When I was 10 years old, I became obsessed with old movies. I’m not sure what the other kids were doing, but I’m pretty sure they weren’t having Rita Hayworth, Marilyn Monroe, and Joan Crawford movie marathons by themselves. At the time, I had no idea that my interests were in line with those of a larger gay community, and I’ve always been fascinated by how and why I sought out these gay icons before I had any comprehension of sex or sexuality. Honestly, the first time I remember really understanding the concept of a gay community was when I saw Madonna’s Truth or Dare. Watching her and her dancers at a gay Pride parade opened my eyes to a whole new world.
I came into my sexuality as men were dying of AIDS. As a result, I equated being gay with death. This seems to be a pretty common correlation in my generation of gay men. We were the generation that came too late to lose many (or any) friends to AIDS, but came too early to brush off the disease. We really internalized the safe sex messaging and frightening imagery in a way I don’t see in previous or subsequent generations. In college a friend of mine was doing a sociology study and asked classmates to envision their future. None of the gay men saw life past 40.
Of course, all this changed drastically in the subsequent two decades. Once I became more confident and comfortable with living as an out gay man, my focus shifted toward starting a family. I always knew I wanted to have children, but I never knew what my family would look like. Part of the difficulty of living in a heteronormative society is the lack of role models. It wasn’t until I spent time with one of my best lesbian friends and her children that I felt comfortable taking the plunge into fatherhood. She and her family represented a version of family life that resonated with me in a way heterosexual families didn’t.
I didn’t grow up wanting to get married, and I still don’t. I support the marriage movement, and I marched through Los Angeles when Proposition 8 passed, because I believe fervently in equal rights. But marriage was never part of my vision for my life. I guess I prefer making up my own rules rather than accepting somebody else’s. I think people see that I have a partner, two children, a dog, and a house with a white picket fence, and they immediately think that I’m living a version of the heterosexual American Dream. But that’s really not how I see myself at all.
I was at the Long Beach Pride Parade this year and there were floats for Wells Fargo, Ralphs, JetBlue and a slew of other corporations. The emcee was shouting “When I say Wells, you say Fargo. Wells … Fargo. Wells … Fargo.” I was appalled. Someone told me, “Well, at least they support the gay community.” To which I say, it should be a given that major corporations support the gay community. That doesn’t mean they deserve a float in our parade. My version of gay pride is celebrating all the things that make us different, not where we bank and buy cereal. I like the rebellious side of gay culture. I like pushing the boundaries of the mainstream.
I’m really hopeful about where gay culture’s place in our society is going. That said, I also miss gay culture being more of a secret. The Internet has really made counterculture obsolete because it’s hard to know what the dominant culture is anymore. We have become a demographic. I know this is progress, but I can’t help but miss the more subversive and radical side of gay culture. One of the greatest experiences I ever had as a gay man was in Havana. The gay scene there consisted of meeting outside a movie theater called the Yara and waiting for someone to circulate the information of a secret party, which was held in a different spot each night. Drinking and dancing together at these parties felt like a meaningful act of rebellion, without any interference from Absolut promotions and Britney giveaways.
I’m really lucky to live in Los Angeles. There are elements of gay life in Los Angeles that are imperfect: lots of body fascism and a lack of socioeconomic diversity. But on the whole, Los Angeles has been great to me as a gay man. It’s a city of artists and dreamers who move here to create a new and better version of themselves, much as most gay people must do. It’s important to me to live in a city where I can send my children to a school full of modern, unconventional families. People sometimes ask me if I care whether my children are gay or straight. I don’t. I believe we come into the world with much of our nature in place, and it’s the parents’ job to help nurture that nature. Chances are, by the time they grow up, we won’t need any Pride parades anymore. Perhaps no one will be debating the validity of anyone’s marriage and there will finally be a cure for HIV and AIDS. Perhaps there will be no one left quoting Mommie Dearest to each other as some kind of secret code. That would probably be a happier world for gay people, though that won’t stop me from being nostalgic for the good old days when we were chanting “We’re Here, We’re Queer, Get Used to It!” instead of “Wells Fargo!”
ABDI NAZEMIAN is a screenwriter and novelist living in Los Angeles. Follow him @Abdaddy.