The Great Divide

(... no, this isn't about Everquest.)

I went on another hike last night with the gay outdoors group I joined.  Technically, it was the same hike as last time (Charlie Turner trail to Mt. Hollywood), just a different night and a different set of people.  This was definitely an older crowd than the first time I went: ages are hard to gauge, but I was easily one of the younger people there.  That isn't a problem, but it does mean a different dynamic.

To over-simplify, there is an observable difference in how people approach being gay that seems to be related to when they came out.  This is only an "age" thing to the extent that there is a pretty significant change in the 90s in attitudes towards LGBTQ folks in our society, or at least in SoCal; that means that, on average, people since the 90s started coming out at a much younger age and with less social resistance than people before that.

That emphasized point is probably the key.  I officially came out at 13 in 1991 to damned near anyone, including my friends at school (and it being high school pretty much everyone else as a result).  My mother met (and actually "caught" me in bed with) a boyfriend at 16 - and made us breakfast.  I was only picked on once in high school, never got threatened with being kicked out or abandoned, and only had one friend react badly (he was pretty religious).  Hell, I even got asked to teach a class at my Catholic church - by the head priest (obviously before I walked away from religion).

This "experience profile" (if I can call it that), while thankfully more and more common since then, was fairly unusual at the time and almost unheard of before that.  Most of the people I've met who came out before adulthood in the 80s or earlier were all "forced" into it - either by discovery or other factors - and almost universally had extremely negative responses.  Certainly, everyone I know who was an actively gay teenager before 1990 had been kicked out of their house and was either living in youth hostels or had found someone older to act as a surrogate parent/guardian.

I also realize there are exceptions, but the general gist is that guys who were gay before the 90s had to be able to take care of themselves, which means most were college age - or even later - before being openly gay.  Even today, this still happens with guys from some of the more conservative families, but it's rarer and rarer.  You also have more people today coming out in a "second-wave" kind of sense, after years of marriage or simply having never felt (or accepted being, in some cases) gay.

So why does it matter?  It just seems to me like these experiences create two very different mindsets between those who were "gay as kids" in a sense and those who weren't, similar to how there are different mindsets towards technology between those of us who grew up using computers and those who didn't.  Obviously, the former group couldn't have existed without the efforts and advances of the latter (in both cases), but that doesn't make the assumptions and approaches between the two groups any less different.

The diaspora of the "gay community" out of the "ghettos" and into the historically-straight world is one aspect of this difference.  To a lot of people older than me, of course predominantly-gay communities should exist and will continue to exist.  To a lot of people younger than me, of course gay people go to straight bars and are perfectly accepted; who needs to have a gays-only place?  One younger couple I know has parties where both of their parents show up and everyone has a blast; many older guys I know only officially came out to their parents after 40, if ever.

And perhaps more significantly, a lot of older guys see being gay as central to their identities (I assume it's often because of the price they had to pay to be openly gay), whereas a lot of younger guys see it as incidental (because it's always just been part of who they are).

Neither is right or wrong.  Neither is better or worse.  Neither is absolute.  But they do tend to be different, and that difference shows up in subtle ways if you listen for them.  I'm kind of caught in the transition between generations - in as much the same sense as I'm "transitional" between those who had computers growing up and those who didn't (I did, but most of my age group didn't until later).  Being 37 and looking like a 20-something doesn't help (I actually heard/saw one of the hikers whisper to someone else, "Who's the twink?" while looking at me).

But therein lies the problem.  I explicitly joined a "gay outdoors" group with the hope that it would be more "outdoors with a slice of gay" and not the other way around.  I mean, I enjoy talking about pride and entertainment and coming out experiences and all that - sometimes.  But I also want to talk about other things that have nothing to do with being gay.  It's possibly just the nature of the couple of hikes I've been on, so I'm going to try one of the camping trips to see if that may be a different crowd or something more like what I'm looking for.  And I'll probably keep doing the hikes - I actually enjoy them, mostly.

It isn't explicitly an age thing, though it seems to correlate with it.  But if I'm going to be combining "outdoorsy" with "gay", I'd like the emphasis to be on the former rather than the latter, and most of the people I've met so far seem to be the opposite.  I'll just have to give it time and see.