I’d had enough when a 20-something trainer at my gym told me my arms had lost their definition, then said “Commit, dude,” and wandered off to casually do a gazillion pull-ups as I continued to sweat like the oldies. I was fed up when an unsolicited picture of me shirtless in Aruba showed up on Facebook and I knew it would have taken a Photoshop genius to make me look like a hunky body-surfer. (I’d had some dieting issues that winter, goddammit!) I removed that photo faster than I do the Grindr butt-hole portfolios that occasionally bombard the app.
And I’ve felt nothing but defeat after a long period of fitness training, when someone sees me in tight clothes and says, noncommittally, “Do you work out?” Whenever that happens I contemplate saying, sarcastically, “Never,” but the fear of them responding with “You really should” is too frightening. And, you know, they might just be asking the question rhetorically.
For most gay men I know, looking fit and youthful takes a lot more work as we get older. The metabolism (usually) slows, our bodies don’t bounce back the way they once did, and sedate-requiring life is what happens while we we’re busy making fitness plans. As I write these words I’m suffering from some sort of sleep apnea-related illness, meaning if I don’t get seven hours I’m a zombie. Hitting the gym is like trying to write a dissertation on Advanced Algebra—an almost impossible dream.
But here we are, a lot of us, doing are darnedest to create the illusion of youth while living on the dark side of life’s moon. (On a brighter note, dated Pink Floyd and other pop culture references are piling up so high we’ll always have something to joke about at the reunions.) The question is, since vitality costs a bit more now, are we still worth it?... and there I go again.
I’ve been working out so long—30 years—that I’d probably be lost if I didn’t have that gym to visit (especially with all that spare time on my hands). Hopefully, it has helped me stay physically healthy as well. But there have been times when I’ve sincerely considered giving up and not trying to compete anymore.
In the end, it’s always a race; with our younger selves, with time, with those a generation younger than we are. And in the game of life the house always wins.
Beyond the gym, men my age are spending so much time and money to stay youthful-looking that I get exhausted hearing about all the options. Forget Botox, or similar line-erasing procedures; there are fat freezes and collagen implants, testosterone shots, anabolic steroids, and so many other procedures and methods I’ve forgotten about but have been told at one time or another I need to invest in. And soon.
I keep seeing my peers getting smaller waistlines and larger chests and foreheads that no longer stress the price and energy going into the New Yous. Ever go to a dinner party and admit you’re the only one who’s not had work? Loo-Zer!
Is it wrong? Of course not. Personally, however, I often think men look better with more lines and natural waistlines. I’m a huge fan of character, both on the inside and out. But who knows? Maybe some of those bodies and faces I love so much have had a lot of help along the way and I just didn’t know and was never told.
I’m too scared to alter anything myself, but ask me again next year. I dated a guy once who, when he took off his shirt, had a stomach that looked like it had been cut in half. He said getting lipo-suction was the worst mistake he’d ever made. I walked into a party last year and almost asked the guy who answered the door where the host was… before realizing it was him, sans the nose I knew and the eyes I’d last seen.
I also worry about the addictive pull of restructuring. If I started, when would I stop? Gay, older men are not unlike older women in that sense. And like older women, the pressure to stay looking good is fierce. So is the judgment.
When I was 32 I dated a 35-year-old, extremely attractive man who told me that he couldn’t wait until he was officially an “older man.” He said he hated the pressure of looking good—in Chelsea, nonetheless—and craved that time in his life when he’d no longer be in the fish bowl and could just let himself go. When I ran into him a few years ago, he looked like a younger, distant cousin of the guy I once knew. Like a beautiful house after the maid’s done her time, everything was just slightly rearranged.
He’s on Grindr a lot, and the professional, Photoshopped photo he uses is over ten years old (I remember when he did the shoot), and I can’t but help think he’s determined to make sure his real face always matches the youth of the pic. But damn does he look good, even if there is a Dorian Gray reference I should make but am just too damned tired to figure out.
I’m also not immune to jealousy and competition. I see a guy my age with no body fat and I almost hope he had it professionally removed so I don’t have to feel guilty for that popcorn I ate at the movies the night before. (Sometimes trying to remain pretty is anything but.) When I found out an acquaintance of mine was getting under the radar testosterone shots, I was relieved, because in my warped mind it meant he wasn’t working any harder than I was at staying in shape. He just had “help.” Please… that guy could have a weekly bon-bon bonanza and he’d still look better than I do.
What I need to remind myself of every day is that perfection is a state of mind, and I should never beat myself up over being five pounds over my ideal weight or not having arms as big as the next guy, or seeing a belly reach over my jeans or deciding rejection must mean I’m a homely, grotesque beast. And I also need to remember that, if I’m having a good month, physically, it’s fleeting. Enjoy it with the understanding that I’m on the clock.
I need to un-learn my Chelsea-living formative years when being a loser meant having to wait in line at the Roxy, when no one looked at you if you didn’t look like the guy on the cover of “HX,” when steroid use was so common that real muscles looked unnatural, when going to gay mecca Fire Island was a lesson in, ironically, exclusion, and when all of this was practiced and preached in an environment seemingly cut off from the rest of the world. Yes, it still exists in pockets, but I’m allowed to be more land-based now. It’s going to take a lot of hard work and diligence, but I can handle it. No sweat.
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