It was one of those self-absorbed, narcissistic moments you regret right afterward, realizing you’ve become one of “those guys,” gay men who flaunt their sexual prowess and perceived attractiveness like a middle-age straight man flaunting his new Maserati and hair plugs.
My 54-year-old friend had just told a group of people that he and his husband knew they’d never cheat on each other because “who’d want to see our bodies naked at this age?” It was truth meant for a laugh but I had to interject. I publicly announced that plenty of men like seeing me naked, and, making matters more obnoxious, pulled up a photo on my phone of a great-looking guy I’d had sex with that morning. I might have felt pretty but the situation was anything but.
Before you spit up your food, or spit out the hate comments, know that my intentions were good. I’m 53, as is the man in the photo I produced, and I wanted to make a point that attractiveness doesn’t necessarily end when your AARP magazine arrives. Further, the guy who initialized the statement has always been considered beautiful, and age has done little if anything to change his appeal. Self-esteem and societal expected norms much?
I have no idea, exactly, how the expression “hot” become associated with me, nor am I completely comfortable with the phrase. I learned a long time ago that I’d never be one of those guys who turns everyone’s head at a party, and I could never post two Facebook selfies and write something like “beard or no beard?” and get 75 gazillion “likes.” Model-hot I’m not. Conventional perfection eludes me.
But at some point during the past few years, I became sexy, objectified, a prize, and, like the McDonald’s saying—and just as disposable—I’m lovin it. Okay, so it took 50 years. I’ve always been a slow learner. I would have sowed my oats years ago if I knew how to operate the farm machinery.
It didn’t start this way, or middle this way either. I was unattractive and fat when I was a kid, bearable-looking in high school, clueless in college, and the bottom of the food chain when I first moved to New York. I used to tell people that I was only certain a man was attracted to me if I was inside him and he was looking up at me, smiling. Everything else could just be courtesy. That was after I started working out seven days a week.
That’s not to say I didn’t think I was attractive, but my self-worth depended almost entirely on how others viewed me. I used to be an actor, and if a script said that I was sexy, I believed it, carried it over after the performance. I played Conrad Birdie when I was 18 and got spoiled with the prank calls from men and women wanting to go out with me. Later on, in college, I played a gigolo, and swear to this day it’s why the guy I had a massive crush on finally succumbed to my desires. We hooked up one night after the play.
So, why now, when every birthday is a “milestone” and “colonoscopy” has no need for auto-correct and a close shave takes longer than a hair cut and I’m two waist sizes bigger than 20 years ago and my high school Facebook page is filled with anecdotes about the hazy golden years ahead and the heyday burnt offerings left behind?
I can safely say I came into my own in huge part because, while I still care about how I look, I no longer worry if others reject it. If you’re swiping “Left” on my photo I’ll survive the heartache. That reasoning sounds like Confidence 101, and even I’m rolling my eyes at the clichéd “Cosmopolitan” quiz aspect of the assessment. Besides, 15 years ago I probably would have written the same thing, even if I couldn’t get a date to save my AOL chat room life.
The conflux of inner maturity and outer influences are often aligned—and in my case I think a solar eclipse reflected the stars colliding with my place in the sun… Whatever—I’m getting laid a lot more.
Yes, I lost weight and learned how to eat and work out better, and I’m also being matched by peers who no longer care as much about physical perfection in partners as they did twenty years ago. Good builds, yes. Limitations allowed. Our Chelsea Boy generation pretty much ignored men who didn’t have muscles on their muscles and who couldn’t rightfully be called “boys,” and I didn’t fit either bill. Still don’t.
Even if those men are still in fantastic shape, they’re less inclined to worry about pretense and more inclined to search for a sexual partner who brings an emotional connection to the bedroom. It’s also possible that, since many of these men have found their life partners, their “open relationship” connections don’t need to fill any other requirement than “physically desirable.” They’re not checking me out to see if I’ll match the furniture, only if I’ll look good naked on it.
Tastes have also changed. As I’ve written previously, “Daddy” is now one of the most sought-after types of men in the gay ether. It’s a Thing. It wasn’t when I was in my twenties, nor was the attraction of Twinks—we gave them the more subtle name of “pasty feminine guys who need to get to a gym and butch it up a little.” Who knew not working out would be a sexual turn-on? And our own forebearers found our lack of individuality, our clone-ness, unappealing, vapid, dull. That we preferred Madonna over Minnelli was enough to keep us off their date-list radar.
I’m bombarded with young men (and men my age) offering me carte blanche to their derriere accouterments, in between the occasional “Back off, Gramps!” Physically speaking, these are the same men who denied it to me when I was their age. Sometimes it’s a bit creepy (“You look just like my dad and I love incest”), but most of the time it’s as sexy as Matt Bomer and... fill in the blank.
There appears to be a new generation of sexual liberation; gay men willingly exploring their submissive side and openly embracing it to a degree they never felt comfortable with in an earlier era. You don’t have to be strong in the bedroom anymore since you spend all day taking on the new, mainstream world. (“Submissiveness,” also, is not necessarily limited to either “top” or “bottom;’ it’s a state of progressive mind.) The new liberation is also true of the men my age who are looking for a father figure: the inner-innocent child longing for the dad AIDS made it impossible to possess.
Grindr made all of this easier, as you can now catalog your desires, and find out what other men like about your own product. But to pass off the new sex as simply an Internet intervention would be a mistake. We’ve just transferred the club mentality and its mores to a virtual world.
But back to me. Because, why not? Trying to solve the complex issues of what has made me hot for 15 minutes of happy ending fame is, for me, fascinating. To a certain extend it’s also insolvable and I’d rather take all the credit and enjoy the byline while it lasts. I still do a metaphorical double take when someone calls me hot, looking behind my back to see whom the real object of the compliment is. But I’m learning.
As I was contemplating whom to meet up with awhile back—the blond beauty with the come-hither bubble butt or the suave Italian with the lips so sweet it’s an offer I can’t refuse—I realized that, for whatever reason, my time as a hot guy has finally arrived. It can happen to anyone at any age, and, like a homecoming queen or “Star Search” winner, I need to live in the moment. Like everything else, it will soon grow old.
This essay is part of an ongoing series by the author about issues facing older gay men. If you’ve got a “Daddy Issue,” I want to hear about it. -DRT