I turned 25 the year Massachusetts enacted marriage equality—the first U.S. state to do so. It was only in the previous year that the Supreme Court struck down a Texas law that made same-sex sexual activity illegal—even if it took place in the privacy of a couple’s bedroom. Thirteen states had these so-called sodomy laws in the books at the time. So not only was gay marriage unthinkable across the land, gay sex itself was punishable by jail in more than a quarter of the states in the union up until my mid 20s.
I became an adult in a different world. Paraphrasing poet Allen Ginsberg, I could say I saw the best hearts of my generation destroyed by hopelessness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the straight streets at dusk looking for an angry God. Dusk is when those of us born gay in the mid- to late-1970s came of age. The gay community we found when we first peeked out of our closets was still shy, healing from the wounds of the AIDS epidemic. We’re old enough to have met people who died of AIDS, and most saliently, the stigma their deaths carried. I remember not knowing much about that disease as a pre-teen and adolescent, but somehow, secretly, shamefully, terrifyingly, thinking it had something to do with me.
Talk to any gay person my age, and they’ll probably tell you that what they feared most growing up was that they would die—like those people on TV, like so-and-so’s son. I even had a number in mind. At 14 I was convinced that I would die at 27: the age Kurt Cobain was when he died; the age Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison were when they went. I hadn’t verbalized to myself that I was gay but somehow, despite my quiet demeanor at school, I thought I was destined to a young, firey death. And many my age were—at their own hands, through drug overdoses, or getting gay-bashed.
Dusk turned to night, and the night was short. The dawn of the last twelve, eight, five, really just two years has left our heads spinning. My generation sits awake now, on this bright new morning, with bed head and eyes that have not yet adapted to the light. We’re middle-aged men and women whose crises feel more like rebirths—teenagers with achy joints and metabolisms that don’t cooperate. At 40-plus-or-minus-a-few, we have a lot of life to live, and a lot of past we can’t undo.
Demographically we’re right at the tipping point, where half the population is younger than us, and the other half is older. We who were born at the peak of the Disco Era are patently not millenials, but we’re also not Generation X. We’re the middle child who’s often forgotten, a bit cynical as a result, used to just watching the messes others create. Politically, this is both frustrating and entertaining. At a personal level, if you’re gay, the space we live in is bittersweet.
With 40 visible on the horizon, David and I are newlyweds, living in a small apartment. Our main goal for the next couple of years is to save enough money to buy a house and start a family. You’d think that because we’re men we don’t have biological clocks, but the truth is we do. My parents had five children by the time they were my age. Most of our straight friends who wanted families have them by now. Some even have teenagers. Our kids will have old parents. The question we keep asking ourselves as we look at our budget is “But just how old?” I remember when my oldest nephew, now 22, was born, my grandpa said to me, “Imagine, if I got to see great-grandchildren, you’ll get to hold your great-great-grandchildren!” I liked that idea, and I would have loved for it to be true. Reality is, I think I’ll be lucky to see my grandchildren graduate high school.
I’ll always be grateful to live in a world where I can be married to the person who suits me best. I take nothing for granted, and I know David and I are very fortunate to even be able to dream of having a family. It’s not too late for us, and this new beginning is the most unexpected gift we could have ever received. But the morning light shines also on the paths we missed. And as young as we often feel, the knees that creak and the wrinkles in the mirror make us wonder if we’re up to this new task.
Many gay men and women of my generation married people of the opposite sex. They played by the rules we were given, and now the rules have changed. The uncertainty of hope is harder on them than on the rest of us. For a better explanation of these feelings than I could write, read this article by a friend of ours who is in a mixed-orientation marriage. The people who never married, if Christian, were forced to build high walls around their hearts and are just now learning how to do relationship. They are now dating, experiencing rejection for the first time, and the rush of budding romance for the first time, all with this nagging sense that they better find “the one” soon. We’re summer chickens trying hard to make it feel like spring.
What a blessing it is to have been born on the edge, when Pink Floyd released The Wall and the Bee Gees were king—to come of age in the 20th century, with youth left for the 21st. We’re entering middle age with a blank slate. This can be scary, and we know it’s stressful. But it is also a privilege few generations get. So let’s monitor our health, let’s work out a little harder and eat a little more mindfully. Let’s accept what we can’t change about the past and take advantage of the future that still lies ahead, however long it may be.