Group for gay 30-somethings gets started
by Rob Akers
Members of the fledgling 30-something discussion group of the San Francisco Gay Men's Community Initiative met last month and discussed the film Transamerica.
It was the fourth meeting of the group that has a goal to provide gay men in their 30s an alternative outlet for interaction and discussion on an intellectual level.
"For most of us, we have not had a good experience meeting and socializing in bars," said Ryan Clary, co-founder of the group.
Clary and Mark Vogel said they started the meetings two months ago to help provide a social space to share perspectives on short readings, poems, art, film, contemporary culture, and politics.
The group's co-founders said another main reason for forming the group was to "help bring together all gay men, especially those who are isolated or alienated from the community, or needing new healthy forms of social interaction."
"One of our goals is to bring together gay men in their 30s to meet and converse but to have some focal point each time such as talking about art, films, or books," said Clary.
"There are several social groups in the city for young gay men and older gay men, but we realized there was nothing for gay men in their 30s," added Vogel. "We have a unique perspective, particularly to AIDS, and can sort of serve as a bridge between older gay men and younger men."
[There is the membership-supported fraternal organization Men's Associated Exchange that hosts regular social events for gay and bi men.]
The handful of men who met to discuss the film last week all agreed that they enjoyed the movie. But they also talked about how the film brought out some conflicted views, stereotypes, and the many obstacles faced by transgenders, even within the gay community.
The plot of Transamerica concerns a pre-op male to female who must travel across country and reach out to a son he had fathered in order to get doctor's permission to complete the gender reassignment surgery.
"The movie moved me, more than Brokeback Mountain , because I have had my own sort of conflicted view of TGs as far as my connection with them," said Clary. "As an activist I sort of challenged myself to see if the TG movement is the same as the gay movement."
"The film reaffirmed that none of us are at the table unless we all are at the table," he said.
Vogel said he had a similar experience while viewing the film. "A lot of people rattle off that term TG without really knowing what it means and all the issues involved that are facing transgenders," he said.
"The movie made me feel much more affinity and look at my own ignorance of the issues involved," Vogel added.
Robert Kostrzeski, a teacher, said he went to see the movie so he could grasp a better understanding to relate better to one of his students he believes is TG. "Part of my job is to bring this student together with his peers. I found the film humbling," he said.
"It must be horrible to live life denying oneself at all times," he said, pointing to the loneliness and quiet desperation illustrated by Bree, the movie's main character, played by Felicity Huffman, who's been nominated for an Oscar for her performance.
"What is it that keeps us in so much fear that we cannot step out of our comfort zone and cultivate relationships," Kostrzeski said. He pointed to people in 12-step, self-help groups, for example, who seem to have all made a commitment to connect in a more intimate and meaningful way.
Brian Gilles said the film was "less moving" for him than "Brokeback, but a good movie, nonetheless."
"I think a lot of straight people and even gays think of [sex change] as self-mutilation," he said. "It must be tragic to be born that out of odds with your own body."
Clary pointed to recent articles and letters to the editor in the Bay Area Reporter concerning a controversy about whether to let female to male transgenders compete in an upcoming leather contest.
Vogel said, "LGBT is a term thrown around that is supposed to include us all. This is the real debate under the surface. It is not just about letting it happen at the leather contest. It is really about who you consider to be part of your community."
Gilles added, "Anytime a group or individual wants to exclude anyone for their own reason, that, to me, is prejudice."
The SFGMCI's 30-something group meets at 7 p.m. every first and third Tuesday in the basement meeting room of Marlena's, 488 Hayes Street. At the next meeting, set for March 7, members will try their hand at drawing and painting.
The group is one of several offered by SFGMCI. More information about the organization can be found online at www.isparksf.com.
Another event by SFGMCI will debut on March 14. Entitled "Sex Talk," participants will engage in conversations about gay sex. Potential themes include motivations around sex with other people or yourself; people's personal desires, sexual practices within the community; what gets people excited; best/safer sex practices; cruising; sexual mentoring versus unbalanced power relationship; smell; t-room sex and bondage.
Some of the specific goals of SFGMCI are to help re-establish a sense of community spirit and belonging; address the apathy and low level of self-esteem among many gay men by tapping into the community's activist spirit; spark an ongoing community-wide dialogue about health and well-being and what it means to be a gay man within the larger gay men's community and the world outside that community.