It’s a constant refrain on the gay scene – youth is at a premium and once one hits a certain age as a gay man – well, it’s bye-bye, baby! Ageism seems to be alive and well amongst gay men. To what extent is this true? And what does it mean for older gay men? Here’s my take on the issue.
Let’s not be coy – ageism is alive and kicking on the gay scene. Just as I have previously written on racism, so it seemed about time to confront that other ‘ism’ that besets gay communities the world over. David Vaughn wrote about it in the Huffington Post, when he commented that, “Unfortunately, almost every time I go out in the gayborhood, I experience some form of ageism.” Anyone who doubts that ageism is rife in the gay world is clearly under the age of 35. Age discrimination is pervasive for gay men – anyone who cannot see that is frankly delusional. Or under the age of 35.
Aaaahhh, 35. That ‘magic’ number that is an invisible, impervious barrier between being young and desirable and sexy on the gay scene (i.e. pre-35) and being too old, not that desirable and really not sexy on the gay scene (i.e. post-35). As a younger gay man, I always felt and knew that 35 was the age at which I would suddenly cease to be the gay version of Cinderella at the ball. Everyone knew – 35 was pumpkin time. Well, at least it was in my day. Perhaps today it’s 40, although guys have told me that they were called ‘over the hill’ by their younger friends when they hit 30. Jeez, who the hell needs friends like that?!
Blogger Dalton Heinrich got ripped to pieces when he blogged about how gay men over 40 shouldn’t be partying because they look ridiculous and are clearly suffering from some type of ‘Peter Pan’ complex. What a sententious little twerp. To be honest, white parties bore me to tears and my wild clubbing days are indeed behind me. But that’s out of choice and my own personal evolution, not some self-hating notion of ‘acting my age’.
But be it 30 or 35 or 40 or 45 we all feel it one day. It’s that day when you just aren’t as desirable to other gay men as you used to be. The second looks from other men on the street dwindle and then almost disappear. Hardly anyone takes instant notice of you in a club or in the bar. Suddenly, you’re almost invisible. And, to the younger gays, trust me – it happens very suddenly! What was once so easy (being desired) is now a rarity, and there’s no going back. Gulp! But you want to know something else? You quickly get over it, you adapt, you become the observer and not the observed. And, best of all, it is so liberating. It’s only in retrospect that you realize how damn competitive and demanding being young on the gay scene can be. If you’re prepared to grow up, being an older gay man can be terrific.
The very notion of age has changed dramatically in the past few decades. When I was a boy in the 1970s, 60 was considered old – really old. And adults thought that way too, not just kids. Do we really think of 60 as being really old these days? Of course we don’t. I’ve heard countless people in their 60s describe themselves as being ‘middle-aged’. And I know they mean it because they feel that way and, very often, even look that way. They simply don’t look old. So many people are ageing better, looking better, being fitter and leading healthier lives, not to mention the exponential advances in medicine and alternative therapies that are changing the very way in which we age and in which we regard ‘old age’. Gene therapy, anyone?
Demographics are changing. People, including many gay men, are getting older better and even looking great. Silver daddies these days are often even more desired than twinks, and, in a delicious irony, especially lusted by young gays! As people live longer and populations necessarily get older, so perceptions of age and what is ‘old’ will have to change and will become far more fluid. You can count on that. Maybe by 2040 only guys over 65 will be considered ‘over the hill’ – or maybe the whole notion of ‘too old’ will simply have become a relic of the past. Until then, embrace your age and don’t let the numbers dictate how you live and who you love. And, remember: older men usually do it much, much better. Oh, and call me ‘daddy’ and you die.