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LGBT culture is a culture shared by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning individuals (and may also include lesser-known identities, such as pansexual). 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.
LGBT culture varies widely by geography and the identity of the participants. Elements common to cultures of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people include:
- Works by famous gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender, including:
- Contemporary LGBT artists and political figures
- Historical figures identified as LGBT, although identifying historical figures with modern terms for sexual identity is controversial (see History of sexuality). However, many LGBT people feel a kinship with these people and their work (particularly that addressing same-sex attraction or gender identity); an example is VictoryFund.org, dedicated to supporting homosexual politicians.
- An understanding of LGBT social movements
- Figures and identities present in the LGBT community; within LGBT communities in Western culture, this might include drag kings and queens, pride parades and the rainbow flag.
Not all LGBT people identify with LGBT culture; this may be due to geographic distance, unawareness of the subculture's existence, fear of social stigma or a preference for remaining unidentified with sexuality- or gender-based subcultures or communities. The Queercore and Gay Shame movements critique what they see as the commercialization and self-imposed "ghettoization" of LGBT culture.
In some cities, especially in North America, some LGBT people live in neighborhoods with a high proportion of gay residents, otherwise known as gay villages or gayborhoods. Such LGBT communities organize special events in addition to pride parades celebrating their culture such as the Gay Games and Southern Decadence.
Gay male culture
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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 neighbors, and gay social practices that are distinctive of our affluent, postindustrial society".
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.
After the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City, gay male culture was publicly acknowledged for the first time. A group of seven gay men formed The Violet Quill in 1980 in New York City, a literary club focused on writing about the gay experience as a normal plotline instead of a "naughty" sideline in a mostly straight story. An example is the novel A Boy's Own Story by Edmund White. In this first volume of a trilogy, White writes as a young homophilic narrator growing up with a corrupt and remote father. The young man learns bad habits from his straight father, applying them to his gay existence.
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."
Some U.S. studies have found that the majority of gay male couples are in monogamous relationships. Research by Colleen Hoffon of 566 gay male couples from the San Francisco Bay Area funded by the National Institute of Mental Health found that 45 percent were in monogamous relationships. Gay actor Neil Patrick Harris has remarked, "I'm a big proponent of monogamous relationships regardless of sexuality, and I'm proud of how the nation is steering toward that."
During the 1980s and 1990s, Sean Martin drew a comic strip (Doc and Raider) which featured a gay couple living in (or near) Toronto's Gay Village. His characters have recently been updated and moved to the Web. Although primarily humorous, the comic sometimes addressed issues such as gay-bashing, HIV, and spousal abuse.
An Australian study conducted by Roffee and Waling in 2016 discovered how some gay men felt like they were expected to be hyper-sexual. Participants reported how other gay men would automatically assume that any interaction had sexual motivations. Furthermore, if it was then clarified that this is not the case then these gay men would suddenly feel excluded and ignored by the other gay men with which they had been interacting with. They felt that they could not obtain purely platonic friendships with other gay men. One participant reported feeling alienated and disregarded as a person if they were not deemed by other gay men as sexually attractive. This presumption and attitude of hypersexuality is damaging, for it enforces preconceived ideals upon people, who are then ostracised if they do not meet these ideals.
Online culture and communities
A number of online social websites for gay men have been established. Initially, these concentrated on sexual contact or titillation; typically, users were afforded a profile page, access to other members' pages, member-to-member messaging and instant-message chat. Smaller, more densely connected websites concentrating on social networking without a focus on sexual contact have been established. Some forbid all explicit sexual content; others do not. A gay-oriented retail online couponing site has also been established.
Recent research suggests that gay men primarily make sense of familial and religious challenges by developing online peer supports (i.e., families of choice) in contrast to their family allies' focus on strengthening existing family of origin relationships via online information exchanges. Participants' reported online sociorelational benefits largely contradict recent research indicating that online use may lead to negative mental health outcomes.
As with gay men, lesbian culture includes elements from the larger LGBTQIA culture, as well as those specific to the lesbian community. Primarily associated with lesbians in North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, they include large, predominantly lesbian events such as the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival (closed after 2015) and the Club Skirts Dinah Shore Weekend. Lesbian culture has its own icons, such as Melissa Etheridge, k.d. lang (butch), Ellen DeGeneres (androgynous) and Portia de Rossi (femme).
Lesbian culture since the late 20th century has been entwined with the evolution of feminism. Lesbian separatism is an example of a lesbian theory and practice identifying specifically lesbian interests and ideas and promoting a specific lesbian culture. Older stereotypes of lesbian women stressed a dichotomy between "butch" women, or dykes (who present masculine) and "femmes", or lipstick lesbians (who present feminine), and considered a stereotypical lesbian couple a butch-femme pair. While some lesbian women are still either "butch" or "femme," these categories are less definite (and common) as lesbianism becomes normalized. Androgyny, while not new in lesbian culture, has been gaining momentum since the 80s punk scene through youth subcultures such as grunge, riot grrrl, emo, and most recently hipster.
Bisexual culture emphasizes opposition to, or disregard of, fixed sexual and gender identity monosexism (discrimination against bisexual, fluid, pansexual and queer-identified people), bisexual erasure and biphobia (hatred or mistrust of non-monosexual people). Biphobia is common (although lessening) in the gay, lesbian and straight communities.
Many bisexual, fluid and pansexual people consider themselves to be part of the LGBTQIA or queer community, despite any discrimination they may face. Western bisexual, pansexual, and fluid cultures also have their own touchstones, such as the books Bi Any Other Name: Bisexual People Speak Out (edited by Lani Ka'ahumanu and Loraine Hutchins), Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution (by Shiri Eisner), and Getting Bi: Voices of Bisexuals Around the World (edited by Robyn Ochs); the British science fiction television series Torchwood and personalities (such as British singer and activist Tom Robinson, The Black Eyed Peas member Fergie, Scottish actor Alan Cumming and American performance artist and activist Lady Gaga.
The bisexual pride flag was designed by Michael Page in 1998 to give the community its own symbol, comparable to the gay pride flag of the mainstream LGBTQIA community. The deep pink (or rose) stripe at the top of the flag represents same-gender attraction; the royal blue stripe at the bottom of the flag represents different-gender attraction. The stripes overlap in the central fifth of the flag to form a deep shade of lavender (or purple), representing attraction anywhere along the gender spectrum. Celebrate Bisexuality Day has been observed on September 23 by members of the bisexual community and its allies since 1999.
The study of transgender and transsexual culture is complicated by the many ways in which cultures deal with sexual identity/sexual orientation and gender. For example, in many cultures people who are attracted to people of the same sex — that is, those who in contemporary Western culture would identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual — are classed as a third gender with people who would (in the West) be classified as transgender.
In the contemporary West there are different groups of transgender and transsexual people, such as groups for transsexual people who want sex reassignment surgery, male, heterosexual-only cross-dressers and Trans men's groups. Groups encompassing all transgender people, both trans men, trans women, and non-binary people, have appeared in recent years.
Some transgender or transsexual women and men, however, do not identify as part of a specific "trans" culture. A distinction may be made between transgender and transsexual people who make their past known to others and those who wish to live according to their gender identity and not reveal their past (believing that they should be able to live normally in their true gender role, and control to whom they reveal their past).
According to a study done by the Williams Institute of UCLA on "How Many Adults Identify as Transgender in the United States?", they found that younger adults are more likely to identify as transgender than older adults. This may be a result of a newly wider acceptance of transgender people from the communities, allowing for those who identify as transgender to have a greater voice. In their research they found that an estimated 0.7% of adults between the ages of 18 and 24 identify as transgender, while 0.6% of adults age 25 to 64 and 0.5% of adults age 65 or older identify as transgender.
The pink on the transgender pride flag represents female while the baby blue on the flag represents male. The white stripe in between the baby blue and pink represents other genders besides male or female.
In the report “Views from both sides of the bridge? Gender, sexual legitimacy, and transgender people’s experiences of relationships,” authors Iantaffi and Bockting conducted a study with 1229 transgender individuals over 18 years old, to learn more about transgender relationships in the US. When it came to a relationships within a transgender person, it depended on if they wanted a heteronormative or mainstream culture relationship. The results from the study showed that transgender people reinforced the idea of heteronormativity, seen in their gender practices and beliefs. Although, there are also transgender people that are set on a path to challenge Western traditional beliefs in gender roles and sexual differences within relationships.
Many annual events are observed by the transgender community. One of the most widely observed is the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) which is held every year on November 20 in honor of Rita Hester, who was killed on November 28, 1998, in an anti-transgender hate crime. TDOR serves a number of purposes:
- it memorializes all of those who have been victims of hate crimes and prejudice
- it raises awareness about hate crimes towards the transgender community
- and it honors the dead and their relatives
Another of these events is the Trans March which describes annual marches, protests or gatherings that take place around the world, often taking place during the time of the local pride week. These events are frequently organized by transgender communities to build community, address human rights struggles, and create visibility.
Youth pride, an extension of the gay pride and LGBTQIA social movements, promotes equality amongst young members (usually above the age of consent) of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual or transgender, intersex and questioning (LGBTQIA) community. The movement exists in many countries and focuses on festivals and parades, enabling many LGBTQIA youth to network, communicate, and celebrate their gender and sexual identities. Youth Pride organizers also point to the value in building community and supporting young people, since they are more likely to be bullied. Schools with a gay-straight alliance (GSA) handle discrimination and violence against LGBTQIA youth better than schools without it; they develop community and coping skills, and give students a safe space to obtain health and safety information. Sometimes the groups avoid labeling young people, preferring to let them identify themselves on their own terms "when they feel safe".
Gay and lesbian youth have increased risks for suicide, substance abuse, school problems and isolation because of a "hostile and condemning environment, verbal and physical abuse, rejection and isolation from family and peers", according to a U.S. Task Force on Youth Suicide report. Further, LGBTQIA youths are more likely to report psychological and physical abuse by parents or caretakers, and more sexual abuse. Suggested reasons for this disparity are:
- LGBTQIA youths may be specifically targeted on the basis of their perceived sexual orientation or gender non-conforming appearance.
- "...Risk factors associated with sexual minority status, including discrimination, invisibility, and rejection by family members...may lead to an increase in behaviors that are associated with risk for victimization, such as substance abuse, sex with multiple partners, or running away from home as a teenager."
A 2008 study showed a correlation between the degree of parental rejection of LGB adolescents and negative health problems in the teenagers studied. Crisis centers in larger cities and information sites on the Internet have arisen to help youth and adults. A suicide-prevention helpline for LGBT youth is part of The Trevor Project, established by the filmmakers after the 1998 HBO telecast of the Academy Award-winning short film Trevor; Daniel Radcliffe donated a large sum to the group, and has appeared in its public service announcements condemning homophobia.
Increasing mainstream acceptance of the LGBTQIA communities prompted the Massachusetts Governor's Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth to begin an annual Gay-Straight Youth Pride observance in 1995. In 1997 the nonprofit Youth Pride Alliance, a coalition of 25 youth-support and advocacy groups, was founded to hold an annual youth-pride event in Washington, D.C.; Candace Gingrich was a speaker the following year. In 1999, the first annual Vermont Youth Pride Day was held. As of 2009 it is the largest queer and allied-youth event in Vermont, organized by Outright Vermont to "break the geographic and social barriers gay youngsters living in rural communities face." In 2002, a college fair was added to the event to connect students with colleges and discuss student safety. In April 2003 a Youth Pride Chorus, organized with New York's LGBT Community Center, began rehearsals and later performed at a June Carnegie Hall Pride concert with the New York City Gay Men's Chorus.
In 2004 the San Diego chapter of Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) worked with San Diego Youth Pride coordinators to organize a Day of Silence throughout the county. In 2005, Decatur (Georgia) Youth Pride participated in a counter-demonstration against Westboro Baptist Church (led by church head Fred Phelps' daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper), who were "greeting students and faculty as they arrived with words such as 'God hates fag enablers' and 'Thank God for 9/11'" at ten locations. In 2008 Chicago's Youth Pride Center, primarily serving "LGBT youth of color", opened a temporary location and planned to move into their new building on Chicago's South Side in 2010. In 2009, the Utah Pride Center held an event to coincide with Youth Pride Walk 2009, a "cross-country walk by two Utah women trying to draw attention to the problems faced by homeless LGBT youth". In August 2010 the first Hollywood Youth Pride was held, focusing on the "large number of homeless LGBT youth living on Los Angeles streets." According to a 2007 report, "Of the estimated 1.6 million homeless American youth, between 20 and 40 percent identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender". At larger pride parades and festivals there are often LGBTQIA or queer youth contingents, and some festivals designate safe spaces for young people.
LGBT youth are more likely to be homeless than cisgender youth due to the rejection from their parents because of their sexual orientation, or gender identity (Choi et al., 2015; Durso and Gates, 2012; Mallon, 1992 ; Whitbeck et al., 2004). In a survey of street outreach programs 7% of the youth were transgender (Whitbeck, Lazoritz, Crawford, & Hautala, 2014). Many of the transgender youth that are placed in homeless shelters do not get the type of help they need and often experience discrimination and systemic barriers that include sex-segregated programs in institutional practices that refuse to understand their gender. Many transgender youths have problems acquiring shelters because of certain policies like binary gender rules, dress codes, and room assignments (Thaler et al., 2009). Problems with classification happen when the procedures or policies of a shelter require the youth to be segregated based on their assigned sex rather than what they classify themselves as. As a result, many of the LGBT youth end up on the street instead of shelters which are meant to protect them.
Other LGBT groups
Several other segments of the LGBTQIA community have their own communities and cultures, including the deaf queer community.
Bigender describes people who switch between two gender identities or combine two gender identities. There are different types of bigenderism which include historical, transitional, concurrent, and sequential:
- "Historical bigenderism" is someone who was once a male, but is now a female, or someone who was once a female, and is now male. Any transgender person who went through sex reassignment surgery is included in this subcategory of bigenderism.
- "Transitional bigenderism" refers to somebody who is going through a constant but time limited transition from male to female or vice versa.
- "Concurrent bigenderism" would describe people who are not apparently female or male, but are a mix of both. There are people today who prefer not to be identified as a male or female but rather be in an alternative category, such as “boi” (Nestle, Howell, & Wilchins, 2002).
- "Sequential bigenderism" is describing someone whose self-portrayal is at time female, and at other times male. Cross-dressers who do not wish to pursue gender reassignment can also be categorized as sequential bigender.
Queer Woman of Color
Race, gender, and class can shape the representation and politics of the queer movement and queer identities, the journal article “Thinking Outside the Rainbow: Women of Color Redefining Queer Politics and Identity,” take a deeper focus within the queer representation of specifically Latina and Asian/Pacific Islander women. According to the data collected by Alimahomed, queer women of color are a form of invisible queer subjects, such as outsiders-within, and would be considered marginalized in today’s LGBT movement. With the study conducting interviews with 25 queer women, many of these women experienced gender stereotypes as a problem to express themselves as queer, or make new queer expressions. It was hard for them to be visible to their white counterparts, due to them not having recognizable white queer forms of expression, so they would be considered inauthentic queers to the white community. Despite the contrasting group, women of color and those under comparable marginalization, were among the majority of protestors at stonewall. Also, female white queers get accepted easier than women of color, due to that they can be seen as foreign or conservative because of their culture.
Criticism of LGBTQIA culture comes from a variety of sources. Some, like Michael Musto, view the culture as conforming to caricatures or stereotypes that alienate "fringe" members of the community. Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore and movements like Gay Shame have argued that LGBT culture has been depoliticized by a tiny minority of relatively privileged queer people, who participate in "institutions of oppression" at the expense of the vast majority of LGBT people. Others believe that the LGBTQIA community's emphasis on Marxism, socialism, or any political ideology is unworkable, given the biological nature of being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual/transgender, intersex and the diversity of backgrounds within the community. Some consider the very notion of "separatism", or a group lifestyle, alienating (including of LGBTQIA members in the broader society).
Another problem is that bisexual and transsexual/transgender individuals experience social pressure to identify as gay or lesbian, and may face ostracism and discrimination from the mainstream LGBTQIA culture. For bisexuals, this pressure is known as bisexual erasure. New York University School of Law professor Kenji Yoshino has written, "Gays de-legitimatize bisexuals...the lesbian and gay community abounds with negative images of bisexuals as fence-sitters, traitors, cop-outs, closet cases, people whose primary goal in life is to retain 'heterosexual privilege'".
Although some groups or individuals may disapprove of LGBT rights based on religion or social conservatism, the themes of criticism mentioned below may not necessarily imply disapproval of LGBT people or homosexuality by itself.
Capitalism and commodification
In many parts of the globe, political groups have arisen to denounce pink capitalism, a term used to describe the incorporation of the LGBTQIA movement and sexual diversity into capitalism and the market economy; especially as this incorporation pertains to the gay, cisgender, western, white, and upper middle class communities and market. Protests against the commodification of LGBTQIA rights have often taken the form of queer or pink blocs within LGBTQIA Pride Parades.
In Spain, especially since the emergence of the anti-austerity movement, various groups have held independent demonstrations demanding the removal of political and economic interests from discussions of sexual identity and gay rights.
Criticism has been made that the LGBTQIA community represents an artificial separation, rather than one based on tangible customs or ethnic identification. In particular, labels that LGBTQIA members use to describe themselves vary widely; some simply prefer to identify as loving a particular gender. Some believe that the LGBTQIA-community concept is alienating; the term itself implies estrangement from straight people as a separate group. Further, including three groups involved with sexuality and one group exploring transsexual/transgender identity (a broader phenomenon) is artificial.
Mattilda Berstein Sycamore argues that the single-issue focus of LGBT politics, which ignores all intra-group differences, has naturally led to a movement and culture focused on the needs of white, middle-class gay cisgender men, which alienates anyone who does not fit that description.
Cultural focus on promiscuity
Some gay male commentators who are in monogamous relationships argue that mainstream gay culture's disdain of monogamy and its promotion of promiscuity has harmed efforts to legalize same-sex marriage. Yuvraj Joshi argues that efforts to legalize same-sex marriage have emphasized the sameness of gay people to heterosexuals, while privatizing their queer differences.
British journalist Mark Simpson's 1996 book, Anti-Gay, describes forms of intolerance by the mainstream gay community towards subgroups. The Times wrote that Simpson succeeded in "pointing out that oppression and prejudice do not become legitimate just because they happen to be practiced by the previously oppressed". Aiden Shaw of Time Out New York wrote that "Thank fucking God someone did this, because...whatever happened to our individuality, our differences?" Other commentators harshly criticized Simpson's argument, with Boyz declaring that "Simpson is a cunt."
In the journal article “Denied Citizens of Turkey: Experiences of Discrimination Among LGBT Individuals in Employment, Housing and Health Care,” authors Yılmaz and Göçmen describe the experiences of discrimination in the LGBT community. From their findings collected from 14 focus group interviews within 139 LGBT volunteers, they found that like in any other country, there is discrimination within LGBT sub-groups. For example, through employment they found that LGBTs have limited job opportunities, and deal with discrimination in the workplace. In housing they have restricted options on to what they can buy or were demanded to change their residence, and if they could buy something, they were faced with discrimination in terms of pricing. In medical treatment, the medical system was not quick to the needs of LGBTs, or they were either denied medical treatment or were ashamed to ask for medical treatment due to the discrimination they could face. They claimed that transgender people are the most disadvantaged through all these fields.
The researcher in gender studies Jasbir K. Puar notes that some political powers have lined themselves up with the cause of the LGBTQIA community in order to justify racist and xenophobic positions, especially against Islam. These positions are purportedly based on prejudices that migrant people are necessarily homophobic and that western society is entirely egalitarian. Thus, sexual diversity and LGBT rights are used to sustain political stances against immigration, being increasingly common among far-right parties.
LGBT Culture in The Military
In 2010, the repeal of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) was a great step in the inclusion of lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals in the military. “The repeal of DADT reversed the practice of discharging LGB service members on the basis of sexual identity.” Although this was a large shift in policy by the U.S. for those identifying as LGB, those who are transgender are still not fully included in this change.
- Some challenges that transgender people face post-DADT are “changing their name to align with their gender identity, changing their sex designation in official documentation and records, encouraging appropriate pronoun use, and obtaining appropriate medical services” (Levy et al., 2015; Parco et al., 2015a, 2015b).
- Another challenge that they face is Transphobia which is “the intense dislike of prejudice against transsexual or transgender people” (Hill & Willoughby).
Gay Pride Parade
Gay Pride Parades show initiation of the LGBT community to embrace their culture and are considered one of the ‘new social movements’ that originated in the 1960s (Stammers, 2009, p 147). For the LGBT community, The Pride Parades all around the world collectively use spatial articulation to address political and human rights claims. These parades give LGBT members the opportunity to raise awareness to their needs on a large stage and also allows them to celebrate their pride in their community and how far they have come.
- “In this regard, gay pride parades represent the most significant event in which public space, considered to be ‘heterosexual’ by default (Valentine, 1993), is temporarily ‘queered’. This temporary subversion of the spatial organisation represents a crucial moment of intense cultural creation.”
- Participating in these events gives members of the LGBT community a chance to display their pride and share that experience with others who feel the same way.
- On June 19, 1989, during Philadelphia's lesbian and gay pride parade, City Council member Angel Ortiz said, “Lesbians and gays come in all nationalities and in all colors. People don’t want to hide away anymore. People want to be who they are, to be left alone for who they are and to celebrate who they are.”
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