The Birth of
a Gay Culture
Whether there is such a thing as a "gay culture" or a "gay sensibility" has become a central preoccupation of the new gay intelligentsia, of whose existence at least there can be no doubt. Indeed the growing recognition of homosexuality--until a few years ago literary critics wrote tomes about Proust, Forster, Stein, and Whitman while totally ignoring their homosexuality--has made the question of culture a central preoccupation for those like Susan Sontag who believe that "Jews and homosexuals are the outstanding creative minorities in contemporary urban culture. Creative, that is, in the truest sense: they are creators of sensibilities. The two pioneering forces of modern sensibility are Jewish moral seriousness and homosexual aesthetics and irony."1 This theme was echoed without acknowledgement eleven years later by George Steiner when he wrote: "Judaism and homosexuality (most intensely where they overlap, as in a Proust or a Wittgenstein) can be seen to have been the two main generators of the entire fabric and savor of urban modernity in the West."2
There are few questions as confusing as that of the existence and nature of "gay culture." When the Soho News posed the question it featured four images of food on the cover and captioned it, "Find the gay food." The answer was quiche and Perrier water, as any follower of the magazine Christopher Street would know, which illustrates the first step of the problem--culture is used both aesthetically and sociologically. Clearly there is a gay culture in the sense of certain aspects of life style found most commonly among at least some urban male homosexuals. (It is less certain that this life style is shared in any meaningful way by gay women.) It is more problematic whether there is a gay culture in the aesthetic sense that Sontag means when she speaks of "sensibilities."
There are at least four ways in which the term "gay culture"