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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.

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Guest Post: Rodney and Me

Today’s guest post comes from a GtD reader. Written in the form of an open letter to the parents of his new significant other, it addresses the concerns of outsiders looking in at a may-to-december relationship.

I’d bet you’re here for a reason… there was a reason for me too. When I discovered this site I had only had a need of it for just a few days… I was rapidly becoming emotionally involved with someone in excess of twenty five years my junior. Not only is he significantly younger, he’s significantly young. This is of course going to trouble a great many people, being a responsible and moral person I’m one of them, the first I expect. This collection of people may have just recently grown by a few, could be you and your spouse – Rodney’s parents, are a bit troubled too.

I’m glad you’re here; I hope you can find the answers you’re looking for. Please know that this site is about supporting people who are in, could be in or are otherwise somehow related to someone in an intergenerational gay relationship. It’s a fair assumption that you might feel the need for some support, if nothing else you’re concerned for your son or other family member, probably worried that he is being taken advantage of. As we might have someone in common that we care about I’d like to offer you some support. You’re possibly wondering why I’m here offering this to you; I’m thinking that its possible that you’re seeing me as the “enemy”. While I’m certain that you are mistaken on this count, nothing will change that impression if I am not willing to step forward and extend my hand, taking ownership for my part in this situation.

I’d like to offer up a few things for you to consider. First, you’re probably not here by accident. Your Son or another family member gave you a link to this website on purpose or you were looking for information on your adult child’s intergenerational relationship. Somebody has something that they’re trying to tell you. It’s in the spirit of openness and consideration for your feelings that you’ve been sent here, if you arrived by accident you’re curious because of someone you know. Please keep that in mind and if you are upset, scared, worried or otherwise feel that your family member is being victimized take a moment to relax and have faith in your son, while I bring you up to speed on a couple of things. While I can’t speak for everyone in this situation, I can present my feelings to you and offer you the possibility that I may not be the only older half of an intergenerational gay relationship that is willing to be open and forward. It’s not easy as I’m thinking that you may see me as an enemy, though I am far from it. I believe in Rodney, truly want the best for him and am willing to open myself up to scrutiny.

When I discovered my attraction for (and we are going to call him Rodney) Rodney I was more than surprised that things might take this kind of turn. We had communicated online a month before we met, most of that was about when are we going to get together, my schedule, his schedule etc. Once we finally got together, had opportunity to spend some time together we found that like other people we just enjoyed being together. It did not take long for me to realize that this young man was not cut from the same cloth as others his age. He has a deep sense of compassion with still waters running very strong and deep, nor given to childish pursuits. One would quickly call him an old soul without hesitation. I will confess that by the end of our first date I had long forgotten his age as he seemed much older. Our third date was a disaster, but as parents you could not have been happier with his bravery and willingness to deal with a crisis.

We had arranged nearly a week ahead of time to have brunch on New Year’s Day. I expected that we would eat and then catch a movie; my absent mindedness would change our plans. While cooking I had turned on the wrong burner on the stove and there was a frying pan handle over the burner, when I noticed this I corrected the situation and put some oil in the pan and then was distracted. It didn’t take long before the pan had gotten too hot and was smoking. I reached out to move the pan without thinking and burned the inside of my fingers on the frying pan handle, dropping the frying pan on the stove, the oil splashed out burning the outside of three of my fingers. Standing next to the sink I immediately went for cold water but that wasn’t enough. I was rapidly going into shock and were it not for Rod I might’ve have collapsed or worse. Most people would have politely excused themselves and ran out as quickly as possible, but not your son. It didn’t enter into his mind, not for an instant. He just saw that I needed someone to help then ran out and got snow to cool the water even more, then helped me make it to the couch and eventually the bathroom. An hour later after I was no longer in shock he drove me to the hospital, staying with me until the emergency room people were done with me. Afterward that evening we had dinner and came back to the scene of the injury for a movie.

I’d like you to know that whatever you taught Rodney, it was all worth it. You look at him and see your barely adult (chronologically) son, of course. It is clear to anyone that while Rodney may be young when it comes to the calendar, he handles himself and crises like an old pro. He was there for me when I needed help and possesses a maturity well beyond his years. I look forward to being there for him should it be necessary at any time in the future.

Best Regards,

Robert Riley

Does the Beard Make the Man?

Jonathan Goldsmith - "The Most Interesting Man in the World" and champion of the sexy beard. (image from wikipedia)

If a beard does make the man, what does it make him?  For a long time now I’ve found men with facial hair very attractive.  I think part of that is that men with facial hair tend to appear more mature and it adds to their masculinity.  Don’t get me wrong, I find plenty of clean shaven men attractive, but from a simple mustache to a full beard someone with facial hair is likely to draw my attention.  However, recently I’ve become much more obsessed with full beards.  I don’t know what it is but men with full, well groomed, beards really get me going.  I even find myself giving men my own age a second look.

Beyond my own experience, it is interesting the significance beards can have on social interaction.  There is certainly a wide spread perception that men with beards are more masculine.  A few years ago a gay friend of mine grew a full one and found that people in the workplace questioned his suggestions less frequently.  He also told me that other gay men perceived that he would take a dominant sexual role more frequently than they did before he grew out his beard.  He also noted that he received fewer snide remarks from straight men regarding his sexuality.  Certainly, this is just one anecdotal account, but from observation it is pretty clear that, in general, society treats men with beards differently.

My partner John has a goatee, and for the past few months I’ve been trying to convince him to grow out the rest of his beard.  At first I was just curious how he’d look.  At times he goes a day with out shaving and I find the extra stubble cute.  But as I’ve become more obsessed with full beards I’ve become more determined to get John to grow his out.  I’ve even dreamed he came home one day with a full beard, and I “really like it”.  Am I falling prey to false stereotypes about men with beards?  Perhaps, but if adds some excitement to our life why not go for it.

How do you feel about facial hair? Do you have a beard?  If so, do you feel it affects the way others treat you?

Intergenerational Commitment: Vicar and Fashion Designer to Wed

Reverend Colin Coward and Bobby Egbele (image from the MailOnline)

It’s a few days old, but I just came across this news story and couldn’t help but share it.

It’s not often that we see a high profile story about an intergenerational couple.  This one has become even more high profile since the older man is an Anglican Priest.  Reverend Colin Coward, 65, and his 25 year old boyfriend Bobby Egbele plan to have a blessing ceremony in the reverend’s church following a civil ceremony.  The couple have been together for three years and will consider this combination of ceremonies their marriage.

I’ve read a number of articles, blog posts, and comments on this news story and unfortunately all the old negative stereotypes about intergenerational gay couples are already being paraded about.  Disparaging remarks are made about the age difference and inauthentic motives are attributed to both men.  However, I find the story compelling and heart warming.  It takes a lot of courage to confront the conservative traditions of the Anglican church and to open themselves up to such ridicule.  I wish the two men much happiness and success together.

Brief Weirdness: Observations on Public Perceptions

Earlier today John and I were driving downtown.  While we were stopped at a light I noticed some people, two hetero couples, in the car slightly behind us in the left lane.  They seemed to be staring at our car, or more specifically at us.  At first I thought they might be looking at John’s political bumper sticker, but they really seemed to be looking in our direction.  They were talking and seemingly making  jokes.

To be honest I can’t rationally figure out why they were looking at us.  We were just in the car, it isn’t as though we were together in a store or restaraunt where we are more obvious as a couple.  However I can’t shake the feeling that the people in the car were making fun of us.

Later that evening we had dinner in a restaurant that was populated by mostly thirty-somethings.  John mentioned that he felt really old in there.  At the same time I was thinking, I wish other young people could see in John what I see in him.

An Older Man’s First Gay Experience

I little while back one of John’s oldest friends came to visit; one of his fraternity brothers.  John has been out to him for some time, but we were curious how he would take to me.  Interestingly though, for our guest the visit was almost like an a 72 hour crash course in gay life.

I should start by saying that John’s friend Howard is a fairly liberal minded person, but but he’s a straight man who’s spent his life in relatively conventional relationships.   So I don’t think he’s spent much time around gay people nor had he really considered what our lives are like.

Howard’s trip came in the late fall when the weather here starts getting a little unpredictable, so we weren’t quite sure how to keep him entertained.  We new he wanted to try some of the fine dining in the area, but other than that he was open to our suggestion.  Prior to his arrival we settled on a big fundraiser for a local HIV/AIDS charities for one evening’s entertainment.

The fundraiser is a annual event that is combination drag show and fashion show.  The show was hosted by a local personality dressed in drag, he has a fabulous sense of humor and always keeps the show lively without being too risque.  There were also several professional/semi-professional drag performers that performed several numbers.  Amidst this were two fashion shows in which volunteers from the charity organization modeled clothes from two local boutiques.

Despite looking a little like a fish out of water, Howard seemed to really enjoy the show.  He seemed most uncomfortable at the reception where he must have felt like the only straight guy in a see of gays, lesbians, and transgendered people.  It probably didn’t help that John and I were the only two people he knew in that room.

Over the course of his three day visit John and I ended up discussing a lot of gay issues with Howard.  The drag show brought up issues like transgender identity; John and I both told him stories about transgendered people we knew and their motivations for transitioning.  I also think the fundraiser was a valuable thing for Howard to see, the mixture of social conscious raising and community building aspects of the gay community that most straight people don’t get to witness.

And of course we talked about our own relationship with Howard, and he got to witness our day-to-day life first hand.  I give Howard lots of credit for being so friendly and open-minded.  Despite the fact that he knew he was opening himself up to new and possibly strange experiences, he embraced the potential in that.  He asked questions with a genuine curiosity to learn more about us.  If only more straight people would take that sort of initiative they might learn that our community is something to be valued rather than demeaned.

What’s in a Number?: Getting Specific in May to December Relationships

Since John and I have been together I have generally been hesitant to specify our precise age difference when discussing our relationship with others.  Now, I have no reservations about how our age difference may affect our relationship, but I have little confidence that others would feel the same way.  There are a few exceptions; my best friend and my brother know exactly how old John is.  But, in general I think people have preconceptions about people based on their age.  Being in one’s 50s means something different than being in one’s 60s which means something different than being in one’s 70s.  I have always wanted my family and friends to judge John and my relationship with him on their own merits.  So, I have seen avoiding specifics as a means to prevent snap judgments.  I would hate for them to dismiss him or our relationship based on some preconception of what a septuagenarian is like.

However, recent events have caused me to reconsider this strategy.  Last week a co-worker and I started discussing relationships.  He is currently having his own anxieties about finding a good relationship and so started asking about how John and I met.  At one point he asked, “what is the age difference, if you don’t mind me asking?”  I replied that I didn’t usually like to elaborate on it and he dismissed the question.  After I got home that evening I told John about the conversation.  He was disappointed I had side-stepped the age question.  Though he has met all my coworkers and they all know who he is, he felt like I was hiding him.

Perhaps John is right, I am hiding an important aspect of our lives and I’m too concerned with what people think.  Instead of taking the negative view, assuming that people will cling to ageism, I should see our relationship as an opportunity to inform people.  Really I have already embraced that notion, that is why I started this blog.  But, maybe it is time to take the next step, to be more open with others about the age difference in our relationship.  If nothing else, answering people’s questions about our age difference avoids a misinterpretation I hadn’t considered until recently; suppose others see my hesitance as a sign of guilt or shame?  This is an interpretation that undermines my reasoning behind being vague in the first place; if they perceive that I see something wrong with the relationship then they’ll be more likely to hold to their old prejudices.

John asked me to go back and answer my co-worker’s question.  The next time I saw him I spoke with him about my anxieties about how others might perceive John and I and then I told him exactly what the difference was in our ages.  He seemed a little shocked, but was kind and empathetic to my concerns over other people’s judgments.  He ended up being the first person at work to learn exactly how old my partner is.

What do you think?  How important is it for people in age disparate relationships to quantify their age difference to others?