Me, seventeen years ago:
My definition of geekiness is based more on an active intellect combined with an almost childlike enthusiasm for a few really esoteric subjects (one of which may or may not be digital in nature). The “childlike” part is very important; a good geek is first and foremost a big kid.
I like to think that on some level, I’ve never really grown up. I think anyone who knows me would agree that I can seem a lot like an eight-year-old when I get excited about one of my obsessions, and it remains something I very much value in others. It was one of the things I found most attractive about my ex-husband, and I think it’s something my friends find appealing (or at least somewhat amusing) about me. And anyone who was online in the 1990s would probably agree that it’s a personality characteristic that defined much of the early development of the internet.
It’s something of a stereotype that a certain subset of gay men take that whole “childlike enthusiasm” and a youthful viewpoint (not in itself a bad thing) to an extreme, dressing like seventeen-year-olds long after they starts looking ridiculous, clubbing and partying way past the time when their bodies are able to handle it, and pretty much refusing to acknowledge that there is a future that probably should be considered.
This is kind of understandable, really. A lot of us had really unpleasant experiences in adolescence–exponentially worse than the standard teen angst, particularly if you consider both homosexuality itself and a sort of geeky and non-mainstream outlook in other areas as well–and it’s tempting to devote some of your adult freedom toward reliving that adolescence in an attempt to “get it right.” And I speak from experience here. I did this myself on some level, although “party boy” is maybe too strong a term in my case. I think I always maintained some basic functionality and at least worried about the future, even if I didn’t do much about it for quite some time.
I was lucky and I always had friends who wouldn’t have let me get away with throwing my life in the toilet, and ultimately I actually did manage to grow up at some point, at least as far as managing my life goes. Childlike enthusiasm about specific things is attractive. Not knowing how to live your life as an adult is sad, and it’s impacted a lot of the friends I had earlier in life–gay ones disproportionately–in some very negative ways. I’m thinking about one particular friend in general, who now finds himself with no job and no prospects, and with basically no life as he exits his middle fifties, but there are a lot of people like him.
I’ve known Jack (not his real name and he won’t be reading this, nor will any of his local friends who might recognize him) since 1982 and we were really close friends for fifteen years or so. He spent most of his twenties working in clothing retail, because he was interested in fashion and because the flexible hours allowed him stay out late drinking and partying. Clubbing basically became the primary focus of his life and his career choices, which is not really all that unusual for someone in his twenties, I guess, but the problem was that he never exited that stage of life. At age thirty-five, he was still living in his parents’ basement, and any initiative or ambition from his earlier years had largely vanished. At this same age, he got a DWI, which was followed by additional DWIs. He hasn’t driven in twenty years, which is probably a good thing for the rest of us but maybe not so good for him.
By age forty, he had moved out of the basement, but had also largely stopped working in any sort of legitimate “day job” and was exclusively working in bars, most likely under the table. There were two big issues here: (1) this was the start of his exit from the world of the employable since it was the end of his traceable “paper trail”, and (2) it simultaneously exacerbated his substance abuse issues and shielded him from any sort of “reality check” that might have forced him to examine what was going on. His life became more and more about interactions with sketchy characters and becoming dependent on their assistance and on (ahem) untraceable sources of income.
Then the bar jobs ended, and Jack found himself unemployed and middle-aged, reliant on alcohol and other substances, and without a car or a license in a city where these things are almost required. He landed, with roommates, in a little house owned by his parents, where he currently lives rent-free, mainly because the house is likely not up to code and is therefore not rentable. The roommates have since moved on, and he’s on his own there, living on food stamps and a few bucks a month he gets for taking care of his parents’ yard, and relying on (mostly) sketchy friends for assistance. Somehow, though, he always manages to have beer. It’s been this way for several years and the really sad thing is that he now seems to think this is a somewhat normal way to live, as a recent issue I won’t detail here demonstrates. I guess he’s making the best of it, but its sometimes seems reminiscent of the hoarders who don’t think there is anything unusual about their lives and homes.
And I have no idea what I can do for him. I’m pretty sure there’s not much. I don’t want to give him money and be an enabler. His parents seems a bit wary of him, but I’m sure they wouldn’t let him starve as long as they’re still around. That may only be the case for a few more years, though. For a while after I moved back to Greensboro, I tried to spend more time with him and be a “role model”, which I guess was probably pretty presumptuous of me. I tried to get him in touch with some resources like Family Services. But it’s really gotten difficult to be around him–particularly when he wants beer money, though that has fortunately not happened all that often. And to be honest, I don’t want to be his only “stable” friend, because I’m not ready to be the one to pick up the pieces when the inevitable implosion happens. I don’t want to bail hi out of jail if it comes to that. And I’m not good at taking in strays; i don’t think Jack would be comfortable sleeping on the deck like my feline friend did.
There are a lot of lost boys like Jack in my life, both here and in San Francisco, and most of them were very intelligent, capable individuals who made really bad choices in life. I’ve lost touch with some of them. A couple of them have died. I fully realize there are vey complex issues with mental illness and substance abuse, a repressive society that doesn’t deal well with variation, etc. But at some point, it has to come down to taking responsibility for the consequences your own choices about how to deal with it all. And to be fair, I think Jack does this. I don’t think he blames the government, his parents, or anyone else. But this recognition needs to be followed by action, and that’s where he’s stuck.
I wish I knew how to help because I see how easily I could have gone down that path under different circumstances. I also know that I can’t really help until he decides he wants it. And I’m afraid that time may never come.