The Gay Pride Parade in New York City on Sunday was particularly memorable. Not only was it still going strong at 8 p.m. (it started at noon), but this year's parade also marked the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots when the gay rights movement officially began.*
The Pride party I attended was on the parlor floor of a West Village brownstone. The ceilings were so high that rainbow balloon ribbons barely grazed our heads. Champagne, bagels and Bloody Marys were served, and Rufus, Elton and Erasure dominated the playlist.
Maybe it was the theme of the day that caused all conversations to lead to playful comments about being "gay," doing "gay" things and listening to "gay" music.
One of my friends laughed about how she and her girlfriend had run into another of the couples there at IKEA. "It was so . . . lesbionic." She said. "We were like, 'At least it isn't Home Depot.'"
Another couple told the story of how they met on Missed Connections. "We originally met at a bathhouse in Montreal," one of the guys said, rolling his eyes. "I know."
A girl that had just moved to Brooklyn with her girlfriend and a guy that was about to move to LA with his boyfriend made fun of each other for being different kinds of cliches.
Gay stereotypes, which, in this day and age, are relevant enough to be funny but outdated enough to be innocuous, seemed to elicit a kind of nostalgia from the group. Even though the 20- and 30-somethings present didn't shape these stereotypes, they did refer to them as though they were part of their cultural identity. A guy on the sofa next to me explained that defining gay culture, in part by embracing stereotypes, is becoming increasingly necessary as gayness goes mainstream.
"So you think having a gay culture is important?" I asked.
"It's important for equal rights," he said.
"And for coming out," someone else added.
But an argument was also made that if culture is a reaction against discrimination, then if there is no discrimination, there is no need for a culture. Clearly there is still a great deal of anti-gay discrimination all over the world, even in the West Village where rainbow flags hang year-round, but perhaps gay culture (and all group culture) is nothing more than a way of protecting a marginalized community.
The guy sitting next to me on the sofa concluded that his view on gay culture is Durkheimian. "I want the culture to be there but I don't want to be the one responsible for it. I don't want to be the one marching in the parade."
A girl on the sofa pointed out that talking about gay culture at all, instead of just focusing on political goals, is a luxury that minority groups enjoy only after achieving a certain level of power. "This is the third wave. This is like how on Ally McBeal the women wore power suits ironically."
By the time the crest of a third wave forms, a movement has gained enough momentum to move from questions of "if" to questions of "when," as is evident by the numerous articles in yesterday's New York Times. And last night if you were lucky enough to be standing on Christopher Street with fireworks to the south, a lavender Empire State Building to the north, and crowds cheering in the distance, you couldn't help thinking, "soon."
*If you're interested in a walking tour that covers Stonewall and Manhattan's West Village, check out my book Secret New York.