The Last Lost GenerationAuthor:
ca. 1,300 wordsSummary:
An article from the paper known to readers of mikes_grrl
's Undercover universe
as 'Larry's newspaper.'Apologies and thanks:
Apologies, and massive kudos for the stories that 'caused' this to mikes_grrl
. Thanks also to my beta beccatoria
, who didn't actually get to do much beta'ing on this, for confirming to me that this was bad in exactly the ways I intended. *g*A note on method:
I kind of want to type this on a carbon copy sheet, on a heavy old typewriter, but I don't even own a typewriter anymore. So typing it in Courier New will have to do. This is method writing, kids!A note on style and content:
To put yourself in the appropriate frame of mind for this fic, imagine that you are reading a 1970s activist newspaper - a small affair, with bad typography, and a very small circulation. The majority of the contributions are written by people with a deep personal involvement, and not much practice writing for an audience. I was aiming for a heartfelt, awkwardly pathetic tone - the tone of a deeply involved novice writer who is good enough with words to write for certain effects instinctively, but doesn't have the experience to know when to rein it in a bit. He also lacks critical distance in other areas - not all of them to do with lack of writing experience. Last, but definitely not least, he is deeply conflicted. He is doing his best to accommodate a perspective not entirely his own, which results in an argument at least partly made in bad faith, and therefore made poorly. I'm sure young activists will shoot it full of holes in the October and November editions. ;-)"The Last Lost Generation"
in: The Manchester Gay, September 1975
There are many good reasons for coming out.
Coming out means becoming visible, and we must become visible. We cannot make demands for equal rights from out of the proverbial closet. We must stop going out of our way to make it easy for people to ignore us, or they will never see us as a legitimate part of society.
We must be visible so that people will understand that we are not a different species. We must show them that we have lives that resembles theirs in almost every respect except for one, trivial detail. We must show them that we are their colleagues, their friends, their family.
We must become visible, also, so that gay people everywhere will understand that they are not alone. We must become visible so that they, when their friends and family abandon them, can find support with us. We must become visible so that there can be a community that goes beyond the furtive, and ultimately fruitless solidarity of the underground.
Any sort of social change requires a critical mass of people working for it. Coming out adds to the mass of people working for this one: the change - the many changes, big and small - that will eventually make being gay no longer a sin, no longer a mental disorder, no longer a social aberration, but simply another way of being normal.
There are many good reasons against coming out.
Unlike the reasons for
coming out, which are high-minded, political, perhaps even heroic, the reasons against
coming out do not sound very impressive. They are personal, and small - some might say: small-minded. They are the reasons of the timid and conservative everywhere. Most importantly, they are the reasons of the old.
They deserve to be heard.
Here is the essential fact to keep in mind about social change, in this context: societies change slowly
. Any kind of significant change will take years - at best. If it takes decades that is still pretty good. Truly big changes may take centuries.
Now, I will be the first to admit that we are probably not looking at a struggle to span centuries here, at least not before we achieve some basic rights and acceptance. We are not quite halfway there yet, perhaps, but we have moved a good bit in the last ten or twenty years. Those of us who are in their twenties now may well be able to walk down a street holding hands - exchange kisses in public, even - by the time they are thirty-five.
I am looking forward to that time. I am looking forward to kissing my partner in public then. I will be fifty-five or perhaps sixty, and he will be sixty or sixty-five, and there will probably be plenty of prudes and bigots left in the world to wrinkle their noses at us in disgust. But a good many of them will be wrinkling their noses because they are seeing two old
blokes kissing, and not because they are seeing two old blokes
I am counting the days and the hours and the minutes for that world, that time, to arrive.
And there is little, very little indeed that I can do to help make it a reality.
For those of us over the age of forty or so, what lies in the balance when we consider throwing our lot in with the cause in any public way, is not only everything that we stand to lose - although that is plenty. It is also - and this is crucial - everything that we cannot hope to regain, in the years we have left of our professional lives. Lose everything you have at twenty, and you will probably have time to make up for it - time enough to build a new life, and perhaps gain parts of the old life back. Do the same at forty-five, though - and you are likely to be looking at long-term unemployment, and quite possibly at an old age spent in poverty. Society will change for the better, but it will not change fast enough to give us
a second chance.
I understand how small-minded this sounds. And it is
only the material side of the matter. There is, of course, far more to this issue, so let us put a bit more of a face to it.
The man I love was born in 1930, give or take a few years. Like almost everyone who is gay today, except for the very youngest generation, he grew up in a world that called the way he loved illegal. He grew up with endless secrecy and guilt. He learned to talk, and think, of homosexuals with the derision that is expected of any full-blooded male. He still thinks of himself as a pervert who deserves to hide forever in the dark.
He learned to believe that for the likes of him - of us - love is impossible. For the longest part of his life it could have got him sent to prison.
He was a bright and ambitious young man, so he adapted as best he could. He put everything he had and everything he was into his job, and he became very, very good at it.
The service he renders society by doing that job, and doing it so exceptionally well, is invaluable. For this, he is rewarded with a certain social standing. To a man who learnt to despise himself so thoroughly, it must have been a miracle: to find that there was something he could do that he could truly be proud of. He clung to that pride and filled all the holes in his life with it.
I cannot imagine what he would do, what he would be
, without his work. Risking it - losing
it - is a sacrifice that nobody, not even I, can ask him to make. No matter that hiding away one entire half of his life from everyone he works with and nearly everyone he calls friend is hurting him in ways he probably is not even aware of. No matter that it is hurting me
, either. In a very real way, the movement that is now making tentative, yet ever more determined steps towards a better life for us all, has come too late for him.
Thinking about this makes me furious. It makes me want to shout from the roofs that I love him, and that there is nothing whatsoever wrong with that, and that the world needs to bloody get over it. It makes me want to join CHE, to come out in some ridiculously scandalous and public manner, to put a rainbow flag in every window of the house.
None of this I can do.
I cannot fight for his rights in his stead. I cannot even fight for mine. Anything I could do would implicate him. Too many people know of our association, although they do not know its true nature. They would put two and two together very soon, and he would lose everything.
So, the one thing I can do for him is to keep up our sad subterfuge. The role he has been playing all his life is second nature to him. It is less natural to me, but I am learning. To our friends and colleagues, we will never be anything but two friends who enjoy talking about work and the footie over a beer at the pub.
Our real life, meanwhile, is lived behind locked doors and drawn curtains We hide in the dark, under layers and layers of lies. We speak in code, constantly looking over our shoulders, like so many generations before us.
Yet outside our locked doors the world is changing. We hear the rumble. We feel the tremors. We watch.
Afraid, ashamed, and secretly hopeful, we are the last lost generation.