Dear Young Gay Men,
Believe it or not, there those of us over 50 who look at and view you with great pride. Why? Because we know what we marched for, struggled for, were beaten down for and for those we watched die, are the ones who paved the way for the open life you currently get to live. We fought very hard to get to this point in our gay history and you are a proud product of that battle. We are very proud of you.
You know, I can remember going to my first gay bar in 1985. It was a small bar in Cape Girardeau, MO. My first night in a gay bar they had to lock and barricade the front door of the bar because it was being surrounded by angry, straight, redneck, white men who did not want a gay bar in their town and were willing to take whatever steps necessary to make sure it would go away. Southern Missouri is Klan country and it was an eye opening experience and lesson on what it meant to be gay in middle Missouri.
I can remember the heart sinking feeling I felt when I saw the first spot of KS on the leg of a friend and knowing exactly what that meant. I can remember my other friend squeezing my arm and whispering, “Oh my God. He is sick.” In those days, you kept your status as quiet as possible until it was no longer possible to keep it quiet. I was one of the lucky ones who remained and still is negative, but many of my close friends were not that lucky. We saw a whole generation of our friends die because they did have the ability to become undetectable or Prep to help prevent it in the first damn place. You got it and you died. It was that simple. You know, it got to a point where I could hug someone and instantly know if they were sick. There was this heat which would emanate from their bodies. It was also a very sad thing to look into the eyes of someone you knew and knowing they would not be around for long. I learned a lot about bravery and grace in the face of death from my dying friends. Their faces and stories stick with me still today.
The things you would witness and the stories you would hear were truly terrifying. Have you ever driven past a house spray painted with the words, “AIDS FAG DIE,” well I have and within that house was someone very sick and dying. I can remember someone getting hit by a car in front one of the bars and no one wanting to touch the dying boy because of the blood. All gays were considered untouchable just in case you might have it whether you did or not. You were sick until proven otherwise. We even heard stories about hospital workers who would avoid patients completely who were dying. Many times friends would be caring for them under the direction of those who refused. We heard stories of families who could not find funeral homes to handle the remains of their loved ones. Bodies were buried sometimes in secret locations or worse. Many of the times the families did not want to have anything to do with their dead child in much the same way they did when they were alive. Sometimes the only people we could trust or cling to during this time was each other and we did the best we could for those who needed us.
I can remember hearing daily on the nightly news how we were the scourge of the earth and we were dying because that is what we deserve. We were told daily it was God’s revenge we were dying in mass. God was killing us. Most of you would have no clue who Anita Bryant is or even Jerry Falwell, but for us those names signify the worst forms of hate. Those early years were the worst. Everywhere we turned we were being called deviant, evil, cursed, and unnatural.
Of course, we battled much more than just the plague. The idea we would somehow be able to marry was a dream which none of us saw being a reality. Most of the time a partner could not even be in the room with his dying partner if the family wished to keep him out. May surviving partners had to deal with being less than in the life of their most important relationship. Insurance did not recognize the partnership and you could forget collecting death benefits which left many surviving partners, grieving, alone, and struggling.
The idea of seeing a gay couple in a television commercial was out of the question. Gay film in the most innocent form was considered scandalous and controversial. There were very few out gay celebrities. Most of the times we heard about them being gay after their death from AIDS. We had very little gay examples. But we had our Judy, Liza, Bette, Madonna, and Cher. They are the ones who helped them escape the madness of our reality.
We were not able to have children and if you did have children you had better not let anyone know you were gay because those children would be taken away without question or consideration. So many of us raised our children by ourselves and in silence. We were not able raise our children as out gay men and that means adoption was also out of the question. Those of us who did raise children where the true pioneers. We fought numerous battles to raise our children and we lived in constant fear of them being taken away from us. This means many of us had hidden relationships or simply none at all.
I came out at 29 and now I am 54. I remember those dark days clearly. Then I see you with your partners holding hands, getting married, or playing with your children in the open together and I feel pride because we have come a long way. Bu, sadly the fight is far from over. We have to continue to fight to preserve what we have gained. We have to continue fight for what we still need to achieve. It is not going to be easy. The point here is, you younger guys need to stop and remember what we came through to get here.You cannot take anything for granted because there are forces who would rip it away in a second if they could. Trust me they are trying to do just that.
Now you may say, it is just another Old Queen bitching at us, but honestly that is not the case at all. I am telling you this because it is becoming more apparent that your time to fight could be just ahead when you look at the state of the world and where it is headed. I am afraid for your future and it seems that this struggle is going to continue and you are going to need to fight. The time for our equal marriage celebration could very well be over.
You cannot be silent. You cannot run away and hide. You are going to need to take to the streets and believe me when I tell that can be a very scary place to be. But you would understand this if you had marched or attended a Pride Parade in some of those early years. During those years, Pride was shown on the news as a horror and not something which should or could be celebrated. That is okay because you have us. We will stand beside you and if you will listen, we will help to show you the way. We have been here before. We know how it all works. Activism is a long road and it is tiring road, but it is required of each and every single one of us. It is your ticket to the show. It is the price we must pay as gay men.
So don’t roll your eyes at the older person who might say hello or try to discuss things with you because the truth is if it were not for them your life would be very, very different today. Oh, and by the way, not all of us want to date younger guys. Most of us are way over the drama and chaos which comes with the younger crowd. Seriously, we do not want to have to explain the beauty of Chaka Kahn and Sylvester over and over again. If you do not know how Sylvester makes you feel then chances are you are wrong for one of us. We like our men mighty real.
The point is, we older gay men are settled in who we are and our relationships. We can be your friend. In fact, would be happy to call your friend. BUT, don’t assume we want more from you than friendship because in most cases we really don’t. We have had enough to deal with in life not to have to deal with your daddy issues. Oh, and by the way, take a good hard look at us because this is exactly how you are going to look in 30 or more years. That is right. Like it or not you are going to age too. So show us some fucking respect. Besides, most of us bitchy old queens could run circles around your muscle bound asses in the gym because at this age we have learned the importance of cardio. Why do you think we are still alive?
Take care of yourselves and understand we are all in this together. We are here for you if you need us and always remember silence does equal death. Never forget those who came before.