Research done on ageism in the USA has shown that many older gay men feel undervalued and ignored by the gay community. Some also experience hurtful situations at the hands of youngsters (gay men under 30).
To a large degree I agree with these findings: We do undervalue the elderly in our community and we do sometimes ignore them. In my opinion, older gay men fall into one of two categories – Fabulous Fairies or Ghastly Goblins. It’s comparable to a vintage wine as opposed to mouldy food forgotten in your fridge.
Fabulous Fairies are the ones that have accepted their age, have fun with it and set a good example of a healthy and happy lifestyle. Ghastly Goblins are the ones that scare me! They are in denial about their age, try to pick up twinks and have a less than desirable fashion sense: the old out of shape guy in a tank top and leather pants whose vocabulary does not include the word “no”; the one that’s overweight; dodgy-looking; flaunts his wealth and/or is sure to pop a roofie in your drink; and the one that surrounds himself with post pubescent boys – the typical sugar daddy. None of us really want to end up like that, do we? Predatory…Lonely….Desperate…Vulgar….
Clubs, bars and other sexualised venues cater for the young, making these venues not always friendly to older gay men. There is no formula to determine when old is too old, but once uneasiness surrounds you at a venue, you may have reached that age.
In many cases it is more about your own attitude, appearance and behaviour than your biological age. It should not mean that once you are over 40 you are dead or should retire socially. The fairy will not turn into a goblin at the stroke of midnight. Gay men are not dairy products that will curdle a week after the expiry date.
“None of us want to die alone and only be discovered weeks later after your starving cat has feasted on your corpse…”
Ageism exists in all social groups, gay and straight. In my opinion, it is emphasised in the gay community because ageing scares us. It makes us ask questions we’d rather avoid; therefore we prefer not to think about it. Being confronted with ageing secretly makes us ask:
When I am old, single and sick who’s going to take care of me? Will I meet someone and have a relationship at that age? Am I going to die alone?
Not all gay people have children to fall back on. Not all gay people financially prepare for old age as they should. Not all gay people have a close nit social network. None of us want to die alone; only to be discovered weeks later after your starving cat has feasted on your corpse.
Being in my 30’s I must admit that I do make use of the “oils of delay” – the eye creams, night creams, day creams, etc… I have even considered Botox but, for now, I still enjoy the ability to express my emotions on my face.
In a few years I too will be 40. Being in a long-term and stable relationship makes me less worried about growing old. I have a life partner that is ageing with me. Gravity will be cruel to both of us; we will have matching sagging bums and man boobs, not to mention the liver spots, but, as our looks fade, we still will have each other – if we’re lucky! I will take pride in my appearance; take care of my body and skin, keeping the twilight at bay for as long as I can.
There are many older gay men and women who live happy lives well into their twilight years. There are also many gay couples that have been together for more years than I am old; which gives me hope for my own marriage. They have a tremendous contribution to make to our community. They are the survivors of the HIV epidemic and the veterans of the gay rights movement. We are indebted to them for so much we have today.
Ageism in the gay community, in my opinion, is the embodiment of a central fear that plagues our community – our fear of growing old and the consequences thereof. Some older members of our community set bad examples that make us fear growing old even more, but there are countless others, who we do not readily see, that dispel the myth about what happens to fairies after they “retire”.