LGBT culture, or queer culture, is the common culture shared by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people. It is sometimes referred to as "gay culture", but that term can also be specific to gay men's culture.
LGBT culture varies widely by geography and the identity of the participants. Elements often identified as being common to the culture of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people include:
In some cities, especially in North America, gay men and lesbians tend to live in certain neighbourhoods.
During the 19th and early 20th centuries, gay culture was highly covert and relied upon secret symbols and codes woven into an overall straight context. Gay influence in early America was mostly limited to high culture. The association of gay men with opera, ballet, professional sports, couture, fine cuisine, musical theater, the Golden Age of Hollywood, and interior design began with wealthy homosexual men using the straight themes of these media to send their own signals. In the very heterocentric Marilyn Monroe film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, a musical number features Jane Russell singing "Anyone Here for Love" in a gym while muscled men dance around her. The men's costumes were designed by a man, the dance was choreographed by a man, and the dancers seem more interested in each other than in Russell, but her reassuring presence gets the sequence past the censors and fits it into an overall heterocentric theme. After the Stonewall riots in the United States in 1969, gay male culture began to be publicly acknowledged for the first time. Some gay men formed the Violet Quill society, which focused on writing about gay experience as something central and normal in a story for the first time, rather than as a "naughty" sideline to a mostly straight story. A good example is the short story A Boy's Own Story by Edmund White. In this first volume of a trilogy, White writes as a young homophilic narrator growing up under the shadow of a corrupt and remote father. The young man learns bad habits from his straight father and applies them to a gay existence.
Throughout the 1970s, gay male culture was a growing influence on American pop culture as a whole. Celebrities such as Liza Minnelli and Bette Midler spent a significant amount of their social time with urban gay men, who were now popularly viewed as sophisticated and stylish by the jet set. And more celebrities themselves, such as Andy Warhol, were open about their relationships. Such openness was still limited to the largest urban areas such as New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami, however, until AIDS forced several popular celebrities out of the closet due to their contraction of what was known at first as a "gay cancer".
Some elements that may be identified more closely with gay men than with other groups include:
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.
There are also many gay men who do not follow any of these subcultures or so-called gay fashions, and who do not worship gay icons. Gay men are individuals, and cannot be identified by appearance or personal taste. There are gay men in every field imaginable, and enjoy many types of fashions and music. The trendy gays who frequent certain gay clubs/discos and Gay Pride festivals are not necessarily typical of the average gay man in the country, many of whom are to some extent still in the closet. Not least because the commercial gay scene with its very limited range of music/fashions/gay icons etc. excludes everyone who does not fit in with this image. This could be described as 'gay fascism' - if a gay man prefers long hair, a 1950s quiff, a mohawk, dreadlocks or liberty spikes to a shaved head or a #1 cut he may feel unwelcome in many gay venues. A gay man into Rockabilly, 1950s Rock'n'Roll or Blues, hot rods and the Teddy-boy/Rockabilly look, for instance, might find little appeal on the commercial gay scene. The Queercore movement as well as the group Gay shame critiques the commercialization of gay society.
Groups critical of the sex-orientated part of contemporary gay male culture also exists, most recently in gay activist Larry Kramer's 2005 book The Tragedy of Today's Gays.
More recently, a number of online social interaction websites for gay men have been established. Initially, these concentrated on sexual contact or titillation. Typically, users were afforded a profile page as well as access to other members' pages, member-to-member messaging and instant-message chat.
Smaller, more densely-connected websites concentrating on social networking without a focus on sexual contact have been established. Some forbid all explicit sexual content; others do not.
Online sexual contact sites for gay men have already altered dramatically the sexual behaviour of a large proportion of the gay population of regions where these sites are strongly patronised. There are signs that on-line social networking communities for gay men are also having a more profound impact on gay culture than their 'straight' equivalent sites.
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.
Lesbian separatism is an example of a lesbian theory and practice which identifies specifically lesbian interests and ideas and promotes a specific sort of lesbian culture.
Older stereotypes of lesbian women stressed a dichotomy between women who adhered to stereotypical male gender stereotypes ("butch") and stereotypical female gender stereotypes ("femme"), and that typical lesbian couples consisted of a butch/femme pairing. 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. There is a sub-culture within the lesbian community called Aristasia, where lesbians in the community adhere to exaggerated levels of femininity. In this culture, there are two genders, blonde and brunette, although they are unrelated to actual hair color. Brunettes are femme, yet blondes are even more so. Also notable are diesel dykes, extremely butch women who use male forms of dress and behavior. Lipstick lesbian refers to feminine women who are attracted only to other feminine women. Lesbian culture also has its own icons such as Melissa Etheridge. Others include k.d. lang (butch), Ellen DeGeneres (androgynous), and Portia de Rossi (femme).
One popular misconception is that bisexuals find all humans sexually attractive. That is no more true than the idea that, say, all straight men would find all women sexually attractive. More people of all kinds are becoming aware that there are some people who find attractive sexual partners among both men and women - sometimes equally, sometimes favoring one sex in particular, (also see Kinsey scale, Klein Sexual Orientation Grid).
Distinctions exist between sexual orientation (attraction, inclination, preference, or desire), gender identity (self-identification or self-concept) and sexual behavior (the sex of one's actual sexual partners). For example, someone who may find people of either sex attractive might in practice have relationships only with people of one particular sex.
In an effort to create both more visibility, and a symbol for the bisexual community to gather behind, Michael Page created the bisexual pride flag. The bisexual flag, which has a pink or red stripe at the top for homosexuality, a blue one on the bottom for heterosexuality and a purple one in the middle to represent bisexuality, as purple is from the combination of red and blue.
The study of transgender culture as such is complicated by the many and various ways in which cultures deal with gender. For example, in many cultures, people who are attracted to people of the same sex — that is, those who in contemporary Western culture would identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual — are classed as a third gender, together with people who would in the West be classified as transgender or transsexual.
Also in the contemporary West, there are usually several different groups of transgender and transsexual people, some of which are extremely exclusive, like groups only for transsexual women who explicitly want sex reassignment surgery or male, heterosexual only cross-dressers. Transmen's groups are often, but not always, more inclusive. Groups aiming at all transgender people, both transmen and transwomen, have in most cases appeared only in the last few years.
Some transgender or transsexual women and men however do not classify as being part of any specific "trans" culture, however there is a distinction between transgender and transsexual people who make their past known to others and those who wish to live according to their gender identity and not reveal this past, stating that they should be able to live in their true gender role in a normal way, and be in control of whom they choose to tell their past to.
Issues of inclusiveness within the LGBT community -- gay communities excluding lesbians, gay and lesbian communities excluding bisexuals, GLB communities excluding trans people -- often lead to questions about the ability of the community have one united culture.
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