Since UK Olympic Diver Tom Daley made his decision to come out as, well, whatever it is that he is, some have been making waves within the gay community about his rumored partner, Dustin Lance Black.
Black, who describes himself as a "screenwriter, producer, director and social activist," is 20 years Daley's senior. Thus begins the controversy. In a recent blog post here on The Huffington Post, Gay Voices Editor-at-large Michelangelo Signorile writes in defense of their reported relationship. I think that in his post, Signorile has unwittingly exposed a major generational divide in the gay community.
Signorile writes that those of us who have an issue with the age difference are "ageist" and advises anybody who has a problem with it to "shut your mouth." Finally, he explains that gay relationships are just different.
But what about those of us in the gay community who disagree? I'm happy to put my name on the list of those who don't approve of relationships with huge age gaps. I, like a good chunk of people, view these kinds of relationships as more parasitic than symbiotic, whether straight or gay. There's a big gap between what is legal and what is socially acceptable, and a 20-year age difference definitely enters that no-man's land. Where a 20-year gulf in experience and maturity exists, it's usually filled by sex and money. Regardless of who pursues whom, it's unlikely to be healthy when both are limited in what experiences they can share and empathize with.
More importantly, I profoundly disagree with the notion that gay relationships are fundamentally different. To say that we are inherently different from heterosexuals repeals the social and political progress gays have made over the last 20 years. Most millennials believe that being gay or straight is incidental to our existence. We don't use it to define us, even though sexual orientation shapes and controls our lives in a variety of ways. We envision an ideal world where being gay is the least special thing about us, not a world where being gay is our totality. Our desire is the final measure of social acceptance: the irrelevance of our sexual orientation
We also see the structure of our relationships, wants and needs through a traditional lens. Kids, careers, a house, military service... the American dream. Our liberal politics come from traditional desires. In the case of Black and Daley, we frown on their alleged relationship through that same lens.
Of course, this is in stark contrast to the gay activists of the past. Pride festivals and gay activism were designed to be out-loud and in your face. Drawing out the homophobic slurs like poison from a wound, activists hoped to change minds by identifying as gay, proudly, in a society where it was forbidden. Now that identity is no longer taboo. Now my generation is trying to capture the normal life we've always wanted, not make ourselves into a separate enclave.
Consider the messenger: I'm just as out and proud as Signorile, Daley, Black or anybody else. Yet I don't believe that pushing the borders of social acceptance on one front means there doesn't need to be a border at all.
So for those of you who will never agree with me, I humbly ask you to consider: Is it possible that folks like me are saying and thinking what's obvious, that the man who wrote Milk can't have found his intellectual/spiritual match in a 19-year-old athlete who is still going through puberty? I think they'd both be better off dating men in a similar stage of life. Maybe that makes me a shrew, but hey, I've been called worse.
Perhaps someday I'll pray for forgiveness for being such an ignorant gnome, but I wouldn't hold my breath. Being gay doesn't mean all the red lines disappear. The real divide is generational, between those who are gay and the gays who simply are.