R/Age Against The Machine

Published on January 20, 2016 by   ·   No Comments

Aging 03So this post is part observation and part exasperation; be prepared.  I’m just a few days away from turning another year older, and so I’m thinking a lot about time and aging and all that as people approaching birthdays are prone to do.

At drag shows, I joke fairly often about my age.  I tell people that I turned 21 for a long time, until T-Swift put out that song “22” and I decided to take advantage of cross-marketing opportunities.  In fact, I hosted a show at the Aquarium for the 10th anniversary of my 21st birthday as a cheeky way of both admitting my age and deciding to stay younger.  Like Mama always said: Pick an age you like, and stick with it.

As much as I joke about it (and who knows – maybe my jokes play into the problems in some small way that I’m not even paying attention to), there is a real problem with age among gay and queer men.  There is a problem with age in mainstream culture in general; anyone who doubts that need only look at the recent stir about Carrie Fisher’s appearance in the new Star Wars movie.  She had the audacity to look like a 59-year-old woman instead of starving and mutilating herself in an effort to maintain every straight male geek’s gold-bikini-wearing masturbatory fantasy, and when she dared to call the haters out this asshat decided to throw his stupid opinion into the fray.  But at least the controversy is there – people are talking about it, blogging about it, hashtagging about it.  With queer men, the voices are there but so much softer and they’re getting drowned out by the toxic gay culture that only values young, thin, bronzed and beaming demigods.

Aging 02Perhaps I’m just a bitter queen because I’ve somehow let myself become the two things that are unforgivable to gay men: old and fat.  I’ve blogged about body image before, so let’s take the other shadowy path.  Right behind the obsession with the perfect body is the obsession with age.  As people are coming out earlier and earlier, the fetishization of youth is only getting stronger and stronger.  Also, as people have increasingly moved away from community centers, bars, and LGBT organizations and shifted toward online connections (especially hookup apps like Grindr, Hornet, and Scruff), I can’t help but notice a loss of communal identity among queers.  The anonymity of the internet makes it easier for people to be nasty, dismissive, and contribute to an environment already filled with toxic thinking.

Think I’m being a Missy Pissy?  Take a little stroll through your local Grindr profiles or sort through the delightful cesspool that is Craigslist.  Pay attention to who is posting and who they are looking for.  Most of the profiles I see of men in their 30s and 40s are looking for the age range of 18-30…or 18 up to and grudgingly including their own age, but they usually make it clear that the younger, the better.  Men in their 50s and 60s?  It gets worse; over 26 need not apply.

Aging 06Obviously this is a bit of an exaggeration, and I’m sure some of it is related to the subset of men who choose to pursue their “extracurricular activities” through these types of apps.  But when you live in a rural area with limited social outlets, these apps are more than just casual entertainment as they provide additional opportunities to find and interact with others of similar interests.  In Grand Forks, there is the college LGBT organization; while it is open to the community, the nature of the group’s leadership and activities ensures that the demographic will skew decidedly young.  There is also a relatively new community group that aims to provide social opportunities, but its low profile and hesitance to involve itself in anything beyond potlucks and meet-and-greets makes it a rough fit for socially conscious (or Heaven forfend, politically active!) queers in their 30s.

Carrie Fisher hit the nail on the head when she pointed out that youth and beauty are nothing more than accidents of chronology and genetics.  You don’t earn either one, and so when we make these the most prized attributes in our communities, we create impossible situations in which people have to live their lives.  It also reveals the tragic hypocrisy that underlies the whole thing.  I’ve read articles and heard friends and acquaintances all complain about how they aren’t valued in gay male culture because they aren’t young enough or hot enough.  But their point is that they aren’t young enough or hot enough to get with the youngest, hottest guys.  They themselves are placing so much emphasis on their potential partners being attractive and many years their junior.  “But I’m such a great guy,” they say, “I have so much to offer.”  And they do.  But so do the other men their age who are also complaining about not being able to land all of the barely legal twink studs prancing around at Pride.  I’ve always wanted to ask them: If you only want the super-young and super-hot guys (and that is ok), then why isn’t it ok for the super-young and super-hot guys to only want other super-young and super-hot guys?  The older guys claim that their wanting this type of men is having a preference or a “type” but if those men also have the same preference or “type,” they cry ageism!

Aging 07All of this is not to disparage so-called “May-December romances” as these can be just as wonderful and surprising as any other relationships.  But by restricting potential partners to a specific age bracket and refusing to “play with someone your own age” isn’t going to allow this sort of relationship to develop organically.  And the best relationships happen when you find a person or persons who challenge and inspire you, who cuddle you and make you feel loved, and then you fill in the details from there.  Some great sexual chemistry isn’t bad either.  But if we start with an endless laundry list of vital statistics that we aren’t willing to accept, we end up missing out on a lot of really important experiences.

Perhaps I’m just willing to let myself go along for the ride with whatever the universe offers.  Whenever I start to formulate a “type,” I always end up meeting someone who is completely the opposite of that type and falling for them anyway.  For a while I decided I only wanted men who were taller than me; this was the easiest type to break, as I’m 6’2″ without heels, so men taller than me are few and far Aging 01between!  And then I met someone who was 5’6″ and rocked my world (not to mention my bedframe!) and that expectation was shattered.  I got real snotty for a while about only wanting to date men with college educations, and then I had an affair with a construction worker who was rough and gritty on the outside but so sweet and passionate in private that just being around him made me smile.  Hell, just writing this article practically guarantees that some young thing will come along, looking to steal my heart…as long as I’ll buy his beer.

So much of our mainstream culture is toxic, and it’s designed to sell you products by convincing yourself that you aren’t good enough, thin enough, young enough, whatever enough.  Gay and queer men’s culture is all that times ten.  And the only thing that’s going to change it is people standing up and saying that they are opting out, and calling out the haters who try to put them back in line.  Let’s be nicer to ourselves and each other, and let’s try to raise the discourse beyond the accidents of youth and beauty.  Let’s talk about our years of experience and our battle scars.

Aging 04So for anyone who is wondering or has been trying to guess: I’m 38.  I’ll probably still try to claim 22 in certain situations (don’t judge me – Mama still has to make them coins, and T-Swift didn’t write a song called “38” now did she?) but I’m not going to pretend that I’m ashamed of my age.  I’m fine with being 38.  I went through a lot of shit to get to this age, and there were more than a few times that I wasn’t really sure that I would.  The fact that I’m still alive and kicking?  Well, that’s just another fabulous birthday present.

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