Columns » Queer & There

Technology exposes differences between generations of LGBTQ people



I’m a ’90s kid, which means the internet and I grew up together. It was the only friend I could talk to about my attractions while hiding in a suffocating closet. AOL chat rooms, AltaVista searches and even Craigslist offered breaths of fresh air, and my origin has framed my current existence.

Today, I still rely on technology to connect with other LGBTQ people. And why not, when you have apps that literally tell you how many feet away the nearest gay person is? My “Hello, kind stranger! Are you queer?” muscle feels incredibly atrophied. Which brings up a question: What was life like for an LGBTQ person before technology?

I find the answer in Bob Benvenuto’s artsy Main Street, Pueblo, apartment. Old Big Band music plays on the record player as Bob’s partner, Brent, 35, smokes and Bob, 63, shares what it was like growing up in New York City as a baby boomer.

“The only places you’d meet someone were bars or sex cruising areas,” he says. “First, there would be a head nod, the eye contact, posing, maybe you’d send them a drink.” The first place he met up with another gay man was in a Grand Central Station bathroom.

While the internet affords people the opportunity to find queer spaces without coming out immediately or risk cruising, “there are drawbacks to this online culture,” Bob shares. “I think you can more easily dismiss people. All you have to do is swipe left if you don’t like what you’re looking at. Versus with cruising, sometimes you’re waiting around for three hours, waiting for someone to show up.”

And it’s true. I have so many friends who use online platforms to meet other queer people, and we are all guilty of dismissing others. We dehumanize a person when their complexities are distilled to a simple picture.

But technology isn’t the key difference between Bob’s generation and my own. It could never compare with the effect of the AIDS crisis.
“We went from being the tail-end of the sexual-liberation movement to all of a sudden, that’s gonna make you dead.” With tears in his eyes, Bob tells me that hundreds of his friends died, including his partner Joe. “Think about eight out of 10 of them dying. Wasting away in front of you in a young, beautiful age. It grew us up really quick. ‘Holy fuck. We aren’t immortal.’”

When Bob lost Joe to AIDS in 1995, there was such a lack of knowledge that the doctors initially barred Bob from being with Joe in his final hours, scared he would contract the virus. The general population had no clue; the LGBTQ community was forced to survive alone. But they bonded in the midst of this tragedy.

Not only did the AIDS epidemic charge the LGBTQ community with a fervor to speak out for human decency, but it also affected what we find beautiful as gay men.

“When AIDS hit,” Bob said, “the buff body and gym started becoming popular because you wanted to send the message across that you were healthy and safe.”

This made so much sense! I felt this all the time! An unending pressure to work out. Fit men taking off their shirts in the clubs. A grid of headless torsos on Grindr. It’s as if a message was broadcast in the ’80s and became louder with the expansion of the internet.

I assumed technology’s drawbacks must be worse for Gen Z (born between the mid-’90s and early 2010s), a generation glued to their phones. But it turns out the lives of queer youths these days aren’t as defined by the internet as I thought.

Raechel Anderson, 18, identifies as pansexual and met her boyfriend, a trans man, at Inside Out Youth Services.

“Most people I know are dating people that they met at their schools or at Inside Out or people they meet online,” she says. “It seems to kinda be a mix between real life and online.” Depending on the school district, she has friends who can live out of the closet, hold hands with their partners, and have their gender respected. This allows students to meet in classes and queer spaces rather than, say, on Grindr or in a Grand Central Station bathroom. In fact, Raechel and her boyfriend went on a pretty typical teenage first date — they went to a movie.

But where would Raechel be if it weren’t for Bob? Where would any of us be if those who went before us didn’t shout, “We’re here! We’re queer! Get used to it!”? We’re here because of them, and Bob celebrates with us, in spite of the pain and suffering.

“I hope that people of younger generations would respect the initial move to bring us to where we’re at,” Bob says. “That it was difficult in a lot of ways, especially around AIDS. I certainly don’t want any privilege or to be put on any pedestal. You take the baton and move it forward.”

Add a comment

Clicky Quantcast