The Male Gay Baby Boomer: Then and Now
I’m a gay Baby Boomer or BB, a member of that giant bleep on the American demographic screen of guys (and gals) born between the end of WW II and JFK’s assassination. But I’m not going to play amateur anthropologist here, throwing a lot of stats and facts out at you. My admittedly subjective view of my generation is as a witness.
And a participant.
It was largely because of our numbers that when we were old enough to fuck we transformed gay life in America and did something the generations of gay men before us were too timid or intimidated to do: redefine “The Life” from a closeted, secretive, stigmatized existence of dark alley bars and close-ended dinner parties to one that resembled a year long circuit party on South Beach. We were young and, for those of us who had the goods, ready to enjoy every minute of it. And out of that tumultuous period was born Castro and Halsted and the wild side of NYC’s West Village.
Sure there were still the fems and the butches, a throwback to a time when over the top outward signals were the only way you could tell if he wanted you, but by the ‘70’s even the nelliest guys were wearing flannel and denim. Maybe it was because we all felt we had to prove we were men first, gays second, something today’s fully liberated gay youth don’t seem to care about. Then, it was all about facial hair and leather and hard won muscles to make sure no one dared fuck with us. Bear then meant a guy who was beefy and hairy, period. The bath houses, once the domain of the effete and the fat, became the playground of the fit and the hot, competing soon with warehouse sex clubs where you window-shopped looking for dick. It was at a long gone bath house on Manhattan’s lower West Side where you could suck dick for two bucks on a Tuesday night that I was introduced to poppers to which I became forever psychologically addicted and, to this day, associate with good sex.
But this was tame compared to the shit my cohorts were sniffing and snorting and shooting up to enhance their sexual experiences. Guy bars and leather bars where the pool table smelled of stale piss and beer blossomed in the back streets of almost every urban area of the U.S. because there were so many of us that it just made for good business. And gay porn, once veiled as artsy body builder propaganda, came out of the closet, too, big time, like a nine incher in 3D and Smell-o-vision.
I remember being at a New Year’s Eve Party on December 31, 1979, hosted by a Upper East Side buddy of mine who slept around more places than George Washington. The Village People were camping it up on TV, and it looked like, while the ‘70’s was the decade we appeared from the shadows, the ‘80’s would be the decade when we would arrive and take control.
That is until the party backfired and that Big Bad Wolf virus that had been lurking out there since the ‘50’s hit like a Tsunami, decimating our wild but naïve generation as hard as WW II did the young blonde Arian men of Nazi Germany. My Upper East Side New Year’s Eve host was one of the first to succumb. Before AIDS, syp, gon, or exotica like amoebas were the most you had to worry about, and we actually laughed, even bragged about going for penicillin shots as if health department clinic appointments were a sign of your prowess and virility.
But after the disfiguring deaths of the most beautiful among us started piling up and the great brains finally figured it out that you didn’t get it from toilet seats or a bad bottle of Rush but from fucking, the carefree wild lifestyle so many of us had enjoyed came to a halt and to this day has never returned to its rock hard brilliance. A bath house addict (I just found it more practical than standing in a bar all night), I personally witnessed the slow, agonizing demise of the baths and sex clubs as those of us who were smart or just lucky enough to survive the plague and still wanted to press the flesh were more hesitant about playing with the proper stranger. Lust had been replaced by trepidation, intimacy by voyeurism.
Those of us educated BB’s worked on our careers during these pre-cocktail years of the post Gay Liberation Dark Ages; if we were pretty, we led schizophrenic existences, white collar professionals by day, musty leather/levi men by night. If we came up short in the looks department, we checked out the personals in those quasi-commie weeklies that predated the web, or cautiously sucked dick in some bath house or backroom or bookstore when opportunity presented itself. Some of us even succumbed to societal, peer or family pressures or a need to propagate, and married and sired, while acting on our “deviant” desires in secret, only to leave straight existence years later when our yearnings to be true to ourselves eclipsed our sense of duty. Then there was the handful of us who paid more than lip service to political activism which, while it had its share of handsome men, always seemed to be spearheaded by the nerdy guys who I think were in it more to win hugs and kisses from the studs whom they knew they could never get in bed than for propelling the movement forward.
Separate from all this were both the pretty and smart or simply pretty who just wanted to have fun and continued the moveable feast unabated, content at working at schlock jobs like serving frustrated wives behind the perfume aisle at Macy’s, just to make enough dough to flick out of town for that hot weekend on Fire Island or Rehoboth Beach or Palm Springs or for that bag of crack. Save for retirement? Who’s gonna grow old?
What fascinates me today is how the web, which first surfaced in the very late 90’s, in so revolutionizing gay life and how we met other guys, has led so many of us right back into the closet. Those of us born at the beginning of the BB Generation are now collecting or about to collect Social Security while those on the other end of the timeline are approaching the Big 5-0. A minority of us egomaniacs, thanks to luck, good genes, cosmetic surgery or pharmaceutical assistance, have kept both our libido and shit together and can still stir some heads in the bars and the clubs and the “ten items or less” aisles of our overpriced gay urban ghetto supermarkets, often playing Daddy – hey, whatever works.
Many of us, however, have dropped out of the scene, content to hang up our jockstraps or meet our buddies for a beer and nothing more. We’ve either “been there, done that,” feel ostracized by young flesh that often laughs at the old faggots (unless they’re Daddylusters), or we just don’t drool over dick like we used to. Nor do straight guys have a monopoly on beer bellies and sagging tits and asses; us BB gay men just try to put a positive spin on middle age flab by calling ourselves bears.
So, along with all the other under 40 boys, we gravitate more and more to the web to get it on and off with some guy. Sometimes it’s for real, but often it’s second hand, whether the guy is two blocks or two thousand miles away or just a fantasy in your head. No condoms, no risks, and hell, you don’t even have to use mouthwash.
Then there are those infected in those early days who hung in long enough for the meds to arrive to their rescue but who, today, while survivors, still bear the scars of the wild indiscretions of their youth in wilted bodies and clouded brains which they attempt to hide from the world with heavy doses of steroids and cosmetic fillers. But these compensations can only go so far.
More next time …