|Picture of Steve, 58, taken by Tommy Wu and Alan Reade|
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)