend howled with laughter, her deep smoker's voice laying it on the table for the talking heads. (it was kind of a funny moment, because she went off on her rant like she had forgotten there was an actual lesbian in the room.)

"He did not just say that. Who do they think they're kidding? Old man, as soon as these kids are old enough to vote, it's a done deal, motherfucker, mind your own business. Go ahead and just TRY and tell these kids they can't marry who they want to marry, I DARE you motherfucker! I mean, aren't they paying any attention to what's actually going on in the country?"

One of my all-time favorite moments- seriously.

The thing is, there's plenty of kids and parents that are homophobic in these same schools- it's not some big gay wonderland. But the LGB (I've had no reports on the T kids) just don't care. I mean they literally make fun of the dumb ass homophobes. I've heard them. "Asshole- I bet he's really gay but afraid to admit it because his dick's so small and he knows no one will want him." I almost swallowed my teeth hearing it.

Let me see, how was I handling homophobes in the 10th grade? Hmm, that's right, I wasn't. Nor would I have had a peer group to do it with. I would have been kicked out of school for even saying the 'gay' word-much less insisting it was legitimate. Sure, I went to Catholic School in the 80's. But it was no different for my gay brother in public highschool in the late 70's and not much different for my lesbian sister in the early 90's.

Something has changed radically for that bravery to exist. For a while I thought that it mainly had to do with TV and the 'coming out' movement- sure, by the mid nineties, people were generally comfortable around their wife's funny sister or 'sports-loving' college roommate. Then, for a while I thought capitalism would be the final blow to homophobia- Amex and Subaru discovered gay people had money and were loyal customers when thrown a media scrap- sure it's a scrap, but we're now in Middle America's living room along with the Tide commercial. Good enough, right?

But those cultural milestones (millstones?) still don't account for the speed with which, or the age at which the youngsters have started coming out. It's not just the queer kids either- one of the twin's boyfriends has taken a lot of flak for publicly announcing that he is intentionally celibate. Right, he's fifteen. I couldn't even have managed being intentionally right-handed at fifteen. I can't imagine having made any statement more illuminating about my core beliefs than "Madonna Sucks." (And you know what? I recanted on that later.) I certainly may have been worrying over shit like: was it dykey that all my pants had cuffs? Maybe I should wear something besides topsiders and a button down. What if Megan finds out that I like her that way? Would I ever meet Pat Benatar? Would she know I liker her that way?

These kids- they identify as gay, queer, bi, celibate- whatever, in junior high now. Sure, increased cultural exposure because of Ellen and other funny sisters helped, but it doesn't explain the ease with which kids now adopt the lesbian identity (or any identity for that matter.)

It's obvious that the ability to much more quickly reach a much larger peer group has helped: we all saw that potential when our weird roommate declared her love, via the VAX, to the 'boyfriend' in Canada she met off of some Geddy Lee Fan BBS on the Bitnet.

I believe, more importantly, that cyberspace (which really isn't even a good word for it anymore) allows the kids to so fluidly claim an identity, or many identities, with so little immediate risk or impact, that they may be much braver and bolder with their claims. They just aren't as afraid to be.

Imagine 15 or 20 years ago, trying to proclaim any identity in a public sphere - unless you were going to hang up posters in the lunch room, there was no way to reach the masses. There was no ubiquitous public sphere like there is now.

We didn't set up profiles, we had no choice but to be our profile. You just appeared as you were, every day- there was no dry run, no remaking your profile or changing your nick name or consensus building on values. Just vulnerable you, in the flesh. You couldn't publicly change your likes and interests- you would never have even articulated to yourself most of the questions that kids now answer to describe themselves when setting up a Myspace profile. You just were. Often, you just were what your parents told you you were. For most of us, the only chance we got to change our profile was when we left our homes and highschools for college- and then, you only had the one chance.

Remember the feeling you had the day you wore the brand new outfit/haircut/drug habit, that was a departure from your usual style, an updated declaration of identity and it was either 1) totally perfect 2) a hideous failure that you longed to scrape off of your skin? These kids do it a dozen times a week in hugely public forums with no worry about whispers behind them. Sure there's nasty comment leaving, etc... but that's nowhere near as visceral or terrifying as a coven of teenage girls squealing at you when you enter the locker room.

These kids are engaging in really sophisticated identity mechanics 10 years younger than previous generations. Imet a 17 year old a coule of years ago who self-identified as a foot fetishist. My Christ. Did you know that you were a queer/people person/leatherwoman/buddihst/vegan/nihilist/republican at 14? If you did, and had the words to articulate it, would you have told the world? No, you were trying to learn German by listening to both sides of Nena's 99 Luftbaloons repeatedly. Your twenties (or 'the black years' as I like to call them) were for working all that other shit out.

Imagine the contribution these kids are going to make to the Gross National Product/Medicine/Animal Husbandry in their twenties- think of all the productivity that WON'T be lost because they had take a 'mental health day' or four to deal with all the coming out/getting sober/making bail crap like previous generations did. They will be clear minded, well balanced and sure of themselves in ways we could never dream of. They'll be throwing smoke like you won't believe. Forget mere marriage rights- some supremely well adjusted little queer genius is going to cure cancer within the next ten years because she didn't lose her youth, her focus or her talent to self doubt and all it's self defeating accoutrement.

Mark my words, motherfucker.