Well, I don't want to be Danny Downer here but
In the late 70s and early 80s my role models were Jody from Soap (who, like all good mid 70s gays, either had tragic circumstances, a mental disorder, or went straight - Jody had all three) and all the rumors about Rod Stewart having so much oral sex backstage at his concerts that he had to have his stomach pumped (the same rumors went around about David Bowie and Elton John). I found the idea fascinating. Oh, and all the fags were apparently in San Francisco, and I was in Michigan. Bummer. I was in middle and high school through the late 70s, I graduated high school in 81, so my formative years were full of horrible middle school bullying in locker rooms and showers, a lot of drugs and staying stoned as much as possible, and a terrible grade point average. And a lot, lot lot of kids who just did not deal well with "gay". It was not discussed, unless you were calling someone else a fag. It was not done (except that it was, and later in life I learned just how many closet cases there were in that high school).
In 1982 or thereabouts somehow I got a copy of "The Boy Who Picked The Bullets Up" by Charles Nelson and read it over and over. It informed me (wrongly) about what "gay" was all about, my not having any other source at the time. It's about a gay Navy corpsman stationed in Vietnam who screws around with his squad mates and for its time was very graphic, both about sex and about his eventual downfall into heroin addiction and of course, all the death.
I vaguely came out to my stepmom (who didn't believe a word of it) and to my FWB - he didn't want to be friends anymore but it was fine with him if I wanted to come blow him a couple times a week and didn't hesitate to tell our friends what I'd said. I dove back into the closet so far I was behind the hangers for years.
His older brother was queer as a three dollar bill. He was very "obvious" and was brutally bullied for it through high school. I saw his example and for a time hid very deeply from being attracted to boys. He was a very cold, mean boy to me and the FWB, but had us figured out and used that to his advantage. I was so intimidated by him that I didn't talk to him until he moved out and into a house with his boyfriend, who worked on the line at GM. He became kinder (probably because the bullying stopped) after he moved out, so we'd go to his house and get high, then I'd blow my buddy and we'd go home, and FWB would disappear for days (until he needed a ride to his brothers house for more dope, when he'd call me, lather, rinse, repeat). Anytime we were over there the older brother would play Barbra Streisand and Bette Midler and Elton John (and Queen, of course) records constantly (when he wasn't being really dramatic at his piano).
In the early 80s AIDS got going and I went into the Navy (NOT as a corpsman), screwed around with my shipmates (very secretly!) and after my enlistment, came out like an entire drama school band camp. I hit the bars, screwed around some more, and ended up an alcoholic living above the older brother and his (now-suddenly-bisexual) boyfriend who worked on the line. They broke up when the BF decided he needed to be straight - he was getting a lot of guff at the local AA meetings about his "roommate" of ten years - and sold the house, so I went into rehab, found a great bunch of friends through a different set of AA meetings, and then watched most of them drop like flies as AIDS finally caught up with all the partiers from the 80s. Thankfully I was never infected, something that screwed with me for quite a while.
I connected with a guy from AA in the mid-90s, we bought a house and put up a fence and got a dog, then a few years later he screwed his way through the AA meeting directory and I kicked him out. I sold the house, went back to drinking briefly, then got a job doing what I do now. I live alone, but see some of the old bar crowd from the 80s and 90s since I rent an apartment from one of them.
The old bar crowd is much diminished, there are only two left. They hang out in the (gay) bar my landlord owns. My ex-FWB from middle and high school cleans carpets for a living, lives alone, and has gained a couple of hundred pounds. He drinks vast quantities of beer if the number of empties I saw in his trailer are any indication. I visited him a couple of years ago, and yeah, he wanted to recapture the moments we shared (it was a short visit). The older brother lives in a mobile home just up the street from him, and works nights bagging springs and gaskets in a local factory. The bisexual-straight boyfriend moved with his wife back to Kentucky, she is now institutionalized and has been for several years, and he (apparently) hits the truck stops to try to meet men. There have been arrests.
My ex is slowly emigrating to Cuba or something, he had a breakdown and is on mental disability and doesn't work. He's been moving south from Michigan for a couple of years now. We are still friends. I've settled comfortably into living alone but with a few close friends and a low but tolerable wage slave life fixing computers.
So to sum it all up, here's the happy picture: being gay in the 80s and 90s was a mental mindf*ck for a lot of us. The screwed up nature of being closeted, then out and screwing like rabbits, and then living through the AIDS crisis screwed a lot of us up. My ex-FWB and I would have lived very different lives if he had come to terms with his homosexuality when we were "together". The bullying the older brother got in high school drove him into a semi controlling relationship with the GM guy, whose own bag of issues was pretty full to begin with. All the drinking and bar hopping we did certainly didn't help, and I've learned that a person in AA isn't "fixed", they're just soberly screwed up instead of being drunkenly screwed up (myself included). In terms of cultural references, well, all the gay people had bad shit happen to them, didn't they? Jody from Soap. Steven Carrington from Dynasty. Popular actors dying from "exhaustion". Musicians wasting away. Pedro from The Real World. Longtime Cmpanion and Philadelphia. The AIDS Quilt and the March on Washington in '93. Being gay wasn't a net positive, is what I'm saying. We were depicted as either crazy, or stereotypes, or dying tragically.
Having said all that, sure there were good times - the three years with my ex in our house were very happy years. My time in the Navy was very agreeable to me, in fact I regret not reenlisting and making it a career. It stil would have been a mindf*ck, but at least it had structure and was an ordered existence.
So wax nostalgic about those decades - I'm glad you can, because I can't. It was pretty tough.
But you don't have to go far to see what all this was like - it's right here on the site. Look at all the early stories on GA from older authors, and the terrible ordeals (and sometimes even worse tropes) they put their characters through - and WHY those characters always rise triumphant at the end of the stories. How much is drawn from real life, only with a better ending? Then look at the stories from newer, younger authors here - lots of trials and challenges but with supportive families and friends depicted, GSA organizations, dances, weddings, all that.
My point is that those years sucked, but it IS getting better now, and our young authors are telling us about it, and that's good news to old beat-downs like me.