Lately I have been thinking. I am like that – a thinker. Always with the thinking am I. For instance, I wonder about when it became okay to refer to fruit drenched in sugar paste as “yogurt covered.” Back in the day, yogurt-covered implied that the company actually used yogurt at some point in the production of their food stuffs. Now, though, yogurt-covered is just a nicer way to say high-fructose corn syrup with white dye.
This gets me to thinking about white chocolate, which is not chocolate at all. Once again, it’s just sugar, people. To be chocolate it needs the beans of the cacao tree, which are never white.
Hmm, real chocolate sounds good right now. Maybe some type of chocolate covered fruit?
Gee, I should get some fruit at the market. They say you should eat five servings of fruit per day. Does anybody really eat that much fruit?
I wonder if putting it into my Nambé bowl would stain it. Why is Nambé (a product of New Mexico, don’t you know?) so frickin’ hard to polish anyway?
When I am not contemplating such scintillating topics, though, I have been thinking about age in the queer community. The Center of Gravitas hardly breaks new ground by observing that the queer community has a youth obsession. Indeed, all of North America has a youth obsession.
Still, I wonder about the particular ways that this youth obsession gets played out amongst the queer folk. At about the same time that I went through my breakup with Liar Ex (who told many lies), a straight-male colleague of mine also went through a divorce. Perceptions about our breakups could not have been more different, however.
Het men in their thirties, he learned, are a hot commodity. Straight women, according to him, are in the market for a man his age. They get even more aggressive if that het man is settled, has a good job, and is reasonably okay looking – All of these things, people informed him, meant his next move after his divorce would be nothing but sunshine and good times.
Keep in mind that my het colleague had an additional six years on his birth-clock compared to me. What did I hear, though, after my breakup? “Oh, GayProf,” they would say, “It’s really sad because you know that you are long past the golden period of gay life. By gay standards, you are old.” At the age of 31, they believed, staking out time in the queer limelight was as possible as growing wings and flying to the moon. What did all of this tell me? I mean beyond the fact that I needed better friends?
Upon thinking about it, this particular brand of ageism is tied to homophobia. It’s another way that the queer community is made to seem more dysfunctional than hetero folk. This type of dialogue implies that gay men are more superficial and less capable of forming meaningful relationships. Moreover, it’s a message that we often impose on ourselves.
I used to make the standard jokes about my age in “Gay Years.” This joke usually suggests that gay men need to multiple their actual chronological age by another number to get the “het” equivalent. Kind of like we are dogs. The implication of “gay years” being that queers have a shorter shelf-life than other folk.
The same jokes also appear about queer relationships. If a gay couple sticks together for ten years, they are said to be celebrating their “silver anniversary.”
I started to think about these jokes, however. Gay Years implies we have limited value compared to het men. Allegedly, queer relationships are also more fragile than straight relationships and therefore don’t last as long.
Straight women, I imagine, get similar messages about their age as well. Certainly, like straight women, gay men are presumed to be always in competition with each other. Gee, who could have guessed that straight men would somehow come out on top in our society?
I hear what some of you are saying. “But, GayProf,” you exclaim, “We can all agree it’s bad, but that just the way it is. What can we really do about it? People like young over old. Besides, what do you care, GayProf? You are ageless. You are the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” Alright, maybe that last bit isn’t there – I am more the Alpha and the Epsilon.
It’s not that I am suggesting that the youth bias does not exist. Clearly it does. One can go to almost any gay bar and see the battle lines. Nor am I suggesting that we need to repudiate what we individually find sexually attractive. Young and pretty can really be young and pretty.
I also recognize that some of this can be my own personal taste. While I certainly appreciate youthful good looks, I always preferred those who can engage in conversation more. Men in their early twenties, no matter how intelligent, usually lack the level of experience or insight to be really interesting to me. I don’t want no Tarzan, cause I ain’t no Jane.
Rather, though, we can all pause and think about how we grapple with assumptions about same-sex desires and age in our day-to-day lives. Moreover, we can reconsider what we are really saying about our community when we talk about our journey to the grave.
There are the youthful darlings who travel in gaggles judging and shunning their queer elders. Of course, they are completely oblivious to the fact that, according to their own rules, they will be ancient within a matter of years, if not months.
Then there are the queer folk who have internalized the youth fetish and despise their own aging. Last night I stopped into a Boston gay bar for a quick cocktail. It struck me how many men there refused to acknowledge their real age. In a failing effort to stop looking like they are in their later thirties or early forties, these men have undergone numerous chemical peels and applications of skin spackle. Some have even opted for the surgery. Even with the dim lighting, their skin didn’t look youthful. It looked completely artificial. Some of them looked more like they had survived a fire rather than having simply aged a bit.
All of the focus on youth ignores a more complicated reality about aging within the gay community. Assuming that gays have a limited window of appeal presumes that all gay men seek white, buff, hairless, A&F models that companies market directly to us. This we know to be an outsider’s perception of the queer community.
Our collective desires prove much more diverse than A&F models, as the plethora of bear bars suggests. Whether we think it is a healthier alternative or not, the quest for “daddy” types has also been within the queer community since at least the nineteenth century. These desires, at their basic level, put an erotic emphasis on men of an older age. Again, I am not saying this dynamic is better, but it does undermine the presumption that queer boys only go for the model-perfect twenty-somethings.
While still in Texas, I had a gay-acquaintance from the gym. He had also gone through a breakup of a decade-long relationship (Yes, I seemed to find myself in the middle of a group of divorced men). In his early forties, he expected life had passed him by given the constant stream of “gay-life ends at 25" messages that he heard. Yet, he became one of the most popular objects of affection at the local gay bar. Indeed, he reported seeing more action than he had during his twenties. Trust me – Nobody mistook him for Prince William. Rather, a significant number of gay folk (of all age-ranges) found his appearance at 40+ attractive and sexually exciting.
We should not take for granted that the gay community or our collective desires focus only on the youth and beauty aesthetic that is at the center of mass marketing. Doing so only degrades us as individuals and as a community. Assuming that gay men only desire youth or that our community discounts men over 25 (or actually doing these things in one’s personal life) only reenforces homophobic assumptions about gay men. It hides other assumptions that gay men are more temperamental, superficial, and immature than hetero folk.
The danger is not in appreciating youth and beauty. The hazard lies in buying into the larger mythologies about youth and beauty that make possible the expression “gay years.”