On my way to my first class of the semester, Gay Male Relationships, I descend the stairs at Harvey Milk Plaza to board the inbound MUNI train. Inside the station new display ads cover the walls -- catch my attention. They are all close ups of male couples in differing poses suggestive of romantic attachments. The copy on the ads state this dating service, “Partner for Life,” is better then “M4M,” it is “LTR.” “One night stands are great, 365 are Better” declares one ad. I look to the other side of the platform. Yes, the ads are repeated over there as well. All of the display ads at the Castro Station are taken over by “Partner for Life.” All of the ads promote the message that partnering for life is ‘better’ than any other choice. My train arrives at the next stop, Church Street, where I alight, where there are no display ads proclaiming the superiority of partnering for life.
Walking to my class at the GLBTQ Center, I consider what this means for me. While I haven’t traveled to all of the other MUNI stops, I wonder if these ads appear elsewhere. Are we as a community still so ghettoized? I feel these ads which seem targeted at what is perceived as the “gayborhood” are engaging in furthering the attempt to construct and regulate a “safe” arraignment of what gay family and gay sex means which will be more palatable to the larger normative culture at the exclusion of alternatives within the community. Should it be the job of a dating service to become the promoter of alternative views. Not necessarily. However, I see a pattern here which repeats again and again, from the presumptive insistence that marriage equity is the goal of the entire community to the censorship of a more open and vital sexuality by institutions within the community such as the GLBTQ Center itself, which has taken it upon itself to filter internet access, censor art shows in its space, and outlaw nudity within the Center. I read my first homework assignment for my Gay Male Relationships class, which deals with “Chronically Single Gay Men,” and I learn, “ . . . there are more men looking to be in relationships now than in the ‘70’s. ‘Some of this is an evolution of gay male culture away from the revolving sexual door that characterized so much of the era of the sexual revolution . . .’.” This trope becomes repetitive. When questioned by the Bay Area Reporter concerning the rule banning nudity at the Center the director of the Center responded by saying he felt there would have been a time when you would not have been able to make such a rule, -- now the ability to make such a rule was a sign of the gay communities evolution, its maturation.
When we perceive changes in a community as a maturation or an evolution we are hierarchizing behavior. In claiming that a new behavior is somehow better than the old what we are really doing is governing others sexual behavior. We are engaging in a subtle sexual shaming. Gayle Reubin, in her essay “Thinking Sex,” suggests that hierarchies of sex serve no real purpose except to prevent sexual variance.
The “normative” sexuality, typically and historically post-marital monogamous heterosexuality, has the luxury of maintaining invisibility by the very nature of its dominance. It has the luxury of seeing its sexuality reflected back to itself everywhere, from automobile ads to Hollywood film to Literature. Their sexuality is constantly being reenforced at the same time it assumes a visible invisibility by the very nature of its universality. It is in this way the dominate group may deny its own sexuality, may remain inconspicuously sex-phobic. Any variation to what is perceived as normative suddenly becomes not only visible, but prurient.
When the LGBTQ community condescends to the idea of an “evolution” in its behavior or a belief in a type of sexual expression which is better than another, it seeks to cleanse itself of the stigma of queerness placed upon it by the hetero-normative culture by engaging in the marginalization, shaming, and stigmatization of members of its own community in the very manner in which it has been marginalized, shamed, and stigmatized by the dominate group.
The fact the the ads for “Partner for Life” only appear in the Castro Street MUNI station is irrefutable evidence that the “evolution” of LGBTQ sexuality has not normalized to the extent that it may co-exist along with the invisibly visible dominate heterosexual sexuality.