"The 80-year-old slut." That's what a friend calls me. "82," I say, correcting him. "82."
We have to completely rethink what age numbers stand for.
Yes, I am 82, and yes, I have a lover who is well under 30, and yes, I have an excellent sex life with him. Our relationship began when he said to me, "I usually don't like guys, but you give me a boner." For someone over 80, this is good news. I told yet another friend, a woman, in this case, "He either really is into me or he's the best actor in the world." She said, "What's the difference?" and she's right.
As the baby boomers bulge over the 65-year mark, the time has come when what we think we will be doing in the latter part of our lives will change, must change. If you may easily live to 95, do you really plan to sit about for 30 years, from 65 to 95? That's a third of your life.
I prefer to think that 80 to 90 is just late middle age, and we have to be ready for it. We have to run our lives and not let our lives run us. Exercise. Control all that eating. Do all these things that we always wanted to do and have not done yet. Our lives are meant to be lived, and in that final third we can do it.
Baby boomers (and even those younger) will find themselves having a shift in their thinking as to who they are and what their potential is. The attitude of younger people in the 21st century is bound to filter upward, and those over 65 will not be living as the previous generation did when they reached that age.
Gay Role Models for Our New, Longer Lives?
But who are our gay role models for this new third of our lives? Who do we look to for guidance and inspiration in leading happy and fulfilled lives in our 70s, 80s, and 90s?
For me, I don't really like older gay role models like Cecil Beaton and Noel Coward. They seemed a bit too full of themselves to me, as though they had few real friends. I prefer role models like Coco Chanel and Elsie DeWolfe, and Lady Mendl, too. Coco made her comeback at 70 and was a major heavy hitter in fashion until her death 20 years later. Elsie was an interior decorator who fled Paris to escape the Nazis, went to Hollywood, and had a big success during the war. She returned to her career in Paris after the war, well into her 90s. And how about the English eccentric Quentin Crisp? He died while still on tour at age 90. Then there was Josephine Baker. She died halfway through her comeback run in Paris. I love these kinds of people. I think gay men have to toughen up and keep raging forward.
Rethinking the Way We Live
Because of the enormous new variations of what constitutes a family, there will be many people who are single, who want to be single, who enjoy being single. The previous century required that the family care for the elderly. Many seniors do not require care and in fact may finally be caring for the younger members of the reconfigured family unit. The single parent, the gay couple, the couples who have been divorced once or twice -- these are not at all like the families preceding them. They will not be shuffled off into retirement and assisted living communities. We must prepare ourselves to imagine all kinds of new lifestyles. Prepare yourself. Seventy to 80 will be the new middle age, and 80 to 90 will just be late middle age.
This may result in rethinking the whole way we live. Having more than one career may be commonplace. Some folks may start off in banking and then shift to life on a ranch and then decide in later years to go to South America and begin all over again down in Brazil. It's not out of the question, and just think how much more exciting the prospects of life will be.
Aging won't just mean more years twiddling your thumbs, but more years to adventure forth into life.
Concerns about having made the "right" life choices will disappear, as there will be time to make new choices and embark in new directions. The older population in no way needs to be a weight upon the younger, opening up more creative ways of living for all: fulfilling, interesting, and exciting ways to live.
We learn as we live, and it is very possible that the knowledge we gain as we add those years on will bring a different way for countries to relate to one another, races to relate to one another, the sexes to relate to one another -- different ways for gays and straights to relate to each other.
David Brooks, a writer from The New York Times, asked people over 70 to share how they felt about their lives. The biggest percentage said they felt they had missed out on doing what they wanted to do with their lives. My friends, there is still time. And I don't mean just traveling to Machu Picchu. I mean sitting down and thinking about who you really are. For me, closeted men are the biggest offenders. They have spent their lives leading someone else's life, not their own. And this is much, much more than a gay thing. It's for everybody. Go live in that country you always wanted to live in. Learn a new language. Write a book. Study figure skating. You can do all those things.
Gays Lead the Way
And, as usual, the gay world is at the front edge of change. They've grown up, checked out the world, and are demanding their own lives. Women see this and are inspired to claim this century for themselves. The last century was about, "What do other people think of me?" This new century is about, "Who am I, and how am I going to create a life for myself?"
Add to that: "It's never too late."
At the moment I am in Montevideo, Uruguay. I flew down here to celebrate my 82nd birthday with my lover/boyfriend, who is a whole lot of years younger than I am. But as he said, "I'm not usually into guys, but you give me a boner." Who is going to argue with that?
And listen, if I can have a South American boyfriend at 82, what's stopping you? Other people can fall in love with you because of who you are, so forget about your age.
Life is so interesting. You just have to hurl yourself into it.