Yesterday I saw a post on social media where a 38-year-old person talked about how they had become an elder in the community. As someone a bit older than that I immediately thought then what am I?
I was asked last week by a younger person if the current environment towards LGBTQ+ people was the worst I had ever experienced. My answer was yes. As I reflected more I feel like the time before I came of age was most likely worse since clubs and even homes were raided and people’s lives were ruined by being outed. But in my Gen X lifetime, this is the unsafest I have ever felt.
Why now? Back in the late ’80s and early 90’s there was a lot of being closeted. You were not out if you had any job working with youth. My first job out of graduate school was at a residential program for youth and you better believe I was deeply closeted. On the other side of the equation, though there was so much community. Yes, much of it was at bars but when you felt like it was all too much, there was always a place to go and just be with people that looked like you and had similar experiences. When I moved to San Francisco in the early 90’s it was right before AIDS medication became what it was today. The local gay paper had pages and pages of obituaries every week. Until the week they did not and that was a celebration. Living in the Castro, I felt safe. We may have been invisible to the general population but we were okay in our safe space (for those of us lucky enough to find them-other people’s experiences were different). We looked out for each other. I know many straight people do Friendsgiving now but back in the day it was survival. If you were celebrating you made sure your people had a place to go or you invited them over. Even people that you may not have known that well. When you left your safe space you were alert. You watched out for yourself and stayed closeted in most spaces. But since media attention was not on us, people were not paying attention so it felt safer.
Social media and its use by anti-gay and anti-trans groups has made most of us feel unsafe. Now we are a political pawn everywhere. Yesterday in a Facebook group the admin twice deleted posts asking for LGBTQ book referrals because the hate crowd could not skim by and instead had to post hateful remarks. IT WAS a group about BOOKS. But the people with the hate feel emboldened now they feel like they can post their hate anywhere and not have repercussions. And for the most part, they are correct. Now it feels like there is no safe place. Social media and news are in most of our homes, even if we try and restrict it. There are very few if any gay bars or gay spaces anymore. People have said to me well isn’t that better? You can go anywhere now. Yea but if I do and it is full of straight people it is a different experience. And sometimes I just want to be with people like me or at minimum people that really get me.
Before this time there weren’t laws allowing us to marry and transition (in some states) and have employment protection. We never got a full victory on those things. And now the victories we did get are slowly being torn to pieces. We are constantly being bombarded wtih messages that we are sick and that our existence is an issue. We can’t talk about our families or have our kids read books that represent what we look like. I do not know an LGBTQ+ person right now that is not totally freaking exhausted. We want to live our lives and it’s very very hard to do that right now.
I worry about all of this a lot. When I look back on those pictures from my days in SF in the 90s many of those men are no longer with us. I fear with the culture that is being created now those in their 20s and 30s are going to be facing the same thing when looking at their photos in the future. Except more of those people will die at their own hands when they just can’t take it anymore.
This is my personal experience from a place of white and economic privilege. Others may feel differently. However, I doubt anyone would say it’s not very very hard. And the answer to my original question is yes I am now an elder and a grumpy one at that.