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Across the gay

Across the gay


AIDS didn't behead the gay community; it drove a wedge between generations that neither side has done a very good job of bridging.

If you're a young gay man who finds your dating life in a shambles, my advice is, go out and find a gay man over 40 for whom your attraction is not primarily sexual. After you tell him your story, shut your mouth and listen to the sound of your life turning around. At 47, my friend Eric Shaw Quinn is a member of a generation that suffered incredible losses during the first years of the AIDS crisis. Watching friends die taught Eric that aging is an achievement, not a physical failing. When it comes to my romantic life, he's given me two pieces of invaluable wisdom: (1) Don't expect the prostitute to turn into an executive just because you brought him home to meet Mom; and (2) It's not in his kiss; it's in his phone call. Eric and I value monogamous relationships. But whatever parameters you apply to your romantic life, there's a 40-plus gay man out there who can provide you with counsel.

Conventional gay wisdom says that AIDS in the mid 1980s stole an entire generation of gay men who were on their way to becoming the gay uncles of tomorrow. But my experience suggests that AIDS didn't behead the gay community; it drove a wedge between generations that neither side has done a very good job of bridging. I have met countless gay men over 40 who lived through the first years of the epidemic only to move into a world of inwardly focused domesticity and lose their taste for communal gathering places fueled by sex and alcohol. On the other side of this divide, my generation rose up, convinced that it could return to the escapist delights of the 1970s as long as it remembered to put on a condom.

Many gay writers who had been there tried to deliver their wisdom by way of the written word, but gay men my age failed to meet them at the bookstore. Indeed, the antipathy of my generation toward both politics and the written word is so well-known that one former editor of this magazine calls us the complacent middle. But it's too easy to blame the disconnect solely on the young. Elder gays also have to start looking at tomorrow's gays as more than potential sexual conquests.

I don't mean to disparage romance between partners of varying ages. But a true bridge between gay generations will require nonsexual mentoring relationships between older and younger gay men. This isn't easy, since the bar, with its social hierarchies rooted in sexual attraction, remains our central gathering place. But that doesn't mean we need to tear them all down, or throw up more community centers where sex and flirtation are banned. Rather, we need to approach the world as out gay men in all areas of our lives. The freedom to be gay around the clock is what allows gay men to engage as full-fledged human beings, not just sexual ones. This is one of many lessons I learned from my elders.

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Christopher Rice