Posted by: facetothewind | April 10, 2005

On Gay Style for the G&LR

Guest Opinion piece for Gay & Lesbian Review
By David Gilmore

Recently a friend emailed me pictures of his new home in San Francisco – a Victorian remodel that cost, well, let’s just say that the price rivals some nations’ gross national product. When I opened the photos, I immediately recognized the house, not that I have ever actually been there. Nonetheless, I knew the house. It is the same house that I’ve seen in Miami, Los Angeles, Palm Springs, Phoenix. Welcome to the new gay aesthetic brought to you by the likes of Pottery Barn, Ikea, Restoration Hardware and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.

The interiors, like their owners, are super neat and clean – granite countertops, halogen lights with dimmers in the kitchen, throw blankets tossed over muted-colored sofas and a color palette that usually involves a periwinkle bathroom and a pumpkin kitchen.

I remember living in San Francisco when the Pottery Barn opened its retail store at Castro and Market. At the time I didn’t realize the significance of this. But years later, while watching the very first episode of Queer Eye, I recall a sinking feeling that this show was trouble. The “gay aesthetic” had been hijacked. My friend watching the show with me disagreed saying, “This is terrific! Now ‘queer’ will become a household word.” Six months later I was standing at the check-out counter at Bed, Bath and Beyond (after much perusing in the Beyond section) when I saw it on the rack by the cash register: The Fab 5’s Guide to Looking Better, Cooking Better, Dressing Better, Behaving Better and Living Better. My friend’s words rang true. Queer had indeed become a household word.

But queer seems a misnomer for us – not because it’s reclaiming a hurtful epithet from our past as previously argued, but because it simply isn’t true. Webster’s defines queer as: 1. Different from the usual; strange 2. Eccentric.

We’ve become anything but queer. The road to legitimacy has led us to the altar seeking marriage – something so ordinary that it has curled the hair of America. Being “normal,” not the flamboyant queens of the post-Stonewall generation, comes with an obligation: to look the part. Heaven help us that we should skip up to the altar clad in gold chenille. No, this is the time to look normal because all of America is watching.

People of my generation will remember a time before we used the word queer in any positive, reclaiming connotation – but rather a time when it was simultaneously an insult and true. We were queer by definition and derogation. We stood apart, even in places where to do so was a risky proposition.

In rural Florida in the late 1970s, through various channels I managed to find my way into a very closeted, underground network of local gay folks. As a teenager I remember the first time I entered a gay household. It seemed so large and colorful: antiques, large canvasses of homemade erotic art that celebrated a newfound sexual freedom (if you can’t buy it, paint it yourself), chandeliers hanging from trees in the backyard (thank you, Liberace), an outdoor shower (influenced no doubt, by ‘70s California porn videos). It was as if I had entered someone’s secret playhouse of sensual delights. Another friend’s house was full of opera memorabilia, a grand piano (that they actually played) and a screaming parrot in cage named Magda, after the famous diva, Magda Olivera. These were sanctuaries from a hostile world – homes where gay men could be REALLY gay because their outside world wasn’t. We set ourselves apart. We had no interest in looking like the Joneses.

Times have changed. We have shed our sexual identity for a social identity. And so, twenty-five years later I find myself in living rooms with no more erotic art, where the piano is only for show and the artwork has a corporate sterility, as if all style is dictated by a modern gay version of Garanimals.

There seems to be a prevailing belief that flamboyance will always be marginalized and as a group, we’re really over being marginalized. The gay community has gotten a taste of a middle class, suburban authentication, and if it means that it comes at the cost of our originality and artistic edge, then so be it. Subsumption into a uniform aesthetic defined by corporate America doesn’t seem to scare the masses if it means it comes with a marriage license and a TV show.

Fran Leibowitz once said, “gay people make culture, straight people make babies.” I wonder if I could get a baby in periwinkle to go with my cucumber throw rug. Babies in a full palette of colors… Now there’s a marketing idea I could get behind.


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