There's an interesting shift happening among gay men in America (and likely in other nations).
It seems almost daily we read a story about teenagers and kids coming out with more boldness and at a younger and younger age.
It's amazing to me. Just thinking about coming out while I was in high school sends a bit of a chill down my spine. Our culture was so different in the early 2000s than it is today. Politics were so different. I was so different.
Marriage equality continues to spread across the country. Athletes are coming out in a way none of us could have imagined even five years ago. There's an openness and visibility of gay people today that has never been seen before.
I'm not sure where the threshold is, but we're coming to a time when gay men in the United States, by and large, will be "out" longer than they've been in the closet.
This threshold will create an opportunity for so many things to change and shift.
Concealing your identity for the majority of your life has an impact on who you are as a person. So many gay men have experienced that. I was in my early twenties when I came out. So, I've still been "in the closet" longer than I've been out.
Even though I'm 28, I think about what kind of world I'm creating and leaving for gay men that are younger than myself.
Not just a better environment in the political sense -- more rights, privileges, protections. That's so important and I'm incredibly grateful for the gay men before me who fought for the rights we have today. But I'm talking much more broadly.
Will the gay community they experience be the same crap recycled, or will it be brighter, lighter and more care-free?
Am I contributing to a community that is more welcoming, hospitable and caring? Am I letting them know that it's okay to be vulnerable, honest, not having everything figured out?
Am I able to show them that in-person community and intimacy has much greater rewards than hiding behind a digital wall? Am I serving as a role model of what healthy communication looks like in friendships and romantic relationships?
Am I showing up to my fellow gay men with a positive, encouraging outlook on life? Or am I choosing to be jaded and bitter, refusing to let go of the negative experiences of my past? Am I a beacon for hope and inclusion or a perpetrator of exclusivity?
Am I able to show younger gay men that I'm proud and happy in my own skin? That beauty is much deeper than what's on the surface. That the development and growth of my soul matters just as much, if not more, than cultivating habits that keep my body healthy.
Do younger guys see us cultivating a community of togetherness or constantly bitching about all that's "wrong" with other gay men?
Whether we realize it or not, every gay man has an opportunity to be a positive role model for the next generation.
We can tell our own stories. The lessons we learned the hard way. The joys they have to look forward to and possible challenges that may come their way.
I didn't have many gay male role models to look up to when I first came out in college. And I know I'm not alone in that. Aside from my friends, I had to figure out and navigate gay culture on my own. A lot of trial and a whole lot of error. And with it, pain.
We can't keep the next generation of gay men from experiencing pain. Because an open, loving heart means you're open to getting hurt. But it's so worth it. To feel. To experience. To know love and loss.
But what we can do is choose love instead of divisiveness. Hope instead of being jaded. I couldn't be more thrilled and excited for what awaits future generations of gay men. Opportunities are opening up like never before. I want future generations of gay men to see other guys as brothers to embrace, not adversaries to shy away from.
I want them, in every way, to have it better than we did. And each of us has a responsibility to make that happen.
Follow Josh Hersh on Twitter: www.twitter.com/joshhersh