On Being Gay and Gray
By Larry Jacobson
* – Originally published in The Quarterly Journal of the Life Planning Network
Aging for gay men is different than for straight men. I should know, I’m gay and I’m aging. As I watch my straight friends grow older, I see clear differences in what we are experiencing. There are many areas to discuss and I have selected key topics of concern to the aging gay man in America. This article is representative of my experience and others may have different experiences and point of views. I welcome the discussion.
It’s a young man’s world. Like it or not, the gay community has always had a bent toward physical beauty. We have thus been pegged with the reputation of shallow, singularly focused on beauty and sex—gym-rats, as well as health- conscious.
As we age, we lose our outward physical prowess and beauty, and while we can tell ourselves over and over again that beauty comes from within, the fact still remains that the six-pack abs we once showed off so proudly at pride parades are now concealed beneath a layer of fat. A 20-minute workout that used to produce fabulous results would need to become a daily two-hour grind to get close to those same results. And we just don’t have the same amount of energy as before. We are promised endless youth in various forms of testosterone only to then be told by our doctors it will give us prostate cancer. We look in the mirror and scream, “I don’t want to date me. Look, I’m old!” When it comes to wanting to retain our youth, we are going kicking and screaming down the path to old age.
Similar to our straight brothers, our hope lies in new priorities, including companionship with equals, mentoring youth, and showing off our wisdom rather than our abs.
There’s no way to sugarcoat the fact that the gay community is known to have a lot of sex. But rumors don’t make truth. Yes, maybe a lack of marriage certificates gave us the possibility of having more sex than the straight world, but that doesn’t mean we did.
Having said that, some of us did and still do have a lot of sex. I have had more than one straight friend ask, “You mean you can just go home with someone and ‘do it?’ No dinner or movie or roses necessary?” Sure, we might have sex more freely and yes it is more available than in the straight world. And it’s true the niceties of roses may not be necessary, but they sure are nice when they happen. We too want movies, dinner, and chocolate-covered strawberries with our roses. I have also heard people comment that because all males just want to have sex and
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nothing else, when you put two of them together, you get fireworks. From experience, that’s a hard one to argue.
Question: Why do many men name their penis?
Answer: Because they don’t want a stranger making most of their decisions for them.
But where does all of this freedom lead us as we age? If you were used to having sex freely and readily available at a whim, what goes through your head when you lose interest and would rather read a good book than have a ‘hook-up’? Many try desperately to hang on to what we had. “How can it be I’m not so interested in sex? I was a sex machine?!” Some make it through the transition and are happy with that book or other passion including cuddling and companionship. Others have a tougher time.
Sex performance and enhancement drugs, both legal and not, have been part of the gay culture as far back as the grape.
Question: What’s the difference between a straight and gay man? Answer: A bottle of wine.
The use of alcohol, poppers, pot, cocaine, ecstasy, meth, ghb, k, mdma, etc. is common in gay culture, and it’s rare to find someone in the community who isn’t at least aware of, if not involved in some way with it. Many are used to doing drugs to dance or have sex all night. It’s been part of our culture for decades. I’m not at all saying the entire gay community uses drugs, but we’re not surprised when we meet people who do.
Additionally, as we age and our natural libido wanes, the gay community is more prone to using drugs because we are unwilling to give up our sex life, which was for many of us, an important part of our lives. Whether it was part of rebellion or just pure pleasure, if drugs can extend (no pun intended) that hot sex life, then why not do them?
Instructions on Viagra packaging: If you experience an erection longer than 4 hours, call your doctor.
Gay Man: “If I experience an erection longer than 4 hours, I’m calling everybody!”
Loneliness and Social Life
As gay boomers, we never grew up thinking we could marry. It just wasn’t in the cards. While long-term relationships, monogamous or not, are not new to the gay community, legal marriage certainly is. Without legal marriage, adoptions were not common, and kids were usually the by-product of a divorce and broken-up straight marriage. Without kids, we missed out on the joy of raising them, and we missed out on having them here for us in our old age. Sure, we didn’t have to change their diapers, pay for their college, or watch them touch the stove even
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after we told them it was hot. But something tells me those would have all been worth it to have them here for us now.
Because we have no children to take care of us, many will spend our last years in the hands of strangers. When we are in a rest home, and the caregiver or person in the bed next to us asks, “Tell me about your family. Do you have kids?” How am I to answer? “No, I wasn’t allowed to get married, want to see a picture of me dressed up for the Pride Parade?” Or will they understand when I reply, “I had several fabulous relationships, one lasted 20 years, one lasted 18 years, and I had a lot of love in my life.” My fear is they won’t understand, and that makes me sad, lonely, and yes, afraid.
As for social life, we have plenty of options. Many of us don’t go out dancing anymore, or even to bars for that matter. So now we join groups of various interests, which is fine if you live in or near a gay mecca such as San Francisco. But what about growing old and gay in Omaha? Your options are severely limited and many are forced back into the closet just to have a social life outside of the local gay bar.
My relationship with my first longish-term partner lasted two years. We separated amicably, but I still cry over him because the AIDS Plague took him several years after our split. If he could have hung on for just a few years more, the advances in drug therapy would have saved Brad. I am hardly alone in that kind of loss. Everybody I know lost a friend, lover, or knew someone who suffered a loss. In that time, when we met new friends, we wrote their names in our address books in pencil, not pen, for we did not know how long they would last. Those were our formative years of our 20s and 30s when we were building our families and then those families were taken from us. To a certain extent, it broke our backs. Yet it strengthened and hardened us to stand up and fight for equality and brought many of us closer together. It is with those whom we then bonded with then we now call our families. But we’re all the same age. Who will take care of us? We are all nervous and afraid of this. In whose arms will we die?
In whose arms will we die?
Hope and Strength
We are strong and as a community, gays have never had more power and influence than we have now. While our newly earned rights are currently being threatened, we know through hard work, time, and money, we will turn that around. Yet because of that power, which now allows us to live where we want, marry whom we want, and in some parts of the country, even steal a kiss on the street with our loved one, as individuals we are now becoming blended in with general society. That homogeny is both a curse and a blessing. We have hope of not being isolated, but that lack of isolation will bring into question whether or not we can actually truly come out or stay out in our elder years.
I am one of those who believes we can do anything we set our mind to, and it doesn’t matter if we are gay or straight. But it’s not so easy for many gay men. Only by bringing up the subject and discussing it can we make progress toward us staying out of the closet.
Larry Jacobson is a nationally recognized non-fiscal retirement coach. Larry successfully transitioned from CEO to sailor and achieved his dream of sailing around the world, then from sailor to author and speaker. A California native, he is the first openly gay man to sail around the world. The author of the award-winning memoir of that six-year circumnavigation, The Boy Behind the Gate, he lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and welcomes new friends and inquiries at www.larryjacobson.com
Originally published in the Quarterly Journal of the Life Planning Network Fall 2017 Volume 4, Issue 4