Here’s what’s going to happen. Some gay kids are going to start realizing they weren’t gay after all.
Most sexually questioning teenagers, even in the most conservative high schools, make friends with the misfit girl who appreciates both his plight and the fact he’s not a sexual threat to her. And the minute a young teen boy starts experimenting sexually, as teen boys do, those Best Girlfriends are there to support and applaud. A generation ago, that best friend might have reacted with shock, or looked the other way.
But today, all a boy has to do is so much as get caught glancing at the cool jock at summer camp, as teen boys do, and he’ll be met with a chorus of friend encouragement, assuring him that he can be who he wants to be without losing their love. “Omigod! You’re totally gay! That’s awesome! Ask him out!” So teen boys dabble, as teen boys do, and pretty soon, because his friends have been so aggressive about their support, he’s “gay.”
By now, we’re several iterations past Angela Chase and Ricky Vasquez. The gay boy/supportive girl relationship has become a cultural archetype. Rachel Berry and Kurt Hummel don’t spend much time grieving to gay wounds; they compete like savages for the chance to sing “Defying Gravity.” The kids coming up today view even Will & Grace as an antique. And so will we all, I think, with time. These characters were created to make statements about our era, but the truly shifting nature of human sexuality has been de-emphasized as long as there was a political-social point that needed to be made.
These days, with anti-gay bigotry so readily available from the older generations, many younger people think it’s something of a political statement to show rainbow flag-flying support for their sexually emerging peers. Homophobia from elders has made homophilia among teens a statement of their impending social triumph.
But what teenager knows who they truly are as a bottom line? I predict that the vocal support that comes from high school peers may, in fact, be hasty for some people. It will, for some, have a bounceback. Because some of those kids truly were merely experimenting and got locked into a self-definition by the sheer force of social acceptance. With kids coming out earlier and earlier — as soon as puberty hits, in many cases — confusion is bound to happen.
It’s not that they’ll be going back into the closet, per se, because that would imply they are returning to hiding. Instead, some kids will undergo a sort of “hetero correction.”
And that will present a whole new set of acceptance challenges, because some of us have grown so conditioned to supporting coming out of the closet that we’re a little suspicious when someone realizes they never had a closet to begin with. What’s more, in conservative communities, the upstream-swimming self-hatred that’s nurtured by the “ex-gay” movement has tainted the motives of any return to heterosexuality that a person might genuinely feel inclined to make.
I’m a little nervous even positing this scenario, less someone accuse me of making apologies for coming out of the closet, or suggesting it’s “better” if kids were straight. I’m not suggesting anything like that, of course. If anything, I’m validating the Kinsey Scale, and acknowledging that if it’s true, then some people will find themselves wanting to wander back to the other end of it, but finding their environment, for heretofore necessary social reasons, may be resistant to a sexual re-definition that travels the other way.
Bryan Elsley, the co-creator of Skins, feared just such a thing last year when his lesbian character Tea Marvelli (Sofia Black-D’Elia) developed conflicting emotions after messing around with a boy. “We’re just trying to express how screwy people’s lives can be,” he explained to Entertainment Weekly. “We’re hoping that people in the gay community will recognize something in those stories.”
Don’t shut that closet door on your way out.
Could you trust someone who spent years waving a rainbow flag when they say they’re now in love with a woman? Some of the cornerstones of gay political ideology — indeed, the core emotional principles behind the validation of gay marriage — are that love is mutable, people are people no matter their gender, and that it’s the human condition to love another human.
Will gay people, hardened and made suspicious by years of fighting bigotry, be able to embrace their friends who decide there is a place for the opposite sex in their lives after all? Will the opposite sex trust it, either?
Now that gay marriage is being validated on a wider scale, and building a defensive fortress around sexual identity is slowly (verrry slowly) becoming less necessary, over the coming generation, gay people will have to find new ways to define their own sexuality that doesn’t pitch them versus the rest of the world. Gay bars are dying around the country because kids are comfortable mingling everywhere. Mental desegregation may follow. And hallelujah for that.