Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The Constructive Role of Homosexuality in Society

There's an important balance in any healthy society between innovation and stability. For instance, it's long been noted that respectable social institutions usually derive from cultural movements once considered radical. I'm interested in the mechanism by which this takes place, particularly because it illuminates the critical role played in society by race, gender, and sexuality. One theory I find plausible is that cultural innovation tends to happen on the margins, indeed as a creative response to marginalization. This theory makes a lot of sense out of black history, for instance (take the classic example of jazz.) Does it apply to gay history as well? Consider the tendency of gay communities in contemporary society to gather in urban neighborhoods long abandoned by middle class whites. The gay community almost seems to be functioning in this capacity as a "middle term," mediating between the otherwise mutally hostile camps of marginalized, yet creatively potent ethnic enclaves and the culturally stagnant consuming classes of the suburbs. If this is at all accurate (and I recognize that it's a simplification at best - the suburbs aren't uniformly white, for instance) then it might speak to the constructive role played by gender and racial "overlap" in a healthy society. Another way to phrase the question might be, is homosexuality a driving force of "trendiness," urban renewal, and other forms of cultural creativity, and if so, what is behind this? It could be that insofar as gay culture is an eclectic borrowing of identities (some traditional, some radical) that gender difference is a key mechanism by which society staves off cultural stagnation, integrating sub-cultures otherwise separated by class and race and recovering artifacts from the past as resources for the present.

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