Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Gay Men and Aging

I am a gay man in my forties and I have some friends my age and younger -- and sometimes older -- who are frequently making disparaging remarks about mature gay men, especially seniors and the elderly. Some of this is good-natured and not to be taken seriously, but sometimes the remarks are nasty and hateful. I worry about getting older, like most people do, I believe, but the last thing I want to do is make things worse for older gay men by putting them down, just as I don't want to be put down simply for getting older, which no one can help. Any thoughts on this? Do you think the gay community is more ageist than the straight world? 

Definitely not. Age discrimination is part of American culture [and no doubt other countries as well] and sexual orientation has nothing to do with it. No one enjoys getting older, not just because of that very real discrimination but because of health issues that sometimes crop up with increasing age, not to mention the sense of time running out that many older people feel. Different people handle getting older differently, and some can't handle it at all. How we deal with aging has a lot to do with how we feel about ourselves, and how our lives are going as we mature. An aging person -- gay or otherwise -- who has financial security, enjoys their work, and is in a stable, loving relationship will find it easier to deal with getting older than someone who has none of those things. Someone who has achieved most or all of their life goals may find aging easier than someone whose dreams did not come true and sadly realizes that they probably never will. Yet even those people in the latter categories can still find different kinds of fulfillment as they grow older.

It's also true that people who have negative, nasty attitudes toward older people may find it that much tougher to get older themselves. Age discrimination can be caused by thoughtlessness, or it can be the product of a stupid or superficial mentality.

As for gay men and aging, the myth is that gay men all want to run and kill themselves when they hit forty or fifty, but judging from the very large mature gay male population I would say most gay men don't see that as a viable option. Nowadays people live and stay healthier longer, and enjoy active sex lives well into their seventies or even older. Straight men do not enjoy getting older and being viewed as "over the hill" or as "old-timers" any more than gay men do. And the male ego -- gay or straight -- always worries about sexual potency. For the record, most aging gay men won't need viagra.

Try not to worry too much about getting older. You probably have many, many wonderful years ahead. I know many men in their fifties, sixties and seventies and older who are still enjoying life, still getting out and about, still cruising, and still having very satisfying sex lives and romances, even if they don't have partners or perfect lives.


How prevalent is cross-dressing in the gay male community?

Before I answer that I have an anecdote. Some years ago I read an interview with an actor on a soap opera who'd just been told that his character was going to turn out to be gay. He told the interviewer, "I guess I'll have to go out and buy some dresses." I thought: Why? The character was gay and not a transvestite [or cross-dresser].

There has always been a frankly ridiculous link in the public's mind between homosexuality and transvestism. The fact is that the vast majority of gay men are happy being men and haven't the least interest in dressing up as women. Because flamboyant drag queens [gay transvestites] have always been a hard-to-ignore part of gay culture, people have mistakenly believed that more gay men are cross-dressers than actually are. In reality, most male transvestites are actually heterosexual [or at least identify as such]; they lead straight lives but enjoy dressing up as women, touching and wearing female underwear, and the like -- it's a fetish.

So to answer your question: cross-dressing is not very prevalent at all in the gay male community, although due to popular culture and coverage in some of the sillier gay magazines it may sometimes seem that way. With the emergence of the bear community, I'd have to say that drag is even seeming a little passe these days.