Sunday, February 17, 2013

D5.  Instead of maintaining a low profile, as decency requires, homosexuals are prone to extravagant displays of excess and exhibitionism.

A. The Charge. Discretion is definitely not part of the gay repertoire.  These reprobates get a thrill out of what they term “camping up a storm,”  engaging in flamboyant conduct that is designed to offend.  Displays of this misbehavior are particularly egregious during the “gay-pride” events that blight many cities in June of each year,.

Homosexuals would be well advised not to advertise their all-too-obvious affliction.  Adopting an aggressive approach only brings disapproval,  It is antithetical to the very acceptance these individuals claim to be seeking, which can only be earned (if in fact it can be) through a modest demeanor.  Exuberance and self-indulgence retard their progress in integrating with polite society,

B,  Background.  For generations, concealment and discretion, the closet in short, represented the unspoken rule for gay people - a basic survival strategy. Paradoxically, though, in earlier years some "obvious" or stereotypical gays defiantly embraced the opposite tactic of exhibitionism. They excelled in a sort of performance in public places, involving exaggerated gestures, high-pitched shrieking, and mock femininity.  Such gambits were known as camping up a storm, flaming (also “sending up flares”), and screaming (as in “screaming queens”).  Dropping pins meant to proclaim one’s feminine side.

What is one to make of these labels?  These slang  expressions served to signal disapproval on the part of the more reticent members of the community who feared the negative consequences of the provocation.  Yet those who engaged in the behavior took a different view, regarding it as a necessary safety valve.  The conduct might also have been intended as a way of calling out straight society for its hypocrisy.  Some flaming may have been involuntary, however.

Popular usage has detected a particular character type here, a social role that persists to this day.  A drama queen is a histrionic gay man who relishes his capacity to "make scenes." Typically, the outbursts show a kind of exaggerated patter that resembles the recitatives and arias of opera. The affinity of gay men for the theater and the opera has often been noted. Still, it is not necessary to be a fan of those art forms to qualify as a drama queen.

Such provocation was not always simply a manifestation of personal idiosyncrasy. The joyous exuberance of the gay-liberation movement of the 1970s represented a positive channeling of collective exhibitionism. Utilizing zaps, confrontation, and in-your-face tactics, gay activists of the 1970s pioneered in repurposing such impulses as creative tools for advancing social change. During the following decade AIDS activists, especially those in the organization ACT-UP specialized in positive uses of confrontation. Today, with many of the key goals accomplished, the need for such interventions is less keenly felt.

The first gay-pride parade was held in New York City in June of 1970.  The custom has since spread around the world, from San Francisco to Berlin and from Mauritius to São Paolo.  These events attract a large variety of participants, including some flamboyant individuals, some of them deliberately provocative. 

As a result, there is opposition to pride events both within the GLBT and mainstream populations. Some gay and lesbian critics charge the parades with an undue emphasis on sex and fetishism which they view as counterproductive to GLBT interests, exposing the larger gay community to ridicule. GLBT activists counter that mainstream media have played a negative role in featuring the most outlandish and therefore non-representative aspects of the community. This fact serves to play into the hands of exhibitionists who are encouraged to adopt ever-more-flamboyant costumes in order to gain media coverage.

For their part, social conservatives decry such events because they view them to be contrary to public morality. This belief focuses on certain elements typically found in the parades, such as public nudity, BDSM paraphernalia, and other sexualized features. Within the academic community, there has been criticism that the parades actually tend to strengthen the homosexual-heterosexual divide.  Unintentionally, they may serve to advance the essentialist view that GLBT people are totally different from “normals.”

Apart from public display, excess may also occur in one’s lifestyle. Some gay men have had thousands of sexual partners, and boast of their numerous conquests, which are generally anonymous. As a rule, though, these sexual athletes do not regard their exploits as excess, but as a natural expression of the male erotic drive. Some individuals of this type are oncers, who boast of never having had sex twice with the same person. The circuit parties, so popular in the 1990s, combined indulgence in drugs with anonymous sex.  All these things reflect sectors of the gay-male community, but are not representative of the whole.

C. Response.  Some kinds of excess, at least those that bring health problems, should be avoided.  However, almost all human beings have a basic need for expressivity.  And sometimes this requirement entails “letting go.” As long as no one is harmed by this conduct and no laws are broken, there are no grounds for alarm,

BIBLIOGRAPHY.  Lynda Johnson, Queering Tourism: Paradoxical Performances at Gay Pride Parades, London: Routledge, 2005.


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