Why are young gay people so bad at writing? Why has it become the norm in our culture to accept the shallow, self-absorbed ramblings of young gay bloggers? When I look around gay websites, I see all of these trite over-generalizations about “10 mistakes gay men make when dating” and “why are gay men so shallow”. Young bloggers apparently don’t have enough experience to think outside of the box of their own narrow world-view. They don’t research, or ask for a variety of opinions on a subject. They don’t consider that the “gay experience” is extremely diverse, even if their own social circles are not. It is as though young gay bloggers think they are the first and only people to ever have thought about any given topic, and that their personal experiences speak for everyone.
Trite op-eds are killing our culture. I think it’s time to fight this trend of shallow, self-absorbed blogging. Luckily (insert triumphant music here) I can solve this problem by giving some advice to young gay bloggers: just stop writing. That’s right, just stop. Wait until you grow up, and learn a little about the world.
WHOAH, THERE! Hang on!
Back it up a bit, and let’s think about those opening paragraphs. If you’re a young gay blogger, you are probably a little offended. Hell, if you are a thoughtful human being of any kind you are probably offended: It’s condescending, it over-generalizes, and the advice that it gives is the height of arrogance.
But that, my friend, is exactly the point.
A few (but certainly not all) young gay bloggers really do have this problem. The most recent offender is Dalton Heinrich, who wrote Gay Men and the Curse of the Peter Pan Syndrome, in which he concludes that all gay men who are over 30 who go out to bars are sad, sad people who “need to grow up.” I deliberately mimicked many of his witty turns-of-phrase in my parody, just to give you a feel of what he sounds like.
He is being roundly lambasted by gay media, but in truth he is hardly alone. Gay op-ed culture regularly publishes what I call “self-involved op-ed”. These are articles where the author sits down and writes a reaction to something in his own personal life, based on his own experiences, but he writes about it as though it applies to all gay people, and as if nobody has ever written about it before.
He doesn’t research to find out what other people might have thought or said on the topic, because all that matters to him is expressing his feelings. He also doesn’t ask around or explore the possibility that gay people from different social circles might have totally different experiences from his: he is confident that his own “lived life” is sufficient to speak for the entire gay community.
Self-involved op-ed isn’t always bad. It can be entertaining enough, and can give insight into the world experienced by a particular individual. There is a problem, though, when the writer starts making grand claims about society at large based on nothing more than what he personally has experienced.
Not all young gay bloggers write self-involved op-ed, nor is all self-involved op-ed written by people who are young. And I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it is “killing our culture”… but I do think it’s a problem. It makes us settle for less than a thoughtful analysis.
What’s the alternative?
Heinrich has a legitimate point to make in his article. There are some older gay men who go out to the clubs because they are trapped in a pattern of behavior that is dysfunctional. For some of them, going out multiple times a week has kept them lonely their entire adults lives, and they are too scared to break out of it and explore other social options.
If Heinrich wants to write about that phenomenon, then by all means he should write about it.
But in exploring that issue, he may want to mention that there are plenty of older people who go out to the clubs who don’t fall into that category. Maybe he should talk to some of those people, and find out what they are doing right. He could also mention the fact that you don’t have to be over 30 to be a sad “Peter Pan”-er, and I’m sure he could find plenty of examples of that to interview as well.
He might be interested in exploring whether the same thing happens in the straight community. He might want to ask why it may be more prevalent among gay men than straight men. He could also research the extremely different cultural landscape that today’s “older gay men” grew up in, and how their more limited options for socializing when they were younger has impacted the way that they approach socializing later in life.
All of these are things that a solid, thoughtful, research-oriented opinion writer could do. It would really make a fantastic article, if Heinrich were interested in doing the work that would be required to write it.
So, what I meant to say is…
Alright, so let’s go back to those terrible opening paragraphs! That was parody and snark. What do I really want to say about “young gay bloggers”?
First, the problem of self-involved op-ed isn’t particularly a gay one. Sure, it may be more prevalent among minority bloggers, who often are desperately trying to find themselves and at the same time are so eager to set the world to right. But it exists everywhere in our culture: this is one of the consequences of the “democratization” of the internet. There is a perception that it takes no training or education to be a writer.
But fixing the problem begins with simple thoughtfulness. If you are “speaking your own truth”, then just write about your experiences: don’t pretend you understand or even know what “all gay people” or even “all young gay people” are like. Aim for a little more personal, and a little more humble, and it will do you a world of good.
On the other hand, if you really do want to make an observation or critique of the “gay community as a whole”, just take a second to see what other people have already said. Read a little, research a little, and talk to people outside of your circle of friends. It will make your writing more interesting, and you just might learn something along the way.