The Autostraddle Roundtable: Is there a Lesbian Generation Gap?

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Stef (25):

The article focuses mainly on the gay male generation gap, and it IS a little odd that there is no mention of gay women or the struggle thereof… I wonder if it’s because until recently, gay women haven’t been very visible in mainstream culture – it just hasn’t been hip or fashionable or really in the forefront of society. Thankfully, due to a variety of factors (like um, AUTOSTRADDLE obvs), this is beginning to change. As for a generation gap… I don’t know that such a thing really exists, but women generally socialize really differently than men anyway, yeah? I don’t like to make generalized statements about an entire generation; I don’t think that’s fair.

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brookeBrooke (24):

I’m going to go with Generation Gaps Are a Given for $500. Lesbian Generation Gap. Based on a limited number of discussions with lesbians of older generations, their primary concern is that we, the younger generation, take the time to educate ourselves about where we came from and the history of the movement.

This makes sense for a number of reasons, e.g., you educate yourself about the past ’cause you don’t want history to repeat itself. I had a lot more to say on this and how we must actively seek out history on our own if we want to learn about it, but then I read what Riese wrote and it was similar, so.

So when you finally identify as a lesbian, you’ll have lost all those years of possible learning, because why would you have even thought to look? And when you finally do, what are your priorities? Probably not history.

So I’d like to comment briefly on what she said regarding the difference between the lesbian generation gap and other generation gaps. Unlike other minority or mainstream groups, lesbians are self identified. Many women don’t realize, or don’t admit to themselves that they’re queer for years, if ever, and even if they do, there isn’t a way to readily identify themselves to others or find others they can identify with. So when you finally identify as whatever, you’ll have lost all those years of possible learning, because why would you have even thought to look? And when you finally do, what are your priorities? Probably not history.


The following is one of a million examples: Say you realize you’re gay at age 24… in a simplified situation all the sudden it’s like “Hey! I’m gay! What’s that mean? How do I tell people? Where the women at?” “Prop 8?? That’s me! WTF??” and you’re likely more focused on figuring out your sexuality and “the now” rather than the past. Not that you won’t get to learning about the past down the road. But it’s all new to you, the past, the present and the future. With most other minority groups, their history is thrust on them from a variety of sources (not necessarily from school as you’ll rarely learn about the history of Hispanics or Asians in America in class) from the day they’re born.

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How does this get resolved? You need women, both younger and older, out as role models in the public sphere, bringing the voice of queer women: our past, our present and our future to the mainstream and ourselves.

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Carly (27):

I’m a little tipsy and that article had too many words for me! What I can speak to are my experiences. Certainly, a generation gap exists in all subcultures and subsections of society and lesbians and gays are no different.

I think that there is a generation gap in the LGBT community in general; I was talking about that gay TV network I work for with some eldergays, and they were saying that they loved the documentaries but hated the music shows. I told them that I produced the music shows, and they were extremely apologetic and embarrassed, but I got where they were coming from. I don’t want to generalize and say that our generation is so vastly removed from previous ones but differences certainly exist.

The Indigo Girls, Tegan & Sara

The Indigo Girls, Tegan & Sara

 

In my experience, most of the older lesbians I have known have had the same ideals, dreams and goals as I have, among them: to have equal rights, to be successful, to be included. Maybe it’s just that I wouldn’t surround myself with anyone who doesn’t agree in those regards, but I’ve actually found older gay men to be less progressive than older lesbians. But that’s just been my experience.

As Laneia said, I think that the more problematic gap that exists in our community gap is between men and women, not between the different generations. Gay women are left out of most articles, studies and conversations about the gay community, and it’s time that someone (cough Autostraddle cough) does something about it.

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Riese’s Mom! (51)

When talking about a generation gap the implied assumption is that chronological age is the major determinant of where one generation starts and the other leaves off. Yet my personal experience causes me to question that assumption. I officially came out in my early 40’s, on the tail end of the Baby Boom generation w/ close to 2 decades as a (heterosexual) wife and mother. My children were in their teens and I was aware of the potential generation gap, just as there had been in my teens w/ the generation who was imposing their values on me. My generation rode in on the defeat of the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment), despite movements such as Women’s Lib and Radical Lesbianism. I maintained my sense of the importance of social activism, to be ever-mindful and committed to do what I could to address the inequalities in our society, which would lead one to think that I would embrace the obvious LGBT issues.

I was considered a ‘baby dyke’ going through ‘second adolescence’ despite my obvious years. and though I tried to care about the political issues, my behavior was more indicative of an adolescent then a mother of two.

When I came out I ran with a group of other women who had come out themselves within the last few years, ages ranging from 18-45. When asked how old any one was, it was not unusual to give 2 answers; “Dyke years” and chronological years. I was considered a ‘baby dyke’ going through ‘second adolescence’ despite my obvious years. and though I tried to care about the political issues, my behavior was more indicative of an adolescent then a mother of two.

So, to ask if there is a lesbian generation gap based solely on chronological years the answer is ‘of course’, but in ‘Dyke years’, not as much as one would think. (Men tend to come out at a younger age then women do, and this brings up the whole other issue of the role of women as mothers, etc.)

Christopher Street Liberation Day, 1971

Christopher Street Liberation Day, 1971

I have many friends that are closer in age to my daughter then me, even a few that are younger. The majority of them I know through my career in Social Work. Social action/activism we are all on the same page. What we want in relationships, usually the same. The differences are in the same areas that all generations over the ages have had their ‘gaps’ in; technology, music, dress. (I’m sure that it is the Social Work connection that explains it.)

btw-I have another answer as well, one that speaks to the vanishing Women’s coffee Houses and Music Festivals that were a product of the need for womyn-only spaces; feminist and lesbian movements.

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Tinkerbell

Hello Autostraddle, this is Tinkerbell. Speaking of my personal experience as a dog and a fan of Hollywood stars of stage and screen including Kelly Clarkson, there are many similarities between generations. There are still liars and famous people in the closet and mean parents. In the olden days, only smart people could read long boring books like The Well of Loneliness and think “I am a queer invert, that is me,” now anyone can see Gimme Sugar, so anyone can see “that is me” (or text “thsizxh jis me”) and then go get drunk like party time. That is good too. This is human progress in America, we aren’t any better than other people, we’re just widening the scope so all kinds of people are involved, including people who haven’t read  The World Split Open or To Believe in Women or Women, Race, & Class. I haven’t read them either because I just learned how to read and am reading Beezus & Ramona you elitist bastards.

There’s no gap between people who understand. We are all people, except for me, I am a dog.

Come Out Come Out

Come Out Come Out

Also Autostraddle you Jews I would like to know more about other gaps like between different races because I feel expanded by my boyfriend a dinosaur.

Stop fighting against each other & mussing up your alternative lifestyle haircuts & instead fight for each other. Elders be proud to see us wearing sexy outfits in the streets, youngsters be grateful and informed. If you put Harvey Milk and Tila Tequila in a boxing ring, Milk would cream Tequila. Also who killed Dana Fairbanks & Jenny Schecter? Ilene Chaiken, also a lesbian. My point exactly. Don’t kill your own people.

So everyone tell the truth of your lives please, then everything will change. Thank you love Tinkerbell.

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Riese is the 38-year-old Co-Founder and CEO of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker, low-key Jewish power lesbian and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and then headed West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 2843 articles for us.

48 Comments

  1. “Say you realize you’re gay at age 24… in a simplified situation all the sudden it’s like “Hey! I’m gay! What’s that mean? How do I tell people? Where the women at?” “Prop 8?? That’s me! WTF??” and you’re likely more focused on figuring out your sexuality and “the now” rather than the past.”

    Ha! Change 24 to 35 and this is me entirely. I’ll catch up on the history… I admit that I had to wiki Lavender Menace … but I’ll get there. So much else to be thinking about, too, though!

  2. Hello, is this thing on? I just stumbled onto this story, but I see that it’s a year old. I would love to see the conversation between the generations continue. At 51, count me among the elders!

    The younger generation seems to focus on the stories and images provided by the mass media to a much greater extent than we did 30 yrs ago. Is that perception true, I wonder? When I rummage about this website, I am more entertained by the personalities, insights, outbursts and humor of the readers and writers than I am by the celebrities who seem to take up a lot of space around here.

    Just keep being your sweet selves. You’re fabulous, you know.

  3. There’s a gap, but I don’t know if it’s generational or informational. And sometimes I think it’s a gender gap. What? A gender gap among lesbians? Yeah. Butch and femme. Some lesbians are extremely dismissive of gender identity, butch identity and trans women.

    Even though I agree that in some cases genderqueer lesbians subcategorize things to death, and yes it can be annoying, but that is no reason to throw the whole thing out like the Daughters of Bilitis did. (History repeating right here.) Yes, I understand there were dangers in the beginning and they had to be all secretive. As a rule you had to wear a skirt if you wanted to go to a DOB meeting. And when the Mattachine and the DOB got together to picket, the men wore suits and the ladies wore skirts so as to not appear too freakish. Trans women and butch dykes were not allowed…they were considered a problem. On top of that, feminists often felt drag queens to be an insulting caricature of womanhood.

    I’m 33, and I came out in 1993 when I was 17. So I guess I’m sort of straddling the gap so to speak. I’m also genderqueer. When I was a teen, they just called that butch. But then there were arguments about how butch, soft butch, hard butch, stone butch, stud etc. But I’m perfectly comfortable just lumping it all together as genderqueer and beyond that gender becomes individual.

    In the mid 90s the World Wide Web was just a baby. There wasn’t a lot of information on the web. There were message boards and chat rooms, but sometimes you needed a special code to get into them because they were so worried about men pretending to be lesbians in search of cybersex.

    I didn’t live in a big city, so I didn’t know where to find my community. I just wanted to know where I came from, so I had to resort to books. And even I am sometimes surprised at how many queer books I have from the 90s.

    Reading over them now, those books are very much like the blogs of today in book form. There’s lots of storytelling, narratives and reflections on the current state of things. It seems as though there were trying to preserve what they were doing and going through because previous generations had not been able to.

    Today, thanks to the Internet, some of this has been corrected as I’ve found several archives of queer newsletters and ‘zines of the 70s online. You can also read the original firsthand reports of the Stonewall riots that appeared in the Village Voice. And those articles written the day after include dykes.

    One of the benefits of publishing books instead of blogs, is that with the permanent nature of books there’s a greater emphasis on research and getting information right the first time. With blogs it seems like an online version of telephone where no one seems interested in going back and checking the original source.

    So let me set the record straight. The Stonewall was a dump and the patrons were the most marginalized of the gay community. It wasn’t homofabulous. It was the queerist of the queer, drag queens, butch dykes and homeless queers. They were the ones excluded from the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis with no where else to go. It was an illegal establishment not because it was owned by the Mafia, but because gay bars were illegal. They didn’t have a liquor license because they couldn’t get one. So the reliance on the Mafia was out of necessity.

    Almost every firsthand account I have read mentions the dyke that started it all, a nameless stone butch that decided to resist arrest. The queens were on the side mocking the police as if there was nothing else they could do while their friends were getting arrested. Perhaps they were scared of the repercussions if they resisted. But this dyke kept slipping out of the patrol car. She wasn’t having it and the cops got more aggressive with her. That was the spark.

    The Daughters of Bilitis and Mattachine Society started the Gay Rights Movement. Stonewall started the Queer Rights Movement. And this gap is what persists across generations.

  4. I only discovered Autostraddle yday in my pursuit of anything Tegan and Sara [rock on girls!] related and I have to say, I’m hooked. The dedication to get your message out there, to be heard, to share your insights and to quote Crystal, get “totally geeked out” about things that are you important to you in an intelligent and witty manner; I’m not only going to continue coming back, I’ll also refer everyone I know, gay, straight, closeted, male, female, young and old, because this is one of the most informative and entertaining sites I’ve ever stumbled upon.

    Now, having been introduced to the world of homosexuality late in high school [early 2000s] and emmersed in it ever since, more so in the last five yrs, I’ve only known members of the younger lesbian generation with the exception of an undergrad psychology teacher. And, in the time I’ve known these women, not once did any of them ever intimate that they took for granted the women that preceded us and they have accomplished.
    I agree with many of these women who’ve spoken before me on different points. Generationally, there are always going to be gaps. Sure, sometimes educating yourself can help bridge some of these gaps but with age comes experience, with experience comes wisdom, and with wisdom comes the ability to teach those around you. I believe the gap lies in gender. Being a Chicana and an asexual one at that, I’ve had to deal with all sorts of discrimination. However, being a woman has always been the toughest, discrimination wise. People can only guess at my ethnicity but, can tell I’m a woman at first glance. Being a feminist has felt as normal as breathing. Like it or not, feminism, has long since the days of it’s inception, been associated with lesbianism. Because of this, so many women, young and old are afraid to be associated with feminism [even if they are hardcore feminists] because that will also associated them to homosexuality. Okay, so, I don’t want to step on my own words, I do think the gender gap is what is most prevelent but educating yourself and those around just the teensist bit will go a long way like, when you’re in you’re Psychology of sexuality class and the first thing your professor asks is “who here considers themself a feminst” and you’re the only person raising your hand, let the rest of the class [which, by the way, is made up of 20 or so females and the only progressive, straight, male in the school] that feminsm does not mean you’re a lesbian but, that you are pro women’s rights and you’ll have them all raising their hands when the prof asks the question again, once you’ve finished your rant. [true stroy]

    Thanks Autostraddle, you rock socks!

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