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Daily Beast Article Highlights Double Standard in Coverage of Age Different Relationships

Over the past few years I’ve become a fan of the British actor and writer Stephen Fry. From his old sketch comedy show with Hugh Laurie, to his TV travelogue of America, to his thoughtful web presence Mr. Fry brings intelligence and humor to the all of his projects. Though I’ve known Fry was gay I didn’t know much about his personal life. This week he and his partner Elliott Spencer announced their engagement. With Spencer being 30 year’s Fry’s junior a fury of speculation and insinuation flared up among the media and on social networks. Of course, for those of us who’ve been in age different relationships this is not surprising, but it certainly is disheartening. I empathize with both men for what amounts to public harassment.

Interestingly, on Friday the Daily Beast posted a wonderful commentary by Samantha Allen about the double standard in the way May to December relationships are covered in the media and in the general consciousness entitled Freaking Out about Age Gaps in Gay Relationships is Homophobic. It is well argued reflection on and refutation of the tropes and stereotypes found in discussion of gay men in age different relationships. I recommend you take a look.

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Guest Post: Rodney and Me pt. 3

Today we have the third part in a guest commentary by Robert Riley. Written in the form of an open letter to the parents of his significant other, it asks those parents to examine not only the fears they have but also the potential good of their son having an older partner. At the following links you can find part one and part two.

So, now you’ve had a little time to get used to the idea… There are two possible ways you can attempt to deal with this. Three if you count “ignoring” it. I’m going to assume that doing nothing is not an option. Pretending that you’re okay with this when you’re not is equivalent to pretending that the six hundred pound gorilla in the corner is a Barbie doll. You’ve got two choices, act on your opinion and demonstrate your surprise and displeasure or take a second and think what would happen if you had an open mind? You’re here, so I’m thinking that maybe, just maybe you’ve decided to have an open mind, perhaps for only a bit, but that bit might be all that’s needed for you to break through the wall you’re operating behind and see something special.

Let’s start with a couple of givens… Nobody is going to question that your son is less mature than someone who is thirty years older than he is. You’re going to interpret this as he’s likely to be taken advantage of, and he might well be, but why? What ‘qualifications’ does your son’s friend bring to the table? Is he a bartender at a gay club that caters to young guys that want to meet older guys? Is he a porn producer? Maybe he works in human services, could be a therapist or something? Maybe he’s been doing things that help people for his entire adult life? Maybe he’s as surprised as you are at this development? He might have been a social worker who’s been in the business of defending or supporting people for thirty years? Does this kind of thing have an impact on your thinking? Perhaps it should. What does your son have to offer someone who is established and has roots in the community? Perhaps this relationship is about companionship, love, trust, caring and things like that? Now that’s a novel idea! What would happen if the man your son is involved with was actually a decent, considerate and caring person that wants to have a real relationship with your son rather than take advantage or abuse him? How do you tell the difference?

In today’s “day and age” it’s expected that one’s partner is going to be “scrutinized” by family and friends. It’s likely that he’s expecting it. Is your son’s friend supportive of your son’s life and choices? Does he endorse your son spending time with friends and family? What would happen then? You have to wonder huh?? What if that mindset that you’re so prepared to operate in catches you by surprise? Could it be possible that despite all of those reasons that society has for damning their relationship they’re just two guys who care about each other? Maybe there’s a possibility that the old guy and the young guy have negotiated a way to be equals in a very different kind of relationship than you were expecting, than they were expecting? There’s only one way to find out. What would happen if you were to embrace your son’s choices here? If it all comes apart six months later your son would be heartbroken most likely, but isn’t that true of any romantic relationship that he might enter into? What’s the likelihood that your son would have a relationship with someone his own age that it would end and both of them could get hurt? What might transpire if one of them had a healthy amount of life experience to draw upon and could carry that sort of foundation into the relationship? This is could give your son a rock to stand on, couldn’t it? This could very easily provide the stability and solid ground your son needs to be able to learn how to be a partner in a relationship. What would happen if your son didn’t have to endure the trial and error with relationships that you did? Maybe he might discover the blessing of getting it right the first time? So the question may be for your son or his friend, but you.. What are you going to do from here

I’m pleased that you’ve had a mind open enough to read this, lots of parents would have simply shut down, operated from a place of pure protection and told their son that they must not see him again, threatening to take car keys, eviction, etc. I know because that’s some of the things that would go through my mind, you see… I’m a parent too! I find it easy to put myself in your place and wonder: What the hell is going on here? If on closer inspection I would discover that these two people appear to truly care about each other and I was satisfied that there’s no abuse going on what could I say then?

A Man Twice His Age

People often use the phrase “a man twice his age” when talking about intergenerational dating. Frequently this phrase is used in a hyperbolic fashion to highlight the age difference between two men. Today’s post is going to explore two expressions of that phrase as they apply to my life lately, in both instances I am literally talking about age differences where the double of one equals the other.

Not long ago I woke up early one morning with the realization that in a few short months I will be twice the age I was when I met the first man I fell in love with. This is a professor I had as an undergrad and I’ve written about my experience of him before. In this realization, I also recognized that this man will be turning 80 years old this year. Since I started experiencing sexual attraction, it has always been to older men, particularly those in their fifties and sixties. At the time that I met the professor he was in his mid-sixties.

As I think back to that time in which we first met, I have to consider what it would have been like to partner with someone so much older than myself and what this passage of time, my doubling of age, would bring. While I still find this man handsome and hold a feeling of love inside for me it is difficult for me to imagine what it would be like to be partnered with someone in their eighties. Not so much because there is something inherently negative about men of that age, but simply for the drastically differing realities of experience in these different times of our lives. I am now in my mid-thirties finally feeling like I’m gaining traction in my professional life and working to advance that. He is now well beyond the beginnings of retirement and while still exceptionally vibrant and thoughtful, much of his thoughts turn toward issues of the end of life.

Late last fall I began dating someone new, I’ll call him Don. Like the professor when we first met, Don is in his mid-sixties. He really is twice my age. Since the fall things have been moving in a good way in terms of a relationship. Since my split with John I have been a bit gun shy around moving into a relationship and so have been taking things slower. But, it is irrefutable that we have a strong connection. We now spend most of our free time together, collaborate on projects, and in many ways feed on each other creatively.

That said, I can’t help but wonder what the future holds for us. When I first met John I took the “love conquers all” approach, that despite the differences we might have or the troubles we might have we’d face them together. In encountering a true relationship a second time around I’m not as idealistic. Though I’m enthralled by Don, I can’t take for granted that everything will work out for the best. Perhaps this line of thinking is a curse, doomed to sabotage a relationship before it starts. Perhaps it is a blessing, helping us to navigate the perils before we reach them.

Guest Post: Rodney and Me pt. 2

Today we have a second installment of Robert Riley’s open letter to the parents of his new significant other. You can read the first installment here.

Seeing my own words in print elsewhere besides my coffee table is gratifying and I appreciate you, the gentle reader… I’ll continue if it pleases you.

 

If your son is anything like Rodney, and his relationship with someone older continues as I am certainly hoping that ours will, at some point you will have a conversation and parts of it are going to sound like this:

“But that’s a whole generation”, “He’s old enough to be…”, “Are you crazy?”, or “Son are you sure you want this?” There’s a few bazillion other things you might say as well, some couched in your own prejudice, assuming human nature is as much a part of your makeup as it is anyone else. Then you’re going to “repair” to your own thoughts, perhaps thinking that if you object you’re going to drive him in a direction you’d prefer he not go. It’s okay to not want your son to be in a relationship with some guy who is twenty five years his senior. You’ve got a right to your feelings. I’d suggest that you really take a bit and experience them. You’re going to think things that will range from “What kind of pervert…?” when you imagine my face to “Well, it’s his life; he needs to make his own mistakes” when thinking about your son. Being frustrated and fearful that your son is making a terrible mistake is part of being a parent, and you’re probably already used to it. The difference is this may be an area in which your input is not going to be so quickly wanted or heeded, you’d better get used that too. Somewhere along the line in this process you’re going to get curious, so go ahead and get that other crap out of the way. After all you’re concerned and rightly so, on a couple of points at least: You don’t want your son hurt, he’s your child – of course you don’t. You don’t want to see him taken advantage of or in a situation where he is operating at a disadvantage. You see the difference in years as something to be worried about. You could easily be thinking that he’s being taken advantage of or just being used sexually. As much as it pains me to say, you could be right, there are some real bad people out there and it’s entirely possible that your son might have stumbled on to one of them. Try to equip your son with the knowledge of what the “red flags” look like and be careful that you don’t over do it.

In the midst of all of the negative you might be thinking (and forgive me if I’m terribly wrong about you) I would like to raise a point here. Have you considered that there might be some advantages too, or are you just stuck on what’s wrong? (That part of me that wants to be supportive is battling with that part that wants you to remind you {loudly and with maximum prejudice} that “no” isn’t the only answer to a question) Parents are used to saying “no” aren’t they? Speaking from my own experience, our kids present us with lots of situations in which we need to “parent”, we establish rules, guidelines and expectations in the hope that they’ll follow all of these instructions and somehow ferret out the right path. We want them to take advantage of our mistakes because we recognize how much pain our errors have caused us and we don’t want them to have to endure what we have endured. When our kids stray from the rules we say “no”, when they’re not following the guidelines we say “do it like this” and when something goes wrong we explain the expectations we had for them… am I correct? Then if that still doesn’t get the point across we follow that up with discipline or worse, punishment. I’m hoping that you don’t go down the punishing path… (oh yes, you can still punish him despite the fact that he’s reached the age of majority) You can isolate him, let him feel that you’re angry because of his choices. I’d like to take moment or two and remind you of something…. Something that gay people over the age of 30 (and a great many younger too) have come to know. Young people that happen to be Gay spend a lot of time being punished, many of them do it to themselves, they really don’t need you to help them to more punishment. Rodney is doing it to himself but I think he’s gaining ground on this. At one point he had convinced himself that you’re going to be so completely disapproving that he’s keeping his seeing someone a complete secret. My guess is that he’s terrified about telling you about this person he’s been seeing once or twice a week.

I don’t want to scare you but this needs to be said because it’s epidemic.

The greatest cause of death among people who are under 25 and identify as GLBT of any variety is Suicide, driven by both real and imagined non acceptance of people they love. Please don’t add to the burden your son already feels, allow him to be who he is without editorial comments, kindly, carefully express your concern but for the time being at least, for his sake keep your judgmental perspective to yourself! If I’m wrong and you are a supportive and affirming parent, don’t pass up the chance to tell him you love him more than life itself, you’ll have my unending gratitude as well as everybody’s from under the rainbow.

 At some point in the last couple of years you might have thought: “We’ve spent all this time and energy trying to teach him how to get from “A” to “B” and then he throws a curve ball” I can almost hear it in the wind. “Mom, Dad… we need to talk” “What’s wrong honey?” His Mother says with a hint of alarm, his Dad sits, quietly. They both look at him as he fidgets a bit. “I have something to tell you”. His pronounced adams apple bobs gently and then he says: “I’m gay”. His Dad exhales sharply, and says “Oh, is that all. I thought you were, um… I mean I thought somebody was pregnant”. His Mother looks at her husband… mouth open wide, “is that all, Tom what’s got into you?” A year later, you’ve still not really dealt with the “Gay” thing and you discover, quite by accident that your son of 20 is in a relationship with someone as old as his Father and you have no idea what to do. Let me make it easy on you: Sit down, relax, let me help you here a little.

Moving On: Life After Love

It’s been about two months since I shared with you the end of my nearly five year relationship with John. In that time I’ve moved to another city and have tried to get on with this new stage in my life. To be honest though, I don’t really feel like I’ve pulled it together yet. I think to myself that I should gather my thoughts and makes some meaning out of the ending of our relationship, but I haven’t managed it.

So much of my life was centered around him, my identity was thoroughly wrapped up in my relationship with him. Now that he is no longer here I’m struggling to define myself again. I wish I could seek solace in friends, but all of my close friends live far away. My social circle here was really his social circle. I’m working on making new friends, but as an introvert that isn’t always something that comes easy to me.

I also hope to put more of my energies into creative endeavors. This is something John didn’t really understand, and so looked forward to fostering once again. But, in the anxiety and sadness that’s come with all the uncertainty surrounding these recent changes in my life I find it hard to bring my creative skills to bear.

Fortunately, my job is going pretty well and I’m managing to find things to fill my time on the weekends. But, I miss having social and creative lives that come with ease.

Hard Truths

Last November I acknowledged that there were some frictions going on in the relationship between John and me and that we were considering counseling. We did eventually see a couples counselor for awhile and for awhile things felt better. However, recently we called an end to our relationship.

Fortunately, we avoided much of the anger and animosity that characterizes the end of so many relationships. This doesn’t mean there isn’t/wasn’t hurt. The close of our relationship has been very emotionally challenging. We’ve committed to remaining friends. But for my part, I’m getting some distance for the moment, trying to get some perspective, and trying to re-engage who I am as an individual rather than who I was in a relationship.

I hope to get back to writing more. Sometimes it has been a challenge to keep up the posts, especially recently. More to come.

Valentine’s Day Out

This week for Valentine’s Day John and I had dinner out with another gay couple. It was at a chic restaurant that is normally only open for breakfast and lunch, but for the holiday had a special fixed price dinner. It was hard to mistake we were there for any reason other than Valentine’s Day.

In the past I’ve written about times when I’ve been concerned about how John and I might be perceived in public. Curiously, leading up to the dinner I found myself excited about making a subtle but public statement on this holiday that celebrates love. At dinner there were no stares from other patrons nor incredulous questions from the waitress. But, we were unquestionably two gay couples, one intergenerational, out celebrating our love. Visibility is so important to acceptance; It made me feel powerful.