One of the weirdest things about social progress is that it almost immediately gets so normalized that we forget how awful even the recent past could be. Nowhere is this truer than when it comes to what used to be called the “love that dare not speak its name.” Until recently, being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or anything slightly off the beaten path sexually meant living in silence, if not living a lie.
Back in the day, openly having a kink or being attracted to people of the same sex invited not just physical abuse and forced psychiatric counseling but also the possible loss of your livelihood, family, and friends. Even sympathetic treatments such as The Boys in the Band characterized gays as inherently neurotic and unhappy. Whole sitcoms, such as Three’s Company, which bestrode the small screen as a ratings colossus for eight years in the ’70s and ’80s, trafficked in repetitious, mean-spirited, and comedy-free gags about men who were “light in the loafers,” “tinkerbells,” or, worse still, florists.
That was then. Somewhere along the line, queers convinced straights of their fundamental humanity, and many of us, in turn, realized that finding love and meaning was hard enough without layering on religious, psychological, and legal guilt trips.
Facebook began offering its users no fewer than 58 gender descriptors, all the way from agender to neither to two-spirit, and Porn Hub, the X-rated website, has more flavors of offerings than Baskin-Robbins and Howard Johnson’s combined.
The literary critic Camille Paglia, who identifies as both queer and trans, sees the proliferation of ever-more-subdivided sexual identities as a premonition of the end of civilization, a narcissistic indulgence that becomes incapable of sustaining itself literally or figuratively. The same thing, she told Reason three years ago, happened in the last days of Rome, the British Empire, and Weimar Germany.
Well, maybe. Or perhaps everything in our world, from the food we eat to the clothes we wear to the medicine we take, is just more personalized than it used to be. And it’s only going to keep getting more so as we grow increasingly comfortable acknowledging both our common humanity and our unique individuality.
How we define ourselves in terms of gender and sexual orientation is a crucial part of self-expression. It’s nothing short of miraculous that Bruce Jenner, who as the commie-vanquishing 1976 Olympic decathlon champion was the apotheosis of postwar American masculinity, evolved into Caitlyn Jenner. And when she became the butt of jokes on an infamous episode of South Park, it was not because of her transition but because of her terrible driving skills.
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