Among the places we visited was Little Sisters, the well-known gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender store on Davie Street. Little Sisters sells virtually anything anyone from the GLBT community might want, from magazines and books, to greeting cards and DVDs, and from clothing and jewelry, to calendars and sex toys. It's a fascinating place and a routine destination on our visits to Vancouver.
Anyway, there we were in Little Sisters. At one point, I walked around a counter, and I saw someone I recognized, leaning down to look at something on a lower shelf. My brain went to work. Where had I seen this face before? Who was this guy? Did I know him from somewhere?
The more I looked at him, the more I realized I didn't really know him. That is, he wasn't a friend I'd made during the twelve or so years I lived in the Lower Mainland before moving to Victoria in 2000. But he was so familiar. Who the hell was he?
Finally, I put the pieces together. When I moved to Vancouver in the late '80s, I'd seen him on many of my walks around the West End. I always noticed him because he was small and cute. What I mean by that is he was short in stature, small boned, and distinctive looking, but very attractive, in a boyish sort of way. At least I thought he was.
I remember I used to see him around Vancouver's West End, always with the same fellow. No question, they were a couple. They were similar in size, they were equally attractive, and they looked great together. I was single at the time and forever on the man hunt. I was desperate to be in a relationship. What these two fellows shared was enviable to me, and I wished I were as fortunate as them. One day, I hoped, maybe I would be.
Despite recognizing this fellow now, there were things about him that seemed somehow different. For one, the store was nearly deserted, and he appeared to be by himself. Where was the other guy I'd seen him with all those years ago? Perhaps they were no longer a couple. What could have happened to break them up? Had his partner died of AIDS? So many gay men's partners have been lost that way over the years. Despite not knowing him, I hoped that was not the case with him.
For a fleeting moment, I thought about losing Chris to AIDS, and I shuddered, forcing the possibility from my mind. I felt so much compassion for the fellow beside me now. Whether you lose your life partner because your relationship runs its course, or because he contracts HIV/AIDS and passes away, the ending of what you share can only be described as a tragedy. I pray I never know either of these fates.
But, as I continued to look at the fellow now, to grasp what was so different about him, I realized what it was. His hair was so much shorter than I remember it, and it was mostly grey. His face, while deeply tanned, was spotted and heavily lined. His body remained small and youthful looking, but his face betrayed the fact that he'd aged, a lot, since I'd last seen him more than a decade earlier. That was it. He was so much older than I remember him being all those years ago.
The thought that came to mind then centered around someone who'd known me ten, fifteen, twenty years earlier. I wondered if that person, having not seen me in a long time, would say the same thing about how I looked--that is, that I'd aged, aged a lot, and not well.
I'm still fortunate enough to run into people who haven't seen me in a while, and who, upon finding out my chronological age, tell me I don't look it. That I look perhaps ten years younger. Sometimes, people who see Chris and me together think that he's older than I am--I bet he likes that--or that we are close in age, when I'm nearly ten years older than he is. I always take this as a compliment because it's great not to look as old as you are. You feel more vital, better about yourself, and blessed to age gracefully.
But, somewhere along the line, that stops, and you start to look old because you are old, and people who haven't seen you for a while don't tell you that you appear ten years younger than you really are because you don't anymore. And you'd know they were lying if they did.
Have I aged better or worse than the fellow I saw at Little Sisters, I wondered? I don't tan anymore, acutely aware of how much damage I did to my skin in the late '70s, when I worked evenings and spent all day, every day, in the hot sun at Kelowna's City Park, tanning until I was a dark chocolate brown. I liked the way I looked with a tan, still do, but those days are gone forever.
Why is this so important to me? Why don't I want to look my age? What does it matter if someone thinks I've aged badly since the last time he saw me?
Perhaps because I don't want him to think I've lived a hard life. Perhaps because I want to grab on to whatever youth I have left and to keep it as close to me as possible for as long as I can. Perhaps because to be gay and to be old, is to be gay and invisible.
In the gay world, just like in Hollywood, youth is the all-important currency. Without it, you have no place--not in the gay publications, not in the gay clubs, not in the gay culture.
The reality is that, if you're fortunate enough, you'll live a long time, and you'll grow old, and, in your own way, you'll still be just a fabulous as you always were. Because, as we grow older, the definition of fabulous changes. It has to. It can't apply only to the young and the pretty. We can't let it.