I was having dinner the other night with some 18-year-old queer acquaintances when my jaw practically dropped in shock.
We were talking about our favourite gay films at the time. I was mentally thumbing through my own list of possibilities when my sweetie suggested Brokeback Mountain.
Brokeback is up there, I replied, but I wouldn’t say it’s my all-time favourite…
That’s about as far as I got before I realized my two young hosts were staring at me.
“You liked Brokeback?” one asked, surprised.
Apparently she hadn’t. She just didn’t get the guys, she said. She just couldn’t understand why they behaved the way they did.
I was stunned.
I mean, I’m not exactly a die-hard Brokeback fan, but I will say that almost every queer I know left the theatre deeply moved by Jack and Ennis’ soul-shrivelling shame and the toll it took on their lives.
I know I did. The guys’ inability to embrace themselves and their love for one another fully and honestly left me blinking back tears.
It was a movie milestone. And these bright, articulate, 18-year-old lesbians missed it. They just didn’t get it.
I was truly baffled. How could they not see themselves at least partially reflected by those cowboys on screen, by the desperate kisses they stole, the hands they longed to hold, the passions they struggled to hide from themselves, each other and society at large?
All my queer peers got it. Whether they disputed the movie’s requisite tragic ending or not, we’ve all been there or somewhere like it. We’ve all experienced some form of homophobia in our lives.
Otherwise, we all would have stepped lightly from the closet long before we did and loudly and publicly declared our same-sex desires the instant we recognized them. Hell, we might have skipped the closet stage altogether and never resisted recognizing our desires at all.
But my friends and I are all in our 30s and 40s. And these dinner acquaintances are only 18.
Could it be that their passage to adulthood and owning their sexuality has been so much smoother than mine? We’re only 14 years apart!
What a difference a decade makes.
As far as I can tell, these young women have had fairly painless coming out processes. Their first-year university environment seems pretty friendly, they haven’t been kicked out of their dorm or harassed for sleeping in each other’s rooms, they promptly found the campus Pride group to support and encourage them on their journeys to self-discovery; even their families seem supportive for the most part.
They’re not isolated, they’re not scared, they don’t have to create their own support groups or forge a spot for themselves on or off campus. They can just be.
So why do I feel a bit resentful? Isn’t this what we’ve been fighting for? The right to be ourselves, to embrace our sexuality the moment it tingles and live our lives fully?
But I guess I’m also a bit jealous.
Maybe every generation of queers is a bit jealous of the next, as our lives, and especially their lives, become easier and more visible decade by decade.
We should be happy for these young lesbians, my partner chided me later as we walked home from dinner. And we should hope they get to feel this safe forever, she added.
She’s right, of course. And I am happy for them.
And yet. I have this lingering concern. What if coming out becomes so easy that it becomes meaningless?
What if coming out becomes so easy that future generations forge no connection with our community, our culture, our history or our pioneers?
Shouldn’t the act of coming out remain that definitive moment of bursting from our shells and declaring to the world that we’re gay, we’re special and we’re going to live life our way?
If future generations no longer have to come out, how many of them will choose to explore distinctly queer paths, expressions, communities and families?
How many of them will stare blankly at the next Brokeback Mountain?