Sunday, January 13, 2013

Differences and Similarities Among Generations

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Fashions, Including the Twist, and Seeking Love Eternally

Lately, I've been reminded of generational differences and similarities by my own experience, media -- social and otherwise -- and literature. This post reflects what turns out to be mostly a stream of consciousness around the reminders:

In every other dimension of diversity, I'm so comfortable with giving credit for our differences, like around gender, gender identity and expression, people with disabilities, race and color and sexual orientation, but I find myself wanting to erase differences when it comes to generations. I tell myself and sometimes others that I think it is divisive to point out the differences among generations too much, and besides, there are some misconceptions on differences in any case, for example, there are plenty of people beyond age 35 who love social media and plenty of younger people who are not as enamored of it, but am I also simply being vain and not wanting to feel different (older) than younger generations?

While struggling next to a younger and abler person on the elliptical machine at L.A. Fitness this morning, I was listening to some generic pop music being piped in over the gym's PA while watching the silent, captioned version of "CBS Sunday Morning". I saw a clip on the anniversary of "The Twist," reaching #1 for the second time. The segment quoted President Eisenhower who questioned, What has happened to our standards of beauty and morality and decency?" in relation to the then popular dance.

Listening to an older relative the other day, talking about a man she met at the Jewish Community Center's Senior Lunches, I'm filled with sympathy, though thank God not yet empathy, when she says how she wishes he would invite her to go to Florida with him...and then wonders aloud if his kids always fly with him because he might forget where he is while in the airport, since he's 90 and dealing with some dementia at this point, and how she would want to stay in separate rooms, so that she wouldn't wake him repeatedly at night with her many, necessary bathroom trips.

Factoring Some Fashion-oriented Rebellion into Sexual Orientation Among Generations

A couple of nights ago, I read page 3 of a book of short stories that won the 2011 Grace Paley Prize in Short Fiction, where an 88-year-old lesbian protagonist reflects silently:

We sit on a bench downtown and watch the children (really, college students) stroll by. I am amazed. Women who live with other women now do their very best to look like men. Some of them are cute in a rumpled way, with their Buddy Holly eyeglasses and porkpie hats, but for the most part they are terribly unappealing. Of course, they don't care what my ogling eyes tell them. Or notice that I am ogling at all. I am only a figure in a maroon windbreaker, sitting folded up on a park bench, dissolving into the daylight....

Still, I imagine that beneath the flannel and military trousers of these young ladies there might be something pleasing, and that imagining occupies me.

God willing, sort of, that will be me someday. Meanwhile, reading "The Wall Street Journal" weekend edition, twice I saw references to "mutton" vs. "lamb" in fashion articles. Believe it or not, I had never before heard the expression and now, it's haunting me a bit. For example, in this article on long-lasting lipstick, I became anxious reading, "...gloss is sticky and impractical, with a kind of mutton/lamb stigma for anyone over, say, 32." Did I become a mutton 15 years ago?

As a lamb in the late-'80s to early-'90s -- and as a sporty lesbian -- like many of my peers, I would wear baseball caps when not at work, and then for more formal occasions, like dances, a nice tie (and no baseball cap).

Today, I am disoriented by the tattoos and various piercings that seem more and more common on people of all sexual orientations, but I worry about sounding like President Eisenhower on The Twist. Really, weren't my baseball cap and ties off-putting to some from other generations? And even to a number from my own generation? Most fashions are not universal, and nearly none is timeless.

It is not only younger people who are getting piercings and tattoos, just like it's not only younger people who are dissatisfied with a binary concept of gender. Kate Bornstein, author of Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us, is in her sixties. Yet, the uninitiated who read "Generation LGBTQIA" in the Thursday edition of "The New York Times" might think that today's university students who self-identify beyond Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual are a new phenomenon. And perhaps that primarily university students are thinking this way.

On January 11, 2013, 4:09 pm, "AC" from "MA" posted a terrific comment, under the online version of the article:

...this article suggests that "LGBTQIA" people primarily exist in rich, privileged liberal arts colleges. In reality, many of them live on the streets. A huge percentage of trans and gender nonconforming kids get kicked out or disowned, they get more negative treatment in foster care, in juvenile systems, and they have a harder time finding employment. This is why a lot of trans women, for instance, end up in prostitution. These kids are very lucky to have this space while in college to find an accepting community, but they, too, will have to face discrimination upon graduation.

A number of older people are more settled than a number of younger people and so it might be assumed that older people focus more so on "#1stworldproblem"s, like same-sex marriage, rather than homelessness of LGBTQIA people. Just like Kate Bornstein -- who will be 65 on March 15th -- is at the forefront of the gender frontier, why can't younger and older people alike be invested in same-sex marriage in parallel with human rights for LGBTQIA people of all ages and classes? Why must it be binary -- one or the other?

Older and Younger People Alike, Wanting Love or Equality, or Both

Edie Windsor, dubbed "The Hero of the Marriage Equality Movement", is in her eighties and if everything had been different, her late-in-life-legal spouse and she could have met even earlier than 1963 and might have been at the same parties as my parents, who lived in Greenwich Village at the start of their marriage, and who were Edie & her wife Thea's contemporaries, as well as a similarly smart, good-looking Jewish couple.

Yesterday, a younger friend of ours from our synagogue who's a Transwoman posted her disappointment on Facebook at being too old to take advantage of programs in Israel for teens. Wanting to be useful in response, I shared a link with her on the LGBTQ version of Birthright Israel. She responded that at 29, she was too old, since the cutoff was age 26.

Like my Trans friend, I read the article about LGBTQ Birthright trips bemoaning how such trips did not exist when I was 20. And then I thought about it further: We still found one another back then, we who were looking. We met via Junior years abroad, in dorms and classes and we met new immigrants and Israelis and managed. I'm reminded of part of Edie Windsor's story from the link I referred to above:

Windsor left for New York City. After getting a master’s degree in mathematics from New York University in 1957, Windsor joined IBM and slowly began finding her way as a lesbian in the city.

"It was before Stonewall," she recalls. "It wasn't as unknown as everyone would have you believe, so Stonewall wasn’t really the beginning, but it was a wonderful rebellion. Until then, people who wanted to march and protest did it very carefully in proper suits and ties and the women dressed in dresses. You were asked to leave if you hadn’t come dressed properly. But, they existed. And they cared."

Maybe the differences and similarities among generations come down to some differences in fashion and rebellion-styles, but then they can find common ground because the fashions and rebellions can be in service to a common goal: finding love or equality, or both.

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