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Wednesday 14 April 2010

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The Gay Blade

9th March 2010

Acting My Age

Posted by: Michael Stevens

I was out dancing the other weekend and “Forever Young” came on.

oldergay.jpgI was dancing with a small group of old friends, some of us have been dancing together for 30 years. I’m 48 and I often go out dancing. Do I want to be forever young, as the song says, or not? Should I have taken myself off the dancefloor in shame?

Gay men are often accused of having a Peter Pan complex. And while we visible ones on the scene help create this stereotype, it’s often applied to all homos with thin-lipped disapproval, to show we aren’t really serious or mature somehow. We don’t want to grow up, apparently. We like to do “young” things, like dance, dress up, go to parties, sleep around, and worry about our appearance, apparently. We spend money like teenagers, apparently. So we are judged by some, including some of our own, to be immature.

Well what’s mature? Holding down a nine-to-five job till you retire? Getting to bed at 10 on a Saturday night because you’re really too old at 50 to be out in a bar and dancing, it’s just not seemly.

And so what if parts of this accusation are true? Most people are forced to grow up because of the needs of families, children, buying a home, all the stuff that typically goes with being straight. As gay men, we don’t tend to follow this path. Our lives are different, because most of us don’t have kids to worry about, and we can do a lot of things without having to put a whole group of other people in our calculations. I can remember a few years ago my mother saying to me, out of the blue “You know, I don’t feel any older inside than I did when I was 20, it’s just my body has aged.” I hope I can say that - imagine feeling old inside. I don’t want to.

Often it seems to me that the criticism of gay men not acting their age comes from our own, from other gay men, who for whatever reason, feel uneasy at the prospect of men in their 40s, 50s or 60s still going out and having a good time. Do we remind the young ones that they too will age, and do the older ones disapprove out of envy? I think so. But who decided that everyone had to retire to the suburbs at 39 and behave like their grand-parents?

You know, our generation watched an awful lot of friends sicken horribly and die, and while I was dancing with that small group of old friends the other weekend, we were all aware of all the ghosts on the floor who hadn’t made it. I think, far from being immature, we’re very mature: we grew up pretty damn fast in the worst days of the AIDS epidemic. We had to. And I think that experience helps us value now, value the joy and fun that is in the world, because we’ve seen how fast it can all disappear. 

I know the scene is not for everyone, I know it can be shallow, vapid, and heartless and so can some of the men on it, and I’ve been through times in my life when I haven’t been interested in it, but I’ve enjoyed coming back into it as well. I’m lucky because of the friends I have. And while some of those friends the other week were my age, or older, and dancing till 3 in a sweaty shirtless frenzy, they all have real grown-up jobs, and are strong clear individuals.

I don’t care that I don’t have a gym-buff body (well, if I could take a pill for one I’d do it but you know, I’m lazy…) and I don’t think I’m having a mid-life crisis by having riotous weekends at 48 when most of the men I went to school with are fast asleep in the suburbs next to a woman they married 20 years ago. They are the ones who will wake up one day and have a mid-life crisis, I won’t, because I’ve been lucky enough to lead a life that allowed me a lot more choice: I have very few regrets.  I will get a new tattoo this year, and probably another piercing. And I will keep on dancing like a fool. Because life is for living, you only get one go, and I just don’t care what anyone else thinks.

Tags: General

10 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Lisa // Mar 11, 2010 at 1:44 pm

    I had this same conversation with my friend recently, from the perspective of how lucky we are to be gay. He noted that when his father retired he & his wife went out & bought him a La-Z-Boy. Other people we know, who are older, put on their leather gear & go out clubbing in New York.

    I know which one I’d rather be.

  • 2 Ben // Mar 11, 2010 at 2:09 pm

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with this one. I’m nineteen and already the whole situation, to me, is like one blunt double edged sword.
    On the one hand - when I see older men out dancing I get scared of growing up, i think I place everyone in the same box and fret that I will be an edge lurker or the likes.
    On the other - i hope that if I do grow up (when I do grow up) I can be comfortable and happy enough to go out and dance and have a good night.
    It’s stubborn youthful arrogance mixed with a premature envy of how i guess i’ll feel when I’m almost 50.
    Goooo figure.

  • 3 Glenn // Mar 11, 2010 at 3:37 pm

    Its great that you are having a good time on the dance floor M ( is it the 23rd relaunch onto the scene ???!!! ) Just trust that you also accept that those gay guys who have found contentment “retire (ing ) to the suburbs ” are no less enjoying their life :-) Surely that is what law reform was all about…..being able to choose which life path suited best and feeling comfortable having made the choice. Having enjoyed the delights of the scene for many years ( hats off to those who still do ), and despite the constant urging of many friends to continue to partake, I , for one, find many other activities more appealing these days, which certainly dont involve “retire(ing)” or the use of Laz-y-boy recliners ( well not for sitting on anyway, but thats a different subject !! )

  • 4 Uppity // Mar 13, 2010 at 7:05 pm

    Michael your blog is so spot on. I’m a 47 year old gay man working in a provincial firm of over 150 staff where I am the only out gay person. As wonderful as my colleagues are, I know now that my experiences of life have been so different from theirs; I’ve seen things they never will, and dealt with stuff that most never will. It doesn’t make me better, but the fact is that many of we gay people have extra dimensions to our characters because of what we’ve been through.

  • 5 Uppity // Mar 13, 2010 at 7:07 pm

    (I had to break up my comments into chunks because your website considered them to be possible spam; ridiculous. So here’s the rest).
    In my late 40s and unencumbered, I can act young if I want or older if I want. There’s a “steadiness” that has come with my forties which I really like.
    If you’re an older gay man in an urban environment, I think it’s important to try to unplug from the avalanche of media messages about how you should look, what you should own, who you should be screwing, etc etc. It’s very hard to do, but it’s a treadmill leading nowhere. Find your own path.
    And be grateful that you’ve made it to this age, because the journey for many gay men can be a perilous one. When I was younger I used to sometimes feel hard done by as a gay man, but once you’re settled within yourself you realise you’re a damn sight better off than most of your straight peers! We all have our problems, gay or straight, they’re just different, that’s all.
    Thank you Michael for using your wisdom constructively. What’s generally missing from the gay media in New Zealand (and probably worldwide), are the voices of older gay men. We’ve been through it all, and we have a part to play. Yes, younger guys may have it easier, but in my view not that much easier. They still can’t hold hands and kiss in 95 per cent of the pubs in this country without risking injury or death, it’s as simple as that.

  • 6 Michael // Mar 14, 2010 at 9:32 pm

    I think the problem is, that a lot of our ’scene’ is filled with older guys having fun. This can make younger guys like me feel uncomfortable and out of place. What we need is to have ‘young guys’ clubs and ‘old guys’ clubs so we can mix with our own generation.

  • 7 355 // Mar 16, 2010 at 12:46 am

    @michael - great idea!
    and you know what, non-white people also make me feel uncomfortable, so lets have a ‘white guys’ club and a ‘non-white guys’ club, that way we can mix with our own kind and we won’t be made to feel ‘uncomfortable’

    lord…

  • 8 Pete // Mar 16, 2010 at 10:24 am

    Don’t worry about the ‘age thing’. I’ll be 65 this year and can still be found bouncing arround on the disco floor at 3pm on a Saturday night. As long as the body and mind allow ‘do it’. Personally I’ve not experienced any age discrimination and I don’t think the younger guys I’m probably dancing with think I discriminate agaist them. Three cheers for Wellington!!!

  • 9 Biff // Mar 20, 2010 at 5:05 pm

    I am nearly 80 and look 60s. I enjoy the company of younger Gays and Straight Guys too. I love to dance and have Sunday afternoon catch ups.
    The thing that gets me is’ ivitations’ ! Why do people always invite couples ? I have not got a partner and to have to be paired of with a female each time is rather ho hum. I would go alone, no trouble. The dinner table will still look the same! I can converse with any one easily. People know I am gay but the invites always say ‘and partner’. I have brought a Gay friend but there is always an atmosphear with a few at the party. God help us, this is the 21st century but in good old NZ there is still a stand off attitude Being old is tough enough without the looks and nudges !!

  • 10 Paulo // Mar 23, 2010 at 5:34 pm

    it’s most definately an age thing … I’m 46 next month YAY and although we don’t have any dance clubs (gay or straight) here in Westland I can often be found having my own little rave on the verandah … and these days find little time for TV and go to bed when I want … sometimes as early as 8pm Shock!

    Thanks for the blog.

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