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Attitude

By Alan Ilagan

Itís a little after 10 PM ~ early enough to escape the crush of the crowd, but not so early that the place is empty. Having lucked out and found a decent parking space, you turn the engine off and let out a deep breath. Here you are again, outside the gay bar, waiting forÖ something. Maybe you want to reach out and find the next special someone in your life, maybe you want to dance and flirt and party, or maybe you just want to sit and have a drink and a smoke. Whatever the case, you have come here and now you sit, trying to summon the courage to walk in. It seems so easy Ė itís such a familiar scenario -why should there be such hesitation and trepidation? The reason is simple: gay manís attitude.

As soon as you walk through that door you are going to be judged ~ and no matter how hot and buff you are in your distressed DKNY denim and too-tight Abercrombie T-shirt, there is going to be someone who doesnít think youíre all that. Itís just a small indication of the bad attitude that seems so prevalent in gay society.

Is bitchiness part of the gay gene? In our age of cynicism it is cooler to be cruel than kind. "Bitchy queen" is no longer a distinctive title, but rather a synonym for gay men in general. Who isnít a bitchy queen these days? I can think of a few, but even those few have their royal moments of queendom. And most of us actually celebrate such behavior.

The title of a popular British gay rag says it all: Attitude. Proudly flaunting its bitchy tone and let-them-eat-cake slant, Attitude struts the magazine racks with the singular view of looking down on everyone but the select elite they consider fabulous. Itís one thing to offer the occasional ranting and raving of a bitter queen Ė the gay culture prides itself on such acidic no-holds-barred humor, but without balance and a heart, itís a rather dismal one-note affair.

"I donít have any gay friends anymore because I couldnít stand the gossip and the behind-the-back talking," says Donald, 33. "My gay friends were great to me when I was alone and miserable, but when I started a serious relationship they treated me like crap. And this isnít even the first time."Donaldís case is a disturbing view of how we may be our own worst enemies.

Bitchiness proliferates in the gay scene, particularly in the bars and clubs where we do much of our socializing and flirting, but it also goes on behind closed doors, over the phone and on the Internet. Gossip, back-biting and in-fighting have turned a lot of the gay world into a pit of passive (and sometimes not-so-passive) aggression.

Is it a vicious unending circle? Has the persecution we have seen and suffered turned us incontrovertibly into a cynical, snippy culture, or have we adopted such bitchiness as a defense mechanism? Even as we make strides towards equality and acceptance in the overwhelmingly hetero-world, when we seem to have less of a need to be so defensive, our attitudes have only gotten more bitter. In the cloistered confines of our own community we seem to be turning on ourselves as we become more accepted by the outside world.

Iíve heard of countless gay events ~ pride parades and fund-raisers and such ~ that have been fraught with bickering and fighting. We want the gay cause to succeed, but only if weíre the ones recognized for it. On many levels this is true of human nature across the sexual boards, but it seems that we as gay men and women are more prone to it.

For people who know what itís like to be excluded and shunned from society, why do many of us feel the need to treat each other so maliciously? Do we act that way to feel better about ourselves, or is that too easy an explanation? Is our attitude an insidious form of intrinsic homophobia and self-hatred lurking beneath our politically correct facades?

When I first started to realize I was gay, I sought out others like me Ė expecting to be greeted with open arms and understanding. I mistakenly assumed that other gay men would know how I felt ~ how scared and confused and lonely I was~ and would help me on my way. Instead I was met with jealous stares, envious dismissals, threatened queens and apathetic others who hadnít the time nor the energy to give guidance to someone younger and more ignorant than themselves.

To this day, the harshest criticisms I get in life donít come from homophobic heterosexuals Ė they come from other gay men. Most of these attacks are rather transparent ~ a projection of the attackerís own discontent and unhappiness. Some are childish manifestations of petty jealousy and envy. I have had to learn and accept that there is a marked difference between constructive criticism and accusatory pot-shots. The former I can respect; the latter is a waste of time. Disagreement is fine Ė it leads to healthy discussion and debate; outright judgment and condemnation is dangerous.

Many of us, like Donald, choose to remove ourselves from the situation, slowly losing touch with our gay brethren. "Iíve had to keep my gay friends at a certain distance," he admits reluctantly. This is resulting in a slow disintegration of our gay community, and as our unity erodes, so too does our power and clout in society. We have to be more aware of our effect on one another and more willing to forgive and overlook minor squabbles.

The smallest comment or misread innuendo or even a glance in the wrong direction can blow up into a veritable fairy fight ~ where friends and acquaintances are forced to choose sides and enter the fray, no matter how much they would like to stay out of it. Such bitterness is often the result of small misunderstandings or whispered rumors and untrue stories. Itís unwise to trust anything overheard in a bar, but many gay men and women take bar gossip as gospel.

Even without provocation such defensive tactics proliferate in the gay community. Copping an attitude is usually just a ploy to mask insecurity, and a rather feeble one at that. Such overcompensation is easily seen through and the offensive party is, at best, to be pitied. It seems to me that this sort of pettiness is best ignored, and thatís how some people like Donald have chosen to deal with it.

"I have my gay friends," he says, "those who respect me and my relationship, and those who I see out now and then but donít get too close to." Personally, I donít think itís so cut and dry. My boyfriend and I still hang out with our gay friends, because we donít let gossip or other things interfere. Itís just not a part of our life. If people want to talk, let them talk. We find a way to rise above it and not let it affect us. The gay bar scene can be a brutal battlefield, a place where some go with guns-a-blazing, ready to shoot down others with a dismissive glance or rolling of the eyes. But itís also a place where we find friends and lovers and people whole will change our lives forever. I would never want to give that up.

Back to our opening scene: it is now 10:20PM, you are still in your car, and if youíre in Albany then someone else probably needs the parking space.

Donít give it up just yet. Yes, it can be a scary thing ~ waiting to go into that bar, not knowing how vicious itís going to be ~ but weíve got to start somewhere. So go on in, take a chance, and smile. You might be offered a drink instead of a chilly dismissal Ė and maybe even find the love of your life. After all, thatís how I met my partner, and if it can work for me, it can work for anyone.