Friday, February 23, 2007

Three Reasons That Your Gay Life Isn't Over at 40

No matter what they tell you.

"Our invisibility is the essence of our oppression. And until we eliminate that invisibility, people are going to be able to perpetuate the lies and myths about gay people." -Jean O'Leary

While our society at large would often just as soon see us gay folk disappear, inside the gay community there is another type of invisibility that is probably more insideous. It is more insideous because we have created it.

You have to thumb through gay publications for a very long time to find information that is relevant to anyone over 50 (maybe even 40). We have been sold the bill of goods that "gayness" has a short shelf life that extends from sometime in adolescence to the late 30's. After that, the goods are stale and no longer relevant to the gay community's definition of what it means to be a part. Age begins to equal invisibility. From several conversations and support group participations, I have discovered that many of us have bought this self-imposed obsolescence - whether it is seen in the younger guy's fear of growing old or in the despair of the older gay man who has awaken to find himself almost mysteriously transported to this dimension of invisibility called middle-age.

To say that the gay community is drunk on the youth culture is like saying President Bush suffers from delusions of grandeur. It is self-evident.

Hopefully, this site is dedicated to helping bring a little sobriety to our youth culture soaked community. There are good reasons to challenge the gay ghetto mentality of obsolescence. Here are three.

  1. It is the right of every person at every age to define his own being. The idea that those who are gay and 45 must join the monastic life of social isolation is an artificial construct. Probably it came from the reasonable concept that youth has a unique beauty and is to be valued. While this idea is legitimate in it's own right, allowing this one small period of life to color and control the larger portion of one's existence is to deny one's ability to self-define throughout life. Who says that we have to become part of the wallpaper at a certain age? By whose definition? What if we refuse to? At the risk of my fulfilling every gay stereotype, my advice to every aging gay man is to sit down and watch Rosaline Russell in the film "Auntie Mame" at least once a year. The camp humor alone is worth the viewing. But above that, the character of Mame Dennis is the patroness saint of self-definition. Rather than fading into the wallpaper, we should be defining ourselves and reminding the world that even in middle age: "Life is (still) a banquet and most suckers are starving to death." And we should define ourselves by no less than this observation and the realization of this movie's theme. Middle-age does not have to leave us hungry.
  2. "They" need us. Stonewall was our generation. We have a history that most young gay men may never be able to match for meaning. We've seen more and we know more. While it is always the position of youth that they are smarter and wiser than their elders, we all find out in time that this is generally not so. As long as the older gays are isolated from influencing the younger gays, the more likely the younger gays are to have to unnecessarily repeat our mistakes. At this point we really have to question our use of the word "community", as in "gay community" if we are not communing in a meaningful way with other members. Mentoring has become an important concept in business and society in general. Who is there to mentor and nurture the young if the elders are stuck behind an artificial wall of invisibility? (Some of it is the fault of the older gay person. The older gays relinquish this "wise elder" role by making two mistakes: 1) By imitating the young in hopes of grasping desperately at their own disappearing youth. It's analogous to a parent being a friend rather than a parent. 2.) And refusing, for whatever reason, to break through the wall and deal with the gay community as a whole entity. More on both of these later.)
  3. Declining health is becoming less of an issue. We should never pretend that a 60 year old is a 20 year old. Aging is natural (and in a lot societies beautiful.) To pretend one is 20 at 50 can be sad. However, it has been said that 50 is the new 30. There is a new knowledge of and emphasis on what it takes to be healthy. How many commercials are touting the fact that Baby Boomers are not as likely to spend their senior years sitting around staring at the walls like the preceding generations tended to? There is a new awareness that physical and mental vitality is a lot more controllable by the individual than it was once thought to be. While slowing down may always be a reality that accompanies aging, coming to a halt prematurely because of physical ilimitations is so yesterday. Staying vital is a responsibility for all of those who want to remain players later in life. Proper attention to health, nutrition, exercise, doctor's visits, and other exercises of self-care is the key to staying in the game. And where nature fails us, there is often help. Think Viagra.

A friend of mine was walking past a trendy gay bar in Los Angeles. He is healthy, good looking but obviously in his late 40's. The bar has an outdoor cafe-style seating area with a metal fence around it. As my friend passed the bar, he heard a youngster inside the fence say, "Who let the trolls in?" Immediately, he reached through the fence bars, grabbed the kid by the shirt, pulled him up against the metal enclosure and demanded an apology. While I don't condone physically roughing anybody up, the spirit of that act is an example that more middle-aged gays should consider embracing. We either define ourselves or we let other people define us. We either listen when everything in our culture tells us to quit or we grab the culture by the shirt and shake it a little.

Comments are welcome.


William said...

Hear, hear. The problem works both ways, however. As there seems to be a quest to get youth to notice older, perhaps older also needs to notice older. When I want some fun, I am not disappointed that those 20-somethings aren't interested in me. The feeling is rather mutual. I am very upset, however, that most in my own age bracket want someone 20-30 years younger and won't consider their own age.

Is it arrested development? Inability to accept one's age? Either way, it's a type of discrimination that I am subjected to by those my own age -- and even older than that! Just try looking at or Craigs List and see what percentage of 45 and uppers - particularly if they're tops -- who feel ENTITLED to someone 20+ years younger. It's okay for them to be aged, but their partners have to be youths. What the...?

These same folk also often suffer from mirror envy. They are often "athletic" when all that means is they spend 20 minutes a month at golds gym, or they own a pickup truck or watch football on TV and call it "in shape." What it is is their imagined license to reject those in their own age bracket. It's also a mode of self deception, a way of trying to make one believe they are 20 -- when they are pushing 50.

I once assumed a series of fake identities on just as an experiment - complete with pictures. As a 45, 40, 35 year old, no one paid much attention to me at all. As a 19 year old, I was getting hit on constantly -- by 45, 55, even a 68 year old! What does this say, folks?

Again, if we want the "invisible" to be more "visible," the task should start first with us and our own views of the attractiveness and appeal of our own age group.

AZ_snakecharmer said...

Ah, William has done similar to myself as I was curious to see what a difference a posted age would make. When posting as an "18 or 19" yr old I recieved many responses but when posting my true age (47) I got few replies, if any. And, it is sad to see the postings from similar aged guys that are only looking for guys 20 years younger and so few for guys similar in age.
As to me, I'd take a similar aged guy any day as the wealth of experiences, similar interests, having settled down a bit and not out to "prove anything" makes a big difference.

Anonymous said...

A variation on the theme. I can go to a club or the tubs and stay busy all night with guys of all ages. But if I put that number which is my age in a online post, I get nothing. Am I just a number there?

securitydog said...

Viagra, Viagra, the aging man's pot of gold. What young guys don't realise is that an older guy knows all the tricks, all the moves and knows how to satisfy. I prefer a guy from 45 years upward, but seldom get replies to my profiles as I always put my age. If I leave my age off, with only my photo, I get heaps of answers (touch ups on the bags under my eyes do wonders). Yes we are a superficial world of youth and needing to feel younger than we are.

headbang8 said...

I was in my thirties when I first admitted to myself that I was gay, and in my late thirties when I had my first serious boyfriend.

I must say, it wasn't the need for fulfilling sexual contact that made me come out. It was that I needed to be comfortable in my own skin. Whether the gay community acceptred me as a sexual equal was pretty irrelevant to me (though, to my surprise, I have been able to prove myself the sexual equal of so many younger men on subsequent occasions.)

To me, being gay is about being me. And the "me" is pushing fifty, bald, and needs reading glasses. For me, being gay isn't about being young and sexy. I'm as gay as any gym-buffed twink. Maybe gayer. But it's my personal homosexuality, not your conventional queerdom at large.

It's a gay that, maybe, they don't understand. But maybe they will, someday.

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