Dan Vera & Bo Young
Bo: So what’s this issue about? We’ve done “Elders” before…why are we coming back to this? Or are we?
Dan: Well, we first thought the issue was about youth and elders. It still is in a way but it seems to have morphed from that. As I recall we wanted to explore the youth side of the issue.
Bo: I never saw it as an Elders thing, exactly…or youth, either….it was more about how we transmit ideas and learning from generation to generation.
Dan: We spoke about that transmission of culture. You gravitated to my idea of “coming out of erasure.” It’s one of the ever-present dynamics of gay experience in a dualistic, heterodox culture.
Bo: That’s three syllables too many for me. What do you mean by heterodox?
Dan: Well, hetero-orthodox. Heterosexuality as an orthodoxy.
Bo: And the dualism is the binary sex thing? Either or, male female,
Dan: Right. As opposed to that both-and, in-betweener reality that Harry [Hay] used to talk and write about. The concept dates back to Edward Carpenter and Magnus Hirshfeld and others.
Bo: Well…whatever it was we aimed for, it’s developed into a mentor, youth, generational connection idea in the writers’ views. So maybe the really interesting place is that place between the generations?
Dan: Yes, that place of gay adulthood, as Don Kilhefner calls it in the stunning essay he’s submitted.
Bo: That’s something I have always felt. That gay people get stuck in adolescence. That until we get to have a healthy adolescence, we’ll tend to return to that until we do. Not to mention the natural proclivity men have to being adolescent, anyway.
Dan: Yes. And since most of us come out later (although that’s changing somewhat) it’s adolescence not just delayed but elongated. It gets difficult because we wouldn’t really call for a normative life-line: “Here” is youth; “there” is adulthood.
Bo: Right. Which I am wary of as an explanation because I loathe pathologizing things…. But some patterns are hard to deny, and there are clear psycho-social differences between “youth” and “adult,” behavioral and cognitive differences
Dan: I just heard an interesting story about friends we visited in Oregon. Her father recently came out in his 70s. He, like many gay people recently out of the closet, flew out of it and immediately changed his life in so many ways. He moved to Palm Springs and started dating guys and started sharing this with his daughters by email. Of course that took some adjustment on their part. I was able to give them the language for what he was going through. He was walking through that “pink cloud” of new gaiety. My friend was clear enough to recognize that her father, who had been sort of emotionally absent most of her life, was now really happy and emotional and open. So what’s adulthood to him? I mean in his case his coming out and embracing his true nature is perhaps the most adult thing even if it looks like a delayed adolescence to everyone else.
Bo: I think that’s the one real observable difference we can see in the new generation of “post-Stonewall” gay people. They may actually get to have a “normal” adolescence…of course, they have HIV to deal with, too. Reality bites.
Dan: I think one of the roles we hold with White Crane is the importance of retelling the story. It’s frustrating in a way because we’d like it to be over. We’d like to tell newbies, “Okay, read this book and you’ll discover everything there is to know.” But it doesn’t work like that. Perhaps a better analogue for our situation is pre-literate societies where culture and history are transmitted via storytelling. They retell the story again and again. Everyone learns how raven stole the sun or Spiderwoman fooled the trixter.
Bo: Yes. I agree with that image, too. And I’ve always seen White Crane as a talking circle, sharing stories.
Dan: We have to tell the stories that are vital to remember. Of course each generation decides which stories still resonate. And stories are still being written (lived out) today. So we tell the story of Harvey who gathered the people together and got them to understand the importance of being known and heard. Harvey, who knew the importance of communities, speaking with each other and respecting each other in solidarity. Harvey, who was struck down by someone who was afraid of that and scared of the change of new people speaking in ways that seemed different to him. The story ends (or continues) with other people following Harvey’s lead and speaking their stories. That’s a modern story in that it’s Harvey Milk, but it’s a story that’s our story and a lot of young people have no idea that it ever occurred. That’s just one example.
Bo: It’s also about the collective wisdom of the circle creating something greater than the individual parts. It’s a conversation….and I think that’s what we hoped this issue would be, too….a conversation between generations. Maybe that should be the image for the cover…the image that’s on our business cards.
Dan: That sounds great. The image you’re talking about is John Steczenski’s beautiful painting of two men sitting across a table having a great conversation. I think it is perfect in that the painting is, in fact, a self portrait. He was painting an image of himself having a conversation with himself. There’s an element of the cosmic twin in that. Also in a way that’s much like what we’re describing; the idea of subject-SUBJECT is about treating the “other” as the “beloved-who-is-myself.” How do we move from objectifying to subjectifying, treating the “other” as myself. His image is a conversation with himself and our “conversation” with following generations are in fact a conversation we are having with ourselves in the same way that those who came before us have spoken the world we live in into being. I’m reminded of that lovely Maya Angelou line about our responsibility to one another. “Your way has been paid for. Now pay the way for another.” ‘
Bo: I have another Angelou
Bo: There is nothing as important as saying thank you to your elders. It’s what you say to God.
Dan: Perhaps the conversation we’re having about this issue can be posed as a question. When are people ready for White Crane? The truth is our readership tends to skew older (30 and above). We wanted to provide a place for youth voices to speak.
Bo: But if they’re not reading us, how will they know? One of the things I have always felt was important or unique about WC is that we don’t need to play to any particular group….and that we can be a repository of wisdom and experience. We’re not particularly trying to capture any “demographic” other than the thoughtful or reflective demographic. Whenever they are ready, I hope we’re ready and still there for them. Do you ever just think….what are we so worked up about…it’s a magazine?
Dan: Sure. And then we get a letter from someone who’s been reminded of his self-worth from something he read in these pages. It is thrilling and humbling at the same time.
Bo: Sometimes I wonder…but then I remember it is journalism and how important that is in a free society. And as a reader-written journal, we really are practicing a very literal “journalism” too. Steven Silha talks about the “citizen journalist” and that’s precisely who we are.
Dan: We’re reporting on the deeper issues. What the philosopher Cornel West calls “existential deep sea diving.”
Bo: Reporting and recording it. Although I don’t see us reporting as much as reflecting. But it is definitely journalism…journaling is a critical part of this.
Dan: I’m not reading what we do in any other publication, and I’m as hungry for it as the next gay. When we get a piece like Toby’s interview with Ron Long, which just lights my internal billboard I am proud to be about this.
Bo: True enough…I don’t see what we do anywhere else
Dan: Gay people have ideas. Gay magazines rarely report them.
Bo: No…because now we’re just a marketing niche. And it was part of the first victory of gay lib….to be acknowledged as a market. But it’s a perfect example of being careful what you wish for. It’s gone haywire. It was part of the original strategy, to show economic power…but now I think we’re just another niche market that leaves out a lot of people, to say nothing of ideas
So…here’s a thought…. You and I sort of represent an intergenerational thing here ourselves. I’m nearly 20 years older than you…18. You could be my son.
Dan: Hmm…yeah. I hadn’t grokked that. But you’re right.
Bo: So whose stranger in this strange land, you or me? 🙂
Dan: Well my first response would be me. Because young people aren’t supposed to be reflective. At least that’s the line. But I think it doesn’t pan out really. I think part of the human condition is the search for meaning. I think gay people are searching for meaning—maybe more so than other people—because the dominant narrative about why we’re here doesn’t speak to them (not that it speaks to the mainstream either).
Bo: It’s hard to be reflective when it isn’t prized That something Robert (Cove) Croonquist, who has started Youth Arts New York to teach says about teaching in the public schools: that they’re trying to educate thinking out of people. They don’t want an educated, reflective population. “They” want automatons who will provide a service at a minimal expense. There’s a reason a “C” is 80% as my friend Michael says.
Dan: What we’re talking about is Socrates. Know thyself.
Bo: And I think we’re trying to retain some tribal knowledge, too.
Dan: I think some of the best advice I ever got was from a professor of mine. She was one of the first people I came out to and after listening to me and through all my blubbering and shaky-voiced admissions to being gay she quietly told me to take my time. She made it very clear that I didn’t have to figure out what it meant to be gay immediately. More than that she articulated the importance of figuring out what being gay meant to me.
Bo: Amen to that
Dan: I think that saved me a lot of heartache initially. Because after a lifetime of not fitting in to the dominant paradigm one comes out and is sort of asked to choose sides: (leather, bears, disco, attitude queens etcetera). I felt like after having released the straight-jacket of hetero-conformity a lot of folks were putting on new uniforms. It didn’t make sense.
Bo: I try to resist it when anyone starts with “All Gay men….anything”…especially when they’re all to quick to ascribe negative attributes as though being gay causes these things.
Dan: I think that at a certain point we all start to ask questions. That point comes at different times in people’s lives. What a horrible life if we never stopped to ask questions.
Bo: I know…everyone is always looking for answers, and the trick is coming up with good questions
Dan: On the other hand life is the best answer to our questions so maybe we just need to be open to how our lives lead us in the right directions. I’m not sure why it’s burbling up right now but there’s that lovely line in Whitman’s introduction of his Leaves of Grass:
“re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”
What we’re going for is that kind of fluency.
Bo: And a conversation between generations. A generation of conversation.
Bo Young is Publisher and Editorial Director of White Crane. Dan Vera is White Crane‘s Managing Editor.