Intergenerational relationships. Healing and growing as a community requires us to
eradicate all forms of oppression, ageism and adultism included.
BY JAMES GUAY, LMFT
Imagine a gay couple whose age difference is greater than 15 years. What’s your first un-censored response when you imagine them? Do you judge, cringe, or assume what’s going on between them?
Are you in a relationship with a much older/younger person but still have internalized shame about this?
In dismantling our own prejudices it’s useful to be mindful and non-judgmental with our own spontaneous reactions. We exist in a society, where higher value is placed on being youthful, heterosexual, white, male, masculine, wealthy, beautiful, able-bodied, and various other attributes often not in our control. It’s impossible not to be impacted by this hierarchical oppressive system regardless of whatever privileged identities we may have.
These external messages and subsequent societal stigmas get internalized and can begin operating without our conscious awareness.
Allowing enough ongoing space to see our own prejudices, replacing judgment with curiosity and compassion, is an essential aspect to transforming these automatic beliefs.
With this increased awareness we can take different supportive actions and be good allies for other causes because in the end—it’s true—we’re not free until all of us are free. We need to work together to dismantle all systems of oppression, not just homophobia and heterosexism. We need to become a more compassionate and supportive community.
BIGOTRY BEGETS BIGOTRY
Common negative stereotypes for younger gay adults in intergenerational relationships include that they: have daddy issues, are subservient, needy, poor, flaky, immature and in it for the money and/or status gains. Conversely, negative stereotypes for those who are older include that they: are immature, cradle-robbers, perverse, dominant/controlling, paying for it, manipulative and jaded.
These stereotypes, like most do, provide a black/white and simplistic justification for judging others. It puts each person in an age-disparate relationship into categories that are two-dimensional and easily ridiculed, regardless of their actual accuracy. As gay men, we have been the recipients of such devaluation and can end up doing this to others who are dissimilar to ourselves.
Unfortunately, sometimes bigotry begets bigotry as we attempt to redirect prejudices laid at our doorstep onto others. Healing and growing as a community requires us to acknowledge this and work to eradicate ALL forms of oppression, ageism and adultism included.
More positive stereotypes and yet still a two-dimensional perspective about younger adults would highlight that they contribute a fresh/newer perspective on issues, have increased energy, curiosity, playfulness and passion for life while middle-aged and older adults may more frequently provide support, mentorship, history, groundedness, security and protection.
In reality we are all a lot more three-dimensional than this. For example, a younger adult guy might have a higher income, less of a libido, more stability and more emotional depth than his older partner. An older guy might be full of life, energy and passion than his younger partner. Even if there are certain qualities that fall neatly into a stereotypical box, this doesn’t mean that all other qualities do or that there is something automatically unhealthy about this dynamic if it does. It might work very well or good enough for their relationship depending on the circumstances and it also might evolve over time.
Relationships work best when all parties involved share core values, not identical ages. Helpful core values can include loyalty, dependability, kindness/compassion, and commitment to a relationship. We all have the need for sharing experiences with someone who has similar interests/experiences and importing/exporting these with someone who is dissimilar. Often, whichever of these needs are primarily met in an intimate relationship, the other needs are met in other relationships.
Those in age-disparate relationships might have more things in common than differences, even if they grew up in different generational circumstances.
Another quality essential for all relationships, regardless of age, is the ability to communicate our needs, have conflict and resolve conflict adequately.
Practicing good communication, asserting needs and resolving conflict can deepen intimacy and are the skills required for an LTR, whatever the ages of those in a relationship.
How do those in age-disparate relationships fend off societal stigma about their age differences? Here are a few tips.
Allow people in your life enough time to get to know your partner(s) and see for themselves the value it has, given that they are respectful enough in the process.
Set boundaries where you need to. Require that others treat you and your partner(s) with dignity and respect.
Create your own support system if you need to. Chosen family is just that, chosen.
Recognize the intersections of oppressive systems and work to be a good ally for other oppressed groups.
Don’t assume all objections to your relationship are based on ageism/adultism. Make sure loved ones aren’t concerned for you based on unhealthy characteristics in your relationship, not based on age differences, that need to change and/or end.
Make sure to spend enough time dedicated to enjoying your relationship and all that it has to offer.
See a therapist trained in doing gay couples work and with intergenerational relationships if you need extra support.
James Guay, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist (#mft39252), is a psychotherapist for individuals and couples at his West Hollywood office specializing in affirmative LGBTQ health and well being. www.LivingMoreFully.com, 310-405-0840.