I said, “Of course I’m angry. My generation of gay men tends to be angry. We experienced abuse, and we were treated like shit for much of our lives—by the government, by the churches, the State Department, the military, the courts, by our families and by the people we loved the most, by our schools and teachers, and by the American Psychiatric Association, among others—and we were angry at being treated like shit. So we fought. We fought back at Stonewall, and the years since then. We were treated terribly, and we suffered, and we were angry. We are different from your generation.” I was talking to a man half my age. He readily agreed that the experience of our generations differs, and he agreed that he had not experienced what I have experienced and that I had reason to be angry. I didn’t point out to him that I had written my novels, fueled with my anger. The problem in front of us was finding an effective way for me to deal with my anger so that it doesn’t cripple me.
There was another problem in front of us. We represented a big chunk of the gay community—a young physician and a man approaching old age—and we faced a divide between us that was also in the gay community, and it is not much talked about. It has been forty years now since Stonewall, and men forty years old have never known a time when the American Psychiatric Association abused them like Christians abuse gay people today. I have a bone-deep suspicion of the APA and its members. This man and I were able to talk across this divide, but can we—all the various generations in the gay community—talk across this generational divide? Do we talk across it? This divide in the gay community will continue until the older generation dies off.
When that happens, when we die, what my generation knows—our experience of pre-Stonewall America and how that has made us what we are—will be lost to the communal memory. Over the weekend I talked to my daughter. She is young, straight, just over forty, and she said, “It’s happening in other places too, Dad. In the women’s movement, we are aware of the loss of the older generation of feminists, and among African Americans and the loss of the civil rights generation.” Its a question of the loss to the communal memory of important times—the first generation of feminists, the civil rights generation of the forties, fifties and sixties, and those who survived the time before the Stonewall riots—an important part of our communal history. John Mitzel of Gay Community News and of Calamus Bookstore died several months ago and a host of others recently. What Mitzel knew is now lost. The number of people who are still alive who knew what Mitzel knew is dwindling. And what Mitzel knew is a principal part of what made us what we are.
As I told the doctor, I have to deal with my anger, and tonight, I listen to Jessye Norman singing Richard Strauss’s Vier letzte Lieder (Four Last Songs). I listen to Norman singing the German and study English translations by way of Wikipedia, and I think, Strauss was eighty-four when he composed those songs. I have work to do. I can’t give in yet.