The Changing of The Guard
My generation, the Baby Boomers, those of us born right after WWII up to the JFK era, once ruled and certainly changed the American landscape, simply because there were so many of us. In fact, we redefined what it is to be gay, and brought this old wolf that had been hibernating in back alleys and whispered corridors, out of the closet and into the sunshine – and the Supreme Court.
Our cocky, myopic “don’t trust anyone over 30” attitude was infectious and fueled the proliferation of gay bars in every city, an explosion of the once very underground leather scene, and the growth of gay ghettos like NYC’s West Village and Chelsea, San Francisco’s Castro, Chicago’s Boystown, L.A.’s Silver Lake, Hollywood and later West Hollywood, D.C.’s Du Pont Circle, and Fort Lauderdale’s Wilton Manors. Sure, there were many of us, like silly airhead str8’s, who partied the last thirty years away, but those of us who worked and were successful at it woke the rest of America up to the very hard, cold capitalistic realization that we had discretionary income, lots of it, to spend on travel – hence the rise of the gay travel industry – real estate – primary and vacation properties – and all those boy toys.
Why do you think mainstream America “accepts” us so much today?
And while others, like the founders of the Mattachine Society in the fifties, had lay the framework, it was our generation, at least those of us who had the balls, who became vigorous activists and advocates for a single cause we all shared whatever our differences in race and status – that of equal rights. Again, let’s not kid ourselves, a lot of what happened – including the legalization of same sex marriage – had as much to do with our sheer numbers as our persistence and determination.
We were also the generation who endured the Great Scourge that robbed us of some of our most beautiful. But somehow, enough of us survived to carry on. And in our defense, no one sexually active in the decadent seventies had any notion what was just around the corner; a 23 year old who tells me he’s HIV positive did.
But now, times are a-changing, as many of us retire into the shadows, even hang up our jockstraps, and watch the youth, the Millennials, born after 1980, who now outnumber Baby Boomers, take over the gay world we created and they inherited. But it is already a very different gay world from the one of my reckless, lascivious youth when bars were for cruising and bath houses were for fucking, not socializing, and sex, today more second hand than real, was not yet for the taking 24/7 at the touch of a key pad.
Already so many of the ghettos that were our dominions and decaying neighborhoods we revitalized have since been invaded by the enemy – str8’s – some even with baby carriages, yikes! – and I predict in a decade or less, purely gay bars where we, once members of a some secret society, congregated, will become “blended” mishmashes of who knows what, and the property most bath houses and sex clubs stand on today will be bought up by corporate America and condo developers, as precisely what happened in NYC’s West Village in the early 2000’s.
After all, the young gays of the twenty-first century feel, in the world we handed them, they have no need to prove anything to anybody. I sincerely believe the explosion of the leather scene in my day – and I was very much a part of that scene – was because it attracted gay guys who wanted to validate to the world, and to themselves, that they were men first, and gay second. Why would a Millennial gay guy feel he has to prove anything to anybody when everything is out there like dog shit on a sidewalk? Thus the fade-out-to-black of the leather scene, and the rise of what I like to sarcastically label the retro-fems, those young guys who view RuPaul, not Harvey Milk, as their patron saint.
Though I encountered this only once, in Montreal, I hear many young gays look down on us old farts. Some of their distain may be understandably rooted in a veiled resentment that those of us who applied ourselves during our working years enjoyed the “milk and honey” days of the American economy, something many younger guys may never see while they contribute to our Social Security checks. But, they forget, without us, there wouldn’t be the free and breezy gay lifestyle they take for granted. I think this mental set also impacts on their overly complacent view of HIV as an old fag’s disease and something that’s no big deal and can be “cured” simply by taking a pill.
Yet, there are still battles to be fought, especially when it comes to discrimination in the workplace, a major issue in more than half the states that have no laws on the books to protect us.
Will there be advocates among the young as there were among us who will carry on the fight? Or will they think it will just happen?
After all, didn’t everything else?