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November 25th, 2017

Thanksgiving Family

“Gay Community” is an awkward term, but the language doesn’t seem to give us any other ones. We’re people of a shared sexual orientation, and to a certain extent, a shared history of oppression. But there really isn’t all that much uniting us. Things you would expect such as marriage equality and protections from discrimination in employment, housing, and the marketplace, often generate a surprising amount of static among us. And running beneath it all like a hidden underground stream is how being hated, and being taught to hate ourselves, damages our capacity for sexual intimacy, trust, and love.

And even that is not exactly a shared experience among us. There is, and I am seeing more clearly with the passing of years, a distinct generational difference. Younglings living in a more accepting and affirming culture, having more and better, healthier, opportunities to date and discover love and desire in the ways heterosexual kids have for generations, are starting to look more and more like their heterosexual peers when talking about relationship issues. For a gay guy of my generation it is wonderful to witness. But then, inevitably, like snapping back out of a pleasant daydream, I must return to my own life, my own generation because that is where I am fixed in time and place, and where I reckon I will always belong.

Among them is where I must find companionship, because only they understand me. They know what the world was like when John Lennon was alive, and Hendrix was playing at the Filmore, and Jefferson was Airplane. They know what America was like before Reagan. When music came on vinyl disks and telephones had wires and shopping centers had newsstands and bookstores and we were putting footsteps on the moon. They know me. Or so I would like to believe anyway.

But community is an awkward way of describing us and “family” is even more awkward. Yesterday I had Thanksgiving dinner with as much “family” here on the east coast as I have now and while the host was a good friend with a good heart whose company I thoroughly enjoy, most of the guests were gay guys of my generation, none of whom I really knew very well. A couple of them frequently drove the conversation into territory I found uncomfortable at best and distasteful mostly, and the rest just went gamely along and I kept my mouth shut. A conversation was started about the first gay bar we’d ever been to, a thing I couldn’t specifically recall but I gave it my best shot: a piano bar called Friends, and later Windows. I can’t actually recall the first time I set foot in a gay bar…or any other sort of bar for that matter. When I was a toddler my maternal grandmother would walk me to the grocery store periodically, and every time we passed by a bar she would point at the door and say “the devil lives there.” So never mind working up the nerve to enter a gay bar, my first step ever into a bar probably took a lot of nerve, but I don’t now recall it. I remember Friends though, because it was the only gay bar at the time I felt comfortable in. And there was a reason for that. But the topic quickly took off and others of the group took it and ran with it into the backrooms and toilets. I tried to steer the conversation to When Did You First Come Out To Yourself. That generally went in the same direction. Eventually I made myself a drink and sat some distance from the others and just listened.

Understand…I don’t particularly care what sorts of sexual shenanigans people get themselves into. It’s not that important. In her biography (and I know I’ve quoted this often here on the blog so just bear with me…), the author Mary Renault is quoted as saying that politics like sex, is just a reflection of the person within, and if you’re mean and selfish and cruel it will come out in your sex life and it will come out in your politics when what matters is you’re not the sort of person who behaves like that. People who talk at me that there is more to life than sex are missing it profoundly. Life…the life you live…and sex…the sex you have…is a reflection of the person within and it’s the person within that matters. It matters to me that you aren’t mean and selfish and cruel. The rest is detail.

But sometimes the detail can be bothersome all the same. And especially when you are in the company of others who either consistently don’t get yours or regard them as hangups you just need to get over. And that’s one of those generational things I was speaking to earlier. My generation of gay men, post Stonewall, came of age when the gay rights movement was taking to the streets, angrily, loudly, renouncing the suit and tie assimilationist tactics of the Mattachine Society. It went from Michael in The Boys In The Band lamenting “If we could just not hate ourselves so much…” practically overnight to No fuckers we aren’t just like you, and we don’t want any part of your straight sexist sex-negative society! Nuance is for reactionaries. 

When I was a teenager, I fell in love, as teenagers will. It was wonderful. I wanted that feeling to last forever. I thought I’d found the person who could make that happen. But it didn’t. So I kept looking. And looking. And looking. And now I’m 64 and single and never had so much as a boyfriend let alone a spouse to have and to hold, and here I am on Thanksgiving day with a group of other mostly lonely old gay men listening to some of them talking about the time when a certain bathroom at the University of Maryland was a hookup spot, and random sex with strangers at this or that gay bar back in the day. There’s a reason I couldn’t contribute to any of those tales, but I’m broken in a different way, so don’t take any of this to mean I think I’m better than they are because I don’t. Oscar Wilde once said that we are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars. No, we are not all in the gutter. But some of us who are looking at the stars cannot help but notice all that darkness surrounding them. And it is from the darkness we behold the stars. Some of us.

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