Clash of the Ages
Today is Monday and boy does it feel like it. I hope you had a safe and great weekend.
If you have been reading my daily blog then you know I have been home sick with the stomach flu for several days now. I am trying to rest up for meetings I have tomorrow with some of our elected officials on health care issues. Now dealing with elected officials, I have gotten use to bridging the gap between people.
Which brings me to the subject today since Pride is coming up in many cities across the country. The clash of the ages in the gay community. Now I know some of you are not gay who read my blog. But please realize a lot of this could also be applied between long term survivors and those of you who have only been positive a few years.
This month, tens of thousands of gay people will converge on New York City for Pride Week, and tens of thousands of residents will come out to play as well. Some of us will indulge in clubbing and dancing, and some of us will bond over our ineptitude at both. Some of us will be in drag and some of us will roll our eyes at drag. We will rehash arguments so old that they’ve become a Pride Week staple; for instance, is the parade a joyous expression of liberation, or a counterproductive freak show dominated by needy exhibitionists and gawking news cameras? Other debates will be more freshly minted: Is President Obama’s procrastinatory approach to gay rights issues an all-out betrayal, or just pragmatic incrementalism? We will have a good, long, energizing intra-family bull session about same-sex marriage and the New York State Senate, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, Project Runway and Adam Lambert.
And at some point, a group of gay men in their forties or fifties will find themselves occupying the same bar or park or restaurant or subway car or patch of pavement as a group of gay men in their twenties. We will look at them. They will look at us. We will realize that we have absolutely nothing to say to one another.
And the gay generation gap will widen.
You hear the tone of brusque dismissiveness in private conversations, often fueled by a couple of drinks, and you see the irritation become combustible when it’s protected by Internet anonymity. On the well trafficked chat site DataLounge, a self described repository of “gay gossip, news, and pointless bitchery,” there is no topic, from politics to locker room etiquette to the proper locations for wearing cargo pants and flip flops, that cannot quickly devolve into “What are you, 17?” “What are you, some Stonewall era relic?” sniping. And some not entirely dissimilar rhetoric is showing up in loftier media. In April, a 25 year old right of center gay journalist argued in a Washington Post op-ed that many gay rights groups are starting to outlive their purpose, and chided older activists for being stuck in “a mind set that sees the plight of gay people as one of perpetual struggle their life’s work depends on the notion that we are always and everywhere oppressed.” The scathing message board replies pounded him at least as hard for his age as for his politics. “You twentysomething gays seem to think being out equals acceptance and Do not be so quick to dissolve the organizations that made it possible for you to be so naïve,” wrote one reader. Another, blunter response: “Forgive me for not falling all over myself to do exactly what an inexperienced 25-year-old decrees and Don’t waltz in and start barking orders, little boy.”
Public infighting is a big minority group taboo: it’s called taking your business out in the street. And it may seem strange to note this phenomenon at a juncture that, largely because of the fight for gay marriage, has been marked by impressive solidarity. But let’s have a look. Here’s the awful stuff, the deeply unfair (but maybe a little true) things that many middle aged gay men say about their younger counterparts: They are shallow. They are silly. They reek of entitlement. They have not had to work for anything and therefore are not interested in anything that takes work. They are profoundly ungrateful for the political and social gains we spent our own youth striving to obtain for them. They are so sexually careless that you would think a deadly worldwide epidemic was just an abstraction. They think old fashioned What do we want! When do we want it! activism is icky and noisy. They toss around terms like “post-gay” without caring how hard we fought just to get all the way to “gay.”
And here is the awful stuff they throw back at us at 48, I write the word “us” from the graying side of the divide a completely vicious slander (except that some of us are a little like this): We are terminally depressed. We are horrible scolds. We gas on about AIDS the way our parents or grandparents could not stop talking about World War II. We act like we invented political action, and think the only way to accomplish something is by expressions of fury. We say we want change, but really what we want is to get off on our own victimhood. We are made uncomfortable, or even jealous, by their easygoing confidence. We are grim, prim, strident, self ghettoizing, doctrinaire bores who think that if you are not gloomy, you are not worth taking seriously. Also, we are probably cruising them.
To some extent, a generation gap in any subgroup with a history of struggle is good news, because it is a sign of arrival. If you have to spend every minute fighting against social opprobrium, religious hatred, and governmental indifference, taking the time to grumble about generational issues would be a ridiculously off-mission luxury; there are no ageists in foxholes. But today, with the tide of history and public opinion finally (albeit fitfully) moving our way, we can afford to step back and exercise the same disrespect for our elders (or our juniors) as heterosexuals do. That is progress, of a kind.
So remember those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it!
Wishing you health, hope and happiness.
big bear hug,