Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Queens and Kings of Yesterday

(Old post republished for your reading pleasure, new material coming soon!)
Last week I came across a post by an older gay man. I was quite surprised that he had access to the Internet and knew how to operate a computer, given his age. He seemed angry and disillusioned with the younger gay generation. He made mention of the younger community being ageist, sexually promiscuous and living in a fantasy world where coming out and having new found rights made them unappreciative of what is important in life. He made us sound like a bunch of fairies living in fairytale land. He stated that there are no gay role models and noticed a clear moral degradation amongst our gay youth. This made me wonder, is there an immutable generation gap, is it just a matter of growing up and coming of age in a different era or could he actually be right? This is my opinion…

Different generations face different problems. When I came out of the closet, at the age of 16, the reaction of my parents, peers and family was stereotypical. At that time (mid 90's) homosexuality was still taboo but considered less of an affliction and mental disease than it was before. Still my parents believed that prayer and therapy could “fix” me, but alas neither did! I am grateful I came out after aversion therapy’s popularity dwindled, as I am not that fond of straight pornography nor am I of electrical shocks. Many older gay men and lesbians found it much more difficult coming out (prior to the 90’s and 80's). Many chose to stay in the closet and some even went as far as to get married and lived as heterosexuals to avoid reprisal and/or being ostracised – Brokeback marriages! The ones that had gay relationships did so in secret, having a “special friend” or “house mate” but never openly admitted their sexual orientation. It was only rumoured behind their backs. Access to the gay community was also restrictive as gay communities were small and sometimes hidden from sight.

Gay people became open about their sexual orientation when gay clubs and bars started sprouting in every town, as the gay community became more accessible and gay rights came of age. We express ourselves more freely now and no longer hide our relationships. We even have pride parades. This new found freedom could be conflicting to the older generation who were never offered these opportunities and whose value system were shaped by their era they found themselves. As the gay culture evolved the changes could have caught some queens and kings off guard. The traditionalist values of yesterday have now been defied, but this does not mean that the princesses and princesses does not face challenges of their own.

In a society that has not truly overcome homophobia we all still carry this burden at times - coming out still is not easy. Issues of acceptance, monogamy and ageism still pose a challenge. As mentioned in a previous post about relationships, I would hate to be single at the age of 33. Being single while in your prime (ages 18 to 30) is far less complicated. Once you enter your thirties you no longer have youth on your side, you are more career orientated and, I for one, could be said to be somewhat set in my ways. Therefore, finding a companion is slightly more of an endeavour. Being a gay man or lesbian in your 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and 70's I would suspect is even more difficult.
Being middle aged and gay, where do you go to find your soul mate? At a certain age clubs and bars may seem daunting and understandably the younger crowds could make you feel out of place, like a sugar daddy or a dirty old man. There are no real places for our Queens and Kings of yesterday to shine. Does this mean we have to exclude them from our community? Should we do what was done with the elderly in the middle ages and expel them from the village as they serve no more perceived function?

I would admit that there are not enough gay role models. We might not have accepted or fully understand the freedoms we have today apposed to the lack of it our older Queens and Kings faced. If we did, I believe we would act with greater responsibility, respect and appreciation. Maybe we should not look for role models amongst our own generation, but rather to those of the generation before us. Look at what they survived, sacrificed and accomplished for us. We may not always understand their reasoning or certain judgements they fell over our behaviour, relationship choices or sexual escapades, but we can make more of an effort to understand them.
Till next time.

Born This Way Parody by Sherry Vine


Marvin Schult said...

Thanks for your sensibility my friend.

They fight for our rights and some young LGBT people and other less young try to condenm him to hide out in the closet again, and almost call them pervert because they need sex, friendship and adventure like all of us.

I m 45 years old, I m incest survival when I was children and almost today I m in transiction like a gay after therapy and fight myselhomophobia and latinoamerican homophobic and hate crime culture. I mean not everybody go out of closet when they was young or middle age...if LGBT people discriminate the olders how we can expect like community for justice, equality, fraternite, and dignity.

Very responsable article. Thanks!

Pierre said...

Thanks Marvin.

We sometimes do forget what those before us did to help attain the rights we have today. Many gay people across the world still struggle with their own sexual orientation whether young or old.

Sometimes I wish the older generation would be more visible in the gay community and the younger generation more accommodating of them. There is a lot we can learn from each other.

We all will grow old.

Steven Macintyre said...

decent post!

Jack Fertig said...

First I wonder how old is this "older" gay man? Some of us elderly codgers were surfing the net from its early days. I've been online for over a quarter of a century. I also wonder how many older gay men you actually know.

Your older friend's description of young people today sounds very much like young people at most times. And the travails of your youth sound very much like what we endured in earlier generations.... my God, where did you grow up? Iran? Myanmar? Alabama???

The AIDS crisis created a horrible generation gap in our community. Just when men of my generation should have been -- and eagerly would have been -- building organiztions and developing traditions to welcome youngsters into a supportive pan-generational community we were suddenly confronted with the need to support the many among us who were sick and dying. The fight against AIDS took everything we had and we were forced to neglect the youngsters. No, not everyone grows old, and perhaps you seem to know so few older gays because so many of us didn't survive, and because for so many of those of us who did the experience of the AIDS crisis created a huge gap between the older survivors and the youngsters who didn't experience it.

As so many of the Stonewall generation died off -- so many brilliant, creative men who had come out in a revolutionary age and wrote, painted, and fought for revolutionary ideals -- the more commercial aspects of our community filled the vacuum, conservative Johnny-come-out-latelies pushed a watered down "gay rights" movement that ignored the history and drive of the earlier "gay liberation" ideals. (Our defeat at Proposition 8 demonstrates how these parvenus neglected the lessons that Harvey Milk learned and taught so well!)

The whole weight and grief of the AIDS crisis aside (and granted that's no small thing to try to ignore) growing older as a gay man is not so scary and dreary as you make it out to be. I met my husband when I was 39 and I know many men of all ages who are quite content being single, who are enjoying very full and satisfying, social, spiritual, and sexual lives. There's no guarantee of such contentment and there are also unhappy people of all ages, but with maturity one may get perspective and experience that young people can only begin to imagine. As you grow up you learn what's important. As you grow old you learn what's not. It's very liberating.

Especially if you pontificate on such topios, I would strongly recommend that you get out and meet more older friends. Contact GLBT historical groups, get involved with organizations where you see younger and older men working together. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion and veterans of the Gay Liberation Front will be re-uniting and telling our stories in different venues.

"18-26" is nowhere near your prime. What a sad thing that would be. You only pass your prime when you give up on learning, loving, and fighting the good fight to improve the world. I know octogenerians who are still in their prime. I hope you will be fortunate enough to be one yourself.

Pierre said...

Jack thanks for your comment.

You are absolutely right I do not have many gay friends over 40, hence my opinions in this article is exactly that "my opinion". I am open to correction and criticism.

Like I mentioned in the post, we grew up in different times and the challenges we face are very different. In South Africa where I live and grew up the gay community's challenges were also far different from those in other parts of the world; up and till 1994 being homosexual was illegal and you could serve a jail term. However, the HIV epidemic had a similar impact here amongst our gay community.

I appreciate you frank response to my post, and I wish more people who read it will do the same.

BTW: I had to google Myanmar (didn't have a clue where that was)

Jack Fertig said...

when I read your post I didn't realize you were in South Africa... indeed, before 1994 it was very backwards and repressive and there are still considerable problems. Of course the history and development of the gay community in our countries have been extremely different, and knowing now where you are forces me to reconsider a lot of what I said in that context.

But I also know some gay friends of my generation and your country through the internet and I do encourage you to befriend your elders! I came out at the age of 15 and have always had older friends. You can learn from the experiences of others, especially when they have so much more experience!

Pierre said...

Clearly age is a very contentious subject in the gay community.

This post has sparked an interesting debate on one of the South African chat forums, where it is clear that no matter your age, gay people have strong feelings about the matter. Young gay people fear growing old and the unknown consequences of doing so, and older gay people feel defensive about the matter.

Jack is correct in encouraging me and others of my generation to reach out to the older generation. Making older friends can only enrich my life.

I have come to realize that age is the big white elephant in the middle of the room, so I just had to go there and see what happens. The conclusion, you are only as old as you feel, until someone makes you aware of your age and life doesn’t end at 50.

Jason Shaw said...

Gosh, for a moment there I thought you were writing about me and my blog! but then I realised it was a chance to revisit some classic warfare, and I breathed a heavy sigh of relief!

It's not me, but perhaps every generation blames the one before and criticises the one after! It seems very few older people understand us and then as if by magic, a flick of the switch of a year or two we find that despite our best efforts, we no longer fully understand the youth of today. Once where life and age intermingled, walls and fear and distrust build up. Never more so than in the gay community, I think because, the older ones, have had to fight for whatever rights we have, whilst the younger ones enjoy that freedom, such as it is, without a fight, often without a thank you to those that gained them those few yet precious rights!

Gosh sorry, I'm almost starting to rant! Hugs a plenty to you.

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