Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Gap Between the Generations, Going Away Now

For many years, there has been a distinct social distance between the youngest gay men and the middle-aged and older gay men.  I see this changing, and will describe the changes that I'm observing as the head of a large group of gay men.

Speaking as a man who has lost a lot of important people in my life due to AIDS, I'm clearly messed up.

For years, I felt like a pterodactyl surrounded by small furry mammals that I couldn't relate to. My head was firmly rotated 180 degrees around, and I lived my life looking into the past. Many of the men that I knew who had also survived our holocaust were living their lives as if they were already laying six feet under, waiting for somebody to throw some dirt on top of them.

NONE of these things are appealing to younger gay men - Who wants to be around such a dreary crowd?

I'm a super-extrovert who has hosted many super-large neighborhood parties, so I'm fully aware of how many homes around San Diego contain middle-aged gay men who simply stopped going out any more. They stay in their nicely-landscaped isolation-chambers in suburbia, and they don't participate any more. You can easily walk past a man on the street and have no clue that he is an incredibly valuable person to know, and so he passes out of your life, and everyone else's, too.

And so it has continued for too many years. There's not much demand for mature gay men these days.  Not many people say "Ya know what? We need a lot more OLDER GAY MEN around here!"

I say that we do. I'm quite insistent, in fact.

When men are at our very best, we are excellent friends, nurturers, protectors, decision-makers, mentors, leaders and role-models. If a man has earned some wisdom along with the miles on his odometer, he has a lot to offer younger men... and no, not just as sexual objects on either side. I'm a firm believer in intergenerational sex. I've been at it my whole adult life. I also don't think that it's the main point of what men can offer each other.

When I came out as a gay man in the late 1970's, I was fortunate to be invited to a series of big, festive house-parties in San Diego's North County.  It seems that a large number of the avocado/macadamia ranches up in the hills by Old Highway 395 were owned by long-term male couples who had been together 39, 42, 48, even 53 years.  Up to that point, I had never even imagined that male couples could stay together that long - None of the young guys I knew had made it past a few months.

These much-older men never once made a sexual pass at me… In fact, they competed with each other to be affectionate uncles, and answered every one of my questions with complete honesty.  I was smart enough to listen to their advice, and it made a much better man of me. I made up my mind to aim for lasting relationships as well, and I have succeeded. Dennis and I are coming up on 21 years together soon, and I can easily see us staying together forever.

In the past few years, I've noticed some changes in our culture, and I'm very happy to point them out.

- Our leaders are calming down. In the last few decades, the survivors of the epidemic were clawing at each other in unresolved despair and Survivor's Guilt, and not much forward action was occurring while everybody worked through their anguish. Now, we're working together like never before.

- Gay men are starved for brotherhood, and are willing to work for it. Frankly, we hit bottom a while ago. The Internet has trivialized our intercommunications to the point where we have internalized bad attitudes about gay males being purely about sex/external appearance and nothing else. It's a whole bunch of killing messages; unless you look like a heavily-Photoshopped porn model, you're not worthy of desire, respect or love. If you have to lie on your profile in order to gain attention, you are a failure forever. Maybe next lifetime. On and on. Now that we've had it up to the eyebrows with shallowness, we're ready for the real thing again. Being Tribal is easy when everybody wants it as badly as you do.

In the last nine months, I've observed that a lot of younger guys are 1) showing up at our events, and 2) coming back again and again. I assert that a small number of younger gay men (like myself, thirty years ago), are eager to learn some life-lessons the easy way. Why fall into pitfalls that can be avoided when a simple, real mentoring friendship with somebody older, wiser, publicly-respected and (at long last) fully-visible, is now an available option?

As time goes by, I predict that the trend toward intergenerational friendships is going to accelerate. Our local events are growing in size, friendship and unification of spirit, and any sensitive, thinking and self-aware gay man should be pretty darned pleased with his life-prospects at this point.

I think the men who made it through the flames are growing away from our self-imposed exile, and that's damn attractive to many younger men who have been eager for us to come back again and take our place among them again. They need older, wise and experienced men to stand shoulder-to-shoulder, so that they can stand on our shoulders!