Young Man, Older Man: Why Intergenerational Love Works
Paul White also publishes a website, his called Gray Gay. It’s a place for mature gay men and their admirers. He categorizes an intergenerational relationship as "more than 25 years apart in age, since that is accepted cycle of each generation."
"I realized I was attracted to older men when I was a teenager," he relates. "I met my first partner when I was 22. He was 55 and we were together for around 18 years, but gradually the nature of our relationship changed, as I wanted to live together and he didn’t." British-born White is now 53 and living with his current partner in Australia, whom he met 16 years ago and is 79 years old.
"I knew I was gay and I knew I only liked older men, but I found it impossible to find positive impressions of such relationships," White complains. "I am firmly of the opinion that any successful relationship requires that you to have a common interest that you share, as well as allowing for your differences."
As for his opinion on age of consent, "Certainly I knew physically I was attracted to older men at the age of 14, but I am not so sure I could have dealt with it emotionally unlike I had my first experience at 18."
Chasing Older Men Since College
Aaron realized he was attracted to older men in high school, but only acted upon in during his later years in college, after a few unsuccessful dates with guys his own age. Today he also publishes an online reference tool for others, cleverly titled Gay to December, which is partially a narrative of his own life experiences, as well as a resource of information on intergenerational relationships. Currently he is in a four-year relationship with someone who is more than 40 years older than himself.
"About three years ago I started writing my blog to help me explore what I was thinking and feeling about the serious intergenerational relationship I had just begun," he tells EDGE. "I also hoped that it would offer a sense of solace to those other younger men out there that were interested in an age disparate relationship."
For Aaron, age difference really becomes a factor after 10 years. "I relate very well with older men and value their experience, but I’m also simply more physically attracted to them than men my own age," he says. "Having mutual friends can be challenging. I tend to get along fairly well with most of my partner’s friends who are 40 or older, but my friends often have difficulty relating, even though they like and respect my partner."
As for role models, Aaron points to the activism and openness about his sexuality of Sir Ian McKellen (a septuagenarian). He also finds the decades-long love story of writer Christopher Isherwood and the much younger Don Bachardy inspiring.
Isherwood’s Lover Speaks
Bachardy himself has always been in age-differential relationships ever since his first long term commitment with the renowned English playwright and novelist, whose stories were the basis for "Cabaret."
"I just fell into it by following my instincts," Bachardy says. "I didn’t go out looking for an older man." Isherwood was 30 years his elder --one year older than his own father.
While he wouldn’t apply it to every intergenerational relationship, his relationship with Isherwood "provided many opportunities to role play both in bed and in life, which I found to be an enhancement." Bachardy was only 18 when he was introduced to Isherwood at a party by Bachardy’s older brother (also gay). They moved in together a year later and lived as partners for 33 years until Isherwood’s death.
"In the early 1950’s, this was a widely unconventional relationship," Bachardy relates. "There was no hiding the fact of our relationship with Chris’ public profile. I was brought into his circle of friends, and soon realized I had to make something of myself." So, partly at Isherwood’s instigation and inspiration, he become an artist.
Eventually the couple embarked on an open relationship, "Yet we always slept entangled together. Somehow I think we had a whole different relationship while we slept. Chris had a fear of dying in a hospital, and asked if I would take care of him at home -- which is what I did until the very end."
A few years after Isherwood’s death, Bachardy repeated the pattern when he began dating a man 26 years younger than himself. That relationship lasted 10 years; they still remain close enough friends to speak daily on the phone. "It was fascinating for me to be playing Chris’ role in that relationship", he confesses.
So what’s his opinion on such relationships? "I don’t think there is anything more natural in the world, and I don’t know any other kind. I had sex with others before I met Chris, and think that young people should be the one deciding for themselves who they want to experiment with."
As Hannon made reference to, Bachardy reiterates that it’s most often the younger one who makes the first advance. Today, Bachardy still lives in the same house where he cared for his life partner until his death and continues his painting. This fall, he will be exhibiting portraits made over the last 40 years depicting acclaimed artists from Southern California. Currently, at 78, he has a personal trainer with whom he works out with three times a week for 1 hour and 15 minutes.
NAMBLA Still Questioning Age of Consent
David Thorstad is a former president of New York’s Gay Activists Alliance, a co-founder of both New York’s Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights, and also one of the founders of the hyper-controversial North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA).
Thorstad’s definition of an intergenerational couple is simply one between an older and a younger person, sexual or not. He finds relationships with teenagers both challenging and rewarding at the same time. "The youngest partner I had was 14 when I met him, and we remained friends throughout his life until he died at age 33," he recollects.
There were no role models to refer to when Thorstad was exploring his relationships, so it was helpful to be able to talk other men familiar in similar situations. Thus, he says, NAMBLA members were of considerable help to him.
"The most important period in gay history where intergenerational relationships were concerned was undoubtedly in Germany during the early homosexual movement, before identity politics ran amok as it has in the American gay movement for the past couple of decades," he says. "No such flowering of boy-love, or pederastic groups or publications has occurred anywhere else in comparison to the first decades of the twentieth century in Germany."
The subject of how low the age of consent should be is a contentious issue. Most gay rights group consider it toxic.
The Department of Justice Canada website uses words such as "exploitation," "control," "trust," "authority," "peer group," "prostitution," "pornography" and "dependency" -- all indications that any such relationship is taboo, illegal, and punishable under the criminal code. In fact, it now references age of consent as "age of protection," thus associating any age difference relationships with a negative context.
In Canada, the legal age of consent was raised from 14 to 16 years in 2008 for both heterosexual and homosexual citizens. However, there are many exceptions for "close in age" sexual activity within this younger demographic, and it suddenly becomes 18 years if the younger person is deemed to have been "exploited."
"The entire concept of age of consent in the law is a fraud", Thorstad believes. "The only guideline ought to be ’effective consent," and it is usually quite clear whether consent has been given or not in any relationship. Age has little to do with consent -- though the younger the one partner is in such a relationship, the more complicated it can become. The law ought to treat each situation on a case by case basis, rather than impose a blanket and artificial age at which sex becomes acceptable."
Most people automatically relegate any relationship with legal minors as out of bounds. But there are others -- not only the old, but the younger partner -- who consider such boundaries artificial. Whether these fall within the boundaries of acceptable behavior or not, the fact remains that younger men are often attracted to older ones; sometimes, they’re much older.
Intergenerational relationships will remains for the foreseeable the stuff of snide innuendo if not outright illegality. But for those inside those relationships, what works, works.