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    The Soul selects her own Society–

    This is why we love Eric. Notice, dear children, that it’s possible not to hold feeling comfortable as the very highest value in the universe:

    There weren’t too many role models for me, which is probably why I’m such a nut. I was a fan of the Grateful Dead, and in my Marxist days I tended towards misguided idolization of the Black Panther Party leadership. Years later I came to adore a certain crazed junkie writer. But these weren’t really role models. I thought of my own sexuality as crazy and uniquely non-conforming, and while I might not have always been comfortable with it, I always thought I had to be my own role model. I’ve never felt validated, and I never wanted to be validated. The conventional concepts of gay and straight annoyed me then, and annoy me now. Not only is the right to free choice in sexual matters being negated, it’s increasingly being seen as an oppressive concept.

    I wouldn’t take it quite that far myself, of course. Civilization has had millennia to build up knowledge about what does and does not tend to work for people for people who want to live happy, productive lives. There’s nothing cravenly conformist about heeding the wisdom of those who came before you (or those who are still around and have more experience than you do).

    But things are just a bit out of hand these days, with the assumption in the air that no one can figure out how to live his life unless there’s an available “role model” with the exact same characteristics. This is America; we’re supposed to be a nation of pioneers. But no. It’s considered unfair to expect someone to follow a path that hasn’t already been machete-cleared, leveled, and bricked over in a tasteful herringbone pattern by someone else.

    Eric’s talking more about private life than about public life, but the idea’s the same. Sure, we all need friends, and most of us like the feeling of belonging to a kind of “community” (even if the frequent, gruesomely cheery political use of that word gives us the heebs). But personal liberty means that you often have to make decisions that are specific to your own circumstances and don’t have much precedent, and I’m not quite sure how the Logo Network spells salvation.

    Unlike Eric, I’m pretty much a central-casting gay guy. But it was mostly my parents who were my role models for what kind of adult I wanted to be. When I came out, it was among my college friends, who were all straight. I certainly went through a lot of pain over acknowledging that I was a homosexual, but I don’t remember getting flibbertigibbety over my “role” as a gay man. I mean, hello? You find somewhere with eligible men and get started flirting.

    That the eligible men may be in a different city just means that you may have to make a tradeoff between staying in familiar surroundings and capitalizing on opportunities elsewhere. That happens to straight people all the time, too. Basic issues about persona are pretty universal, too: Am I good at initiating conversations, or do things work out better when I let someone come to me and break the ice? Does my demeanor seem friendly or unfriendly to people who don’t know me? Do I like being the center of attention or mixing quietly with people in the crowd? Most people figure out what their best fit is through trial and error, and the error part is occasionally painful or embarrassing. These things happen.

    Simply knowing that there are other gay people around is undoubtedly a comfort, and an important one, to gay youths. But figuring out you’re gay is the beginning of the journey, not the end. The rest of it–making your way as an adult–is basically the same for everyone, regardless of sexual identity. That some people make feeling “validated” their highest priority doesn’t mean the rest of us are always obliged to indulge them.

    6 Responses to “The Soul selects her own Society–”

    1. Dean Esmay says:

      I left a similar comment at Eric’s, but…

      You have to wonder how much of this “need for validation” stuff has to do with the failure of role models at home. Except for my very earliest years, I had absolutely abysmal role models for most of my childhood. This led to my being a ball of insecurities that it took me many many years to get over.

      You have to wonder what this guy from Philly grew up like, considering that TV was his role model rather than parents or siblings.

    2. Sean Kinsell says:

      That seems likely as a general rule, but it doesn’t appear to apply in the case of the editorial writer. He mentions family decisions involving television watching that included his father, and in the 60s that would have been unlikely to mean that he was on his weekend-custody visit.

    3. Sean Kinsell says:

      Great–hitting “submit” accidentally on my own blog. I could just put this into the text of the above comment (using our hard-won comment-editing functionality, huh?), but I’ll just blather here….

      Research indicates, as I know you know, that the conventional wisdom–the involvement of the father is a major determining factor in how screwed up a child’s life is going to be–is on-target. Of course, parents who are still together can warp their kids with unrealistic expectations and things, too.

      When I was in college, the kids who were obviously feeling lost and needy appeared to be distributed pretty randomly among two-parent, divorced, and never-married households. A lot of that was probably the age and environment, though. Where I went to school, most of us sat around for four years with little work but studying and thinking about what we felt like doing with ourselves. It would be interesting to see whether children from even not-very-affectionate two-parent families are more likely to have grounded themselves by, say, their mid-30s. I suspect so, though I don’t know that I’ve seen it studied.

    4. Connie says:

      Reminds me of the old joke… a group of people at a tent meeting, wearing a T-shirt with the slogan we’re chanting:

      “WE ARE UNIQUE!”

    5. Eric Scheie says:

      That’s almost as bad as “WE ARE AN ANGRY GENTLE PEOPLE!”

      (A 1980s slogan which pretty much did it for me…)

    6. Sean Kinsell says:

      I’m not one for role models, but if I’m as cool as you two in fifteen years, I’ll consider myself very fortunate.

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