I would have started writing this piece earlier, but the tendonitis in my right foot sent me to the doctor scrambling for relief. Last Christmas a trainer at my gym (whose father is younger than I am) asked what my goals were and I said “to lose five pounds by my birthday, in April.” I achieved the goal in part because I destroyed my shoulder right after our session and couldn’t work out — much of the weight was muscle mass. I can’t jog or jump rope or do planks without a team of advisers on the scene.
“My body, that instrument that, once upon a time, introduced itself before I did, is falling apart. It’s a thing, decay. Happens to anyone whose name is not Cher.”
My body, that instrument that, once upon a time, introduced itself before I did, is falling apart. Slowly, yes, but it’s happening. It’s a thing, decay. Happens to anyone whose name is not Cher.
I’ve heard a lot lately from men older than my 53 years, gently chiding me for writing about a sexy life in the sixth decade. Most of the comments have had the tone of “Just wait,” and, while I’ve not addressed them individually, I hear the words. Now that the universe has decided gay men are going to grow old — T-cells be damned — we’re facing a whole new set of obstacles.
If you are gay, single, and childless, as I am, the future is as unpredictable today as the present was a couple of decades ago. Most 50-something gay men I know are married, and a huge percentage have children. I don’t know if they are all in love, or if it even matters, but I envy the security they have in one another and their family.
I don’t want to make the assumption that all gay, committed men are happy and carefree about their future. If I don’t specifically address them in this piece it’s because they’ve been mostly silent in regards to my work.
Unlike our predecessors, if you are gay and not married or partnered at this age, you face much of the same criticisms that single straight people do—what’s wrong with you; why haven’t you settled down; why are you so picky? Or, the alternative: You must not want a partner, children, a house. You’re happy in your life of solitude, so I’ll just ignore you and not invite you to that dinner party because it’s, you know, for couples.
For the record, because it’s come up so often, I would love to be married. I’ve come close a few times but it was never the right fit. I don’t want to “settle”—I’m too much of a romantic. I’d like to fall madly in love and take it from there. Pesky fate has thrown other plans in front of me. It’s a lonely feeling and I’m often envious when I read of my married friends’ placement and predicament.
“Most 50-something gay men I know are married, and a huge percentage have children. I don’t know if they are all in love, or if it even matters, but I envy the security they have.”
It breaks my heart when I read about a gay man over 60 talk about his loneliness, his lack of family, his lack of friends because of AIDS, his “invisibility.” Many of them were deserted by their nuclear family decades ago, and there was no lifeline to grab onto. I realize that I could be headed in the same direction, though I take comfort in the fact that I have siblings and in-laws and an extended family. For now I am good. I’m not immune to the temporal thrill of “fabulous at 50,” labels, or any of the other saccharine titles publications use to make our lives appear forever glamorous. We’re all scared. We’re all doomed.
About 10 years ago I told a 70-year-old straight woman that I was worried about growing old alone. She told me that, after two divorces and several bad relationships, she was thrilled to be single and I should be to. She was effing Mary Tyler Moore again! The next time I spoke to her, she had a new boyfriend. They remained together until her death 10 years later, and were the darlings of her assisted-living home. It’s addictive, this need to couple.
Not a week goes by where one of my gay, single peers doesn’t tell me of aging fears — “it ain’t for sissies,” ironically, is a perfect expression for the process. Most of us have witnessed, or are witnessing, the natural progression of parents, and know our number will soon be called. “Invisibility” is the most common phrase I hear, as well as scenarios in which they’re living with cats or their one, other single friend.
There’s also a terrible fear, at least in New York, that because beautiful bodies and youth have defined them for so long, without that armor they’ll further be alone. It’s as if this city, once so welcoming, stopped taking their phone calls and their texts and blocked them from Facebook, “life” edition. And every time a friend finds a partner the tug-o-war game gets another teammate for the other side. There’s so much grasping for rope.
Many years ago a man in his ’70s offered me a 100 bucks for simple sex, and I said sure. It seemed like a quick way to pay a bill and I’m not a prude about such things. I don’t remember much about him except that he seemed very lonely and reasonably well-off in his retirement — he had lots of tales of over-65 vacations and loved scuba diving.
I took him to my apartment and agreed to his one non-debatable request that I kiss him. I think he wanted that more than any other physical contact. Afterward, I got dressed and made light of things and watched him sit up, motionless. He hadn’t taken off one article of clothing. He looked at me, arms folded, told me I had a beautiful smile, and said, in a whisper, “I hate being old.” Then he walked out of my door and I never saw him again.
I don’t know if what I did was smart, or if it would hurt or help him. Perhaps it was something he did on a regular basis and it gave him a sense of freedom. Perhaps he forgot about it as soon as I did. Perhaps it spiraled him into deeper loneliness. I don’t have an answer. I do know that that someday I might find out for myself.
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