Monday, October 17, 2011

Men 50 and Over


Picture of Steve, 58, taken by Tommy Wu and Alan Reade
Today, I'm taking a short detour from Coming Out Month at "This Gay Relationship" (which, at the beginning of October, I suggested I might). Over the weekend, I saw a piece at Advocate.com that on first glance made me happy, on second made me unhappy, and I want to tell you about it.    

What got my attention was an article called "Men Over 50," featuring photographs of older men (I understand some gay, some not), between the ages of 50 and 67, all of whom have obviously taken good care of themselves over the years and have reason to be proud of their bodies.

That said, the preamble to the article states the following:

We hear that gay men are obsessed with youth.  Really?  Tommy Wu and Alan Reade have a different perspective in their photos of men living beautifully into the second half of the century.

Being over fifty myself, what initially appealed to me about this article was that Advocate.com published it at all.  In the gay male world, any man over thirty is old and no longer considered newsworthy, sexy, or desirable (what I call sexually viable).  And, since there's such an over-emphasis on sex in the gay male community--as well as a tendency to eschew relationships for the single life--remaining sexually viable, well into old age, remains critical, especially if you don't want to end up alone and lonely.

I understand what Wu and Reade are trying to do with this series of photographs, but several things are wrong with what I see here.

Contrary to dispelling the supposed myth that gay men are obsessed with youth, rather, the series reinforces it by featuring mostly shirtless older men who, without question, spend hard time at the gym.  Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with working out and being fit--I'd like to think older gay men do it more for the benefit of their health than to attract younger men, although I know I'm wrong--but I think what we see in these pictures is unrealistic and not representative of the demographic in question.      

Gay men, who aspire to continue turning heads, particularly those of men younger than themselves, might well be motivated to spend long hours running on treadmills and pumping weight, but the average man (read: straight) 50 and over couldn't care less about having a buff body.  To prove my point, take a look in any gym across North America, where there isn't a large gay male population, and you'll see older men are largely absent.

I'm not sure who made the decision that these men should be photographed shirtless, but it was an unfortunate error in judgement.  What's wrong with admiring the beauty of age in men with their shirts on?  Sure, men like Steve (in the picture above) have beautiful bodies, irrespective of their ages, and they're entitled to show them off, when the time is right.  But, clearly, the time isn't right in an article where the point is to disprove gay men are obsessed with youth.

A series such as this perpetuates the importance of physical appearance over factors related to being human and older that matter far more.  For example, accomplishment, contribution, and character.  Instead of making the true value of age a matter of a youthful body and sexual vitality, why not share with readers who these men are as individuals, what they achieved in their lives, what they learned about themselves and the world, what they can teach us to make our lives easier or better, etc.?        

Self-esteem in the gay male community has always been centered on facial beauty, muscular bodies, and desirability to other men, but all of that must change.  You'd think by the time we reach our 50s, we could focus on something else, something less stereotypical, something more consequential than proving we can still compete with, or attract, younger men.  As a community, when are we going to get that value as a human being, gay or otherwise, is not about physical appearance or looking hot?  


Here are some of the comments the article received from readers:

"Loved the article.  But not all of us are chiseled Gods and we manage to make a difference."  (Stephen Edwards)

"The pictures were nice to look at but only go so far.  I would have rather read about their inspirations, accomplishments, adversities, etc."  (Cory Crowther)

'"We hear gay men are obsessed with youth.  Really?"  If you really wanted to disprove this you would not have a collection of men who look as if they spend half their waking moments in the gym...which screams "youth obsessed" to me!'  (Paul Keckonen)

'Shouldn't the title be "Gym Bunnies Over 50"?'  (Michael B. Welch)

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For the full article at Advocate.com, please click here.

7 comments:

  1. As a gay man, just over 50.... I found the article to be uplifting, in the sense that just because you are a certain age..... doesn't mean that life is over, as many gay publications would like for you to believe. however, I also agree with what you wrote. we need to have a happy medium between the two.
    we, who are in are fifties..... will be trailblazers. the generation before us, many were lost at a young age, due to the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, so there is a big void of gay men of a certain age. since, this is not happening as it was and gay men with HIV are living long, healthy lives.... we shall see many gay men approaching this age range and boy.... what a shocker for them to realize that what was once considered over the hil, ain't so over the hill, after all. I believe attitudes will change within the gay community, or at least I hope they do.
    why do we have to give in to the age old advertising gimmicks of "sex sells". can't we expand the whole concept to include other aspects of a human being.
    living vibrantly is sexy, at any age.
    and believe me, I like to look at erotic photos of gay men, but there has to be more then just this.
    expanding our views of what is sexy, is sexy.
    great article, thanks for writing it and sharing with us.

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  2. Anonymous, you have no idea how much I appreciate your thoughtful comment. You raise very valid points, and you and I are definitely on the same page in that regard. I hadn't thought about the long-term impact of the AIDS epidemic, but you're right. Yet aging in the gay community has never been easy, and it's up to us to change the perception our own and the mainstream community have of us as older gay men.

    You know, since I turned fifty in 2009, I've really struggled with the whole concept of aging. In some respects, these past two and a half years have been hell, resulting in both anxiety and depression. Not a fun time.

    But I'm happy to say I've come out the other end of it, I'm stronger than ever, and I'm working on a follow-up piece to this one. In essence, our culture, mainstream and gay, undervalue aging, and this has to stop. How I look, facially and bodily, is merely the package containing the sum total of who I am inside, which has far greater value. Contrary to what we've been led to believe in our youth-oriented society, aging is neither good nor bad, it just is. And, if we're lucky, all of us get to do with, with grace and dignity and wisdom (not to mention good health).

    Age has a beauty all it's own, and all of us must find the beauty in the age that we are. Whether you're twenty, or forty, or sixty, or beyond, you are truly beautiful, and dare I say sexy, just as you point out. Let our generation be the one to prove just how true that is.

    My sincere thanks for your interest in my blog and for taking the time to leave a comment. I hope you'll come back often.

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  3. hello rick... anonymous here, actually my name is corey. what great words, I feel as though I found a kindred soul. thank you.
    I am still in the process of coming out the other side, in regards to turning fifty in 2010. I always prided myself on a great spiritual perspective of the world and myself, but in truth, this threw me and cast me down into a big pit of my own fears and unresolved issues. what an eye opener.
    and yet, there is so much that I love about getting older. the wisdom and sense of freedom of thought that I did not have when I was younger. and yes, there really is such a beauty to aging, if we allow it.
    I am in the process of finding that groove for myself and how I want to go forward.
    at times, a feel like a salmon trying to swim upstream, because there are many bombardments of thought present in this society, especially gay society where one is being told to lay down and get ready for retirement. I feel like I am just starting to live, how could it be ending?
    we are a generation that has seen more then most. we came of age, right before AIDS, when there was a sexual freedom that electrified the air. a mixture of men who finally tasted the freedom after living in an opposed society for so long and then being able to express themselves so freely. we saw how it drastically changed in a very short time, the loss of many. how we fought to gain our rights. talk about being trailblazers! and yes, the struggles continue but what great ground has been covered.
    to then turn fifty and to be told ..... it's time to be put to pasture is indeed infuriating. and I include my own thinking in this too. I am not without fault.
    the advocate article, helped on many levels but I still want more. I want to see a sexiness in older men that is not defined by a sixpack, or a bear paw. living authentically..... very sexy, let's give that a try.
    we are men who love men, pure and simple. we come in all sizes and ages. we are. we love.
    we can share what we have learned to our younger brothers and sisters. let us.
    and most importantly that we remain open and exploring, not willing to be put out into pasture, self imposed or otherwise.

    cheers to you, rick
    corey

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  4. Part One:


    So good to hear from you again, Corey.

    I completely relate to what you said about what it means to turn fifty. I tell the story that, when my age started with a four, it was business as usual. But the realization now that my age will never again begin with a four is surely a wake up call. And it's meant to be. We need to be shaken up every once in a while. It really is time to get on with what we're here to do, and, frankly, to hell with what I look like while I do it. Yes, I want to make the most of what I have, but, most of all, I want to be healthy–I want my mind and body to support the work I need to do. But there are no guarantees, are there? That's where living in the now really helps. All you and I have, Corey, is the here and now. The past is over, and the future isn't here yet. So to hell with them. This minute, I draw breath, and that’s good enough. It’s all any of us have. Let the future take care of itself.

    You know what also helped me a lot was putting death in perspective. The greatest fear of getting older is that we’re closer to our deaths. Well, the long and the short of it is, we're all going to die. Every one of us has that in common. And there isn't a damn thing I can do about that. So why worry about it? Why fear it? Why allow death to put a pall on today, on the vibrant life I have right now? I don't want to live in fear of death, I really don't. What a total waste of time. Listen, I spent the last two and a half years worrying about getting older and dying. That's enough now. I have no more time to waste. Time to get on with it, and so must you.

    In my forties, when I was so confident about growing older and being able to face it no matter what (boy, I had no idea how turning fifty would hit me), I used to say to myself, "I'm going to live until I die." Yes, I am. There's a lot of life left in me yet, a lot of good I can do, and I'm not going to squander it.

    I'd encourage you, Corey, to focus on the good things you've identified about growing older, because there are many. You're absolutely right. I LOVE the wisdom that comes with age. I LOVE the sense of freedom. I LOVE accepting myself like I never have before. I LOVE the confidence I feel. I LOVE putting my voice out into the world and knowing I make a difference. I LOVE the respect I have for myself that I didn't have before. And, perhaps most of all, I LOVE that I love myself, which, even up into my late forties, I didn't have.

    Please see Part Two

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  5. Part Two:

    You are just starting to live, Corey. You are. And, as I said before, there is so much living to do. Don't buy into all the crap our culture tells us about aging–especially gay culture–because that's exactly what it is: crap. In the years to come, there will be more older people than ever before in our history. More wisdom, more beauty, and more power. I absolutely believe this will be our time. We will show everyone what it looks like to age with dignity and grace.

    I look at aging this way: We go through eras in our lives: childhood, young adulthood, adulthood, middle-age, and senior. No era is better or worse than any other. They just are. They all have their pluses and their minuses. It's up to us to make the most of each one as we pass through it.

    So you want to see sexiness in older men? Look in the mirror. That’s the new look of sexy. You and I may not have six-pack abs, and that's okay, because it's all superficial anyway (remember the package, or container, I wrote about in my first comment?), and it all goes away, sooner or later. And what are you left with? What’s inside. Sexiness is really about the love you have for yourself, about how confident you are, about all the other good things you can't see. Remember that.

    Yes, we will share what we've learned with our younger brothers and sisters. Let us be the example of what aging well looks like.

    Thanks again for your comment. It’s been great talking with you. I’m here for you if you need me.

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  6. excellent words rick. I am deeply touched by them and feel uplifted to be able to talk with someone who has grappled with this.
    I shall move forward with a skip in my step. I say..... " Ultreya!" ( moving forward with courage).
    know that you have aided another fellow traveler, on this road , called life.
    looking foward to more of your writings.
    cheers
    corey

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  7. Glad I could help, Corey. That's why we're all here–to make each other's journey easier.
    And thanks for your kind words. I really appreciate them.

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