Homophobia in High Schools and Colleges

It exists.

It is not just the work of a “few bad apples” but is, in fact, deeply structural and institutional. In prepping my poetry classes this summer, I have been looking through a variety of websites geared toward middle and high-school students. Invariably, even prominent gay and lesbian poets tend to be put back into the closet. For instance, one site notes that lesbian feminist poet Adrienne Rich was married and that her husband committed suicide. Not a single word about her lesbian relationships—which far outlast her marriage.

But that is another topic.

I am far more interested in a comment left on the above lined article by “gay grad student”:

Gays just need to quit playing the discriminated card and start acting like role models—a superior group that others should strive for. Look at cultural creation, especially urban regentrification—gays lead the way. Cities that are ‘cool’ generally have a big gay population, and cities that aren’t cool, try to court gays, at least, if they are smart. People need to be out and proud, but not just in the sense that they ‘are gay’; they need to be assertive about our low crime rates, high education, and cultural creativitiy [sic]. If we told kids the t.v. they are watching was produced by a dominant group—gays—they might start thinking differently.

Unfortunately, “gay” here defaults into implicitly white and relatively affluent. Presumably, gays should avoid “playing” the “card” that has been so unsuccessful for blacks and women. Indeed, they should play the “superior.” The gender, race, and class politics of this assertion are so obvious that they need little comment.

Being “gay,” for this student, has little to do with the class and racial politics of “gentrification.” Indeed, that some gay individuals may be left disenfranchised by gentrification seems beside the point. Cities court populations with money. It should be noted, of course, that many cities with “big gay” populations also tend to be prohibitively expensive. Here, gays are “cool” because they represent urban wealth and trends.

I’m not on board.

I’m not sure “we” need to romanticize “gay” life to give it worth. “Low crime rates, high education, and cultural creativity” all sound remarkably interesting, if, I think, empirically inflated.

Two things bother me most about this sanitized model of “gayness.” It offers no critique of heteronormativity, no critique of normativity at all, without which “gay,” at least for me, becomes an empty signifier filled with pretty colors and nice-smelling flowers. Gay as tourist attraction is something I can—and do—live without.

Moreover, it refuses to understand the way queer lives are constantly being sanitized, histories erased and individuals re-closeted so they can have worth. Stripped of any objectionable content, gay might become “cool.” Yet, this “cool” becomes complicit with a homophobic logic of erasure and invisibility. (See gayprof on the gay character in The Starter Wife).

If nothing else, history should teach us that a résumé of accomplishments never guarantees social approbation.

2 thoughts on “Homophobia in High Schools and Colleges

  1. Sadly enough, the idea that gay concentration spurs economic growth is not only an obscene and narrow reading of “gay,” but is actually the tenet of many municipal plans that use the Gay Index (developed by demographer Gary Gates and popularized by policy pundit Richard Florida) to promite uneven urban development. (Florida even notes an inverse relationship between a gay-motored “creativity” economy and populations of people of color. It’s really explicit and outrageous.) Also, although I rarely care about “closesting” famous gays and lesbians, that Adrienne Rich anecdote really made me angry! How old was it?

  2. I have no idea how old the information on Rich may be. And, to be fair, the website, from the Academy of American Poets, seems to de-radicalize everyone. The entry on Amiri Baraka, for example, is laughably bad. At stake might be the old, and still firmly held, idea that poetry should be divorced from controversy, poetry, in good new critical fashion, needs no context, translated as no disturbing context. My sense is also that the website is primarily for use by elementary through high school students. Still, it exemplifies how even “living” history continues to insist on the need for the closet.

    Every so often, I feel as though my little queer world has moved “beyond” the urgencies of gay liberation, only to be sent back 50 paces, do not pass go, do not collect money, forget about recognition.

Comments are closed.