They call the years after 60 and near retirement "The Golden Years," but are they? In interviews with several gay men over 60, a frequent comment was, "I feel invisible!" But are we truly invisible in the world at large or, specifically, in the gay social circle of bars, clubs, and circuit parties?
It isn't easy to keep up with the younger generation of gays as we "baby boomers" continue to partake in the pleasures offered in the LGBT community, like popular gay vacation destinations and circuit parties. But for those of us who do, we need to know what to expect. Feeling the need to keep up with the younger gays just isn't going to work if we get frustrated when we don't get the attention that we used to get when we were younger. But if you are feeling good about the way you look and feel, by all means, go out and "party" and have a great time. I, for one, love the attention I get when I am feeling good about myself, and that confidence is evident to others, as well, for when you feel good, you look good, too!
I do not wish to be viewed in any way as demeaning any of my fellow gay brothers going through our later years, but I want those of us who continue to live a fantasy to face reality. From my interviews with many older gay men, I understand that there are concerns regarding getting older and not being respected or pursued for sex, potential relationships, or love. But having continual sex partners in order to feel young and alive is not a positive way to feel good about yourself. Pursuing activities that sustain us and move us toward life goals not yet attained are clearly better ways to feel good about ourselves as we enter our later years.
On a more serious note, my ex-boyfriend, who is HIV-positive, once commented to me that he would rather die young than grow old because he feared that as he aged, his muscle-bound body would fall into decrepitude and he would become unable to maintain his cherished physique. Those words made me recall the work of my former physician, Dr. Gary Blick, who conducted studies on "bugchasers," a group of gay men whose activities I question as life-affirming or sustaining: they choose to get infected with HIV. Many studies have been conducted on the subject in an effort to understand this phenomenon. Several of those studies theorized that the gay men pursuing this self-destructive sexual activity may hope to die young and avoid growing old by becoming infected with HIV. In 2003 writer and director Daniel Bort created a short film called Bugchaser that questions the actions of this group of gay men who continue to pursue such a dangerous activity. "I had to find out why such individuals will seek suicide in this almost symbolic way," he said. In retrospect, I wonder how many gay men died before their time due to this apparently lack of self-esteem and depression. The thought of this possibility brings sadness to me and others within the LGBT community, not to mention the countless non-LGBT friends and relatives who lost loved ones so tragically and senselessly.
The majority of us who are gay and growing older learn to deal with aging and all the physical and emotional adjustments that occur, aging with grace and dignity. I, for one, look to my 90-year-old mother, who loves her life and has been the source of inspiration and cohesiveness for our family. She is my personal role model for getting older. My father, who died some eight years ago, would have also been an excellent role model; he was a handsome, distinguished, and accomplished man who inspired and motivated many in his lifetime.
With my loving parents in mind, I look forward to my "Golden Years." Even if I choose to alter my formerly playful activities, I will do so with the knowledge that life offers many other wonderful activities. At present I am teaching college classes and working as a community volunteer at my university's radio station, writing, and working toward having my own radio and television show. I have altered my playful activities: I choose not to go out and play when I am feeling tired, but I am actively dating and working out daily at two gyms, and I will be returning to my weekly yoga classes.
Looking forward to my later years, I affirm the daily the relationships I enjoy with my family, friends, and my beloved Bouvier, Winston, who is also aging well at 12 years old. With that loving support in mind, I live day by day knowing that the "Golden Years" are definitely before me as I make preparations for my 60th birthday party later this year and move toward my retirement years.
We as gay men growing older need to realize that we have survived a terrible plague that continues to decimate our community, and be grateful for the wonderful opportunities ahead of us as we age with grace and dignity -- and with a little bit of safe playtime mixed in, to keep us young at heart and mind.