No wise man ever wished to be younger.
-Jonathan Swift

 

Danny Kodmur's July column, "So How Old Are You, Anyway?" prompted a lot of us to think about the impact of ageing on being gay and disabled. It's a large subject, one we need to return to, but in the meantime here's what Charlie Squires and Max Verga have to say about it.

 

CHARLIE SQUIRES

Ageing and being gay, much like ageing and disability, are topics we're often afraid to address. The infamous anti-gay crusader Paul Cameron claims that, on average, "we" all die around forty-two anyway. And if you look at embarrassingly useless non-profits like United Cerebral Palsy, we don't exist once we turn eighteen (what happens is we get "outsourced").

I'm thirty-nine, so I'm no expert yet, but I thought I'd share a cool experience. Outreach, our local LGBT community center here in Madison, Wisconsin, last year staged its annual dinner and awards ceremony on a fine Friday evening to kick off Pride weekend. I'm not sure how many attendees were there, but I'd guess it was around 500. Awards were given for woman, man, ally, and organization of the year. The diversity and lack of bias among the recipients and attendees was unusual for a place as homogeneous as Wisconsin.

The David Runyon Outreach Man of the Year award was given to Colin Robertson for his work on bridging the gap between the LGBT community and the senior population, and for educating our local senior centers and service organizations about the needs and concerns of the gay men and lesbians among them.

As a result of his efforts, I doubt you could find a retirement community anywhere in the city that is unaware of these issues, and the senior community center downtown now has regular open-houses for seniors and LGBT folks of all ages. I'm not saying that prejudice isn't rampant, but the improved intergenerational inclusiveness here gives me real hope.

Colin is eighty, by the way, and has been a quiet activist and role model for at least the last decade, probably longer. He's soft-spoken, but when he speaks, his words are stronger than any preacher's. The award's namesake, David Runyon (who went by "Runyon"), was an outspoken and controversial man who died several years ago in his 60s from a heart attack while shoveling his driveway. He was, in effect, the gay television media of Madison, documenting nearly everything on videotape, and practically running local cable access. He was a very cool individual, who even had the foresight to write his own obituary, "just in case."

Knowing about those two men gives me hope. Having CP and having disabled role-models in my childhood lent me a "never give up" attitude based on righteous anger and a lack of fear. Combine that with being gay, and I can only hope that I don't lose that state of mind as I age. When it comes to my own ageing, I like every year more than the one before it— at least so far.

Life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born
at the age of 80 and gradually approach 18.
-Mark Twain

 

MAX VERGA

I must be one of the few gay men around who couldn't wait to get some age on me. I always felt like an older soul in a younger body and I worried that few men would try to get past my youthful image to discover my mind, my "real" self. Well, I'm now at the point where I no longer occupy that young body and I wouldn't want it any other way. I have reached the stage in my personal life and at work where, having gone through so much, I at last wear the aura of someone who's been there, done that.

I find that others are drawn to the genuine achievements I've put my stamp on. Not only that, I love being looked at by younger men as "Daddy" material. It's satisfying to have reached the point when I can mentor someone younger, whether or not I'm also his sex partner. It makes every gray hair I've earned more than worthwhile.

And in case you think I only want to play Daddy, let me say that I always have been and probably always will be a sucker for a man with gray hair and the ability to see himself as one eternal age. It's no wonder I still have a long-term love who's twelve years my senior. When I spend time on Fire Island this summer with my lover and some friends, I will no doubt see plenty of pretty boys who want only other pretty boys. But I am secure in who I am, and if a pretty young thing does want to get a face full of gray beard on his, well, I'll be ready.

Yes, gay men tend to be youth oriented—but not all of us. And yes, there is something sad about the man who sees gray hair but fails to see that one day he too, if he is lucky, will survive long enough to turn gray himself. Some of us risked a lot and sacrificed a lot so that younger men can sit in bars criticizing anyone who doesn't measure up to their ideals. Does that make our politics old? I think of how few are left to even talk about the sexual and gay pride revolutions that make present-day lives possible. We'd all do well to remember that today's youth will eventually get back what they gave in their youth....from tomorrow's youth.

Somehow, I knew about all this many years ago and knew enough to never give in to what others think. Maybe that's why I'm being rewarded now with a long-time lover and an occasional man who needs to call me "Daddy" and learn what only someone my age can teach someone his age.

I knew one gay man at work who went through a major life crisis when he hit forty. He destroyed his long-time relationship and contracted AIDS from the guy he wound up with, partially in reaction to terror over his own ticking clock. Another friend seemed intent on staying eternally young. He realized at last that using medications and way too much liquor is not the way to achieve everlasting youth. Watching people go through these crises over aging is no fun.

I hope that BENT readers can avoid the worst of those handguns and instead enjoy what getting older brings: peace and perspective.

Sex is one of the nine reasons for reincarnation.
The other eight are unimportant.
-Henry Miller

.

 

Don't wait.
Let us know what you think of this BENT feature.

BENT: A Journal of CripGay Voices/September 2003