…And younger gay men have a duty to educate themselves about their history, says David McGregor
It has long been a joke that any gay man over the age of 30 is considered old. It’s a supposedly comical slant on the fact there is widespread discrimination against older people in the gay community.
At the same time, there has been criticism of the older LGBT community overstepping boundaries when it comes to dating. Or appearing bitter and deriding younger people who don’t’ understand the history of what people went through just a few decades ago.
I’ve been an out gay man since I was 14 (I’m now 26), and I’ve experienced both of these attitudes. I’ve been at the receiving end of a creepy message from an older guy but at the same time I’ve felt anger towards a community that seems to have forgotten what Pride was originally all about.
Hit on by guys much older than myself
I remember the reason I initially came out was to find someone and have that elusive romantic relationship. I’ve been on apps and websites a lot since coming out and I always seem to get attention from older men.
I have received some of the weirdest and concerning messages from men who were 40+ years older than me. It turned me off of interacting with a lot of guys who were that little bit older. I was concerned that they were going to be just like the people I’d seen online. I thought at the time that being older and gay would inevitably be looked down upon.
At 16 years old, I said to one of my friends, ‘I love being gay, but when I get older I think I will settle down with a woman as I never want to be like that.’ I look back in horror at that statement. In my defense, my only understanding of what an older gay man was at the time was one who sent illicit pictures and asked for sexual acts that repulsed me.
Sadly, this didn’t really improve when I started to go into gay bars and meet real people.
One of my very first gay experiences was an older man coming onto me in a gay bar and basically masturbating over me and then just leaving.
Yes, he literally masturbated.
It was such a surreal moment and happened so fast I had no idea what to do. He didn’t even say anything. It was enough to turn me off older men for years.
Don’t judge a whole age group by the actions of a few
But the older I got, and when I started to again spend time on the gay scene in London, I began to speak to older guys more. I started to see that not everyone was like the people that I met when I was 18. People can be creepy and predatory whatever their age and it should never been seen as characteristic of one group.
I was very quick to paint broad strokes when I was younger. I never really gave anyone a chance if they had wronged me in some way.
Another thing emerged that when I spoke to more mature gay people. I discovered that many of them were shunned at a lot of the bars that I frequented. Instead, these bars focused on a younger clientele. That clientele rejected them because they were old and seen as creepy if they so much as said ‘hello’.
It reminded me of some of the abuse I experienced as a bigger guy. Older people were getting this for something they can never change: their age.
Ageism is rife between generations
Such attitudes are damaging. It also means that bars lose a really interesting dynamic, as everyone there is the same: mostly gay and almost all under the age of 30.
A sad, knock-on effect of this divisive community is the notion that young LGBT people today are vapid and don’t understand the history that came before them. History that allows them to lead the lives they live today.
I’ve heard a lot of older gay men say they stay away from the gay scene because it’s not about community but just about partying. Being out in the 70s and 80s was more a political statement.
‘We should all know something about where we come from’
I can agree with this, to an extent. As much as I love Pride, and seeing so many people having fun, the original need for Pride was as a commemoration of the Stonewall riots in New York City in 1969. To have moved so far from that is questionable when LGBT people continue to face discrimination and abuse.
I sit in the middle of this debate as I’ve had experiences on either side of the fence. I’ve been on dates where people have been clueless about gay history. I believe we should all know something about where we come from and how recently we as a community were abused and attacked as a regular part of life.
I am passionate about politics and get irritated at LGBT people who refuse to get involved. There is so much that still affects us. Judging someone on his or her age is disgraceful. Doing so further perpetrates the idea that we are a judgmental community that hypocritically believes in equality.
On the flipside, I’ve been in some uncomfortable situations with older gay men who have overstepped their boundaries. But maybe sexual promiscuity was more the norm in the past – a time when you couldn’t openly love your partner, let alone marry. Gay men met and interacted in different ways. Gay relationships are much more accepted these days.
That’s not something I would appreciate if I hadn’t taken the time to listen to, and understand, the opinions of our elders.
The divide in our community won’t change any time soon, but the sooner we start engaging with one another as individuals – not dismissing anyone simply for being ‘young’ or ‘old’, the better.
Follow David on Twitter: @David__McGregor