Lucky me, a 55 year-old gay guy seated next to a thirtysomething hunky gay banker at a fundraiser. It soon became apparent, however, the evening wasn't going to be titillating but instead educational. Being young and gay is different than I experienced it 20 years ago.
"How's work?" I asked. Recalling my experience 15 years earlier as an executive at a bank, I suggested it couldn't be an easy place to work. Homophobia was tolerated, as were the prejudices of anyone making the company money. "They're very supportive at my bank," he said. "The VP came by yesterday to see if I was enjoying myself and ask if I could talk to the retail people about marketing to the gay segment." I quickly assumed he wasn't interested in my stories about the sniggering behind my back on the trading room floor or bosses who could barely shake my hand because they were so anti-gay.
I didn't know where to go next with the conversation. I fell back to the classic gay icebreaker, "When did you come out?" "I've never needed to come out," he said. "I knew I was gay forever. I've never been anything but gay. My friends in high school were all very supportive." I can't quite recall what he said after this. I was so stunned, since being openly gay in high school wasn't an option for me. I think he said something about being captain of the football team and valedictorian of his high school, or other proof that being gay in the Maritimes was vastly different than my memories of growing up in a small town in B. C.
I asked how his parents felt about him being gay. "Never an issue. They always want me to feel good about myself. They've liked all my boyfriends." He anticipated my next question: "My brothers and sisters, all six of them, have always been great, really great."
I was beginning to feel like the boring neurotic who always has issues. "It's been a different experience for older gays," I said. "I've heard that from my husband," he said. "He's a bit older." For me, this different experience was one generation ago. The way he said it, it sounded like ancient history: Prejudice, ridicule, hiding your life from your parents and friends.
Husband? "Yes, we married last year. We're planning to have kids soon." Kids? "Yes, I don't know if we'll adopt or have them with a surrogate." I certainly didn't say gays with kids were once typically the residual of straight guys who came out late, not the status symbols of progressiveness they've become today. And he was so nice I didn't want to mention my doubts about testosterone-riddled 20-year-olds maintaining stable relationships for child rearing when their instincts make them want to explore the world. I didn't mention it, because who wants to be accused of self-loathing?
"It was different when I was your age." Oh yeah, AIDS, he said. For him, AIDS is a serious but chronic illness. No one he knows has died from it or was expected to. A startling contrast to memories of what was, at first, an unfathomable plague and, then, a terrible death sentence that killed friends.
"Must have been awful then," he said. Not all bad--being gay was a bit of a secret club, I explained. A wonderful camaraderie with your fellow gays no matter who or where they were. And sometimes the outlaw aspect was exciting, too.
I told him we shouldn't take this freedom for granted, all this newfound acceptance. After all, look at the United States: They can't legalize gay marriage, and so on. He confidently said it will come in time. I didn't want to sound negative, mired in the past or paranoid, but I had to say it could change, the pendulum could swing back. "I don't think so," he said. "Our rights are legally entrenched."
I didn't want to tell him about some of the places I'd just visited in the U. S., like Atlanta, where it still felt like the bad 1980s. Not to mention countries in the Middle East. He could be my son, and it's wonderful he sees the world as welcoming. I always wanted this for myself. But human nature is fickle. I hope he's never surprised one day, and that being gay becomes again what truly matters about him for others.
Friday, June 19, 2009
The gay generation gap
Kelvin Brown has a good article in today's National Post - Being gay has come a long way - about his journey as a gay man in his fifties compared to what young gay men & women experience today. Even though I came out relatively late in life, I would agree with Brown that "being young and gay is different than I experienced it 20 years ago."