Took me a bit of an ego bruise to get there, but I’m back on the courts playing volleyball with the Gotham league. You may remember I LIVED for volleyball before I left NYC for Minneapolis. League play, beach play, tournament play, any chance to be playing, and I was there. Six years later, the league has grown, the players have changed (getting younger all the time), and I’m a little rusty (getting older all the time). I took a hit and am playing down a few levels from where I used to be, but still loving be on the court, have a great team, and am having a great time re-engaging with the gay sporting community.
Following our games this week, we headed to the local watering hole to socialize and hang out — and that’s where I heard the line I used as the title of my post: “Thanks for Stonewall — but I got this.” It was delivered with the humor and effect that only a gay man could infuse, and was completely apropos for the moment and topic at hand: gay aging. Yeah, it happens. Whether I acknowledge it or not. And I don’t. I refuse. But gays age. And then they disappear. Where? No one really knows (…unless, of course, you visit the Townhouse on the upper east side, where you’ll find respectable, professional gay men in their prime business years being trailed and doted on by young gay men of various ethnic demographics looking for sugar daddies). But typically, gay men past their “bar years” tend to socialize via travel destinations, dinner parties, and vacation home getaways. Hit any hot club, trendy bar, or local gay hang out in the city and find me a gay man over 60 years old. Won’t happen. Over 50? May happen. But only if he’s there with a reason other than trolling (blog post topic for another day). Over 40? He better be fierce. Or, he better be playing volleyball with team of younger guys that will circle him like buffalo and elephants protecting their young from predators seeking out the weak and infirm (read: my team and me).
But let’s get back to that well-delivered line: “Thanks for Stonewall — but I got this.” It was used to describe an interaction between a 20-something and a 60-something. Each secure in his homosexuality, his place in society, and his self-image — but both lacking anything in common, any connection, other than that homosexuality. The elder dismissed the younger with a bitchy sneer and a muttered comment, to which the younger fired back with an historical retort that packed a punch. It reminded me of a forum I attended some 10 years ago lead by Harvey Fierstein, specifically to address that lack of commonality, of education about HIV/AIDS, of community, of family, and of generational connectedness among the generations of men that make up our gay community. “Look at these kids,” Harvey said, “Who’s going to take care of them? Who’s going to teach them? Who’s going to nurture them?”
Well, all Harvey’s good intentions aside, it looks like they’re doing fairly well on their own. However, his concerns still carry weight. Looking back, how many men did we lose to the AIDS epidemic in the 80’s and early 90’s? A full generation? Those of us who survived and played care-givers to our friends and family don’t really talk about it any more. We’ve made our peace, still practice safe-sex, and smile with amazement at today’s 18 year-olds graduating high school with PRIDE. It’s almost like the GLBT world jumped from the Stonewall riots of the late 60’s right into the Gay Marriage/Prop 8 issues of the early 21st century. The decades in between fell off the radar, with conversations and memories of that very real AIDS epidemic among younger gays almost too taboo, if not too morbid for discussion. Our free love became free death, and we survivors been working hard to prove to ourselves — and our straight counterparts — that we’re worthy of the lives and happiness those we lost wanted us to have. (Insert gay drama.) But that’s our story, and perhaps its time to realize that this new generation of well-adjusted, well-connected, well-heeled gay men is busy writing their own stories.
Yes, gay activists and evangelists have laid the groundwork for A LOT of our progress when it comes to GLBT rights. And yes, HIV meds have made an AIDS epidemic among gay men on US soil all but obsolete. And yes, hate crime legislation continues to help protect us from ridicule and abuse from the less educated and more fearful. But let’s not discount basic human evolution. It seems to be playing a larger role and doing fairly well on its own — no matter how much of the progress we Gen X and Boomer gays try to take credit for. Sure, one step forward, three steps back, but it’s still evolution. It’s still progress. But this generation of 20-somethings? Well, they’ve got this. They are strong-willed, passionate, intelligent, well adjusted, and fully expect the world to treat them with the respect they deserve. They’re Millennials for gods’ sake, and Millennials don’t take shit whether they are straight OR gay. They’re entitled! It’s in their DNA! They’ve got this. Let them take it. Let them run with it. Let them mainstream themselves into the hearts and souls of families, work forces, and gay generations until that next generation of gays stops and gives one of them what-for at a sports bar. It’s bound to happen. And it’ll be beautiful.