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The Pink Generation Gap

Mon 11 Jan 2010 In: Community View at NDHA commentator Craig Young asks: Why can't younger and older LGBT people get along?   There tend to be generational antagonisms between different cohorts of lesbians and gay men. Why does this happen? Recently, two events focused my attention on this. One was the death of Mary Daly, the veteran lesbian separatist philosopher. The other was Peter Tatchell's questioning of the uncritical assessment of the late Quentin Crisp's life and times. Why do generational cohort conflicts happen? Ways of being lesbian and gay, social opportunities and available social space all change over time as a result of social and legislative advances or setbacks. It's been forty years since Stonewall. The first generation of LGBT activists fought for homosexual law reform, the next fought for antidiscrimination laws and against HIV/AIDS, the third is fighting for civil unions, same-sex marriage and same-sex parenting. One older lesbian told me she was frustrated at the lapse of activism amongst younger cohorts of lesbians. I responded that they faced different challenges and opportunities than her cohort had. They might well still be feminist, just in a different way than her generation was. Social relationships, the content of oppression and the context of resistance all change over time. I can sympathise with both sets of lesbians, because I have similar problems with older gay men sometimes. I don't tend to get on very well with unreconstructed racists and misogynists or those who didn't engage in activism on our community's behalf, or those without higher education. I don't have much time left for older gay men who are psychological messes because they can't break away from antigay religious networks. On the other hand, I do get along quite well with younger LGBTs. Some younger LGBTs complain that older gay men are overly sexualising and have boundary problems. I think that's probably because they had lesser social space to be gay in, and became opportunists to grab what and who they could - although that doesn't excuse their behaviour. Tatchell and Crisp crossed swords first while the elder queen was still alive. Quentin didn't have all that much higher education and was starstruck with celebrity and glamour. While Tatchell paid tribute to the older gay man's sacrifices and endurance, he was nonetheless critical that Crisp was very much 'temporally stuck.' Crisp didn't see the need for ongoing LGBT rights endeavours, while Tatchell is an icon of enduring LGBT resistance and political transformation. For that matter, I don't agree with Tatchell on some things, although I deeply respect him for his magnificent history of activism on our behalf. It was rather the same with Daly and many younger lesbian feminists. Younger dykes tell me that they regard older lesbian feminists as overly rigid and desexualised compared to their cohort. They don't like their transphobia much either, if they've been overly influenced by Janice Raymond's problematic brand of radical feminism. I think the lesson from the above is 'don't get temporally stuck.' Recognise that there are different generational ways of being lesbian or gay. Keep yourself informed about political change and popular culture. Respect older generations for their sacrifices on your behalf, but don't uncritically idolise them. Realise that younger LGBTs have had different forms of homophobia and transphobia in their lives to experience than you and your age cohort did - but that they still experienced them. Recommended book: Arlene Stein: Sex and Sensibility: Stories of Lesbian Generations: Berkeley: University of California Press: 1997.     Craig Young - 11th January 2010

Credit: Craig Young

First published: Monday, 11th January 2010 - 5:01pm

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