What is gay culture?

Maybe it's us, but it seems harder and harder to keep track of who's gay (Lindsay Lohan?) what's gay (Trader Joe's?) and what any of it means. Read on for our humble attempt to make sense of it all.

Illustration: A Richard Allen

When Time Out New York’s queer staffers sat down to figure out what would go into a feature about “gay culture,” we quickly realized it would be no easy task. Did we want to tackle it in the classic, universal sense—as in Judy Garland, campy drag shows and Stone Butch Blues? Did we want to talk about new queer indie films, and why they are often low-budget and unimpressive? Or about the hottest, freshest talents around, and how they’re shaking up media ranging from music and downtown theater to edgy lit and trans burlesque? ...

Continue reading our introductory essay »

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We thought about trying to figure out why queer women and men are so separate—and why they then separate themselves further, as with the bears and the twinks and the rocker dykes and the lipstick Jersey girls and the genderqueers. Not to mention nightlife’s deep (and oft-unspoken) racial divide that sends some partyers to Splash and Henrietta’s and others to Escuelita or Lover Girl.

Then there is the ever-present generation gap. It can seem particularly wide in our community, with folks over 30 still generally feeling a need to connect with some sort of LGBT culture—whether it’s by catching the latest Paul Rudnick play or ducking into a lively piano bar for the evening—while queers in their twenties and younger may have less of a need to belong to anything other than society at large. They came out in their teens, after all, and find themselves more or less accepted everywhere they go. Why cling to old-fashioned notions of barroom communities and identity art?

These questions and issues tend to hit us with force every year at this time, as June is Gay Pride month (and an especially proud one in 2008, after California’s gay-marriage victory). To mark it, make sure to hit at least one of the marches, parades and festivals that span the five boroughs, beginning Sunday 1 in Jackson Heights. That event, Queens Pride ’08, remains one of the city’s most vibrant, least commercialized and most ethnically diverse festivals. Check it out and you could find yourself thinking—amid Colombian drag queens, gay cops, queer-youth groups and flocks of Indian families applauding on the sidelines—that you’ve just stepped into the very heart of the elusive gay culture.

In the meantime, though, we realize that we don’t have all the answers—but we do know that it’s the questions themselves that really matter. So we decided to continue the discussion outside of our bubble, with local LGBT culture makers, to bring even more expressions of queerness into the mix. To that end, we’ve assembled a panel of writers, artists and performers to bounce our ideas off of, and to add to our already complex image of what gay culture might be. It may be a difficult concept to pin down, but it sure is an exciting one to ponder.

Beth Greenfield, Gay & Lesbian editor

Read our panel discussion on the state of gay culture, featuring the ever-fierce Christian Siriano.