Gay Culture Is Dying. Good Riddance!

San Francisco’s Castro District.

Photo by Luciano Mortula/Shutterstock.com

This is the first entry in an Outward dialogue. You can also read June Thomas’ rejoinder, Vanessa Vitiello Urquhart’s second entry, and Thomas’ final response.


The notion that gay culture might be experiencing something of a decline is not a new one. Andrew Sullivan got there nine years ago. You’ve chronicled the decline of the gay bar here in Slate, and others have noted the increasing straightness of gay vacation spots. There’s also a recent study that suggests fewer gay people are moving to predominantly gay neighborhoods. All this is bad news for certain people—gay cruise directors, for instance, and real-estate agents with lots of listings in the gayborhood. But should the wider LGBTQ community really be spending time, energy, and emotional bandwidth on pleas to preserve gay spaces?

The preservationist impulse is an understandable one. Lesbians and gays are a tiny minority. Historically, we’ve been subject to stigma and oppression at the hands of a larger culture acting under the influence of the purity dictates of irrational ancient religions. Today, though, these religious prohibitions are holding far less sway over modern ideas and attitudes, and they were themselves something of an historical accident, a case of a fringe religious group (Christians) unexpectedly coming to dominate Western culture a thousand years ago. The two previous cultures to which Westerners owe the greatest cultural debt, those of Greece and Rome, didn’t find anything particularly wrong or abhorrent in homosexual activity. Although their ethic was nothing like our modern one, it is instructive to note that there is nothing natural or inevitable about moral or legal prohibitions of homosexuality.

As our culture evolves toward a more humane, accepting attitude toward gay people and their relationships, it makes sense to ask: Is there any place for a gay culture in this bright new future? After all, gay children are not born to gay parents, but rather discover their gay orientation later in life, often around puberty. This means that the first culture of every young gay person is that of their family and local community. In a world where young people are not met with rejection by their parents, where their communities welcome the discovery of their natural inclinations toward same sex relationships, it’s hard to see what impetus there could possibly be to drive them to group together in the sort of larger communities of choice that have always been the crucible in which uniquely gay identities and larger gay cultures can be formed.

Those who suggest that we, as gays, will always need places of refuge show a failure of imagination at how bright our future can be. They assume that there must always be some stigma, some feeling of difference, or separateness, or loneliness, remaining after the work of the LGBTQ movement is accomplished. But why? After all, left-handedness was once associated with the devil, but there is no distinct left-handed subculture. Left-handed people have their shared annoyances, they even have pride, of a sort, in their supposed tendencies toward creativity and genius. But there are no left-handed bars or cruises.

Gays and lesbians are different from left-handers in one important way, which is that we must seek out and date each other (or bisexuals of our own gender). If Internet dating didn’t exist, this would probably be enough to make designated gay spaces a necessity. As it is, however, even this level of segregation has become unnecessary. Gays and lesbians should not be afraid of a future where we reclaim our birthright by integrating fully into the communities that give birth to us.

Dancing on the grave of gay culture,