December 03, 2012
How can someone be gay without having seen “Mildred Pierce” or “The Wizard of Oz”? To answer that, you first have to know what such movies have to do with being gay. Halperin observes, as others have before him, that gay boys often display stereotypical tastes long before sex enters the picture. As he points out, sexuality is the area where gay men differ least from straight men: the male in heat is a uniform animal. Gay taste is something more singular, probably linked to incipient feelings of dissimilarity from one’s peers. This alienation can happen in class, or in the locker room, or at a friend’s house when straight porn is unveiled. However these experiences unfold, they have a lasting impact, equivalent to a trauma with no visible cause. One common response is preëmptive withdrawal. The boy buries himself in some obscure aesthetic pursuit. One self-help book calls it “velvet rage.” My ignorance of “The Wizard of Oz” didn’t save me from becoming a typical case: at the age of ten, I developed a peculiar predilection for Austro-German symphonies.- Alex Ross in The New Yorker.
Of course, a love for Golden Age movies or interior design is not necessarily a telltale sign. Plenty of straight kids flee from the locker room to the Drama Club, and plenty of gay kids thrive at sports. Yet the anecdotal evidence for the early onset of gay taste is vast. In retrospect, my mania for Beethoven may have been a way of forestalling a reckoning with my sexuality: rather than commit myself, I disappeared into a fleshless realm. Halperin sees another dimension to this kind of engagement — a willful resistance to the male-adolescent herd, a form of quasi-political dissidence. It’s a heady idea to attribute political motives to gay children, but Halperin is on to something. The fanatical twelve-year-old aesthete displays something like cultural disobedience.