Being raised by a single mother, growing up I didn’t have a whole lot of use for Father’s Day, and it more or less dropped entirely off the radar screen after my absentee father died when I was 18. Further compounding my estrangement from this “holiday”—which was only signed into official existence in 1972 by Richard Nixon, of all people—was was the fact that—lacking a paternal role model of any substance—at some point during my 20s, I determined that I would be my own “dad,” and would look out for myself as the best father would have done. (This quasi-after-the-fact-inbreeding in my psyche may account for my tendency to date men who are attracted to father figure-types, including my present boyfriend.)
One of the things I find most regrettable about the social cliquishness that is prevalent in our community is the fact that so much “institutional memory” is lost to gay kids who are just coming up in this fast-changing world. The lack of “cross-cultural-pollination” between older and younger gays—other than at strip clubs—means that the wisdom of an older generation of gay men—who came up, and OUT, during the early years of the gay rights movement—is entirely missed by a youthful generation that can most use it. It wasn’t always like this.
Although I would like to avoid a discussion of the finer points of ancient Greek pederasty (at least, the prurient, sexual aspects of it), the central element of this institution—an institution, by the way, which most reasonable people can agree has no place in a modern world—was the older male’s obligation to educate, protect, and provide a role model for the younger partner. This relationship ended once the boy “became a man” (which was determined by the widespread appearance of body hair on the youth), and joined the wider complement of free Greek adult citizens. (Incidentally, penetrative sex had little or nothing to do with ancient Greek pederasty—it was considered demeaning to the passive partner.)
My point here, of course, is not to titillate, but to offer an ideal for your consideration. When I refer to institutional memory, I mean the collective set of facts, experiences, and wisdom possessed by a group of people. Elements of institutional memory are found in corporations, professional organizations, government bodies, religious groups, academic societies, and in entire cultures. But the polarization of LGBT—and especially gay male—culture into “twinks,” “bears,” “gym rats,” “S&Ms” (“standers and modelers”), ad nauseum, means that the benefits of age and a lifetime of learning—and struggle—are lost to some of those who could most benefit from its imparting.
The “Greatest Generation”—those who lived during Stonewall in 1969, and who experienced the fear of being closeted and discovered as gay at the dawn of the modern LGBT rights movement—are segregated from younger gays, who may understand—on a human level—all too well the pain of rejection from family and friends, but who are denied the institutional memory and experience of mature gays because of superficial inter-cultural barriers. This segregation, though, and the attitudes underlying it, cuts both ways.
My boyfriend—who divides most of his time between work, home, and the gym—has done an enviable—some might call it “hateful”—job over the past six months of sculpting his body into amazing athletic form, and he has done so for all the right reasons. Yet he was asked—true, innocently enough—recently by an acquaintance if the reason he has been working out so hard was to get employed as a male dancer. Don’t mistake me: it was both meant and taken as a compliment, but the fact that this would be the first motivation that comes to mind for some gay men staggers me. It speaks of the objectification—and the disrespect for boundaries—to which some members of our community subject others in our community.
There is a vast difference between admiring someone’s physique and thinking that their purpose is to grace a dancer pole. But when we objectify others, we are not only diminishing their own worth as people, we are relegating ourselves to the sidelines of the inappropriate, improper, and unwelcomed. As my grandmother told me, you can’t each every plate of ziti that gets set in front of you. Does ogling a desirable person—to the exclusion of all other outward forms of appreciation—make “possessing” that person any more likely? Probably not. When we dehumanize others, we dehumanize ourselves. That’s no way to honor either our fathers, or our sons. Happy Father’s Day.