“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…
Grace the Spot:
Well, some of the older lesbians (in urban centers) I know were in the thick of the gay liberation movement and can’t understand why the younger ones – and the ones in less urban areas – seem to be hell bent on “assimilating” and “becoming ordinary.” Liberation is about freedom, they say. I always respond that the institution of marriage is yet another space that should be an option for lesbians, and freedom is all about increasing options for all, even if some of the options may seem a bit un-queer to those who associate “queer” with “radical.” Liberationists can simply opt out if such an option exists, you know.
Liberation is about freedom, they say. I always respond that the institution of marriage is yet another space that should be an option for lesbians, and freedom is all about increasing options for all, even if some of the options may seem a bit un-queer to those who associate “queer” with “radical.”
It is interesting to note that – if you go one generation back from the liberationists – the original lesbian rights organization was the pre-Stonewall Daughters of Bilitis, which was founded in the 1950s by Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, and their original goal was to convince society that lesbians weren’t weird of immoral or diseased – but they were just like everyone else in society. Gay normalization wasn’t just “made up” in the late 1990s and 2000 you know. Know your history! Martin and Lyon were able to get legally married in California this past year before Martin passed away, and if you didn’t cry or feel a sense of vindication when you saw the ceremony, you’re a cylon, and not one of those human looking ones that can feel – you’re one of those robot-looking centurions and you suck.
Also, I derive a lot of amusement from some millennials who seem to place a premium on arguing about gender labels ad nauseam and then screaming at you when you take a bit of time to catch on or if you have a sneaking suspicion that such esoteric nitpicking is just a form of intellectualizing “ME ME ME ME ME!” In fact, a really fun game to play is “create a non-existent gender label” – it’s similar to a game you can play with hipsters called “create a non-existent indie band,” in which you approach a hipster and ask if he is a fan of [non-existent indie band]. He will either save face by nodding as if the band exists or he will swallow nervously and say that he has never heard of the band, upon which you give him a look of profound disappointment, and he will feel like crawling into the nearest hole to comfort himself by playing obscure French emo on his iPod.
To play “create a non-existent gender label” you approach a label-obsessed queer (“LOQ”) and eventually, the issue of what you identify as will come up. At this point you must proudly announce that you identify as [non-existent gender label]. LOQ will either take you seriously or be ashamed that there is a gender label in existence that she was unaware of. Many chances for playing both of these games can be found in Brooklyn, the borough of “being overly competitive at things that don’t matter.”
Yes, there is, but it’s not laced with the animosity Harris describes amongst the gay male community. (Sidenote: I’m unsure why Harris wants to criticize young gays who are politically active. If you’re out there with a sign, um, bravah, there’s really no need for anyone to look at you and think, “ignorance.” If we’ve made activism “cool,” then I think we really have won.)
True enough — although usually I feel gratitude, support and enthusiasm from lesbians of all ages, every now and then I have a conversation with an elder Lesbian who talks to me like I’m a character on The L Word or finds my current objectives naive, which is strange because I have such genuine admiration for pretty much every single lesbian older than me. They always seem shocked that I know as much as I do about the women’s lib movement or lesbian herstory. In these conversations there are things I don’t mention, e.g., bisexuality.
That being said, It’s not entirely unfair to perceive the young’uns (myself included) as Lindsay Lohanized web-enabled Dinah-Shored easy-breezy glam lesbians who don’t appreciate what their elders fought for or to think younger gens take our current freedoms for granted.
But do I think every lesbian is obligated to research lesbian history, as I have? Nope. I think that’s the responsibility of our schools. I’m not comparing our struggle to the struggle of African-Americans in this country, but you’d be hard-pressed to find an American completely unaware of slavery, the trials of the civil rights movement or the hate crimes carried out by KKK. And it’s not just that we’re left out of history lessons, we’re literally censored out of school libraries.
So, aside from dropping that my Mom’s a ‘mo (though I really can’t attribute any of my lezducation to her, having shipped out a few months after she came out when I was 15), the best way to cross this hesitant divide is to show my pebbles of self-education and my willingness & desire to know more; I’m prepared to discuss Virginia & Vita just as I am to dish on LiLo & SamRo. (YEAH I JUST SAID THAT!)
I know more than a lot of my peers and I defo don’t know enough. When women my age say they aren’t feminists I want to hit them on the forehead with a sledgehammer, like how can you not know what that word means.
The primary generation gap I think is the internet – it has become INFINITELY easier to find other lesbos than it was even five or ten years ago when it was entirely possible to spend your life not knowing (that you know) anyone else like you.
But do I think everyone is responsible to research lesbian history? Nope. I think that’s the responsibility of our schools. I’m not comparing our struggle to the struggle of African-Americans in this country, but you’d be hard-pressed to find an American completely unaware of slavery, the trials of the civil rights movement or the KKK. And it’s not just that we’re left out of history lessons, we’re literally censored out of school libraries.
Many women (and this matters to all women, because this is about our ability to tell stories and be visible independent of our relationships to men) don’t know there’s even more than one ‘wave’ of feminism or don’t realize that Ellen’s coming out wasn’t well-received.
On top of that, as Harris points out, the generational divide is something usually reckoned with, initially, at home. We are supposed to fight with our parents on these issues. But because the homos don’t reproduce quite as efficiently as the hets nor is sexuality necessarily passed on, we don’t have the opportunity to work out political & cultural divides within various minority populations with our parents, it can only happen with our peers. With lesbians more down to date older women than anyone else in the history of all time, many of us are educated by our girlfriends rather than by our mothers or our teachers.
With so much of our history hidden or hard to find, it’s really hard for anyone to gauge the difference between stuff we don’t know and stuff that doesn’t exist.
So I think this goes for the gay men targeted in this article as it does for lesbians—don’t get angry at the younger kids for not knowing anything. Get angry at our educational system & at the media & the press for censoring and ignoring our HERSTORY!
Mark Harris says that the elder generations think we’re not angry enough, so I say let’s all be angry together and storm the Wasilla Public Library. Omg I can’t stop thinking about S-Pale today.
Oh and BTW! THANK YOU! (Why is my answer always the most confused and discombobulated of all the answers? ssjgljdsgi)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.