Adjunct Hell and our ongoing fascination with age difference narratives

ylohLike many of our stories, “Adjunct Hell” is, among other things, an age difference story. Our interest in writing relationships with age differences comes from a lot of difference places. Sometimes, it’s just fun (and sexy) to write stories about a young adult discovering relationships and sexuality with someone with more experience. Other times, the age difference creeps into the story less overtly, so that we can each have a character we relate to since, as co-writers, there is a sixteen year age difference between us.

Increasingly, however, I’ve begun to suspect that the reason we write age difference so much is because of some of the realities of being queer people. For me, as someone who grew up in New York City in the 70s and 80s and was active in protests related to AIDS funding in the 80s and 90s, I am always conscious of the hole in the gay community created by AIDS. That hole has been and continues to be devastating.

One of its consequences is an interruption of how our cultural history gets transmitted. With arguably much of an entire generation missing, relationships with significant age gaps are likely more common. They’re also a way to navigate that hole, and ensure the continuity of culture and community. This isn’t something I have the statistics on, but it certainly feels truthful to me in terms of the relationships I see amongst my friends and peers.

The other reality is that same-sex relationships come with less structural inequality. When you’re not worried about the sexism in our culture coming home to your relationship, it can make other forms of power imbalances — including big age differences — easier to navigate.

For us “Adjunct Hell” was a way to look at how different power dynamics interact. By writing about an older student and a young professor we got to examine the power dynamics that we all deal with in whatever relationships we engage in from a queer and complex perspective.

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