Main | Friday, January 20, 2006

From Across The Gay Generation Gap

Gentle readers, I get so much lovely email from you all that sometimes I am a bit slow in responding, for which I apologize. Not all of the emails are nice, of course, but most of them are. And occasionally, I get an email that I wish had gone into the comments rather than only to me, because the message is so compelling. So forgive me the indulgence of publishing the letter below, which I do with the author's permission, and for which I thank him again.

Joe-

I would post in your comments, but I don't want to post anonymously, and I hate having an e-mail with my first and last name on the 'net. I'm high maintenance - I'm comfortable with that.

You have, perhaps unwittingly, addressed the great gay generation gap in many of your stories, and I wanted to both point it out and congratulate it.

As a 16 year old in small town Virginia in the mid 90s, I became involved in a youth-group-slash-peer-advocacy group attached to an AIDS services agency. The clinic had been forced by vandalism and harassment to move several times, and was then in a house in a down-at-the-heels residential neighborhood.

While I made important peer friendships there, I also experienced something many people my age never knew. I volunteered in the afternoons a couple times a week after school, driving clients to doctor's appointments and the grocery store or sitting and talking in the center's greeting room as I folded brochures or dusted the furniture. I met many gay men who had left active lives in Washington, DC or New York City to come home to die in Va. This was just before protease inhibitors and cocktail therapies made long-term survival a real option. As I came out of the closet, finished high school, and went off to enjoy my scholarship at an expensive liberal arts college, I also watched our clients, my friends, get sick and die.

As I have moved through my twenties (faster than I would have liked,of course), I realize how rare my experience is among my peers. Having come into contact with the gay community very early (I started coming out at 14, in 1992) in a small town where AIDS remedies were not on the cutting edge, I am one of a few men my age to have witnessed and felt the vicious loss and terror that AIDS causes. In fact, neither my partner and nor the vast majority of my friends has known anyone with AIDS. Thus, they don't understand why, for example, "Angels in America" brought me to near-hysterics or why the idea of "AIDS burnout" pisses me off so much.

You know, I'm sure, that gay men are incredibly age-conscious. Young men don't interact socially with older men (at least not in any meaningful way, for the most part), and thus, our community narrative gets lost. So many men in the generation before mine are dead, and so few tell the stories to me and my friends that the increase in numbers of new cases seems scarily and frustratingly inevitable.

Anyway, I just wanted to thank you for putting your stories in a medium accessed by so many young people. Obviously, it has touched a nerve. Thanks for your writing.

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