For all the effort I put into seeming knowledgeable and secure and insightful here on my blog--in the posts I continue to write encouraging gay and lesbian people everywhere to accept and love themselves--the truth is, as I've recently discovered, life is a continuous journey of learning to accept and love ourselves, in all our incarnations. Just when we think we have the gay thing down, it turns out we need to employ the same skills we used to keep the acceptance and love going, as we age and look more and more like our parents, even our grandparents.
I hate to admit aging scares me and makes me feel insecure all over again, but it's no surprise many people in the gay community--from what I understand, men and women--have an enormous issue with getting older. Not a few gay relationships end because one partner was turned off by signs of age in the other's face and body (possibly because he was reminded of his own aging and, ultimately, mortality). When the emphasis is so unrealistically on beauty, and vitality, and sexuality, all the domain of youth, then those of us no longer youthful can't help but feel insecure, especially if our partners are younger, much younger, than we are.
So I fish for the answers I need. "What will you do when I'm too old for you?" I ask Chris, as he stands before the kitchen sink, washing dishes. "Will you exchange me for a younger model?" "Are you sure you'll still want me around when I'm old and ugly?" "I can't compete with (fill in the name of a twenty-something young hunk both of us find attractive), you know." And Chris's response is always reassuringly the same: "Whatever," he says, outright dismissing the utter nonsense coming from my mouth. "I'm getting older, too," he tells me. "Who will want me when I'm old?" He turns to look at me as I wipe the tea towel over a stainless steel pot, and he knows the answer.
Inside, I'm the same as I was nearly twenty years ago when I first met Chris; I don't feel a day older. No, that's not true at all. Chronologically, I'm older and usually don't feel it, but, internally, I'm better, much better, because I know myself in a way I didn't then. Not only that, I like and accept myself, as a gay man, including all my shortcomings and weaknesses, more than I ever did. Despite everything I erroneously accepted about being gay for so long, I've even learned to love myself. I've grown a lot as everyone does, if they're conscious and aware and focused on evolving and improving and being who they were meant to be. So what I have to offer Chris now, as opposed to in 1992, is richer. And, thankfully, more of what he saw in me from the beginning.
Without question, young people have much going for them. Who can compete with youth and beauty and vitality? On the other hand, who wants to, because that's only the package, the surface, not the substance, which, as we all know, is infinitely more important. There comes a point when we need to see that and embrace the natural aging process, because it will happen whether we like it or not. The challenge is not to look at aging as diminishment. Rather, aging is becoming a different version of ourselves. And, if we remain alert and do the work, each version at every stage of our lives will be richer, in one way or another, than all those before it.