As a therapist, I see many gay male clients who are struggling with middle age. As a middle-aged gay man in my 50s, I understand the struggle. When I was a younger therapist, older gay men in their 40s, 50s and 60s would tell me they disappeared at gay events, and that other gay men--particularly younger ones--didn't notice them. I didn't believe them. I told these men that life was what you make of it, and if they were invisible we needed to discover what they were doing to make that happen.
As I approached my later 40s, and now my early 50s, I see exactly what they were talking about. I have literally been standing in a bar behind younger guys who turned around and bumped right into me as if I wasn't there. Heads don't turn toward me the way they did when I was younger. As one ages, one notices these things.
I once told a gay male client in his 20s who was struggling with not feeling attractive that he was, in fact, a very handsome and hot guy, and that we needed to work on his self-esteem. I immediately followed this by reassuring him that I was not coming on to him. He responded, "Why would I ever think you were coming onto me?" That is when I realized he didn't even see me as a sexual being.
American culture worships youth and beauty, and this is even more so in the gay community. Historically when gay men reach a certain age, they tend to withdraw from the dating and bar scene, from interaction with younger men, afraid that they will no longer be seen as attractive, or as predators.
Unfortunately, the striving for a younger body and stronger libido is leading to an alarming trend I am seeing amongst middle-aged gay men: the use of crystal meth. This is not the answer. There are far healthier ways to retain a sense of virility, attractiveness and relevance.
Perhaps one of the saddest examples of gay middle-aged self-loathing was the Manhattan therapist Bob Bergeron. A handsome, successful man, Bergeron was weeks away from having his book, "The Right Side of Forty: The Complete Guide to Happiness for Gay Men at Midlife and Beyond," published. As a man approaching middle age myself, I looked forward to the book. I watched his videos, and wanted to learn what someone in my own field and dealing with my impending issues could teach me about it.
Then he committed suicide. I was horrified. Apparently, Bergeron found the prospect of becoming middle-aged unbearable and isolating.
This is exactly what should not happen, in my opinion. Separation of old and young in our society is increasingly understood as undesirable and unhealthy, leading to isolation and to the detriment of both groups. Due to the devastation that AIDS wreaked in the gay community in decades past, there is a notable lack of older gay role models from whom younger men--and other middle-aged men--might benefit from knowing and interacting with.
I am proposing we begin using the word "Cougay," the counterpart of labels given to women--""Cougars"--who have enjoyed the benefits of staying relevant and sexy. In fact, becoming a Cougar has been called a source of self-empowerment. We gay men are also capable of being vibrant, alive, and remaining attractive and alluring. Younger gay men sometimes call us, "Daddies," a label I personally enjoy. There are even some websites already established for Daddies and their admirers, one being www.daddyhunt.com. However many peers and clients my age don't like that label, as it reminds them of their age.
So what better word to claim than Cougay?
Personally, I am working on owning the Cougay label. Despite the fact that I have been in a solid relationship for 22 years now, I still want to be seen as vibrant and attractive by others. Don't we all? I am still an individual, and enjoy flirting and playing with sexual and flirtatious energy. So I work hard to lose the extra weight that age often brings, and I seek out younger people to be a part of my life.
I challenge my clients to work on staying in shape through exercise and eating well, but also to remain involved in the gay social scene, to be out among younger people. Many people have noted that having younger friends makes one feel younger. And if they are rejected or made to feel invisible, I encourage them to not take it personally, to not neuter themselves or give up on their sexuality, and to not be offended by younger guys who might call them "Daddy."
I challenge them to keep dating, even though it gets harder when you are older, especially in the gay male community. This calls for consistently changing your dating strategies, as well as your expectations. For instance, in dating it is important to notice how you are dressing. You don't have to be making a fashion statement, but keeping up with various clothing options that make you feel better about yourself keeps you confident, and other gay men will see this.
I suggest that they enjoy the freer sexuality that comes from getting older. Things that you thought you could never do before, or would never have had the nerve to try, you find yourself willing to try. Try experimenting safely with other sexual ways of being that don't only involve erections. Sex can include fantasy, role-play, and kink.
So, embrace being a Daddy or a Cougay! It's a big world out there, and someone will find you attractive, your accumulated experience valuable, and your personality charming. Having father energy and playing with it can be very fun. I have always been drawn to paternal men, and have had a need for their blessings. Now, as an older man, I enjoy offering younger gay men the blessings derived from the wisdom I've gained over the years, and the things I can say and do to help them feel better and confident about themselves.
Cher was interviewed a few years ago, and was asked when she thought enough was enough given that there were newer and younger divas coming up behind her. She said that in the old days the older divas got out of the way and made room for the younger ones, and that she had no intention of doing this. She said they would have to go around her! I loved it. I feel the same way as a middle-aged gay man.
Remember, there is a place for us at middle age. Embrace your Cougay!