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    January 10, 2007

    Younger voices in 'values' debate

    Posted by: Chris

    Christopherrice After posting on Monday about a rekindled debate among gay men over "values," I came across a couple of viewpoints from the younger set worth noting. In a recent Advocate magazine column, author Christopher Rice wrote about "the gay divide" between his 20-something crowd and those (including me, just barely!) over 40:

    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 inswardly 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 1980s as long as it remembered to put on a condom. …

    A true bridge between gay generations will require non-sexual mentoring 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.

    I couldn't agree more with Rice, though I think AIDS both beheaded and wedged gay men largely along generational lines.  There's no question that there are fewer gay Baby Boomers in their 40s and 50s to mentor younger Gen-X and Gen-Y gays and (just as importantly) serve as role models, especially in maintaining long-term relationships.

    I'm more optimisic than Rice about whether sexual attraction operates as a barrier between generations.  We're all accustomed to having other gay men as friends without sex interfering in the relationship.

    In fact, we're much more experienced and adept at keeping things platonic than our hetero brethren.  Remember the classic debate between Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan in "When Harry Met Sally" about whether men and women could ever be "just friends"?  I'm always surprised when I hear a straight person — whether a friend or in TV or the movies — become angry with a boyfriend-girlfriend-spouse for having a friendship with someone of the opposite sex.  Are they really so sexually undisciplined?  Could you imagine a gay man complaining that his boyfriend has other gay male friends?

    Rice does point out how difficult it can be to bring the different age groups together, though every extended friendship network — whether real or virtual via Friendster, MySpace or the like — offers plenty of opportunities to interact. And there's so much to be gained!

    Rice writes quite complimentarily of the wisdom his elders have imparted, but I hope he does not sell short what he and his generation have to teach us.  There are tremendous advantages to coming of age in a society that is more accepting of homosexuality.  In fact, I think that developmental time spent in the closet — dividing feelings of love and sex and associating sex with guilt — causes more relationship problems for gay men over 30 than anything else.

    Along those same lines, Lovetastic co-founder Ryan Norbauer commented in response to some of the criticisms of his site in my Monday post:

    You seem to imply that our site somehow positions itself against sex. To the contrary, we want to help gay men find better sex through deeper romantic connections. In my experience, the best love-making comes when you have a deep spiritual connection with your partner, based on something more than simply an appreciation of his body (although that's obviously an important component of a good relationship too.)

    It's nice to see that level of understanding from someone in their 20s.  I know plenty of folks in their 40s who separate sex from deeper emotion as if they were still in the closet.  It's no doubt in the eye of the beholder whether Lovetastic is truly a better venue for "deeper connections" or whether it's a site for those less comfortable with their physical appearance.  There's certainly a place in the gay world for it, whatever the case.

    Norbauer adds that he shares my "discomfort with the term 'values.'" "Lovetastic isn't about promulgating some system of values," he writes, "it's about providing an aesthetic and philosophical alternative to most of the other self-proclaimed gay dating sites."

    Haggardpoints_4 Actually, I'm very comfortable with a discussion about values, and I think it's long overdue.  We are so used to being on the receiving end of a wagging finger ever time we hear the word, that "values" has become not-so-coded for "judgmental" or, even worse, "prejudiced."  In fact, we all live by values, whether consciously or subconsciously, even if our primary value is to live a life free of all conduct rules.

    I still remember when I was in my mid-20s, struggling with the closet, and an Episcopal minister challenged me to list my "sexual values."  What bar must be reached to be sexually intimate with someone?  It was an invaluable exercise then and one I've repeated many times over the years since. 

    Is physical attraction all we require?  Physical attraction + the absence of other offending qualities?  I remember discovering way back when that my sexual interest was inversely proportional to my romantic/relationship interest.  That is; the less likely I thought the prospects of a relationship, the more interested I was in having sex right away (assuming the mutual attraction piece was there, of course).  If a relationship did seem a real possibilty, on the other hand, I would push to wait, hoping we could get to know each other better and, as Ryan suggests, sex would be an expression of something other than "we're hot for each other."

    What are your sexual values?



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    1. KJ on Jan 10, 2007 4:31:04 PM:

      Obviously, to be homosexual, same-gendered sexual attraction must be present. However, it wasn't until I learned that it was possible to also love the same-gendered other that my spirituality, values, and sexual orientation were reconciled.

      I am in the over-40 crowd, and hope for those that follow, that they have an opportunity to learn that simple lesson earlier in life as most typical heterosexuals do -- through the joy and agony of adolescent relationships.

    1. Alan on Jan 10, 2007 8:42:19 PM:

      I don't think even sexual values will bridge the generations. I think shared values, sexual and personal, are what will sustain a relationship. But if anything will knock down the inter-generational Berlin wall it is shared INTERESTS.

      The different generations are at different stages of life where priorities and experiences are very, very different. This was true before AIDS and is true now. Shared interests give people something to talk about when they get out of bed. They are also probably the best starting point for meeting someone who will share your values.

    1. Joseph Kowalski on Jan 10, 2007 11:42:52 PM:

      There isn't any one set of common values which can be applied to any successful relationship let alone bridge an entire generation.

      Before anyone can be successful in a relationship, they must first respect and love who they are. Once an individual reaches that point, people with the same set of values will gravitate to them.

      Of course, age does have some effect, but the common values of love and respect bridge any gap.

    1. Kevin on Jan 11, 2007 10:51:04 AM:

      Fascinating question, Chris, because I think the real answer here is most guys don't stop to think about it in terms of values, at least not until they become worried about their behavior and feel the need to re-assess, or if they get caught cheating, or if one day they wake up and feel very lonely despite the surfeit of condom wrappers on the floor.

      So many men go the opposite direction from the listing of their values --- they list their extremely specific, almost fetishized sexual requirements ad nauseum. "Must have a hairy chest" or "blond, short, into wearing a jock" or "twinks only" or whatever. Yes, these are what they want in a boyfriend, and these are guys our age (late 30s, into 40s) saying things you'd expect from younger men. Talk about arrested development. No wonder they carry on single into their late 30s, or manage to land a boyfriend that doesnt fit the bill entirely, but puts up with their philandering instead. And these are intelligent guys, Chris, with good jobs, good education.

      I really think that while some of them are just hopelessly shallow in the soul department, most of them probably are like this because they have never -- EVER -- had the values conversation for real. To them, values probably devolve to a cheating system by which they negotiatiate how open a relationship would be, rather than really stopping and thinking, "what do I really need - spiritually, emotionally - and where does sex come into that picture?" And I don't buy the crap that it's cuz they're too afraid to face themselves. I literally think it's just because of the absolute lack of the conversation anywhere in our current gay cultural milieu outside of re-runs of Sex and the City...

      So thanks for pushing it, Chris, and keep the conversation going...(Can you tell I've been sitting through dinners and brunches rolling my eyes a lot lately?)

    1. raj on Jan 18, 2007 10:52:32 AM:

      Mr. Rice is a cute boi, and he might be a fine fiction writer along the lines of his mother, but, Mr. Rice's world view is more than a bit limited. The gay generational divide has nothing to do with HIV/AIDS. As far as I can tell--and I came of age in the 1960s and 1970s--it has likely always existed.

      For two reasons.

      One, younger gay people reject older gay people because they (the younger people) feel threatened by the older gay people because they fear that they primarily want to have sex with them, and the younger gay people don't want that. My evidence? Personal experience when I was a younger gay person in the 1960s and 1970s, and discussions with other people.

      Two, older gay people who might be interested in mentoring younger gay people don't want to get involved with younger gay people for fear of being considered pedophiles (even if the younger gay people are well above the age of majority) by the larger community--and by that I don't mean just the gay community.

      So, younger gay men reject whatever mentoring might be offered by older gay men because they fear that the older gay men only want to seduce them, and most older gay men who might be interested in mentoring younger gay men (yes, it is likely that most older gay men aren't, and are content to live in their own social milieu) refuse to offer such mentoring for fear of being considered pedophiles.

      It has nothing to do with HIV/AIDS. If younger gay men want mentoring by older gay men, they will have to become more open to such mentoring. They probably won't. I, and, probably most of my generation, didn't. Why would anyone expect anything different from Mr. Rice's generation? Mr. Rice's generation, like we, will have to learn the ropes on their own.

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