Home/Rod Dreher/What You’re Not Supposed to Notice

What You’re Not Supposed to Notice

As we are all told, it is wrong, wrong, wrong to stereotype gay men as sexually insatiable and indiscriminate. If you have a negative or even somewhat critical view of gay male culture, you are not entitled to notice things like this Salon article. Excerpt:

If you’ve ever pulled over to a rest area, you’ve been near men having sex. I’m one of those men, I’ve done it a hundred times; we go into the woods or a truck with tinted windows, in a stall under cold light. It never stops, not for season or time. In the winter, men trudge through snow to be with each other, in the summer, men leave the woods with ticks clinging to their legs. Have you ever stopped at a rest area and found it completely empty? There’s always one man there, in his car, waiting to meet someone new.

This has been going on for a long, long time. The new ways that men meet — endlessly staring into phones, searching on hookup apps like Grindr or sites like Manhunt — haven’t changed the fact that we’re still having sex at rest areas, because they offer something different. For the man who is unsure of his sexuality, or unsure of how to tell others about it, for the man who has a family but feels new desires (or old, hidden ones) unfolding inside of him, the website and the phone apps are just too certain of themselves. They’re for gay men who want to have gay sex. Sex at the rest area, instead, abolishes identity; there’s a sort of freedom there to not be anything – instead, men just meet other men there; men who want the same sort of freedom.

The writer celebrates having sex in the bushes and public bathrooms as an existential act:

After awhile I began to develop a strange feeling at rest areas, like I was giving myself to someone. Not that I gave my full self, but that the part of myself I did give was complete. There was no pretense, no awkward conversation or dancing around whether or not I should be attracted to somebody. There was no wondering if someone was straight or gay; there was no sexual orientation at all. We were just there, together, as ourselves.

Years ago, a gay friend showed me a copy of a popular gay travel guide. It included listings for gay bars, gay-friendly hotels, gay-friendly restaurants and attractions. The usual. But it also included information about the best places for men to go to have anonymous sex in public. I thought that was so bizarre. But this was presented in the guidebook as if it were a normal thing for the gay male traveler (but not, of course, lesbians) to want to know about a city.

What I don’t get is why it is only permissible within our media culture to observe things like this guy’s celebration of the rest-stop liberty if you find it something worth celebrating, or at least morally neutral. If you read this and make a negative judgment on this guy and the culture that celebrates his kink, then you are some sort of bigot. In the past, gay friends who want nothing to do with this kind of thing have told me there’s intense pressure within the gay male community not to criticize it, at the expense of being labeled “self-hating,” or some sort of Uncle Tom.

The same dynamic happens when it comes to thug culture and young black males. It is fine to observe thug culture and celebrate its transgressive qualities (valorizing “bitches,” “hos,” pimps, murder, materialism, and so forth), but you can’t look at it and say, “That’s a degenerate way of looking at the world and other people, and anybody who embraces it is messed up.” That would be bigoted.

It all reminds me of my 16 year old self dressing up in New Wave gear, and going to the grocery store in my hometown. If anybody stared at me strangely — which would have been natural, given that most teenagers here didn’t wear get-ups like mine — I seethed inside over how prejudiced, how judgmental they were. But if they didn’t seem to notice me, that bothered me too. For teenaged me, the only acceptable response from others was some form of, “Wow, you’re so cool, you’re such a rebel. I admire you for attracting the scorn of others. They only show how bad they are by judging you negatively.”

Well, I grew up. Most of us do. And growing up means coming to understand that there are consequences for the choices we make. Of course people may judge us unfairly, but we can’t expect to defy social convention and avoid all consequences for our freely-made choices. It may strike you as unfair that the corporation you’ve applied to work for makes you put on a suit and take the ring out of your lip in the workplace, but honestly? Nobody really cares. Because we are social creatures, and have evolved to be social creatures, conformity to a certain degree is inevitable. If you don’t wish to conform, if you wish to despise and reject society and its morals and conventions, you have that right. But own it. You can’t tell ordinary people to go to hell, so to speak, and then expect them to not pass judgment on you. You can get away with that when your 16, if you have parents who love you and are willing to tolerate your nonsense, knowing that it’s just a phase, but the act wears real thin. If you dress like a thug, for example, you should not be surprised when people judge you a thug. If you seek out anonymous sex in rest stops and a significant part of your culture considers that normal and even positive, you should not be surprised when people outside your culture form a negative opinion. That’s how the real world works.

And yes, if you wear a Confederate flag on your shirt and walk into a black neighborhood, or even just into a public place where people may not appreciate the semiotical nuances of your garb, you should not be surprised when people think, however mistakenly, that you’re a racist redneck. That judgment, though, is acceptable in mainstream media culture, in a way that scorning Rest Stop Guy or Thug Teen  wouldn’t be. Some rebels are more rebellious than others.

UPDATE: No, I’m not saying that Trayvon Martin brought his killing onto himself by the way he was dressed, if that’s what you’re thinking. I actually have no idea how he was dressed, other than the hoodie. I have a hoodie myself. My white, small-town, middle class  13 year old niece wears hoodies. That means nothing.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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