“To many young gay people, the passage of Prop 8 was shocking but not alarming,” writes Mark Harris in New York Magazine‘s “The Gay Generation Gap,” published two weeks ago in the magazine’s special Pride Week Section. Harris continues: “It has jolted them into action, but one suspects it’s out of a Milk-fed belief that identity-politics activism can be ennobling and cool.”
Ouch! One suspects that one is being unfair to us! One suspects that if we’ve managed to make activism “cool,” then that’s a BIG SCORE! — but wait. Before you get too excited (as we did), there’s no need to be offended ’cause this shit ain’t about you, woman! There are no ladies addressed in Mark Harris’s article, or actually at all in the Gay Pride section of this issue. To be fair, the issue is dedicated to the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots (the first time gays fought back with a vengence), and Stonewall was a gay men’s “Inn” frequented by only a handful of women. But as we seem encouraged to think of Stonewall as the turning point for the whole GL(and later, BTQ) movement, the lesbian exclusion from this article is not necessarily unfair, but certainly somewhat salty and definitely worth noting.
I mean, back in 1969, few women had the economic mobility or free time (what with our socially mandated husbands & children and such) to support/frequent a place like Stonewall (like many gay bars at the time, however, Stonewall was actually owned and protected by the Mafia). Furthermore, women were then (as they are now) often financially codependent on their husbands or locked in to child caretaking and simply unable to duck out to the bar. Alternatively, perhaps the intimacy of female friendships offered more space to sneak under the radar with secret affairs moreso than men could.
So I don’t say this to diminish the plight of gay men who face, and have faced, their own incredible obstacles to freedom, I say this to make clear that yes, Stonewall was our fight too: we weren’t absent ’cause it wasn’t our fight. We were absent because we were oppressed by the motherfrackin’ patriarchy, which makes it extra depressing to be kicked out of this freakin’ article. Srsly, The Equal Rights Amendment didn’t even pass through congress until 1972. In 1976, Nebraska became the first state to make it illegal for a man to rape his wife.
“Gay power! Isn’t that great!… It’s about time we did something to assert ourselves. You know, the guys there were so beautiful—they’ve lost that wounded look that fags all had 10 years ago”. (Allen Ginsberg, 1971)
But surely if we’re lumped in [read: lightly placated] with gay men by allegedly inclusive magazines, TV channels, advertisers and [much to our COO’s display] marketing reports, we could’ve gotten our standard two or three lines in this article? Where was Ariel Levy, the only lesbian journalist in the world? [Oh! Norah Vincent! I forgot!] Lesbians have felt shafted by the gay rights movement and the feminist movement since both groups began moving at all and because we at Autostraddle (perhaps naively) believe it doesn’t have to be that way, and there are at least 40 people reading this who might care, we decided to ask ourselves: Is there a Lesbian Generation Gap?
First, you should read Harris’s article, in which many things happen including his litany of the most unfair accusations hurled between the youngsters and the oldies: the young ones are “shallow,” “silly,” they “reek of entitlement,” are “sexually careless” and “haven’t had to work for anything and therefore aren’t interested in anything that takes work” and the old ones “gas on about AIDS the way our parents or grandparents couldn’t stop talking about World War II,” and are “grim, prim, strident, self-ghettoizing, doctrinaire bores who think that if you’re not gloomy, you’re not worth taking seriously.”
If young gay men are ignorant about the AIDS crisis, are young gay women ignorant about the Lavender Menace or the Lesbian Sex Wars or the Suicidal/Homicidal Lesbian Archetype or Compulsory Heterosexuality or really exactly how recently feminism opened up a number of doors? Or anything? Are we too ignorant to write this?
Within the incredibly limited age rage of Team Autostraddle (early to late 20s), our experiences growing up vary dramatically mostly due to the proliferation of the internet and the great achievements of our lord mother Ellen DeGeneres. JK. Anyhow, when it comes to this kind of stuff I think the Team is mostly in the same generation.
Anyhow, today we also bring not one, not two, but THREE SPECIAL GUEST ROUNDTABLE PARTICIPANTS:
1. Rising Star and BFFOA (Best Friend Forev of Autostraddle) Haviland Stillwell, once quoted as describing her “type” as “whomever’s on the cover of More magazine.”
3. MOR (Mother of Riese), otherwise known as Riese’s Mom, who is 24 years older than Riese because that’s when she birthed Riese, and is therefore speaking from the other side of the generational divide … if there is one!!!
Here we go!
My first number one feeling about this article was duh. Is there a generation gap between people over the age of 50 and people under the age of 50? Um, of course there is. As I read further, I realized that my second number one feeling was, does Mark Harris actually know anyone in the 18 – 35 bracket? Because there are quite a few sweeping generalizations in this article, as well as one very notable omission, that lead me to believe he might need my input.
For the most part, younger generations will always think they knew The Answer—being naive and full of big plans and ideas and ANSWERS is how we validate this mountain of new responsibilities we’ve suddenly been handed. We must have the answers because, after all, we’re in charge of our own rent, bank account, career, debt, relationships—surely we know what we’re doing, right? Actually, I’d say we’re running on 50% naive optimism and 50% gripping fear. But, hey, whatever works.
While Harris waxes nostalgic over a secret gay language that’s dying off and a lack of staged protests, I’d like to tell him what really infuriates me about the gay community at large: the fact that practically every article about gays is an article primarily about MEN. The fact that almost every major and minor gay publication is written for and by MEN, wherein even the bulk of the advertising is aimed at MEN.
The author’s idea that young gay people aren’t shocked by the political and social injustices that we all face is ludicrous. Prop 8 was one of the most shocking things, politically speaking, that I’ve ever seen. We weren’t “jolted into action by a Milk-fed belief that identity politics activism can be ennobling and cool,” but because this is our future we’re talking about. We want exactly what you want, Mark: equal rights. Maybe we’re not screaming with homemade signs in our hands, but we are fighting.
Harris also makes the generalization that young gays are uninterested in the history of the gay rights movement. This statement is so insulting and presumptuous, I’m struggling to validate it with a response. You’re wrong, Mark.
With regard to the article’s glaring omission of every gay woman on the planet: what the hell? There wasn’t even a mention of the fact that he wasn’t going to mention us. I can understand if the author feels he doesn’t have much insight into the lesbian world, but I think he could’ve at least stated as much in his piece. Then again, maybe women don’t have as pronounced of a divide between us as men do. Speaking for myself, I’m always looking to older generations for inspiration, knowledge and friendship.
While Harris waxes nostalgic over a secret gay language that’s dying off and a lack of staged protests, I’d like to tell him what really infuriates me about the gay community at large: the gender gap. The fact that practically every article about gays is an article primarily about MEN. The fact that almost every major and minor gay publication is written for and by MEN, wherein even the bulk of the advertising is aimed at MEN. The fact that gay men act as though only they are entilted to outrage and that historical oppression is viewed strictly through a male lens. Harris and his older friends feel invisible to their younger counterparts? We feel invisible to EVERYONE.
Play him off, Whitney Houston.
After spending a few years working in various fields gay media, I do think that while a generation gap between older gays AND lesbians and their younger counterparts does exist, it is quite varied and complex. I always felt a conflict between the apologetic & careful way some of the older lesbians wanted to present gay conflict. They were afraid to offend and grateful for small changes, and I wanted more! However, I believe that there will always be some generational differences within any society and community and these definitely do not apply to everyone.
I absolutely believe there is a lesbian generation gap, and it widens through lack of understanding and respect. I think it’s in our best interest as a community to do everything we can to narrow that gap.
The first step is to recognize the extraordinary contributions of every queer person who’s been “out” for any extended period of time — just by virtue of the fact that being open about themselves was a helluva lot harder in the past than it is now.
Obvs, there are still problems, but the mere existence of the older generations has given us what freedoms we do have now. No, we don’t have full equal rights, but we do need to understand & appreciate our history and what we do hve.
“We can’t be arrogant; Ellen’s coming out was not the beginning of lesbian culture. There were always lesbians in pop culture, but the only people who knew about it were other lesbians. It was discussed in hushed tones. What we have to do as younger women is to fully respect and appreciate what our “elders” have gone through.”
Thanking those who fought and loved before us does not mean we’re acquiescing to the struggles we still have before us. I encourage everyone to really learn about LGBTQ history. Ignorance on any level is where generations create gaps. If you think about it this way, older women are basically forced to get hip to what we’re doing, because “young” culture is where the energy is focused in mainstream media. It’s inescapable. We can’t be arrogant; Ellen’s coming out was not the beginning of lesbian culture. There were always lesbians in pop culture, but the only people who knew about it were other lesbians. It was discussed in hushed tones. What we have to do as younger women is to fully respect and appreciate what our “elders” have gone through (feminism? finances? the butch/femme requirement? AIDS crisis, anyone? etc…), how their existence has helped us, and really thank them and act reverently towards them.
They, of course, must do the same, but like every therapist will tell you, “you can’t change someone else’s behavior; only your own.” (Yes, I just wrote that.) We still have a long way to go, of course, but the bottom line? We have to support each other, first and foremost, and recognize how truly extraordinary we all are, as individuals, yes, and as a community. Narrow the gap and we’re tremendously stronger.
I felt that this article was hard to follow, my poor brain wasn’t able to fully absorb the author’s point and it’s quite possible that I’ve missed it completely. The idea of the ‘gay’ generation gap confuses me and I’ve made a hundred edits to this paragraph to try to articulate why, but it’s tough. There is definitely a generation gap, but I’m not sure about a lesbian generation gap. I’ve been called a narcissist on occassion, been accused of not understanding or respecting what the older generation has done for me – but never by a lesbian. It’s possible that I just don’t know enough of them. But the ones I do know or have run into have never accused me of not understanding their struggle, or resented me for appearing optimistic at a gay rights rally. If they have then it’s possible that I’ve been too self-involved to have noticed. Kids these days…