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Such brittle views of the gay life, though currently in vogue, are usually unconvincing. In gay bars, emphasis on physical attractiveness is so strong that many men feel debased. Sociologist David Riesman says it is the "cosmetic self," not the real self, that is on the line. In his new book, The Age of Sensation (Norton; $9.95), Psychoanalyst Herbert Hendin tells of a homosexual Columbia College student he calls Hal. Hal hoped for a "long relationship with a man" but also feared that any such relationship would prove destructive and painful, so he retreated "to a life of casual contacts that were so meaningless that they could not deeply hurt him."
According to Hendin, homosexuals today live in double jeopardy. Because of its new political stance, "the homosexual world is exerting taboos of its own. Young men are now not only faced with the traditional forces that encourage homosexuals to hate themselves, but also must contend with a strong counterpressure to deny even to themselves whatever conflict, pain, or anguish they feel." Says homosexual Poet Allen Ginsberg: "I think a lot of homosexual conflict comes from internalizing society's distrust of your loves, finally doubting your own loves, and therefore not being able to act on them."
Yet many homosexuals do live together quietly in stable relationships. Some demand church ceremonies. Three hundred "marriages" have been performed by Los Angeles Gay Minister Troy Perry, founder of the gay-oriented Metropolitan Community Church. Perry claims a low "divorce" rate of 15% among his couples.
For a while, marriage-minded homosexuals were trekking to Boulder, Colo., after Assistant District Attorney William Wise ruled that nothing in the state law prohibits gay marriages. "Who's it going to hurt?" he asked. Many heterosexuals saw the ruling as a mockery of marriage, and normally liberal Boulder was in an uproar over six legally sanctioned gay weddings. (One enraged cowboy tried marrying his horse in protest.)
Publicly, at least, lesbianism is far less flamboyant than male homosexuality, with less promiscuity and more stable relationships. But like male homosexuals, lesbians must often be secretive or lose their jobs. Complains a member of the Atlanta Lesbian Feminist Alliance: "You can't talk about your 'husband' as ordinary women do. Try going for a whole day without mentioning the family." Adds a New York City lesbian: "I get upset when I go into a man's office and see a picture of his wife. I'd like to be able to put a picture of my lover on my desk."
Politically, young lesbians are facing an identity crisis. They feel torn between the gay liberation movement, which they find male-dominated and sexist, and the feminist movement, which often seems embarrassed by them. The