“You Look Wonderful”

Each year, as my birthday anniversary inexorably rolls around, and passes by with a merry wave, I take the opportunity to reflect on the aging process as it affects the gay community and me personally.

This was year number 67—not a particularly interesting one, just another hatch mark in the tally of continued existence. Not that I take continued existence lightly. In earlier ages, a man my age had outlived most of his contemporaries. And, of course, the lives of many gay men were snuffed out prematurely by AIDS.

Getting old has advantages and disadvantages. Perhaps the most significant disadvantage is the increased possibility of Things Going Wrong. When you were younger, after you got all the available preventive vaccines, you ate what you wanted, and got only as much exercise as you felt like.

But as you age, you begin paying more attention to your diet. You start watching your cholesterol level, glucose level, and blood pressure. Your doctor sternly tells you to get more exercise. Health monitoring simply becomes part of your life. (Memo to fellow seniors: Get the pneumonia vaccine.)

A second disadvantage of age is the decreased appeal one’s body holds for other gay men, most of whom optimally want someone young and athletic-looking. Nor do I condemn that. The preference is pretty much built into us evolutionarily. We seek out partners who exemplify reproductive fitness, even if the sex we engage in has nothing to do with reproduction.

I am sure I felt the same way when younger, and perhaps still do to some extent, although the age of “younger” slowly has expanded upward. To be sure, some young gay men seek out “silver foxes” or “daddies,” but they are not as numerous as one might like.

Writing in his autobiography at the age of 93, music historian Nicolas Slonimsky commented, “The popular saying is that there are three ages of man: Youth, Middle Age, and You Look Wonderful.”

I think I have entered the “Wonderful” stage. This was made clear to me when I recently got a new state photo-ID card.

“Who is that old man?” I thought, as I stared at the picture. “Oh, that’s me.”

To be sure, driver’s license and passport photos are famously unflattering, and an animated face is more appealing than one frozen by the camera, but total denial is not an option here.

All that said, there are significant pleasures to living longer. I want to send a note of encouragement to young people and my fellow seniors. For one thing, we are now the fastest-growing demographic in the gay community. The Baby Boomers now are beginning to turn 60, and that population lump will demand to have its way.

The effect has been somewhat delayed in the gay community, because AIDS killed a sizable minority of gay men in their 30s and 40s who now would be part of that age wave. Even so, the growing presence of older gays and lesbians is evident in our gay organizations and our gay taverns, as well as the increasing size of organizations for gay seniors.

With age, too, you accumulate a certain amount of wisdom. As I have commented before, I never have met any older man or woman who was willing to return to an earlier age if he or she had to give up the knowledge and experience he or she gained in the years since then. You also gain a kind of mellowness, an increased ability to roll with life’s vicissitudes.

Living longer also gives you more time to work on projects you’ve begun, whether developing a new skill, learning about a new field of interest, or finding new ways to engage with the community.

I have a pile of books taller than I am that I hope to have time to read, and some thoughts I hope to develop in these columns. Those years after 65 or 70 are a blessing for us in a way that I would not have imagined when young.

Then, too, being older has its conveniences. In a fit of economic profligacy, the State Legislature approved a plan to let us ride Chicago’s bus and elevated system for free. So, now I can get on the bus, insert my senior card, and the machine says “Thank you.” Well, thank the taxpayers of Illinois. I also get to sit in the seats reserved for seniors and the infirm—at least when they are not occupied already by girls talking loudly on their cell phones.

Some restaurants and theaters offer senior discounts, and special senior services are available, too. When I got my state ID, I went to the express facility for seniors with no need to stand in line. It took five minutes, not an hour.

“Youth culture”? It’s over. Seniors are where the action is. Get used to it.

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