The May/December dynamic is hardly unique to gay culture.
<looking at you Catherine ZJ and Michael D>
Star Trek even gave it a glance in The Next Generation as Wesley whored his way through his teens and most of the male crew memb…wait, that didn’t happen on the show.
I got confused…I’m old.
No, it was in the episode The Best of Both Worlds when Admiral Hanson brings his protege, Commander Shelby, aboard on the way to investigate a missing colony.
Captain Picard witnesses the dynamic between the elder officer and his female subordinate. To their credit, the writers not only created a strong female character in Shelby that didn’t define herself by a relationship, they also made the Admiral self-aware enough to give an honest assessment of his situation when asked by Picard.
Just an old man’s fantasy.
Boy. Little did I know then…but as this will end up being my birthday post, what better time to dust off this three month old notion?
Back around the beginning of November, I caught an old art house flick I’d seen in 1998. Literally, in an art house movie theater. Gay cinema was still struggling somewhere between taboo and mainstream.
The movie? Gods and Monsters.
Somehow, they managed to corral a stellar cast to tell the story of the last days of golden era director James Whale – played by Ian McKellan. He created the Frankenstein movie and the sequel, Bride of Frankenstein while living as a closeted homosexual.
Whale’s housekeeper – Lynn Redgrave – hires a new yardman – Brendan Fraser – that catches Whale’s fancy, despite the gardener’s obvious heterosexual nature. The film explores that relationship, pretty baldly, too. There were moments viewing it at 30 that made me cringe as a young man who had suffered overt advances from older men. The film did not shy away from those clumsy, vague advances viewed through the 1930s mindset of an older man with a modestly lascivious gleam in his eye.
It was hard to watch then, providing a certain ew factor based on my experiences. It was still hard to watch now that the movie is of legal drinking age.
Obviously, I’m not one to judge an older/younger romance. But it was hard to watch from a couch that is fortunately situated in a much more tolerant era.
My gaydar is fairly well tuned. That, paired with gay men feeling comfortable enough to express themselves freely without policing either their naturally fey tendencies, flamboyant behaviors or even their wardrobes, makes it a fairly comfortable environment for me to appreciate men I find attractive without fear for my physical well-being. Those same factors have made straight men much more secure in their own sexuality, largely reducing their fear or discomfort when a gay man hits on them.
Not eliminating the fear, entirely, sadly…but there’s a topic for another time.
But this isn’t about old Hollywood pool parties or an analysis of why older men chase younger men.
Their lost youth, duh.
It’s about the lasting impacts of those inter generational gay/straight friendships.
I might even say it’s more about how people come into your lives for a reason.
Sure, James Whale might have thought his yard man, Clay, came into his life simply as a distraction from his failing health at first. Or, you know…to cut his grass. But as their relationship evolved, Fraser’s gardener provided more than “just an old man’s fantasy”. Ultimately, he inspired McKellan’s Whale – don’t make that dirty, Diezel – to live during his final weeks of life. Of course, Whale then tried to manipulate him into killing him in a “gay panic”. But at the end of the movie, maybe a decade after Whales’ death, we see the lasting fingerprint Whale left on his yardman as he watches one of Whales’ movies with his own son.
Clay – the gardener’s name – learned some tolerance and empathy from his exposure to someone different than himself. Not just any old man, either.
A gay, old man.
I think that double-whammy of diversity was too hard to sweep aside and it made Clay pay attention to Whale versus just looking through him. Even if he wasn’t immediately aware of what was happening in the moment. Later, it made him a better father and a better steward of future generations.
Noticing that the second time I watched the movie made me appreciate what we take away from the people who cross our paths.
<Cue up some John Lennon music…>
We can all use a little more awareness and empathy in our day to day encounters – random or not. Imagine a world, a country, a state, city or block where we could see that awareness and empathy in action.
It’s a not infrequent theme in my blog, human decency. Random kindnesses. Living with intention.
Holding doors for one another.
Making eye contact with people on the street, saying “hi” as you pass.
I do them, even though I’m a self-professed grumpopatomus. Think of how unbearably chipper I’d be if someone thanked me for holding a door or smiled or just said “hi” back.
That’s a world I can imagine. I’d just rather see it.
And so, while I sometimes feel like a dirty, old man when a younger guy catches my eye, my motivation is nothing, at worst. At best, it’s to consciously leave them better than I found them. Whale’s presence in Clay’s life may have had unintentional benefits; I’d prefer mine are more direct impacts.
I think with American culture in general, each of us being aware of the legacy we leave younger generations with would be a positive for the future. But I think gay culture in particular would benefit from not being blind to what other generations have to offer our own, and vice versa.
Gay culture lacks a generational continuity. A handoff of knowledge and norms from one generation to the next. AIDS…whaddyagunnado? But instead of walking away from that cultural canyon, we should work toward filling it in to create a cultural continuity.
I was reminded of this the other day when I watched The Assassination of Gianni Versace. There’s gay guys that can legally drink that don’t know the shock and horror of that random crime any more than they know the fear of living your true life in the open.
All these people, with no idea of the cultural importance of Versace’s work or the significance of a gay hustler executing an older, wealthy gay man.
The sad thing is that they blithely post about “living their best life” on social media with an insipid or ironic – god, I hope it’s ironic – pic of some frivolous thing like a venti gourmet coffee or expensive pair of shoes.
The irony to that “best life” is that many more young men enter into exploitative situations with older men to finance those “best lives”…strictly in a tit-for-tat (or cash-for-ass) basis. Sometimes that transaction is strictly through social media, but more and more men are turning to escorting to finance their best life. Bragging as they do that one sugar daddy isn’t enough.
Those who do not learn from their mistakes are doomed to repeat them, right?
I guess, culturally, that means we’ve got a bunch of little Cunanans – thankfully only in the escort way, not the spree killer way – running around without even knowing it. Ryan Murphy to the rescue…
But that’s the type of culturally defining story that we lose not just with a missing generation, but also because of the accepted reality of generational isolation. It shouldn’t take a TV show to educate an entire culture across generations.
But it does, sadly.
I was talking with Sallory months and months ago about this phenomenon. We were talking about how valuable generational influence is, whether it’s friendship or romance based. The gist of the conversation – which started as a “What is wrong with younger people these days?!?” type of thing – was that so many kids come up with a lack of adult or parental influence. People work. I know. But the benefit of older/younger relationships is a better filling in of that gap.
As funny as it sounds, it really does benefit younger generations to hear someone say, “When I was a kid…”
I’m definitely here to say that and I have people in my life that want to hear it. Friends and when I’m lucky, lovers.
Of course, in my case, the movie would be made as Cads And Monsters – given that old gay men are not gods. But the lost boys I let distract me are still certainly lil monsters in their own right. But hopefully having an older friend or boyfriend helps tame them.