I told him I didn’t trust therapists. The young man said he didn’t know why a person wouldn’t trust therapists. I reminded him that half my life the American Psychiatric Association had in its diagnostic manual that gay people suffered from various kinds of mental illness because they were gay, and they didn’t change that diagnosis until 1971 when the Gay Liberation Front broke into their meeting and stopped the proceedings. Psychologists and psychiatrists were the source of all those things floating around in the culture that said, gay people are sick. At the APA meeting, Frank Kameny of the GLF cried out, “Psychiatry is the enemy incarnate. Psychiatry has waged relentless war of extermination against us. You may take this as a declaration of war against you!” And it was then that the APA agreed that gay people were OK.The young man that I was talking to didn’t know about this and said therapists were not like that anymore. He was sympathetic and seemed interested in what I was telling him. Here in the city, at meetings, and in our bookstores, and everywhere else, gay men and women who have spent half their lives coping with the abuse they got from the APA mingle with everybody else.
This experience—this kind of experience—had a profound effect on the generations who came to adulthood before Stonewall. Many older gay men and women are wary of the recent gains of our community—DADT and what’s happening with DOMA and the various court cases around Prop 8 in California and recently even the football players in the NFL. Are these successes going to last? When the Republicans get in next time, will they chip away at our rights? Or revoke them entirely? These gains aren’t necessarily permanent. Older people sense the tentativeness of our existence.
One of the effects of the life we’ve led is a self-protectiveness that characterizes many older gay men and women, an unwillingness to give up the protective styles and attitudes they developed when it was hard and dangerous to be gay. They may need them again some day. I have an anxiety that is difficult to convey to my children or my partner—who is a different generation—or to younger friends, and I have a need to say, But you don’t understand.
So, aside from the need to re-elect Barack Obama, the gay community faces a fault line between the generations which is going to stay with gay people until the older generation gradually dies off. I suspect this fault line between generations may make us less effective as a community. But then, in our effort to overcome it, we may learn something very valuable about love.
For more on the war between the gay liberation movement and the American Psychiatric Association, see:
Carter, David. Stonewall: The Riots that Sparked the Gay Revolution. New York: St Martin’s Griffin, 2005.
Clendinen, Dudley & Nagourney, Adam. Out for Good: The Struggle to Build a Gay Rights Movement in America. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999.