Bridging the Gay Generation Gap

Call me a cliché, but recently my partner and I spent a Sunday evening at our local movie theater with a few close close friends watching Funny Girl. Until this night, I had not seen the film

Oct 4, 2001 at 2:06 pm

Call me a cliché, but recently my partner and I spent a Sunday evening at our local movie theater with a few close close friends watching Funny Girl.

Until this night, I had not seen the film many consider so integral to the cultural fabric that ties me to my gay brothers.

But I didn't feel so bad, considering I shared my cultural naivete with another of my movie night compatriots, who happens to be the same age as I.

Of course, our cultural inadequacy brought on gasps of disbelief from other members of our group. Not having seen Funny Girl seems to rank among one of many offenses that put our gay membership cards in danger of being revoked.

My partner, our friends and I headed to a velvet-swagged, old-time theater to bond. Considering the World Trade Center tragedy was less than two weeks behind us, it might seem easy to explain my interest in connecting with my gay heritage. Crises remind us to cherish life and motivate us to keep thee promises we have made to ourselves.

But it was also interesting to see this film with men who fit neatly into two gay generations, the under 35s and the over 40s.

I have been doing quite a bit of thinking since reading an essay by Steve Weinstein in the October issue of OUT discussing the gay generation gap. This concept especially interests me because it applies to my relationship with my partner, I being a member of the former and he a member of the latter.

From time to time something comes up that reminds us of our age difference. For example, he mentions an experience that took place when I was in first grade — or not even born yet. But for the most part, we don't notice the difference in our ages.

After the topic at dinner that evening shifted to the essay in OUT, I started wondering about the the gay generation gap.

The gay generation gap isn't a completely new topic. In the recent past it has been discussed most frequently in association with AIDS — those who knew what it was like in the "good old days" of free love and those who have only known a world with AIDS.

But our discussion centered around cultural references — films, books, entertainers, landmarks. My 33-year-old friend and I spent the evening drinking in the wonderful stories our older friends had to share.

Weinstein calls all the shared experiences and references "all part of Gay 101," his "underground education." He explains.

"Before Stonewall, secret codes — like touching your nose with your index finger, a red tie, or a nosegay in your lapel, even the locations of bars — were part of the gay lore passed down to newcomers. In today's brave new gay world, camp is being rejected as a vestige of outdated, closed, ghetto-style mentality. Instead of Judy, we have Madonna; for The Boys in the Band, there's Queer as Folk; today's Maria Callas is ... Cher. With the mainstreaming of gay culture, there's no need for a secret set of gay references, all of which can make it harder for different generations of gay men to communicate."

While Weinstein leaves us to believe that we are left at a generational impasse, I disagree. The two groups might have differences and might need to work a little harder to communicate with one another.

But I choose to see the generation gap as an important reason we need each other, not of a reason to leave each other behind.

As Weinstein points out at the end of his essay, " You don't study gay rights in high school, and you don't learn gay rights in college. Such things are passed down, one generation to the next, and if the generations aren't mixing, everything we had will be lost."

Just because an older gay man can't tell stories about last weekend's circuit party or the dance diva of the moment doesn't mean he isn't a great friend. By the same token, the pretty young thing sitting in the office down the hall or on the blanket down the beach could be your future husband or best friend.

We have all talked about how much we want the straight community to understand and celebrate our differences and take the time to know us. Now it's time to take our own advice and come together to bridge one of the gaps in our own community.