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Where we come from

Collective Wisdom: Huh?

Why would a brief scenario on a dimly lit stage have such powerful impact? Hey: I’m a gay man with experience; I keep my emotions pretty tightly guarded.  But something clearly occurred that was, well, sacred.

We could call it a ritual. The term is not an easy one for me. I am, like many gay men, a refugee from a religion that treats us pretty shabbily. I got out, but the memory remains of their canned rituals felt so hollow and meaningless. This is not unique to gay men, especially when you’re talking to Baby Boomers of any orientation.

I’m aware that ritual formats exist among gay subsets, for example, within leather communities, but I’ve never seen one and have always thought of these as akin to the rituals of Masons or fraternal orders—visions of Ralph Kramden in his raccoon hat—but I’m sure they have meaning to the group. Likewise, the Imperial Courts. There are rituals among Radical Faeries or their New Age descendents. I’ve participated in some of these, and sometimes been touched. But often I’ve come away thinking that they smelled just a bit too much like old frankincense.

Perhaps what made the GALA rite so different was its lack of hocus-pocus. No words, just an understanding (and I’m not even a singer, let alone a member of a chorus): This is an important moment for this young man, and for all of us. We honor this moment, publicly, then we keep moving forward. That is how the torch is passed.

Continuity is still a new idea to the gay world, but I think it has been a major motivator for the Boomer generation of gay men (and lesbians): make gains last, and make them available to everybody. Why else would we have struggled, and taken great risks, to change laws, to build organizations, to change public opinion?

Clearly, we don’t have enough venues for sharing information about how and why. Rarely are we grouped in biological families: the “gay gene” or whatever forms us is so random that, even when we reproduce ourselves, our offspring follow the majority pattern of being straight. Thus, most of us miss out on the kind of dinner-table talk where tales of life—and sometimes wisdom—are conveyed.

Modern humans long ago lost the ancient tribal model, in which elders transmitted the sagas and collective wisdom of the group, in the hope of improving the survival prospects of the clan.

The very new idea of teaching “gay history” in schools is intriguing (it’s now required by law in California) but impractical as long as politics undermines the curriculum—especially by conservatives who want to turn the clock back half a century by censoring any information about who were are and what we’ve done. Even when we get past that problem—and we will—the idea of teaching gay history in schools will still, by necessity, need to be geared to teaching the non-gay majority. That still leaves us without a vehicle for passing on the collective wisdom of the group.

Of course, the question begs to be answered: just what is the collective wisdom of gay men? Oh, I can hear the snideness now: What? Fashion and decorating tips? Gossip about divas yesterday and today? A sex manual?

I’m not denigrating any of those, but the fact is that these are already available, and widely. Talking with gay men around the country, it occurred to me that the real message, the collective wisdom, is one we have just begun to touch upon, notably in the “It Gets Better” campaign.

How do I survive—with integrity?

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