The gay generational divide has gotten wider than a midlife waistline, as new opportunities and attitudes take young gays miles away from the loathing and ignorance that clotted my own youth. To find out just how far the generations are separated while hoping to bridge the gap a little, I talked to 22-year-old, Ithaca-born gay actor Jason Wise, who came to my attention when he wrote a letter to The New York Times telling the paper that, contrary to one of its articles, young gays really do love Judy Garland. This guy sounded savvy beyond his years and proved to be the perfect young yin to my old yang.
Hey, Jason. I grew up in the 1960s with next to no gay representation, except for two effeminate comedians on TV. The overall feeling was that gayness was a mental disorder that needed to be tracked down and cured. What was it like growing up in the 1990s and the aughts?
I grew up in that period where it was almost becoming trendy to be gay. I remember having friends in high school who’d say they were gay or bi just because it was fun and it was on TV. Then they’d realize, “Oh, I’m not really.” I remember coming to school and making jokes in class. Instead of “You’re the weird gay kid,” they’d laugh and say, “You’re so Jack” [from Will & Grace]. It encouraged me to continue to be funny and be gay.
And you had no issues at all?
I did. I had to eat my lunches in the bathroom because if I sat in the cafeteria, kids would throw rolls at my head. I don’t think the kids being mean even knew I was gay—they just thought I was weird and different.
It’s funny, I didn’t get bullied at all (though I kept thinking I would). Maybe it’s because I kept to myself?
It was something you didn’t talk about back then, but I feel like once it was presented to everybody on television, the bullying came from people feeling it was OK to bring it up, as opposed to being the elephant in the room.
Whenever gays make advances, haters get extra threatened. Anyway, let’s go back in time. I feel most young people don’t know about the pivotal Stonewall rebellion in 1969. Do you?
I know Judy’s death is kind of what started the whole uproar. Wasn’t that the first time gays fought back in an extreme way, using the media?
Yes. You do know stuff. What about the early days of AIDS in the ’80s, when my generation was traumatically under siege? You weren’t even born yet.
I have friends who say: “If I get AIDS, it’s fine. The doctor will take care of me.” They don’t understand that AIDS used to be a fatality. I don’t know if you can blame the young generation because things have changed more in the last 10 years than they have in 100 years. The only way this can be fixed is if younger gays spend time with older gays and talk about this stuff, but that’s not going to happen. Gay bars are not a central part of a young person’s life anymore. You used to go there to feel safe or to hook up, but now you don’t need it for that—it’s just a place to hang out. With Grindr and other social tools, gays are not mingling with each other because they don’t have to.
Well, even in the old days of bars, young people didn’t want to talk to the old folks. Believe me.
A friend told me: “Why would I hook up with a gay who was here in the AIDS crisis? I’m much safer with the boy who just got here from Oklahoma,” which is the most irrational train of thought on the planet. My friends look at old gays as being gross and weird and “Why would I even bother?” I think: “So you are all about enjoying your gay life that’s safe and wonderful now? These are the people who did it for us.” Even I’ve been checked out by an old gay on the street, and I’m like: “Ugh. Gross.” But how am I going to feel when I look at a 20-year-old boy, and they roll their eyes? Well, it’s going to happen.
It’s probably already happening. You’re two years older than they are, lol. What’s the future for the community?
There’s going to come a time when my generation is going to get in serious trouble. It’s getting a little too comfortable. You still need to live in a little bit of fear and also appreciate the fact that you can do things today that you couldn’t do 20 years ago. If you dress like an angel with glitter—don’t ruin it for us. I feel like there’s almost a little too much pride, and those people wonder why they’re getting hated on.
I don’t agree that there can be too much pride or that someone is asking for trouble by expressing themselves.
That’s not really what I’m saying. I mean those people get too comfortable, and then they say [about the hate], “It’s because I’m gay.”
Well, being too comfortable was definitely not a familiar feeling from my own early years. Take care, Jason. Thanks for talking to an old gay.