Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Soundtrack of Your Coming Out

Today is National Coming Out Day! Celebrate!

No, I am not going to divulge my identity, a subject recently referred to by someone as "the worst-kept secret in Detroit."

But I am going reminisce a bit about my coming out, an occasion that took place twenty years ago this week. Oh, the adolescent melodrama! The tortured anxiety of it all! Man, those were good times, staying in on a Friday night freshman year in college, thinking about how I would instantly land a boyfriend and find a community of friends as soon as I was able to publicly admit I was a homo! As it turns out, not so much. Hell, it took me a year to even hook up with someone (see previous post).

It all may have sucked at the time, but in retrospect there is a rosy glow over that period. And there is no way to recapture the thoughts and feelings of an era than to reflect on the music you were listening to.

Soft Cell's "
Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret" was stumbled upon by accident. If you're only familiar with "Tainted Love" then you need to explore the total weird excellence of this album. It's one of those albums that's a bit of a narrative, something you don't run across quite as much anymore. This one's about an exploration of an alternative sexual world, back when doing so involved more than logging online. "Seedy Films," "Sex Dwarf," and "Say Hello, Say Good-bye" are highlights but the entire album (which I am listening to right now, on the same damn vinyl I listened to twenty years ago) is amazing. At the time, it was a soundtrack of being a sexual deviant. Today, it's a fond remembrance of being a sexual deviant.

Bronski Beat, on the other hand, sang openly of the very real fear and hatred of gay people that existed in the 80's. Singing "You and me together / fighting for our love" seems just a touch melodramatic now, but man oh man, it didn't (and wasn't) at the time. New songs and brilliant reinterpretations of old songs ("It Ain't Necessarily So") cried out with the voice of the oppressed gay person.

Bronski Beat is also the soundtrack to my visits back to Detroit during college, after hanging out with high school friends and the ex-girlfriend I hadn't come out to yet, driving on the freeway and thinking about going to Backstreet. Melancholy, but uplifting. There is a scene in the gay independent film "Parting Glances" (starring Steve Buscemi, and HIGHLY recommended for an amazing glimpse at gay life in the AIDS era circa mid 1980's) where they are going to a gay bar and Bronski Beat is playing, and it just totally captures a gay moment of the time.

The Pet Shop Boys also factored in, although they had yet to voice their gay identity openly. But come on, who didn't at least speculate? Nothing overtly gay or sexual, just REINVENTING FUCKING DUSTY SPRINGFIELD. Genius.

And then ... and then there are the songs from the gay bar. I finally started venturing out to them starting spring break. My first one? Backstreet, with aforementioned ex-girlfriend and straight high school best friend. Cuz you know, the music was great and their friends were going.

Well once back at school it all kicked in with the new gay best friend (who persists to this day, although not locally. Hi Lance!). The most embarrassing of 12" singles made it into my collection, a remembrance of nights at the gay dance club. Rick Astley "Never Gonna Give You Up," Natalie Cole "Pink Cadillac," Taylor Dayne (!) "Prove Your Love," Depeche Mode "Behind the Wheel/Route 66." Oh the good times and bad fashions of early 1988! And all captured on vinyl ...

And this wouldn't be complete without a mention of the soundtrack to "
Maurice," the Merchant-Ivory adaptation of the E. M. Forster novel (which was published after his death in 1971). The weekend I worked up the nerve to tell my first friend that I was gay (she yawned), I spent the next few days reading that novel and then going to see the movie. It was probably my first super gay weekend.

What a time that was. ACT UP was in their ascendancy, Queer Nation was about to make their debut. There was no "Will & Grace" popular acceptance of gays and lesbians. It was a time of gay activism, and a whole generation of gay men was desperately fighting for their lives. There were no antiretroviral drugs, there were no drug cocktails to keep HIV at bay. So much was awful and frankly, when I stop and think about it all, it breaks my heart.

I do know this is when the activist part of me was formed. I didn't see the worst of it, and yet I did see the handsome owner of the designer consignment store end up in a wheelchair, a shadow of his former self. I did see angry young men on the streets with picket signs demanding more AIDS funding. I did see a kiss-in. I did see people sitting, panicking, waiting for their HIV test results.

It's why I won't accept that things are great for gay people now, just because you can live in NYC or SF without hassle. It's why I believe that gay marriage - as much as I could personally give a shit - is a matter of fundamental fairness and should be fought for much more aggressively than it is. It's why I am tired of gay people not fighting back harder against the anti-gay (not simply "pro family") agenda of the right wing.

I don't mean to detract from the cotton candy fluffiness that is usually Supergay Detroit, but anniversaries demand reflection. I am pretty sure I don't live in a different world from the rest of the Michigan gay community, but sometimes it feels that way. That is why I so strongly require my life to be in Detroit, not Oakland County. I need to connect with gay spheres that are not my own. And I need to feel like people still seek something better, not the status quo.

The soundtrack of today is the blog post of the future, so let's hope it is as inspiring as it is entertaining. Acceptance for gay lifestyles is important, but it saddens me to think that a collective gay identity may be lost. I worry that right now "fitting in" matters more in our gay community than "being yourself."

I just wonder when we can simply be ourselves? Embrace our gay heritage, our gay culture, our gay identity. And still be accepted. Shouldn't that be the goal?

Anyway, the activist gets away from me again ... what from your coming out inspires you? What is your coming out soundtrack? I'm genuinely interested to hear.

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