One of the less toxic stereotypes ascribed to gay men is an intense fear of getting old. When I was a mostly-closetted queer guy in my 20s I heard it frequently from other gay men. “Oh, no! He turned 30, that’s 60 in gay years!” and so on. The explanation of the stereotype is that gay men are obsessed with young and/or young-looking romantic partners, and fear they will stop being desirable themselves once they pass some arbitrary age. Even back then, I thought it was a bit strange to say that this was a gay-only thing, because for how long have middle-aged and older actors been paired with actresses significantly younger than themselves playing their spouses, love interests, et cetera? And back when I was a kid and a teen, it was very common in comedy TV shows and movies to have at least one woman who was obsessed with her own age to insist in face of overwhelming evidence that she was only 29 years old. Seems to me that heterosexual men are pretty youth-obsessed, right?
Please note that I said this stereotype is only somewhat less toxic than many others about queer men.
So a few years ago when I mentioned in blog post that it was my birthday and my age (it was 53 or 54, but I don’t feel like going on an obsessive search to try to find the specific post), some random person I didn’t know commented about how broken-hearted I must be, since everyone knows that fags are all obsessed with being young. I typed a reply to the effect that no, I actually considered myself quite lucky. But then I decided that rather than argue with a troll the better thing to do was to simple delete the troll’s comment and move on.
But I keep running into people making this specific observation, or variants of it. A gay activist who is a frequent guest on news programs passes the age of 50 and all the anti-gay hatemongers start referring to him as an “aging activist.” This is pretty rich coming from a completely white-haired anti-gay pastor who is pushing 70, let me tell you. If a 50-year-old is “aging,” what do we call a 68-year-old, hmmmmm?
So, I’m still a couple years from 60, yet, and I know that I frequently make references to my age, mostly because 1) I am older than the average people active on the internet, 2) I’m older than the average age of people active in the various fandoms I participate in, and 3) I frequently find myself being a little boggled at people who otherwise seem really well informed being completely unaware of (or deeply misinformed about) fairly major things that happened in the world when I was, say, in my 20s.
I was still very closeted in my early 20s when the AIDS crisis began. This mysterious illness was striking gay men down, and not only did the White House Press Secretary laugh and make a fag joke when a reporter asked about the first Center for Disease Control alert about the illness, but all of the rest of the reporters in the room joined in on the laughter. One night at a church service I was sitting with my head bowed when a pastor went on a long digression in his prayer thanking god for sending the scourge of AIDS to punish the wickedness of gay people and wipe them from the face of the Earth. 10 years later, as an out gay man, I found myself going to memorial services of men sometimes younger than I. One particularly bad winter, 16 different people we knew died in a single three-month period. It really did seem that every gay person was doomed. And it didn’t seem to matter that we all now knew to practice safe sex—because condoms can break, and so on.
As much of an optimist as I’ve always been, in the face of all the overwhelming chilling life experience, I seriously doubted that I would live to see my 50s.
So, I am not in the slightest bit sad or embarrassed to have reached the “ripe” age of 57. I’m not sad that my beard is mostly white, because I’ve earned every one of these grey hairs! I’m not ecstatic that some of the medical issues I’ve always had are getting worse as I get older. I’m not joyful when I read about the death of someone (famous or not) that I’ve known and admired for years. I know that that is going to happen more often, that’s just the natural consequence of the passing of time.
Getting older has its drawbacks, yes. But the alternative is worse, right? So I say, “Bring it on!”
Among my role models growing up was a very cantankerous paternal great-grandmother (who taught me how to listen in on the neighbors’ on the party line phone, among other fun things) and an even more ornery maternal great-grandfather (whose jobs when he was younger had included driving souped up cars, including sometimes outrunning the police, to deliver illegal alcohol during Prohibition). Both of them said and did things around us kids back then that embarrassed their own children (my grandparents and great-aunts and great-uncles), and I fully intend, if I’m lucky enough to live as long as them, to similarly embarrass some of my younger relatives and acquaintances.
On ocassions such as birthdays, one is often asked to share some words of wisdom. I’m going to give you two pieces of advice, one from each of the aforementioned great-grandparents:
“Life is too short to carry grudges or worry about what other people think of you.”
“Never let the revenuers piss on your parade.”