Community Center

As I was composing an email response today to someone who was amused that I always place the phrase “gay community” within quotation marks, it dawned on me why I have so much trouble stomaching the idea of the concept (and the ideas of “gay pride” and most aspects of the “gay movement” in general): the maddening attention toward the idea of “community-building”, usually at the expense of anything resembling individual achievement.

The whole clichĂ© of “community” is is rather pervasive not just among politicized homosexuals, but among many pointy-headed academics, and especially among the professional victims of the world. We no longer have homeless individuals, but the “homeless community”. There are no homosexuals who like sports; there is merely the “LGBT sports community”. People with personal websites now owe dues to the “weblogging community”.

Any given group of individuals who shares one common interest or problem, no matter how insignificant to its members’ actual daily lives, must suddenly be a “community”. It’s as if nothing any individual does has any intrinsic value unless it’s done with the sanction of –and of course the appropriate designation by — some unspecified number of other people. Without a “community” to be served, any individual achievement is meaningless. Everything is set in terms of “we think” rather than “I think”.

And heaven help anyone who dares think differently. Immediately they’re derided for “not speaking on behalf of the community” (read “not really being one of us”). These “open and affirming” communities are often very quick to exile members who have a penchant for independent thought, especially when it sometimes contrasts with what the “community” has deemed to be the proper way for its members to think.

The theme of this year’s San Francisco gay pride event was “Be yourself. Change the world.” It’s a nice sentiment, but the very nature of the event (and the actual phrase, if you read it a certain way) suggests that “being yourself” has no particular value unless you’re doing it as part of some greater community goal. Some people don’t want to change the world, and want to do their own thing even it involves quietly blending into their surroundings. And other people don’t much care that the “pride community” has given them “permission” to wear a feather boa rather than a tank top.

It’s great to meet people who have common interests. This is a natural human desire and it makes life much more fun. I was very excited to find that there are a lot of people who are interested in old supermarkets. It’s nice to be able to rely on other people for information. But I’d still be interested (and research them just as obsessively) if I were the only person on earth who gave a damn.

Maybe I’m just not a “joiner”, but I don’t need a “community” to validate my interests, my lifestyle, nor my troubles. I can justify them to myself just fine, thanks, and that’s really all that matters.