Madison: A Model Post-Gay City

The city’s values are LGBTQ values

Patrick Farabaugh

Patrick Farabaugh

In the late 1990s, I was living in New York City and working for America’s largest LGBTQ publication, OUT magazine. The publisher had just imported a new editor in chief from London who brought with him his philosophy that cities like New York and Los Angeles were now “post-gay” communities. This idea sparked huge cultural conversations in the OUT offices, and the magazine moved forward, looking at LGBTQ life through this new “post-gay” lens. That editor lasted there only a short time before the magazine fell into a deep recession and was in need of triage.

It’s worth noting that more than ninety percent of OUT readers live in either New York City or Los Angeles. I don’t think those places were ready to be post-gay yet, and I’d be willing to make the case that Madison is perhaps more post-gay than either of them.

So what does post-gay mean, anyway? Simply put, it’s the idea that LGBTQ people should be able to define their identities by something other than their sexual orientation. Are people in big cities really not able to do that? Sometimes I wonder.

Maybe you’ve heard a short story about two fish swimming together. One asks the other, “How’s the water?” The other replies, “What’s water?” I think for an LGBTQ person who is living in a larger city’s LGBTQ enclave, it can be challenging to measure the level of cultural assimilation they’ve experienced. Does more than their LGBTQ status define who they are there? How would they know? As long as you are safely within the boundaries of a neighborhood like Chicago’s Andersonville or Boystown, it could be hard to determine. However, outside of those places your values may not translate as fluidly.

Although there continues to be significant room to improve, Madison is further ahead of places like New York and Chicago when it comes to cultural integration for LGBTQ people. A small part of this simply has to do with our geography. We’re not big enough to have the same kinds of LGBTQ geo-centric communities that larger metro areas sustain. I believe this is one of the reasons LGBTQ nightlife has so much trouble establishing itself here the way it has in larger communities. I also believe we benefit from this. It encourages integration and cooperative living in ways that foster an LGBTQ person developing themselves as more than just LGBTQ.

The other variable at work is our creative class economy. Part of the fabric of life in this area encourages critical thinking and challenging the status quo. Both qualities are fundamental to an LGBTQ person expressing their authentic identity. As a result, most LGBTQ people in Madison can feel supported almost anywhere they choose to live. We can also see where the acceptance needle is at in local LGBTQ sports leagues. I think it makes a statement when the biggest hockey league in Madison is the gay league, and that a third of the players in it identify as straight. I also do not consider it a coincidence that our own Tammy Baldwin was the first out representative in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Or that another out leader, Mark Pocan, succeeded her in the House.

For the most part, Madison values are LGBTQ values. If that doesn’t make us post-gay, well, then I’m not quite sure what would.

Patrick Farabaugh is publisher of Our Lives Magazine. 

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