3 min

Where the men really are

Some interesting chitchat showed up in a Nov 4 story in The Globe And Mail about designer Glenn Pushelberg’s 53rd birthday party, a story that was otherwise a small miracle of gush: The caterer! The waiters! The DJ!

It’s “weird,” said one unnamed partygoer, “being an older gay man,” because once there was a gay scene and now there isn’t one. “Everybody’s either married or they just go on the Internet to find dates. It’s like being gay has been completely changed by the Internet.”

I love that quote because it’s so right and so wrong. A few hours after reading it I wandered down to Church St and discovered lineups outside at least three bars and a packed crowd in a fourth. So yes, Virginia, there is a gay social scene and, yes, people still go out.

What our anonymous gay friend meant, I think, is that he himself doesn’t go out much anymore. As rule, people with money don’t. Not to Church St anyway. They go to deluxe dinner parties that are written up in the pages of The Globe And Mail and used to sell lots of expensive stuff to people who already have too much.

More to the point, “old” people don’t go out as much as young people do and our anonymous gay man is just one of many who fall into that category. As of this year, reports the Toronto Star, the median age in Canada reached “a record high of 38.8 years.” That means that half the population is now majorly into middle age or beyond.

A lot has been written about the decline of the gay scene and the lack of energy in local liberation circles and the culprits are always the same: the Internet, increased tolerance, new social options.

But of course the driving energy is demographics. While the young may be more visible (and so charming: The cell phones! The text-messaging!), the people setting the social agenda are the same people who have been setting it for the past 50 years. The boomers. The thing about the boomers is that they’re old, they’re getting older and they’re taking the culture with them.

The boomers aren’t in any way unique, says David Foot, the celebrity academic who took demographics public with his 1996 bestseller, Boom, Bust And Echo (coauthored with Daniel Stoffman). They act like every other generation before and after them.

What’s remarkable about the boomers are their sheer numbers. There are so many of them that they recreate the culture in their own image. When they were young, in the ’60s, we got youth culture. Now that they’re not… well, are you ready for a snooze?

Born in the late ’40s or early ’50s, the first boomers came of age in the ’60s and were part of one of the largest youth generations in history. They imbibed the values of the time — sex, drugs and rock and roll — and it’s perhaps not surprising that some of them tried to push those values in the form of sexual liberation.

In fact you might say that we owe sexual liberation to a blip in the birth curve. Check out the bios of the first post-Stonewall activists: Almost without exception they are all leading-edge boomers.

But those same people are now in their 50s and 60s. It’s a safe bet that their motivations, if not their values, have changed. It’s one thing to argue for sexual freedom when you’re a horny 20-year-old, it’s quite another to do it when you’re a sedate 60-year-old. You might still believe, but the motivation is bound to be a little more abstract.

Born between ’47 and ’66 in Canada and between ’46 and ’64 in the US, the boomers are now firmly middle-aged. The youngest (the so-called Generation X) are now on the cusp of their 40s.

Seen in this way, says Foot (writing in 1996!), the push for same-sex marriage was almost inevitable. Not for reasons of justice or politics, but simply because of the demographics. Young people tend to have more temporary relationships, says Foot, and they “don’t concern themselves with such boring matters as health plans and pensions benefits.” But as the boomers moved into their 30s and 40s in the ’90s, they became more concerned about the future. Hence the push for gay marriage and all its attendant benefits, both legal and economic.

Some people refuse to “act their age” and so you get the 70-year-old skier and the 90-year-old jogger. But most people, says Foot, act pretty much like everyone else of the same age. (Age, says Foot dryly, is a “powerful… predictor of human behaviour.”) They get married at about the same age and buy their first house at about the same age.

They also, I imagine, get sick of late nights and loud clubs at about the same age, which is probably why you’re seeing a slight slump in the local scene. The middle-aged come out for the special occasions — Pride, Halloween, a party weekend — but the rest of the time they’re too busy napping before the next bridge game.

When you think about it, it’s a wonder anyone is on the streets past 10pm.