In a way, Brian McNaught led an enviable life.
For almost 50 years he served our community as a productive and successful writer, educator, and activist who the New York Times once called “the Godfather of gay diversity training.” His 45-year-long loving and supportive relationship with his husband, Ray Struble, is one that continues to inspire all of us, regardless of our sexual orientation. “Two young, Midwestern, Catholic men from families of seven children, met in 1976 as roommates and, mostly by the seat of their pants, they together created a relationship of love no less meaningful, nor life-giving, than any love they witnessed in any couple in the history of marriage,” he wrote.
But Brian McNaught’s life was not without its challenges. In 1974, when most LGBT people were in their closets, McNaught dared to come out and challenge the Roman Catholic Church, then and now one of the most powerful (and homophobic) institutions in the world. McNaught also faced the wrath of radical queer activists who accused him of being “assimilationist” because he chose to work within the system. Now in their seventies, both McNaught and Struble have had to deal with the physical, financial, and personal problems that all of us must face.
“On Being Gay” (1988), McNaught’s first great book, was a collection of essays that first appeared in his syndicated column “A Disturbed Peace.” The essays in “On Being Gay and Gray: Our Stories, Gifts, and the Meaning of Our Lives” first appeared in a more recent column, “Two Guys and a Dog,” published in South Florida Gay News. Now retired in Wilton Manors, though still active, McNaught reflects on the experiences of his generation of LGBT people: “Perhaps more than any other generation, we gay Baby Boomers have been confronted with seismic challenges, as well as extraordinary opportunities. This is especially true when it comes to the images, we and others, have of being gay. We’ve gone in record time from being thought of as child molesters, to proud parents of biological, adopted, and foster children.
“What makes aging as a gay man more challenging than it might be for the average straight man are the heavy emphasis on sex as part of our identity, the inordinate valuing of youth and beauty, the echoes of emotions from being forced as young men to hide our sexual attractions, and the expectation we feel to live our senior years openly and proudly as members of an identifiable community.” What is the solution? McNaught suggests that “the secret to success in loving your age and appearance as an older LGBTQ person is burning the old rule book, and writing a new, wiser guideline for happiness.” Queer people have unique gifts that will benefit humanity if it learns to accept them. “Throughout history gay men have served as guides to the supernatural world, interpreters of the natural world, caregivers and teachers, mediators and mentors. … The more we seniors learn to identify, embrace, and toast with gratitude our unique gifts, the easier it will be for young gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer people to acknowledge and use their gifts.” McNaught himself is proud to “have learned to acknowledge and celebrate my gifts. It has taken me a lifetime to do so, but better late than never.”
McNaught writes about “an order of gay male elders called the Parliament of Snowy Owls,” which might not be real — I could not find any proof of its existence — but which ought to be. McNaught defines a “Snowy Owl Elder” as “older gay men who are worthy role models, as well as sources of wise counsel for peers seeking comfort and direction. … There are defining characteristics of Snowy Owl Elders. Chief among them are the love and celebration of one’s gender, one’s sexual orientation, and one’s age.” If anyone qualifies to be a Snowy Owl Elder, it would be Brian McNaught. As one critic who is only a few years behind when it comes to age and experience, I have learned much from this wise old owl and, thanks to his new book, I continue to do so.
“On Being Gay and Gray: Our Stories, Gifts, and the Meaning of Our Lives” may be purchased from Amazon.com. The hardback is $19.95 and the paperback is $14.99.
Jesse Monteagudo is a freelance writer and journalist. He has been an active member of South Florida's LGBT community for more than four decades and has served in various community organizations.