Sexual minority cultures
Sexual minority cultures are the heritage of culture, knowledge, and references to which members of sexual minorities fall heir by the fact of their membership in those minorities.
Among the first to argue that members of sexual minorities can constitute cultural minorities as well as being just individuals were Harry Hay and the Mattachine Society, speaking with reference to gay men's culture.
Certainly, not all members of a particular sexual minority participate in, or are aware of, the culture that may be associated with that minority. This may be due to a feeling of exclusion within that culture, or simply a preference to belong to the mainstream.
Sexual orientation and gender identity-based cultures (LGBT)
Sexual minorities defined by sexual orientation and gender identity — gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people — are often seen as having a common culture, which can be called LGBT culture, Queer culture, or gay culture. (We will use the term LGBT culture in this article. The term Queer is perceived by many to be political or objectionable, although others use it as the primary description of their sexual minority culture. We will reserve the term "gay culture" for gay men's culture.)
The idea is quite contentious. Some argue that there are too many LGBT people who do not participate in this culture for the idea to be meaningful, or that the culture constitutes a stereotype.
Others argue that LGBT culture is an undeniable fact, and/or that it constitutes the basis of a LGBT nation with a common understanding and history.
The existence of a larger community including gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people has also been questioned by noting the exclusion of some of these groups by others; for example, bi-phobia among gays and lesbians, transphobia among non-trans LGB people, or lack of inclusiveness of lesbians in gay milieux. For example, some cities have separate neighbourhoods for gay men and for lesbians.
A response could be that, although these sorts of prejudice and exclusion exist among part of the community, they do not necessarily impede members of all of the groups from participating in a common culture.
It ought to be remembered, further, that LGBT culture is often intensely marked by geography and surrounding culture. It is important to remember that what may often be thought of as "LGBT culture" may be peculiar to North America and/or Europe, and not found among other LGBT communities around the world.
Elements often identified as being common to the culture of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people include:
- The work of famous gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people. This may include:
- Present-day LGBT artists and political figures;
- Historical figures who have been identified as LGBT. It has often been questioned whether it is appropriate to identify historical figures using modern terms for sexual identity (see History of sexuality). However, many LGBT people feel a kinship towards these people and their work, especially to the extent that it deals with same-sex attraction or gender identity.
- An understanding of the history of the LGBT rights movement.
- An ironic appreciation of things linked by stereotype to LGBT people.
- Figures and identities that are present in the LGBT community; in Euro-American LGBT culture, this could include the gay village, drag kings and queens, Pride, and the rainbow flag.
Gay male culture
It can be difficult to delimit what is specific to gay male culture, and what to LGBT culture. In the last half-century, the broader culture has focused more heavily on gay men than on other members of the LGBT community. The origins of this, whether due to numbers, perceived greater (or lesser) transgressivity, and/or sexism (this can refer to sexism against gay men, or to the other groups), is open to debate. Likewise, gay men's culture is often better known to lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people than those groups' particular cultures may be known to gay men.
Some elements that may be identified more closely with gay men than with other groups include:
- pop-culture gay icons who have had a traditionally gay male following (for example, in Euro-American gay culture, disco, Madonna, Judy Garland, and so forth);
- familiarity with certain aspects of romantic, sexual, and social life that have been common among gay men (for example, in Euro-American gay culture, Polari, poppers, camp, and the fag hag; in Indian gay culture, evening people).
There are a number of subcultures within gay male culture, such as bears, chubbies, and gay skinheads . There are also subcultures that have historically had a large gay male population, such as the leather and SM subcultures.
As with gay men, lesbian culture includes elements both from the larger LGBT culture and elements that are more closely specific to the lesbian community.
Often thought of in this regard are elements of counterculture that have been primarily associated with lesbians in Europe and North America. The history of lesbian culture over the last half-century has also been tightly entwined with the evolution of feminism.
Older stereotypes of lesbian women stressed a dichotomy between women who adhered to stereotypical male gender stereotypes ("butch") and stereotypical female gender sterotypes ("femme"), and that typical lesbian couples consisted of butch/femme couples. Today, some lesbian women adhere to being either "butch" or "femme" but these categories are much less rigid and there is no express expectation that a lesbian couple be butch/femme.