Mark Harris ( I know... "who?") writes a long, talky piece about some "gay generation gap" I've never seen and have a hard time believing exists. In some terribly sloppy, and all too easy, "we're this, and they're that" observations, his glaring omissions stick out - almost no one is actually interviewed for their actual opinion, no actual data is cited to show anything he claims, and as many point out, he essentially ignores lesbians... a much more honest indication of the real divide amongst gay folks.
Harris talks about "men in their forties and fifties" as some sort of "Stonewall" generation - I don't know where he was (he says he's 45), but I was 3 when Stonewall happened, and 13 in 1979, arguably the height of the initial "gay is good" movement of the seventies. And so, basically, was he. We weren't there for that (indeed, by 1979, the best I could tell you is that I was pretty sure I liked boys, maybe); the most defining aspect of our supposed "revolutionary" days was the mid-eighties arrival of AIDS ion te national consciousness and the dawning of ACT UP and other protests.
And frankly, Harris in rewriting that past, even as he claims the younger generation is somehow unaware of it - he conveniently forgets that, to the "older generation" of the AIDS fighters, we were aimless dilettantes, dancing on the edge of Armageddon. We were never angry enough, committed enough, serious enough - we were the Ecstasy generation, the new band of partiers, often ignoring the march and going straight to the after party. Tony Kushner makes the point in Angels in America. Terrence McNally highlights the divide in Love! Valour! Compassion! I could go on. We were, as Harris fails to connect, the very thing he describes about young people to the generation older than us. We were insufficiently "gay" enough - not enough into the old movies, the old cultural signifiers (Judy Garland? Seriously? from a 22 year old in 1987?). If we've changed, over time - and I'd say, many of us didn't - it's an indication that you need some time to learn these things. I didn't discover Garland, really, until I was over 30.
From what I've seen of a divide... there isn't a divide. If anything, younger gay folks are better revolutionaries than we ever were - actually living the change we all kind of sort of thought might be okay. Too much of my gay generation is actually summed up in, well, Andrew Sullivan - sex positive, slightly outrageous... but in the end, kind of conventional and ordinary. The younger folks seem less bound by societal expectations, and familiar definitions. Yet there they are, campaigning for gay marriage, something I know I, like many single gay men in their forties, think is okay... but perhaps not the thing we always wanted.
I work with younger people and I talk to a lot of younger gay men - and lesbians - enough to know that we don't have a divide; we have, as always, a relentless gay culture that fetishizes youth, being young, and avoiding, in many ways, adult responsibilities. We don't tell our gay history... and then we wonder why no one knows about it. And we fault young people for things we ought to do ourselves - reach out, find things out, talk to them. If we're old enough to have the wisdom Harris claims - which I tend to doubt in many of us - then we should be wise enough to know how to share it.
But ultimately, Harris wrong about the "divide" for a far more obvious reason - it's because when we were the "young" generation... the older one was dying. We are a gay generation, him and I and everyone we know, without a real path to show us how to age, as I've said before. We have tremendous freedom in that, a freedom Harris essentially ignores in his small, bitter rumination on "why won't the kids talk to me." Look forward, not back. Look at the possibilities, not the walls you put up around you. And maybe, just maybe, you'll see that the gap you imagine... is really all in your head. The kids are all right. And so are we.