although the fact that there are so many over-35s sending messages through the internet to experimental youths is a bit icky

I hate being someone who was born in 1965. HATE IT. Neither baby boomer nor gen-X, old enough to remember Neil Armstrong, but not alive yet to remember JFK. Old enough to remember 300 baud modems running through rubber cups stuck on each end of a phone receiver--a phone that had an actual bell inside it!--but not quite old enough to remember Martin Luther King. Not old enough to remember how a group of drag queens took on the police department of New York City to say, "You have no right to hurt or hunt me because of who I am, who I will always be."

Most importantly, for the purposes of this story I'm telling you, I'm exactly old enough to have come out of the closet at a time to be exactly young enough to watch the world I wanted to be a part of vanish before me without vanishing along with it.

Imagine me, desperate to find someone my own age, or of any age, really (and without the Internet to help me in this quest, mind you), with enough experience to help me deal with these feelings I'd had all my life, someone I knew I couldn't find within my own family, or my peers or friends or people I went to church with. I wanted someone to hold my hand (hold my whole body), tell me I was okay, that I wasn't a freak for feeling the things I was feeling, that it was all right to do the things that I wanted to do. Things that most of my friends did (or said they did) with girls ... I wanted to do with boys.

Except there wasn't anyone like that. Partly because I lived in a small town in New Mexico. But as I grew older, and by the time I was old enough to drive myself down to El Paso to continue my search for someone like me, I realized something else. There wasn't anyone like me that would take my hand (take my whole soul) and tell me I was all right for a very scary and horrible reason. It's not that people like that didn't exist, it's just that they were too busy. Too busy dying. Too busy dying of a disease that no one wanted to talk about, except in terms of God's judgement, terrible and just. The punishment fitting the crime.

I can't tell you how that made me--and many others around my age--feel. Right when we were ready to take a step into a larger world we KNEW existed, that world ... died. In agony. And while we wanted to step into it, all we could do was watch it die. We were so afraid. So afraid I don't think I can begin to describe it to you. Because we didn't want to die like that, and because the people that were dying were so terribly ashamed to be seen dying like that, and because I--I mean, we--were so terribly lonely and ashamed to be associated with people who died like that. Other gay people. Gay people with AIDS.

I thought moving--running--to California would help. It didn't. Between 1983 and 1993, I can't tell you how many friends of mine died. I can't tell you because it's 2005 and I'm forgetting a lot of them, even though I don't want to. And the longest I knew any of them before they died was 18 months. For the first six years of my fifteen in California from 1989 to 1995, I had more female friends than male, and rarely did anything truly "gay" because ... it was safer. My female friends wouldn't die on me. But I didn't love those women I'd known for far longer than 18 months, like I loved those dead and dying guys. Oh, god, that makes me sad. I think for the first time in my life, trying to remember everyone's names and failing, I feel a bit old.

Around 1995, though, the flood of death slowed down and eventually stopped. The last of the friends I'd made who were older than me that died, died that year. I was thirty. I figured it was okay to step back out into the world, and try to start a part of my life that I'd been trying to start for sixteen years. On the outside, I was thirty, but on the inside I was still fourteen, or 18, or 23, at least a certain part of me was. It wasn't right, it wasn't fair, and it was the way it was.

So ... I came out of the closet again, so to speak. But trying to make new gay friends was difficult. Those older than me, they didn't exist anymore, unless they were MUCH older than me, by 30-60 years. Those my age were just as confused as I was, for the most part. And we were scared of each other.

Many of the people born between 1965 and 1975 chose to look for people younger than they were. For my part, I had so much anger for the people who had died and felt so abandoned by them--by not being there for me at a time when they were the only people who COULD be there for me--I decided to reach out my hand, my body, my soul, to those younger than me. To try and communicate to them all the things I wanted to have communicated to me: that what they were and were feeling wasn't dirty, or wrong, or shameful, or would lead to an agonizing lonely death.

The last person to whom I tried to communicate the things above, for a number of reasons, led to six years of my life down the toilet and is in very large part why I'm here and not there.

So I want YOU to understand how very, extradordinarily, lucky you should feel, even in as hateful a world as we live in today. To be able to be experimental with people, whomever catches your fancy, younger or older than you, male or female. For many people my age and going about 10 years younger--we didn't have that phase, not at the 'proper' age anyways, and it fucked all of us up because we had to keep a part of us asleep.

Some of us woke up earlier than others. Some of us still aren't quite awake yet. Some may never wake up, and never know why they're so unhappy. Unfortunately, some woke up and became predators, which is what the media chooses to glorify, because fear makes more money than, say an 18 year old and a 35 year old in bed together naked, laughing, and silly. Or, say, an almost-23 year old and a 40 year old.

And THAT's why 'hi im 36' may be a poorly punctuated response to a personal ad on the Internet, but it's not icky. Not to me. Because that 36 year old is still 14, or 18, or 23, somewhere inside of him, reaching out for someone "his own age". And I know why.

Now you do, too.