Not all LGBT people identify with LGBT culture
It is sometimes referred to as queer culture (indicating people who are queer), while the term gay culture may be used to mean “LGBT culture,” or to refer specifically to homosexual male culture.
But, not all LGBT people identify with LGBT culture; unawareness of the subculture’s existence, fear of social stigma or a preference for remaining unidentified with sexuality- or gender-based subcultures or communities.
Gay Americans in the 1950s and 1960s faced an anti-gay legal system. Early homophobic groups in the U.S. sought to prove that gay people could be assimilated into society, and they favoured non-confrontational education for homosexuals and heterosexuals alike.
Very few establishments welcomed openly gay people in the 1950s and 1960s. Those that did were often bars, although bar owners and managers were rarely gay. At the time, the Stonewall Inn was owned by the Mafia. It catered to an assortment of patrons and was known to be popular among the poorest and most marginalised people in the gay community: drag queens, transgender people, effeminate young men, butch lesbians, male prostitutes, and homeless youth.
In short, a gay bar was an illegal business — or at a minimum, a business subject to relentless harassment. Yet where most New Yorkers saw deviance, the Mafia saw profit. Same as with gambling, prostitution or bootlegging, all it took was the customary payoffs for cops to look the other way. “New York State’s liquor laws barred ‘disorderly’ premises,” writes C. Alexander Hortis in his new history, “The Mob and the City,” adding that the State Liquor Authority and NYPD used this excuse to close hundreds of bars in the 1930s and ’40s that catered to “homosexuals soliciting partners.”
According to Herdt, “homosexuality” was the main term used until the late 1950s and early 1960s; after that, a new “gay” culture emerged. “This new gay culture increasingly marks a full spectrum of social life: not only same-sex desires but gay selves, gay neighbours, and gay social practices that are distinctive of our affluent, postindustrial society”.
The social repression of the 1950s resulted in a cultural revolution in Greenwich Village. A cohort of poets, later named the Beat poets, wrote about the evils of the social organization at the time, glorifying anarchy, drugs, and hedonistic pleasures over unquestioning social compliance, consumerism, and closed mindedness. Of them, Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs—both Greenwich Village residents—also wrote bluntly and honestly about homosexuality. Their writings attracted sympathetic liberal-minded people, as well as homosexuals looking for a community.
The last years of the 1960s, however, were very contentious, as many social/political movements were active, including the civil rights movement, the counterculture of the 1960s, and the anti–Vietnam War movement.
These influences, along with the liberal environment of Greenwich Village, served as catalysts for the Stonewall riots. As tensions between New York City police and the gay community erupted into more protests the next evening, and again several nights later. Within weeks, Village residents organised over 3,000 individuals and activist groups to concentrate efforts on establishing places for gays and lesbians to be open about their sexual orientation without fear of being arrested.
After the Stonewall riots, gays and lesbians in New York City faced gender, race, class, and generational obstacles to becoming a cohesive community. Within six months, two gay activist organizations were formed in New York, concentrating on confrontational tactics, and three newspapers were established to promote rights for gays and lesbians. Gay male culture was publicly acknowledged for the first time.
Female celebrities such as Liza Minnelli, Jane Fonda, and Bette Midler spent a significant amount of their social time with urban gay men (who were now popularly viewed as sophisticated and stylish by the jet set), and more male celebrities (such as Andy Warhol) were open about their relationships. Such openness was still limited to the largest and most progressive urban areas (such as New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia, Seattle, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Miami, Washington DC, and New Orleans), however, until AIDS forced several popular celebrities out of the closet due to their illness with what was known at first as the “gay cancer”.
Elements identified more closely with gay men than with other groups include:
Pop-culture gay icons who have had a traditionally gay-male following (for example, disco, Britney Spears, Madonna, Mariah Carey, Beyoncé, Judy Garland, Cher, Lady Gaga, Kesha, Kylie Minogue, and Diana Ross)Familiarity with aspects of romantic, sexual and social life common among gay men (for example, Polari, poppers, camp, fag hags and—in South Asian LGBTQIA culture—”evening people”).
There are a number of subcultures within gay male culture, such as bears and chubbies. There are also subcultures with an historically large gay-male population, such as leather and SM. Gay critic Michael Musto opined, “I am a harsh critic of the gay community because I feel that when I first came out I thought I would be entering a world of nonconformity and individuality and, au contraire, it turned out to be a world of clones in a certain way. I also hated the whole body fascism thing that took over the gays for a long time”.
During the 19th and early 20th centuries gay culture was covert, relying on secret symbols and codes woven into an overall straight context. Gay influence in early America was primarily limited to high culture. The association of gay men with opera, ballet, couture, fine cuisine, musical theater, the Golden Age of Hollywood and interior design began with wealthy homosexual men using the straight themes of these media to send their own signals. In the heterocentric Marilyn Monroe film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, a musical number features Jane Russell singing “Anyone Here for Love” in a gym while muscled men dance around her.
The men’s costumes were designed by a man, the dance was choreographed by a man and the dancers (as gay screenwriter Paul Rudnick points out) “seem more interested in each other than in Russell”; however, her presence gets the sequence past the censors and works it into an overall heterocentric theme.