Recently I attended my first meeting with other gay old farts at the region's LGBT Community Center and I'm sorry it's taken me so long to get there. I knew some of the men and met other gay men my age. The representative from the Community Center put in a plug for The History Project, recording older gay people talking about their lives.
I mentioned that from time to time critics bemoan that so many non-porn gay films deal with coming out. Pity. As each of us is a different human, as each of us lived in different parts of the world, our coming out stories are different and important and, as our lunch proved, sometimes still pretty emotional. Admittedly, the current young generation is never particularly interested in their elders' stories, yet what we have to say could be pretty helpful.
The gathering was just fun, sitting at a table and everyone chiming in. The connection among us was almost immediate. Usually a wallflower, I was surprised and happy with how comfortable I felt and was pleased I could contribute.
The day's downer came when I talked to the Community Center's interns afterward and asked how they learned of, or if they'd ever been exposed to, gay history. I knew the answer before I finished the question: There is no organized way to hear gay history. The young woman said she knew virtually nothing until she started her internship. The young man said that what they know, what young gays know, they pick up along the way. He said he felt fortunate because he has a gay uncle and they talk a lot.
I can understand not pursuing it on one's own. I appreciate that. When one is young, gay is friendship and sex. How much history does one need to enjoy sex? They have a lot they can take for granted, and that's a good thing. But if you don't know where you came from, how can you appreciate what you have now?
What does it matter?.
It came to mind when I mentioned Armisted Maupin's The Days of Anna Madrigal and how well it rounded out the Tales of the City series. The other old farts knew what I was talking about. The Community Center's host said she remembered it as a TV series. The interns looked blank. And it just kind of hurt that they will probably never read any of the Tales and that so much of our literature vanishes. The interns would never read anything on their own because they have so much they have to read for their courses.
What goes around comes around. I didn't particularly like listening to my elders' stories, and god knows I didn't know any older gay people to hear their stories. I remember reading a phrase in a newspaper column about "the great homosexual Thornton Wilder." Somehow I heard about Charles Laughton and that Elsa Lanchester married him to protect him. And then Barbara Gittings appeared on The David Suskind Show and I was amazed to hear her stand up for herself and us. Because I don't believe in coincidence, I think that important information I needed to know that I wasn't the only one was pointed out to me.
The current young have access to information unimaginable in my youth. There are histories for them to read if they want to. It is my fervent wish that they would read Tales of the City and other books about us or with us in them. I wish that GSAs could serve as the occasional history class. As important as peer gatherings are simply to get to know other young gay people, I wish the odd bit of history, of what went before, could be part of it. Or watch non-porn gay/lesbian movies.
All of us gay old farts have stories to share. I wish we could do that.