Embracing aging as a gay man can be an overwhelming and liberating experience…
By Jumol Royes
Gay culture is youth obsessed. That’s not breaking news.
Yet not even the gay glitterati have figured out how to stop the biological clock and put a halt to the aging process.
I turned 40 recently and was forced to reckon with the great expectations this birthday is burdened with. After remembering that birthdays are simply temporal markers that we use to remind ourselves, and each other, that we’re still here taking up space, I got to thinking about all the things no one tells you about becoming a middle-aged gay man.
For starters, you don’t receive an email or phone notification reminding you to change your Grindr tags and tribes from twink, twunk or cub to bear, daddy or zaddy, for those of you with a little extra swagger in your step.
Planning to meet up for drinks with a guy from the dating app? Be prepared to possibly spend more money than you accounted for when you discover that you’re not only responsible to pay for your own drinks, but to cover the tab of the hottie you’re hoping to hook up with. Cue Carrie’s prophetic words of wisdom from the first Sex and the City movie: “Enjoy yourself. That’s what your 20s are for. Your 30s are to learn the lessons. Your 40s are to pay for the drinks.”
There’s no gay guidebook that tells you the right age to add a retinol cream to your skincare routine – instead of waiting until your 30s or 40s, some beauty experts encourage starting in your 20s – or to help you decide whether anti-wrinkle injections, dermal fillers or more invasive procedures are right for you.
A visit to the dermatologist’s office leading up to my birthday revealed that my skin is in good condition (thank you genetics), but that I should consider upgrading my moisturizer and using a daily sunscreen. Despite what you may have heard, darker skin needs protection from the sun, too. The doctor also suggested Botox for that stubborn fine line on my forehead that doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. Not quite ready to brave the needle, I opted for a HydraFacial instead.
But wait…there’s more! Get ready for a slower metabolism, weight gain and your first strands of grey hairs sprouting from your head, nose, beard and, dare I say it, below the waist. Good times.
Beyond the superficial considerations that come with aging while gay lie deeper issues that cut straight to the heart of the matter.
There’s the shame that sometimes creeps up when you’re perpetually single, and the nagging fear that you’ll never find the right partner. Or there’s the stress of keeping the spark alive if you’re coupled and considering creative options like an open relationship.
Partnered or not, you’d be hard-pressed to find many gay men who are willing to talk openly about the feelings of loneliness they wrestle with as they age. Don’t let the silence fool you: the epidemic of gay loneliness is real and can fuel anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation.
In a culture that tends to devalue you if you’re not young and popping, how are mature gay men supposed to deal with waking up one day and suddenly realizing that they’re invisible and irrelevant within their own community?
It’s not all gloom and doom, though. Being a middle-aged gay has its benefits.
At a certain age, you start to become more comfortable in your own skin and gain a newfound sense of confidence and inner peace. There’s less to prove to anyone else but yourself. You might even try embracing the mantra: This is who I am. Take it or leave it. Love it or hate it. How many fucks do I give? None.
You also realize that aging is a privilege many gay men in previous generations were never afforded. The early days of the HIV epidemic played a pivotal role in gay culture’s current obsession with physical appearance. Looking fit was a way for gay men who carried the virus not to be seen as sick. HIV/AIDS robbed too many of these men of their futures in what should have been the prime of their lives. Just a little perspective for the next time you find yourself downplaying your age.
Perhaps the best part about being gay and aging gracefully is that you get to redefine what aging as a gay man looks like for you. That requires courage and rejecting heteronormative expectations like getting married, having kids and owning one or multiple properties, and the problematic youth-centric attitudes that permeate the LGBTQ2+ community. Sounds pretty liberating to me.
If you haven’t heard of the Old Gays, you’re missing out.
This foursome of gay men ranging in age from mid-60s to late 70s share a beautiful bond of friendship and have become social media stars in recent years on account of their viral videos. Seeing them enjoying life and having fun should give gays of all ages hope.
In an interview on the Today show in 2021, Jessay Martin, one of the group’s members, revealed: “I have cried, and they have been tears of joy. It’s like we seem to be making a difference in these young people and to some older people, as well. They’re feeling good, too. It’s a win-win for them, a win-win for us.
“Old gays are really no different than younger gays,” he added.
JUMOL ROYES is IN Magazine’s director of communications and community engagement, a GTA-based storyteller and glass-half-full kinda guy. He writes about compassion, community, identity and belonging. His guilty pleasure is watching the Real Housewives. Follow him on Instagram @jumolroyes.