Monday, May 18, 2009

Forty Years Together

Down in Argentina, my friends Hugo and Luis celebrate 40 years together. Today. It's really unbelievable to me, 40 years! And how many role models do we get like that in the gay world? And how often do we dismiss and overlook the older generation. We're incorrigible ageists!

Let's talk about that!

I met Luis in the English class I was teaching in Buenos Aires, back in 2000. It was at a gay institute, and the class was made up of older men. I taught them the most important stuff, of course. They learned "Sugar Daddy" "Twinkie" and "Pearl Necklace" and we had great fun. I wrote a bit about them in my book, You Can Run.

Luis, January 2009

This January, I met up with Luis again. It was great to see him. He's in his 70's but still spry and energetic and I asked him what had become of the class I used to teach. It quickly disbanded. "After you, the teacher was an Australian girl," said Luis. She wasn't gay, nobody understood her accent, and she didn't even know the gay lingo. Apparently, she didn't even know what "Glory Hole" meant!! The whole class made him (Luis) explain that to her.

When I lived in Buenos Aires I spent plenty of time with Luis and Hugo (and Walter) having parillas at their cottage in Tigre, in the Delta. They've always been great. So what's their secret to 40 years? "Maintaining our own independence!"

And when did they come out? "Always and Never."

In the 1950's, Luis traveled around South America as I did in the 2000's. Imagine how much more difficult it would be to be gay back then!---and live to share 40 years with another man!

Politics made it all the more difficult, especially in the 1970's--and the "Dirty War" in Argentina. I touched on this also in my book, but you know that the CIA's "Plan Condor" to eliminate Communism fed the regimes in Chile and Argentina and assisted the military take-over that would eventually round up all the subversives (what we may call progressives!) and made them "Disappear". There were 30,000 disappeared from that era. They were of course, covertly killed. Many dropped from helicopters high above the Rio de la Plata.

They targeted homosexuals, too. And this makes me never want to write another word of comedy because I get choked up....but my friends Hugo and Luis were anonymously reported because of their cohabitation and sexuality. One day, the military came to their door to take them away, like all the other disappeared. But you know what happened? Their neighbors, all their neighbors, risked their own safety and came down to their apartment to intervene. They came down to support Hugo and Luis and to issue statements and defend them en masse.

In the end, the military intruders left...taking all their photos, and later wiretapping their phone for years (like Bush is doing now to us). But they left Hugo and Luis and I asked him in January, "Would you be alive today if it weren't for the intervention of your neighbors?"

Luis doesn't blink before answering, "No."

When I think of scenarios like this, I know they happen today in other parts of the world. I know they can happen here again, too. So when I hear Obama in his acceptance speech say that "We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals" I hope he means it, and by our I hope he means all humanity. By ideals - I hope they are the loftiest. May we all take this sentiment to heart, and never forget stories like the one above.

Luis and Hugo are in their 70's now. They have so much to teach us and yet, like so many older gays, they are shunned by their own community. Luis related a story about a man in his 20's who they invited to dinner. He didn't come and they soon found out that he didn't show because he thought they were going to try and get him into bed. A typical story.

Nobody gay I know has lived to their 70's. Why wouldn't we want to learn from them? I hope that we are able to get beyond our ageism; to open up, speak with, and honor our elders.


Eddie in OKC said...

Listen to Jesse.

Scott said...

Chad and I are working on it! More than 1/2 way there!

The Blackout Blog said...

The Architect has a few older guys (60s, I think) in his Fire Island house. I love listening to their stories of the NYC and Pines of yore! If I can save myself a few mistakes by learning from someone else's experience, I'm all ears!

youyong28 said...

This was a very moving blog entry. I remember reading about this in your book, my first in depth exposure to you and your talent. It was obvious that you are much more than just a pretty face.
It's very important that we gay men treat each other as brothers and have the utmost respect for each other and be accepting of each other. Our sexuality is a wonderful gift that binds us together. We must also work hard to end the discrimination against us here and in other parts of the world. Thanks for reminding us of that.

Don said...

AMEN!! AT 68 I can not agree with you more. Older people, in general, have much to share with the youth of today (or any day) if only we could get past the age bias and talk openly. Us old folk would like to come out and play as well - some of us are not as old as you think!!!


carmel said...

great article, jesse, and very moving...

Tony said...

Hey Jesse -

As a 66 yr old myself, amen to your post on ageism, and to the comments offered.
And that story about Hugo and Luis's neighbors standing up to the military police deserves more exposure somehow, not only for its warning about surveillance, but also for its happy ending.
Although the vestiges of Bush's wiretapping policy haven't been completely erased, Obama's position is reassuring. And don't forget about Lawrence v Texas, the 2003 case where the Supreme Court said the cops can't bust into somebody's home and arrest people for having gay sex. So there's hope.

Anonymous said...

Jesse, I read your longevity blog today, which reminds me, you have a birthday coming up in less than a month or so if I remember correctly? I think I know the age but won't put it into print, "just in case". The reason I remember...our 35th hits June 24. I am 76, but without admitting the ghastly fact too seriously, am only 34. Movienut (Bruce)

Anonymous said...

Wow... You are a great writer... The feelings you have and your honor and respect for your friends are incredible.. as it should..It all comes through in your writing... This is why I love reading your blog entries.

Stephen (in scottsdale)