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'Gay Generation Gap' Emerges

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'Gay Generation Gap' Emerges


'Gay Generation Gap' Emerges

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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GUY RAZ, host:

As Margot Adler just mentioned, younger gay men and women live in a much different world, almost a different planet, than the Stonewall generation did 40 years ago. Mark Harris calls it the gay generation gap, and he's written about it in this week's New York Magazine. This is Mark Harris reading an excerpt.

Mr. MARK HARRIS (Author, "The Gay Generation Gap"): (Reading) Here's the awful stuff, the deeply unfair but maybe a little true things that many middle-aged gay men say about their younger counterparts: They're shallow, they're silly, they reek of entitlement. They haven't had to work for anything and therefore aren't interested in anything that takes work. They're profoundly ungrateful for the political and social gains we spent our own youth striving to obtain for them. They toss around terms like post gay without caring how hard we fought just to get all the way to gay.

RAZ: For older gay activists like Harris, the AIDS crisis and the Reagan decade are central themes in the struggle for civil rights. But he says gay men and women under the age of 30 are tired of the Stonewall generation prattling on about the struggle.

Mark Harris is with us now. Thanks for joining us.

Mr. HARRIS: My pleasure.

RAZ: Can you explain the gay generation gap?

Mr. HARRIS: I think that a lot of younger men look at older gay men as terrible, depressed scolds, as people who think that, you know, they're the only ones who know how to get political change accomplished, that they're the people who invented activism, that their generation defined by fear and that they want the younger generation to be as frightened as they are.

RAZ: I mean, there's some truth to that, right? I mean, you can't blame them for saying that, can you?

Mr. HARRIS: No, I don't think it's fair for people my age, for whom AIDS was news, something that happened in the world and that we experienced kind of in real time, to blame a younger generation for experiencing it as history. Of course, it was absolutely formative, defining to be a gay man in a major city in your 50s now, it's almost inconceivable that you didn't lose people you knew, that you didn't fight a tide of public opprobrium and governmental indifference and religious condemnation.

AIDS certainly, rather than Stonewall, is the thing that defined you. If you're a little bit younger, if you were like me, a teenager, it was to have your sexual life defined by great fear at just the moment when you were coming to see yourself as a sexual person, and that of course, you know, fear as much as anger has a very warping effect down through the decades.

RAZ: What do you wish that younger, gay men and women coming out now would know or would learn about the 1980s?

Mr. HARRIS: You know, what I would wish for both halves of this generation gap is that we would talk to each other more. Every older gay man I talk to said that he felt a real social stigma attached to being in a room with younger gay men, you know, that just being there would feed into the stereotype of the predatory, older, gay man looking for sex, and that goes the other way too.

So it's a very, very complicated, loaded thing just to get gay men from different generations talking to each other.

RAZ: Do you suspect there's this generation gap among gay women and transgendered people, as well?

Mr. HARRIS: You know, I wouldn't want to hazard a guess, but it would certainly not surprise me. I mean, the gay community or communities is really not at all monolithic. We have serious fractures between men and women. We have fractures between gay people and people who identify themselves as bisexual. We have age divisions. We have a serious issue about race and racism among white, gay people.

This isn't to say that gay people are in splinters. We absolutely know how to come together when we are fighting the same fight. And I think it would be a mistake for the straight world to look at us as speaking with one voice, but it would also be a mistake for the straight world to imagine that because we have divisions, they can exploit them or divide us.

RAZ: You write that a generation gap in any subgroup with a history of struggle is a sign that that group has arrived.

Mr. HARRIS: Yes. There's always been gay generation gaps, by the way, including during Stonewall, when older, gay men who were kind of working in professional, white-collar jobs and passing had contempt for hippies in the village who were more open about their sexuality and vice versa.

Now we can get angry at the way President Obama is handling gay issues and say he's not going fast enough. We can be furious at Prop 8, but I think we understand that in general, history is with us right now, and the tide of public sentiment is with us. And so in an odd way, a generation-gap argument is a luxury we can suddenly afford.

RAZ: Mark Harris is a freelance writer in New York. You can find a link to his New York Magazine piece, "The Gay Generation Gap," at our Web site,

Mr. Harris, thank you very much.

Mr. HARRIS: Thank you.

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