My immediate response? I nearly tell him that if I wanted to spend my nights wrestling with nappies, I'd have had children of my own.
Instead I make the appropriate noises: I have a lover, but thanks. He unfurls the grin again, scribbles a telephone number ("In case") and beats a gracious retreat: "See you around." My friend Richard gazes longingly as he departs, then leans over and announces, "Flattering."
Actually, I'm not so much flattered as thrown. I haven't done a thing except get hit on by an embryo, and I've always yawned when the classically minded have prattled on about "the Greek model", meaning high-browed adult mentor and gorgeous, pouting adolescent cutie, but suddenly, for a split second, I'm the sleazy raincoated figure my mother and society warned me about; the predatory older man gorging wholesale on innocent teenage flesh (anthem - "I feel like chicken tonight"). Which is absurd (I've metprecious few, homosexual or heterosexual, but from glancing contact I realise that I don't have the sad lack of imagination that's required for such a now unfashionable fixation). Absurd and hypocritical.
Hypocritical because when I was 16 I'd been tracking and capturing older men for at least a year. Mythical guys in dirty macintoshes didn't have the opportunity to seduce me - I was too preoccupied laying traps for them.
It wasn't just that my hormones were burning white hot, or that I was testing the limits of newly awakened sexual energy, or that the absolutely forbidden was the biggest, most intense thrill (though it was), or that I couldn't have messed around with boys my own age. I did. It was fumbling fun, but my contemporaries couldn't combine sexual and survival technique (Show Me The Ropes, in both senses of the phrase). They couldn't, by their very presence, from the faint wrinkles around their eyes and the bulging beginnings of beer guts, tell me that life could, indeed, be lived as I nervously wanted to live it. They had the words, knew the places, provided introductions; tour guides to a lifestyle that Mummy and Daddy thought of as "twilight". The simple fact of older gay men's existence, never mind their touch, was a flesh-and-blood education in endurance: I'm Still Here, I'm Still Queer. You can grow up gay ...
By default, these men, even the most timid, the most closeted, became role models (it wasn't as if the world was offering me fine, upstanding, public objects of identification) or anti-role models. Their longer and more complex lives provided alternative futures, pick 'n' mix, multiple choice. I could do this, I won't do that. Love and lessons.
I don't recall at any point feeling particularly exploited. I remember concern - oddly parental concern. Perhaps because I, and others like me, could be part-way moulded or be subjected to the getting of wisdom - even as I employed my allure to torment (look, I was a teenager - it was my job). Still, arguably, all relationships between adults and youth are by nature exploitative; the standard stand-off of parent and child springs to mind (though power boundaries always blur). Mind you, when classmates scored with mature women - the Maggie May scenario that seemed to occur every bit as often as the gay equivalent - they weren't considered victims of perversion or doomed to sexual dysfunction (even today the tabloids that feast on such cases barely contain their laddish envy). Sly congratulations abounded while I hugged my secret: I learnt fast.
I kept quiet because I could whistle the score: I could rely on my partners being blamed for "making me gay". Pointing out that a decade-plus of indoctrination into heterosexuality hadn't made me straight would have been baldly ignored; the hoary notion that homosexuality was something you could be converted to, rather than confirmed in, was taken as gospel (in some quarters, as last year's age of consent battles showed, the gospel remains sacrosanct).
Twenty-one years have gone since I was 16. Time passes - and links its arm in yours and pulls you along. What was once common (hear the stories that gay men of a certain age tell when wandering down memory lane) is presently exceptional, or increasingly rare. Those role models I lacked are currently visible, information flows, groups assemble, campaigns are fought, the media takes notice, attitudes have changed (slowly and not much, but some) and the current wave of gay teens tend to prefer their own company; age as much as sexuality is a bond. Well, we're so exhausted and they're so ... eager. The scene bows to them, and we must catch up as the gap widens, awkward in their confident wake.
Which is how it should be. One's descendants should be selfish, should forget your sacrifices, should repel your advice, should go their own way. If they believe they know it all, then your job has been accomplished. Life, unavoidably, will teach them differently, but then that's what experience, not guidance, is for. And experience teaches us that age would be wasted on the young.Reuse content