Member Article: Bridging The Intergenerational Divide
17 April 2023
Going back for Christmas, I told my two mothers about my fetish life and what their son had been up to during the pandemic. My 'coming out' to them as Bailey enviably led to wider conversations. My two mothers are 34 and 30 years my seniors so it is pretty normal, and valid that they hold different viewpoints on certain issues. Some micro things like the absolute need (obsessive in my opinion) to wash your jars and cans before putting them in the recycle bin to their views on complex and nuanced macro subjects of race, class and, yes of course, gender identity.
The experience with my own mothers is reflective of a wider issue in our community: an increasing inter-generational disconnect. Never have our elders felt so alienated and our youth so indifferent to their presence in, or contribution, to the scene. As a gay lad of under 30 years old *cough*, I can tell you from my own experience, both online and offline (the latter known as real life), that unfortunately some of the older men I've encountered regard the younger generation with contempt. It is as if we are dismissed as naïve, uninterested in anything other than what's between our legs or our latest Insta posting. Another refrain often also uttered by older men is that today's youth are, and I quote, "too damn woke for our own damn good". We are ungrateful for the freedoms and protections we enjoy today, whether that's PreP, political progress or wider social acceptance. Us whippersnappers don't know how good we have it and don't really care about what sacrifice came before to get to this point.
On the other side of the equation, younger generations have negative assumptions or ill-perceived notions of their elders. Speaking with my peers, I regularly hear them say that our elders are out of touch with current society, and sometimes even worse, that these "boomers" in power are the ones holding us back. Other friends lament that mature men are only interested in them for sex with little or no interest in their views. Young, Dumb and Full of Cum it seems; close but no cigar, 'daddy'! Even when conversation is struck, a tone of condescension can, at times, prevail - an unsolicited patronising lecture of sorts. And then of course there is the silent false assumption that older men must be bitter that they no longer have baby-faced beauty or the cult of youth on their side.
Of course, this is all bullshit. We need to dismantle and do away with these preconceived notions and ask the real pressing question: how has it come to this and how should we respond to it?
The closure of LGBTQ+ and kink spaces is nothing new and 'that' pandemic didn't help matters. The subsequent replacement of said spaces with virtual networks has detrimentally impacted relations between younger and older generations of gay men.
One only needs to look to social media or hook up apps to see how our (near)-anonymised communication is damaging to how we react with each other and see ourselves. "Looking?", "U host?", "Hot pics?", "hung?", "HnH/chems?" or the unfortunate "you clean?". We are losing our capacity (or motivation) to strike up a conversation. Social media presents its own set of challenges, such as a renewed level of superficiality with a promotion on unrealistic standards of ageing and masculinity. Combined with an evolving technological context, yet additional barriers have been created for those of an older generation when connecting or expressing themselves.
Storytime: I remember being out (and far too young) on Manchester's Canal Street, when an older man in his late 50s approached me and offered to buy me a drink. I politely refused; his response was blunt, he snapped "pff, you might be young mate, but we don't want to all fuck twinks you know". I felt bad and accepted his offer – It would turn out that the ensuing conversation would prove to be one of the single most engaging exchanges that I would ever have in a gay bar. He shared his memories about the village of the 80s and 90s. He spoke of his experience of stigma and discrimination growing up in that era as an effeminate Irish gay man living in Northern England. He spoke of the suspicion and fear from British society coupled with rejection and scorn from the catholic Ireland back home. A leper-rechaun of sorts who found solace and sanctuary in the gay bars along Canal St. We finished our drinks and I never saw him again. If it hadn't been for my engrained English politeness, compelling me to accept that pint of lager, I may never have had that powerful and beautiful insight into another human's story. Why did I refuse to begin with? Because I assumed all he wanted was to take me home, I assumed he only sought sex, as if this man had nothing else to offer to me but what lay beneath his belt.
At this point you are probably asking, so how can we meaningfully address this inter-generational rupture? Here are some areas where progress could and needs to be made, beginning with shifting interaction preference.
Back to life, back to reality.
Make preference for real life interaction. In today's online world, we miss many important nuances and social cues. Body language, eye contact, that cheeky wink or smile (and of course the smell of his leather jacket) are all things that give our connections a deeper authenticity and our tails wag.
Such real-life interaction supports our LGBTQ+ bars and kink spaces which have been battered by pandemic restrictions, kink-phobic licensing laws and closure threats. London's 'XXL', 'The Backstreet' and 'La Mine' in Paris are examples of what happens if we don't fight for such spaces. Sadly, I don't remember the underground clubs of the Astoria theatre on Charing Cross Road. If they had been saved from the gentrifying developers, Soho would be a more diverse and inclusive place than it is today. Once it's gone, it's gone.
And yet history continues to repeat itself, where in Austin, the 4th Street "redevelopment" plans threaten a historical hub of Texan LGBTQ+ (night)life. If we don't fight for our space, we cede our place. In the face of this hostile environment, a group of Austinites are putting their money where their mouths are and establishing a new queer bar that aims to be an intentional safe space for kink, politics, and people from all walks of life. Co-owned by a trans woman and a person of colour, the Austin Eagle project is a beacon of hope in dark times.
My way of thinking is, if there are events being put on 'for us by us', then go make an effort, go out on a whim, and go attend and support them. You never know who will cross your paths, and supporting events is how our community grows and deepens its positive socialising influence on our lives. As it happens, Recon regularly puts on events across the world which aim to put the 'social' back in social network and they should be applauded for doing what most don't. Real events with real people in real places to foster real connection.
Changing attitudes in times of change.
Battling over brick and mortar is often something out of our individual control, yet there is one thing we, each and every one of us, can control and improve: social conduct; aka stop being so fucking rude to each other. In the context of the deepening echo chamber, daddy 'boomers' and baby 'millennials' struggle to find common ground or agreement. To achieve this, we must actively listen and consider each other, our politics don't have to be more confrontational than they already are. Shut up and listen, you might actually learn something.
Years before Bailey, I studied conflict resolution at university, admittedly it was in the context of geo-politics and ethno-national conflict, but the sad fact remain - as a society, we still struggle to navigate understanding and remedying disagreement. Decades worth virtual disconnection and increasing political polarity have left us less capable than ever. We often approach problematic views as if the only option is to silence, delegitimize or tackle them. Let's reframe our intentions and move away from the 'right' and 'wrong' paradigm. Humiliating, belittling, dismissing, or insulting those who we might not see eye to eye with, will simply not cut it here.
Cancelling people and their opinions in supposedly free and open democracy should always be regarded as a dangerous move, whether from a right-wing autocratic leader or a 'woke' leftist movement. Cancel culture sometimes starts a wider conversation, but more often than not, it transforms and weaponises issues for a 'culture war' in which there is no winner.
This inter-generational 'moral update' of sorts has to be approached in a more cohesive manner or further division will ensue. It doesn't mean waiving on our principles, but we can fight for them in a more productive and smarter way. The discussion of new or currently accepted gender identity terminology has been done in a non-judgemental, non-confrontational and, most importantly, non-condescending manner. Adjustment takes time so it is going to require patience and compassion. For this we need open-eared and open-hearted critical voices on both sides; young and old, recruit and veteran.
While one may differ with some views held by those of a different generation to our own, it should be recognised that their stories, experiences and perspectives are valid to them and rightly so. It should not be about convincing or changing others, our primary goal should be wanting to understand and be understood.
While addressing virtual disconnection, modifying interaction preferences, and navigating differing generational viewpoints will go some way in uniting the old and new guards of gay men; these are not the 'be-all-and-end-all' issues in this debate. It's not black and white, it's grey but there is no silver bullet. Until we begin to work to bridge such division, we cannot be surprised that progress is stunted or stagnated. Just imagine what could be achieved if we redirected our energies away from conflict, contradiction and condescension and instead saw where a community based on inter-generational dexterity and lived experience could lead us all.
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