Reflections on Cross-Generational Relationships

by Bo Young

When I was a young man I was always attracted to older men. They were more handsome -- surface style had cohered into deeper character and their good looks had more to do with experience than the smooth beauty of youth. Theirs was a beauty framed in wisdom.

But somewhere along the line while I was falling in love with older men, I became one. Now it is my turn to be that seasoned, interesting person. I don't particularly seek out younger men, they seem to find me. What do they want from me? is my first thought. So I ask and they tell me. One answered that he always thought older men were wiser, stronger -- which is, of course, flattering. There is almost as much of an archetypal masculinity in those qualities as there is in the indisputable surface physical beauties of men.

When I was young I found the Olympian statues that decorate buildings, draped sensuously across the rooftops and ceilings, languid and thick, powerful in granite, to be highly voluptuous, among the first erotic images of men that caught my eye. The strong, wise brow; the mane of flowing hair; the Jovian beard cascading over a muscled, barrel chest in which beats a great and loving heart; powerful arms outstretched with sturdy wise hands that I longed to feel on my face, my chest. Any moment, his stern stone eye might turn to me and soften to a nurturing gaze that called me to his arms (whew... I think I need a cigarette!).

But we live in a culture that worships youth. And, indeed, there is much to be admired in the smooth and unweathered beauty of young men. Like a new car they smell good. Like a freshly minted coin, they shine. Their eyes are still filled with a fresh fire, their bodies in the full blossom of their power. All that fire and enthusiasm, unchanneled and unguided can be a destructive force to themselves and anyone near ground zero. Young men are the embodiment of "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing." For older men who enjoy the role of teacher and guide this can be stimulating. But, I opt for caution, not to evince too much interest. If I have interest, like a hunter approaching a beautiful buck in the dark green wood, I do not want to move too quickly lest I frighten or appear too anxious and therefore desperate. I don't want to be a "dirty old man." When I was young, older men seemed sexy in another way. Sure of themselves from their accomplishments and from sheer time on the planet, they moved through situations and scenes with confidence that was sexy and appealing. Secure enough in their own boundaries, it seemed to me they were better bets for the long term relationship that interested me. The older men I was with as a young man in my twenties were almost to a man better lovers than any of the smooth young guys I dated. Experience counts.

But now I am an older man. The face I see in the mirror, while handsome yet, is gray at the edges, with lines that are hard to reconcile with the man I feel inside. I can read between those lines, but can others? Young men looking to me for experience will certainly find it. I have lived through the earliest days of our liberation and the black days of our plague and the loss of more beautiful men than I have tears. But wisdom? What have I learned? Perhaps the most famous of same-sex paradigms is the Greek model. The older man literally and figuratively "taking" the younger man into adulthood. Culture and manhood by injection, and there was none of the "getting in touch with the feminine side" about it either. This was purely and simply about masculinity as masculinity and for its own sake. This was about love and culture and bonding until the younger man, bearded now, took an eromenos to his own bed.

Could there be a model here for us now? If the two can recognize that the young man trades his youthful, energetic, enthusiastic power for the older man's stable, wise and seasoned power, and if both can see it as a fair exchange and understand the balance of power -- then we have achieved one of the great archetypes of same-sex history. Golden Boy, meets the Silvered Man-weaving a new fabric of richness, of a diversity in a community that has fought for diversity for so long. And we transcend the sex-obsessed marketing of the consumer culture that demands that we only see youth as the ideal.

So while I may find it awkward at first when young men are drawn to me, I also know that maybe it confirms that I have kept fit and have much of the physical power I had in my youth -- but that is not the only draw anymore. Their attentions test my supposed wisdom, challenge my assumptions, and in some ways, keeps me young by forcing me to keep my mind agile and flexible. And in exchange I can help the younger man to sort through the thousand natural shocks the flesh is heir to. It is easy to see reflections of our younger selves in their golden faces... perhaps they can begin to see into the future in ours. There is a rich tradition of honor in these relationships -- not only honorable eroticism, but a passing along of our traditions as a same-sex loving people.

Bo Young lives in Brooklyn, NY