Sunday, September 10, 2006

Join the Carousel and Be Renewed

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.”


Anonymous said...

Read it. Loved it. Still thinking about it.

tornwordo said...

I love gay prof. Okay there I said it. You know, I actually find it comforting to make my way into old age - there's so much less expectation there. Plus you get to be crotchety without reprisal.

Roger Owen Green said...

Actually, my nutritionist says three servings of fruit a day, because of the fructose, which is, after all, sugar. But more veggies.

GayProf said...

WayOut: I am still thinking as well...

Torn: And GayProf loves you, too!

Rog: Three servings seems much more like something that I could do. What, though, are these things "veggies" to which you refer?

Frank said...

As one of those young gay men in their early twenties that you find so uninteresting, all I have to say is, "Amen, brother!" It's always bugged me when people my age think thirty or forty is, like, ANCIENT. It's mind-boggling to me because, especially these days, it isn't that old. Plus, I've always had more of an interest in those older than me than those my own age or younger, both sexually and non-sexually (yes, I, too, have a thing for "daddies"). They're just more interesting, on the whole. Also, since so much of my supposedly golden youth has been rather tarnished thus far, I actually kinda look forward to being older. I have a feeling I'm one of those people who peaks in their late twenties/thirties. People who try to act or look younger I just don't understand. It never works and it just makes them look kinda foolish. We all age; all we have control of is how gracefully we do it.

GayProf said...

Frank: Oh, of course I didn't mean you or most of my other smart-early-twenty readers.

Anonymous said...

Well-written, as usual...

But I have to say, that is the weirdest Wonder Woman cover image I've ever seen.

r said...

You know, much of what you have written could be applied to we single, of-a-certain-age het women.


Because although a straight man in his 30's might be considered the "perfect age," we womenfolk are already over the hill.

What I like about you gayprof, is how you can say this without soundy whiny... something I fall into.

I think I love you too.

Anonymous said...

If you have a few minutes read what one of your fellow Boston bloggers has to say about being gay, HIV+ and aging. Go to:
and scroll down to his stories;
A High Definition Profound Sadness and A High Definition Profound Sadness.
Now, The Dreamer is a man I'd like to meet for coffee.

Anonymous said...

Sorry,that should read:
A High Definition Profound Sadness AND Alas Babylon

Anonymous said...

I love you, too, Gay Prof.

On a slightly different tangent, I would like to proffer that indeed women suffer ageism but also that we do not know how to present ourselves to the het male community. While het men have not changed their behavior in years, women still struggle for their identity.

Meaning that ...

If a women is sexy, she is used as the sex object she presents herself to be and is abandoned upon the hint of aging.

If a woman is intelligent, she is intimidating.

If a woman is soft and cuddly, she is seen as weak.

If a woman is pretty, she is underestimated.

If a woman is strong, she is perceived as not needing a partner.

In fact, however, woman are sexy, intelligent, soft, pretty, AND strong but we often hide these traits in order to git our man, thus we are confused by our true identities.

So, Gay Prof has revealed that gay men also feel the clock ticking. Het single WOMEN not only feel the clock ticking (age-wise AND reproductively) but are completely bereft as to what single men really want in a woman.

And THIS is exactly why het women lvoe to be around gay men - because you can act sexy, intelligent, soft, cuddly, "pretty", and strong.

Unless we encounter the rare man able to "deal with" a sexy, intelligent, soft, cuddly, pretty, and / or strong woman, we are totally confused as to what HET MEN truly want from a woman.

Hoping this wasn't too much of a diatribe but your meme inspired me, GayProf.

dykewife said...

yeah, carousel, renewal, the robot who stored food...i always found logan's run to be a sad movie. peter ustinov was a wonderful choice for the old man...alas as a middle aged woman in a world that is centred within the cult of youth and perfection i'm a prime candidate for carousel. i'm not sure i have the energy to become a runner.

The Persian said...

Excellent post, as usual. As a gay man who doesn't go out to bars (gay or otherwise)and when in chat (which is rare) ignore instant messages from anyone under 30, I guess I am subconsciously protecting myself from feeling "old" in the gay "community". I assure you there are tons of attractive "older" single gay men not chasing twinks or trying to recapture their youth. I have to fight them off with a stick sometimes. I find that the people usually feeling the brunt of the age thing are those quite naturally drawn to these younger guys, chicken hawks so to speak.

I am also finding that the older I get the "perfect man" is aging with me. It's amazing how that works.


Kalv1n said...

Don't blame, A&F. Blame Bruce Weber. It's all his fault. Damn queers. And I think I have some serious discrimination issues towards people who are younger than I am, and prefer those who are older.

Oso Raro said...

This is complicated. For ageism in the gay community is a multi-faceted phenomenon that is intimately connected to the sexual economy which runs our lives. After all, what is attractive or unattractive is, in our society at least, as much Mammon as Eros, if indeed not more.

When I was in my twenties, I had a rage against that sexual economy, which excluded older men as much as it did fat guys. Then, I discovered Les butchesses des ours, cut off all my hair, and started getting laid. What a relief! And so, now I'm not so angry, but am continually amazed at some of the facts of our sexual economy, even if they don't prick as hard as they once did.

In my experience, each age has its rewards and pleasures. The skewed desire perspective towards younger men is a product, just as The Bear has become a product, or the Grey Fox (aka Old Queen). We dance within a hall of mirrors, our images reflected and refracted through a million prisms. Who can be sure where and what we are at any given moment. Young Fogey? 40-something Club Kid? "Just a Normal Guy"?

Those of us who have danced, and continue to dance, in this space are better for recognising the representative nature of it, and playing with it at times, and at others refusing it. But will it ever go away? Not as long as there is a dumb queen in the world, which is to say, never ever.

Oh, and yea, TOTALLY hate the 40-somethings in A&F. Please, Mary, you're making my eyes water!

vuboq said...

Blogger ate my comment. *sniff*
It was a long, well-organized treatise on the Chinese saying Men are flowers when they are 40.

I'm too lazy to retype it. Sorry.

Roger Owen Green said...

GP- Off topic, but you'll know why I ask - Are you aware of any blood collecting entity that does not ban gays from donating?

GayProf said...

ROG: I think it is a federal guideline that prevents gay men from donating (Any readers who can confirm that?). It was put in place at the time that they did not have a reliable means for screening for HIV. At this point, though, it makes little sense as a) heteros could also have HIV and b) they can test the blood with near perfect accuracy.

Gay men can donate blood for purposes other than life-saving (such as medical experiments), but that hardly seems worth it.

Elizabeth McClung said...

ROG & Gayprof: russian and Australia have both reversed thier blood donor policy and gay men are welcome once again - in the US, they are still trying to make sure gay men with AIDS don't come into the country so I am sure the donation policy will end at least by the time Buck Rogers appears in the 25th century.

As for the age/relationship thing - I can't believe GayProf has missed the older male slot into which he is already cast - that of the studly and wise professor who takes the younger 20's student or grad student under his mental and later physical instruction.

Anonymous said...

Ageism. At 31, you're at least thinking about it; however, you have at least 10 years to feel the effects of it. By then, you should have grown into your age, and you will become that hot young daddy. Yes, there is life after 40 and even 50--especially if you're into men, not boys.

Conor Karrel said...

I always think of you being older than me, even though we're still the same age. You look younger than me, but I always think of you older, why? Wisdom, you have it in spades my dear!

I've always been attracted to confident sexy men, and I've never found that in the 20 something crowds (cocky, arrogant yes, truly confident, very rarely), so I've never dated a man younger than 35 and as old as 64!

You know what I've learned though? Age doesn't necessarily translate to maturity, but you've got a better shot at it than with the young'uns.

Dorian said...

I was vaguely disappointed that I didn't get more "carousel time" jokes when I turned 30. Especially when I didn't get any from my older co-workers who I'd been mercilessly mocking for their age for years.

I've never understood the seeming obsession gay men have with youth, other than as part of the larger obsession American culture has with youth. Even when I was allegedly in my "prime" as a gay man I didn't feel like my early twenties was a good age to be. I felt stupid, probably because I felt so many people my age were infuriatingly naive and self-absorbed. My biggest frustration was that the men I was attracted to, all in the 30-40 years old range, generally wanted nothing to do with me because I was "too young." It frustrated me then, but I completely understand it now. Youth is over-rated. I'll take mature and stable over young and naive any day.

The Persian said...

EXACTLY Dorian! I couldn't have said it better.


Anonymous said...

you forgot to include people like me who belong in the category of perpetually-young-looking-and-mistaken-for-21.

before you accuse me of being slightly bitter, I wish I could tell you the number of times I've been attracted to a 40+ year old only to be told that "I'm sorry but you look too young", never mind that I'll be 36 in a little over three months.

I should be thankful, yes...perhaps. It would be nice though if people could stop and listen for a second instead of going on auto-pilot.

Anonymous said...

oh by the way, nice Logan's Run reference. ;)

I knew the title of your post sounded familiar.

Laura Elizabeth said...

Excellent essay GayProf, but the Wonder Woman cover is creeping me out!

"You know, much of what you have written could be applied to we single, of-a-certain-age het women."

Too true rebekah ~ and dorian's comments resonate with me as well.

Anonymous said...

I've always looked 10 years younger than I am. When I was 35, they carded me at a bar, but didn't card my 26 year old assistant (blonde, swedish, and very cute woman, that one). She called me a bitch all night. It worked against me in the professional field, however, when people always asked me if I was old enough to do what I do, and second-guessed my decisions. And, I was always attracted to those at least 10 years older than me, but was NOT looking for a daddy. Now that I'm turning 40, I don't get asked how old I am as much. And it's...disappointing. Never satisfied, huh?

Anonymous said...

Well said, well said.

BTW, very appropo image from Logan's Run there... good job!

Love this blog...

Artistic Soul said...

I really appreciate your post here - and I think it is equally problematic for women in the queer community. This weekend when I was out dancing with a friend at a club, we were some of the younger folks there -- and all we heard was "you two are the hottest lesbians here!" from men and women alike. That continued objectification - from within our own community - continues to feed into the matrix of oppression. It's hard to break out of, but I think awareness is the first step.

Anonymous said...

Well, at the advanced "gay" age of 45, I find myself MUCH more the object of desire than I have ever been. And it's great, but strange -- I have had to block more than a few 16 year old boys from sending me pornographic emails on my myspace page, and find myself strangely, dating a man (boy?) now who is 18 years old. (I checked the ID.) As I have said to friends, it's not illegal for us to date, just very bad taste. But what can I say? He's a pretty amazing young man, and I'm a pretty happy old guy.

Anonymous said...

GayProf, thanks for the excellent and thoughful post.

As someone on the cusp between "life eras" at 36, I find myself caring less what others think, and as a result far more confident, and apparently reasonably desirable.

I'm also intentionally not chasing boys. The energy required to justify why everything about one's life is really OK is far too great. It's much better to pursue those who already understand and use the energy for things substatially more fulfilling. And no matter how cute the puppy, if you take it home, it will eventually crap on the floor.

I also "suffer" the same way as stash and cupre above do: I'm young-looking, which seemed like a real problem for a while through my twenties. Now it's just...part of who and how I am. So perhaps my experience is not exactly representative.

Paroketh said...

I have never thought of my age in 'years'. Of course there have been the times to juxtapose myself within given environments. Is this not to be expected? We are born, grow, and die; no? Take the initial pill. Mortatility is not forever. Everyday the 'deal' goes on...take care, goodluck; godbless-fred