Why you won’t find the younger generation partying in the Village or plastering rainbows on their bumpers.
Editors’ note: due to the considerable discussion this article has generated, we have issued this response explaining our reasons for publishing it
When Carl Wittman, the American writer and activist, wrote A Gay Manifesto in 1970, it galvanized the gay liberation movement. The document was a ballsy critique of homophobia in North America, but also an unrepentant plea for courage and change within the community itself, proclaiming, “A large part of our oppression would end if we would stop putting ourselves and our pride down.”
Forty years after the Manifesto and the infamous Stonewall Riots in New York City, a new generation of twentysomething urban gays—my generation—has the freedom to live exactly the way we want. We have our university degrees, homes and careers. In Toronto, we’ve abandoned the Church Wellesley Village. We’re tattooed and pierced and at the helm of billion-dollar industries like fashion and television. We vacation with our boyfriends in fabulously rustic country homes that belong to our parents, who don’t mind us coming to stay as a couple. Hell, we even marry our boyfriends, if we choose to, on rooftops overlooking Queen West. Our sexual orientation is merely secondary to our place in society. We don’t need to categorize or define ourselves as gay, and who we sleep with—mostly men and, hey, sometimes women—isn’t even much of a topic of conversation anymore. The efforts of Wittman and his peers produced a whole new type of gay. Say hello to the post-modern homo. The post-mo, if you will.
Ryan, 24, Little Portugal
“A few years ago, I was on a date that ended within five minutes when I was told that my skinny jeans were ‘too tight.’ This guy was still in the closet and I think his search for masculinity in prospective partners was symptomatic of an inner struggle to accept himself. I take the pressure to be masculine lightly. But, as it turns out, I am a minority within a minority.”
Post-mos don’t hang rainbow flags in their windows or plaster them on their bumpers. We don’t march in Pride and we probably never will. (After-parties only, please.) We don’t torture ourselves to fit in with other gays. In fact, most of us have come to resent the stereotypes and the ideals associated with preceding gay generations. It’s not that we hate gay culture; we just don’t have that much in common with it anymore. To be a twentysomething gay man in Toronto in 2011 is to be free from persecution and social pressures to conform. It’s also, in most ways, not about being gay at all.
And herein lies the central question for the post-mo: Is there even a gay struggle to be had anymore? On the one hand, over the past decade, the process of assimilation has accelerated faster than anyone probably believed it could. In urban Canada, and in other lucky parts of the world, we embrace gay politicians, TV personalities and performers. When we find out a public figure is gay—Ricky Martin, Lance Bass, Neil Patrick Harris—it’s now a cause for celebration, like, “Hey, you did it!”
So no, the struggle is clearly not what it was. It’s something different. Of course, the fight for equality will never fully be over. But for my generation, the big question has shifted from the right to be gay to the struggle over the right way to be gay. Within the community, we battle each other over questions like, How gay is too gay? How masculine is masculine enough? Are we really expected to get married just because we can?
Some think the post-mo generation is ungrateful for guys like Wittman and insensitive to the struggles that allowed us the freedoms we enjoy today. Not so. The goal is to live with those freedoms as they were intended, not to live plagued with the pressures to be here and be queer. The fact is, we have everything our predecessors always wanted, so why has the community never seemed more at odds with itself?
David, 21, High Park
“My buddies and I joke that we’re not gay, we just fuck dudes. I always enjoy people’s accusation that ‘You can’t be gay’ because of my appearance, my tastes (in music, wardrobe, etc.) and my personality. [There’s this] idea that all gay guys like pop music and bad denim from Guess, and talk like a lame, effeminate caricature of homosexuality.”
When I was growing up and still figuring things out, I remember watching Madonna’s Truth or Dare documentary and being obsessed with the way gays worshipped her because she did whatever the hell she wanted. I remember one scene where they followed a group of her male dancers to an AIDS rally in New York City. Guys who, at the time, were about the age I am now, lined the streets to spread the message and rally for support for a cure. This was when being gay meant being part of a cause, not unlike the feminists or civil rights activists who fought for equality before them. It meant offering your presence and support because that was the true mark of living as a gay man—to show that you weren’t afraid.
That was the early ’90s. If I had to, I would trace the beginning of the post-mo, and our true introduction as functional members of society, to the premiere of the NBC sitcom Will & Grace in 1998. When it debuted, it was the first prime-time television show in history to feature a homosexual male character in a lead role. It was so risqué that promos over the summer leading up to its premiere tried to downplay the gay factor, misleadingly portraying Will and Grace as a couple instead of roommates. I finally caught on to the show in its second season, when I was 13, and I ate it up. It showed me what gay life would be like for me as an adult: I’d meet cute guys who would ask me out at my neighbourhood coffee shop, have a boozy best friend and a thriving career, wear perfectly tailored suits and separates, obsess over my skin and my body, and maybe even consider Botox. At least part of my life (fine, an episode or two) would be devoted to fighting for real political causes like electing a gay MPP or the right to kiss another man on The Today Show. It seemed like a pretty great life. “Normal,” even.
I grew up knowing I was gay, but I didn’t harbour the dream that I could—or even would—marry a man. I had this idea that being gay was just, well, fine. I was happy to float through my early teens in sexual ambiguity. High school, on the outskirts of North York, was a testament to this. I didn’t dress strategically in cargo shorts or baseball caps to fit in. I had copper highlights in my hair (a sign of the times, indeed). I hung out with the student-council crowd, competed on the school’s dance team and worked in the library for extra cash. I was voted valedictorian by my graduating class. I wasn’t the token anything. Whether or not I “liked” boys (we were still too shy to think in terms of having actual sex) was never called into question, and rumors or inquiring minds were met with my “If you want to know so badly, ask me to my face” stance. I left high school, like most Toronto-born gays I know, unscathed. There was no hiding, no big reveal, no dating girls for shelter. It was just there.
Post-mos like me were breastfed on self-empowerment models like The Spice Girls and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and their mutant strain of feminism. We were all about Girl Power, and I designed a shirt in computer class to prove it. We learned important life lessons about how to be confident in our sexuality from Britney Spears. During this time, the late ’90s and well into the 2000s, as we became teenagers and started feeling out a homosexual lifestyle, the word “gay,” and what it meant in the Western world, evolved—very suddenly, in retrospect—as individuality was increasingly seen as a virtue. Once-disenfranchised groups were thrust to the forefront of cool, and gays were along for the ride. Willow went lesbian on Buffy. People started studying the “power gays” and marketing stuff to them, assessing how much disposable income they had. We straight up created the metrosexual.
By the time we hit adulthood, it was clear that our journey as gay men would be different and far less driven by the scene. Will & Grace, in retrospect, had been speaking very much to another generation’s hopes and realities—the generation that watched their friends die during the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the ’80s and ’90s, and walked alongside Madonna’s dancers in those bouts of political consciousness. Those gays, at one point in their lives, had longed for the right to hold hands in public and ask each other out in coffee shops. But by the time we were ready to take the reins, the post-mo had a different agenda: no agenda at all. We simply arrived at the end of the fight to reap the fruits of another generation’s labour.
Phil, 23, Waterfront
“I lived in the Church Wellesley Village during my first year at Ryerson, but never went out socially in the neighbourhood. I do have friends that actively go out on Church Street—they enjoy the clubs and bars. I prefer to explore other parts of the city. I don’t need to be in a gay-specific area to have fun and dance.”
A defining feature of the post-mo is that we are digital natives, raised in the internet era. While gay men were once relegated to sexual encounters in dark parks or in the hidden comforts of a bathhouse, we came of age on our computers, from the safety of our bedrooms. I met my first guy online when I was 13 years old. I’m almost 25 now, and a man has never asked me out without a screen between us, let alone in a cute little café. It’s not that I’m unattractive, or socially dysfunctional. It’s because right when W&G was defining the way life could be for us post-mos, the internet came along and messed everything up. Instead of celebrating and commanding the new freedom we found in the 2000s, in marriage and in popular culture, we were online, carrying cellphones and being granted more teenage freedom than any generation before us.
While I was making Girl Power t-shirts in computer class, I was also learning how to navigate websites to see my first penis, set up a Hotmail account and get an ICQ number. I supplemented my time socializing “on the steps” (as we called it) at Second Cup on Church Street (old-timers, I know you know what I’m talking about) with online jaunts. My young and spongy mind soaked up all the knowledge it could about the internet, and I developed a shocking cunning that allowed me to sneak out of the house at 14 and meet up with 17-year-olds from Mississauga who drove souped-up Honda Civics.
Through one of these early adventures, I learned about a gay youth group at the Village’s 519 Community Centre for under-18 guys and gals who wanted to meet like-minded folk. I remember going for no particular reason other than to meet some cool, young queers to hang out with, and to preemptively control my online habits before it became the only way I knew how to meet guys. There, I heard stories of online pursuits similar to mine. Like me, these kids weren’t afraid of public scrutiny—or they were oblivious to it—and they had a lack of interest in anything else gay. It was here that I began to see a real difference between how I thought my life would turn out and the way it would actually go. We hated Toronto Pride for its negative stereotypes and its promotion of marginalization and hyper-sexed fools on floats. I didn’t own anything rainbow-coloured nor did I want to, and I stopped going to those youth meetings because, hey, I’m just a boy who likes other boys, and what else is there to say, okay? Soon, everyone else stopped going too.