Getting Real with Getting Old

The Angst of Diminishing Superficial Beauty

When I was 22, I sat across the table from a San Diego County Healthcare Worker who told me I had 6 to 18 months to live. That’s what they told newly diagnosed HIV positive men in 1987.

It seemed that getting old was not a state of being I’d ever need to face.

Until now. I’m 54 and healthy.

I’ve buried many friends who died during the plague, received a reprieve from death thanks to medications, and am now missing more than a half million peers who could be helping me sort out this aging stuff. And, as an added bonus, I now get to watch my face and body wrinkle and sag.

In all the chaos, fear, and grief of the plague, it never occurred to me that survival would include getting old.

The most glaring challenge of aging, and one I’m not hearing anyone talk about, is sex. Or, more to the point of this post, diminishing access to sex.   

For gay men like me who have received copious amounts of joy and validation through sexual encounters, facing waning access to the quality and quantity of those encounters is psychologically daunting.

If you are a man who doesn’t relate to the swelling of contentment that follows one or more particularly hot sexual experiences, you probably should not read this post. That’s because a big part of me just doesn’t believe you.

Men want to stick it in.

Even when sex would literally kill us, we still wanted to stick it in. It’s a powerful force of nature that refuses to be tamed.

Denying the power of sexual energy is like denying global warming. Unwise.

I also don’t want to be judged for my sexual lifestyle and I’ve found that type of judgment usually comes from the white picket fence gays doing their best to adhere to the demands of a hetero supremacy culture.

I’m not interested in retiring like a straight person. Gay culture is not only more interesting, it serves my authentic mental, physical, and spiritual needs. And much of gay men’s culture is tied to sex.

In another post, I will explore what we might do on the other side 50 that is not tied exclusively to sex. I’d written a four-page post on those topics when I realized I was hiding my most shameful and painful real feelings about getting gay-old behind those topics.

My ego’s deep desire to avoid the topic of diminishing superficial beauty makes it clear that this is exactly what I need to be writing about.

So, here it is.

Before hitting puberty, I thought I was one of the least desirable kids at school. With lots of reinforcement from my older brother and one or two adults responsible for my care, I was under the impression that I was an idiot, that I didn’t know how to carry myself, comb my hair, or dress right, that I was an embarrassment to be seen with, and that anything I said only revealed how hopelessly stupid I was.

When I started having sex with men, and I started young (in Junior High), all of that changed. Much of that is captured in my memoir, Drama Club.

Sex and offers to have sex helped define my sense of self.

Suddenly everyone was laughing at my jokes. I was told how smart I was. I was often the center of attention. In this new secrete society of gay men I was popular. A man named R.L. Ferguson became not only my lover, but also my mentor regarding all things that active adult gays needed to know.

Sex was a form a protest against the establishment. Gay sex was illegal in the three states I grew up in. That just made getting a blowjob even more intense. It was defiant, liberating.

Through R.L., and the men he introduced me to, I learned about the 1978 realities of STDs, civil rights, things that get a gay guy arrested, and the slang we use to negotiate sexual tastes. This was all the stuff my older brother and adults didn’t know or would never tell me.

Being desirable afforded me protection, information, and what at the time I thought was most important of all, SEX!

Superficial beauty brought me more than my fair share of dating opportunities and sexual encounters, even with HIV in my veins. Without beauty, I doubt my first roommate situation would have materialized when I moved to San Diego in 1985. I would not have received my first job as a fry cook in a restaurant owned by a gay man.

Superficially beauty allowed me to pay my rent when I ran ads in Frontiers magazine as a masseur. It allowed me to travel to New York City for the Gay Games in 1992, and subsequently secure a room on Fire Island.

It got me access to clubs, VIP rooms, and private after parties. At sex clubs I could choose the guys I wanted to play with. It landed me a job dancing on a box at the Palm Springs White Party, a life event that made it clear (if only for an instant) that being the focus of desire has its limits in its ability to heal the frightened boy inside me.

It’s one of the big reason’s I won International Mister Leather in 2007. It’s the reason I could not keep up with all the offers from guys on hook-up apps.

But that’s mostly gone now.

That image of myself as a powerful being is threatened as age slowly takes away the attributes that once allowed me to have so much access to sexual validation.

I lived in West Hollywood for nearly 30 years, from 1991 until 2018.

Men would pull over and offer me a ride when I was waiting at the bus stop. Guys would usually try to catch my eye as I walked down the street. I received big tips as a bartender at Revolver and as a waiter at Figs. It felt like everyone wanted a piece of me.

So much so, that it was annoying.

That’s no longer a problem.

Guys I pass on the street invariably are not interested in checking me out or even making eye contact. My hook-up apps do not draw the onslaught of attention that they once did. My workouts at the gym are now free of guys offering me advice on how to work out, compliments on how my shorts fit, or the size and shape of any particular body part.

Now, it’s time for the younger guys to have all that kind of attention.

It’s time for me to learn how to be in the world differently.

While discussing this idea with a member of my gay family, who is also a therapist, the suggestion was made that I need to grieve the loss. The instant he said it, it felt right!

If the plague was good for anything, it taught us the transformative healing power of facing loss. Pretending people are not dead does not help us celebrate their lives or integrate the beauty of their love into our souls. And, pretending my circuit body days are not behind me will not help me honor the delight and stressors of that life or transform the journey into wisdom. Grief transforms experience into wisdom and wisdom brings peace.

I am also aware that daddy culture is a real thing.

I was “daddied” by guys before I was expecting it; calling out “daddy” during sex or on hook up apps was my unceremonious initiation into Daddyhood.

It appears to me that the daddy image can simply be a look, just as superficial as a circuit queen look. Stepping into it in that context, however, feels like I’m just moving closer to my sell-by date, repackaging aspects of a failing resource.

It’s still grasping.

I’m interested in “Daddy” culture that puts social responsibility on the Daddy to use the wisdom he’s cultivated during his extended time on planet earth. I’m intent on providing generative, protective, and challenging space for my peers and our younger brothers so that we can use our authentic intrinsic instincts (sexual energy) to bond, grow, and love.

Honestly, I wish I were above this kind of vanity. It would hurt less.

Ways through this?

  • Acceptance
  • Clearly understanding the roles of youth, adults, elders, and ancients
  • Cultivating mature masculinity (as opposed to “boy” energy)

Those will be in another post.

For now, as much as it must infuriate those that have never felt particularly beautiful, the fear and loneliness are real for me.

Judging by the waves of beautiful guys I’ve watched come and go through West Hollywood (and The Athletic Club, Golds, and Crunch) decade after decade, there are plenty who’ve felt, or feel, the same way.

I wonder where they are now, what they are doing, and if they’re ready for the next step of gay men’s evolution.


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Gay Political Empathy

TRIBE Thoughts

Once the room is organized and a sign is posted on the sliding glass entry door inviting men to “come in”, the room we meet in for the monthly TRIBE Gay Men’s Discussion Group always feels to me like sacred space. We come in from the common world, a culture that generally is not focused on our interests and come into an uncommon space, one where most of the people in the room mirror our identity back to us.
It’s like a ship at sea ferrying us from point A to point B where, for an ephemeral span of time we enjoy being the dominant culture, speaking in our own idioms of shared humor, hopes, and fears.
Fifteen men started watching the live debate at 6pm and by the time the discussion started ninety minutes later we had nearly thirty men in the room.  
This group was decidedly pro Hillary. No surprise. And everyone was fairly happy with their favorite’s performance in the debate. The tenor of the TRIBE discussion regarding Trump was not simply against his policies, it was seriously fearful of the country’s ability to survive his presidency and their own personal safety as gay men should he be elected president.
While no one in the room admitted to being a republican or pro-Trump, one man did share his dilemma of meeting a sexy guy with a great ass that he’d like to see again even though Sexy Ass was voting for Trump. He asked for advice on reaching this guy. Not only did he think this guy was hot, but he also thought we should find a way to reach people on the other side rather than mark them as unredeemable and cut them out of our lives.
Sex, or even just the promise of it, obviously has the capacity to open people minds. I think this is one of the reasons why gay men are generally more empathetic than our heterosexual counterparts. Since gay men are born into every demographic conceivable, and we eventually look for connection in a relatively small pool of options, we need to become amenable to men of different class, race, religion, and maybe even political background. Or go without sex. What do you think most men do in that situation?
We also talked about the political “gay agenda”. To some it seems to have evaporated. “I went to a big fundraiser and all of the focus is was on transgender rights, which I support, but no one seems to have a vision for gay Americans after we’ve achieved legal equality.” Our institutions that once championed “gay rights” now maintain a self-conscious silence regarding the future of gay men’s culture.
I was just happy to be in a room full with men who get me. Even the ones I’d just met that night understand me in a way my non-gay friends and non-gay family ever can. We laughed, we listened, and we took each other’s fears seriously. Much was discussed. Many hugs were shared. And when we departed our sacred space, we went back into the larger world a little bit stronger and a little more at peace than when we’d arrived. 

Killing Condom Only HIV Prevention

This is my answer to a question posted on the TRIBE – WeHo Gay Men’s Discussion Group facebook page.

“If condoms are only 70% effective at preventing the spread of HIV, and less that 17% of men who have sex with men are using condoms every time, where do we go from here?”
Putting the Nail in the Coffin of Condom-Only HIV Prevention

We should change the discussion to match today’s sexual and medical realities.

I think we need to start being honest with men (like you are in your column, thank you!) about the real risks of HIV transmission. We need to insist that “prevention experts” like AHF stop their infatuation with the false notion that condom use leads to a panacea of prevention. We need to insist that they redirect the insane amount of money they are spending on ineffective, shame based, sex negative, billboards into programs that give men the real tools they need to slow or stop infection. The established AIDS communities infatuation with the condom-only-nothing-else-matters concept, is only leading to more infections because guys are fucking without condoms. It’s a fact! How many studies are we going to do before we face that reality? If our brothers are fucking without condoms, we need to talk to them about doing it in the safest possible way…which, by the way, may be safer then putting ALL their trust in condoms alone.

We need to stop shaming and start celebrating sex. We need make it cool to be responsible. Make a trip to get tested for HIV or STIs a badge of honor.

I’d like to know more about the men still getting infected.

Do they know all their options? Do they know there is a sliding scale or risk? Do they know who is most likely to shed the virus and under what circumstance? Do they know about PrEP? Are they being taught to talk openly about medications as well as HIV status with their partners? Do they know what “undetectable” means? Do they know that a guy whose on meds and undetectable is statistically safer to have sex with then a guy who doesn’t know his status and is wearing a condom?

Facebook Slams Bareback Page

Facebook Shuts Down Barebacking Page

My contribution to a facebook disucssion in the TRIBE – WeHo Gay Men’s Discussion Group.

Are we talking about public health here or our inability to talk about sex?

To me, this is just another example of American’s fear of sexual content and homophobia from both gay and non-gay people. FB hides behind public health, but I’m guessing it is really the discussion about sex, especially gay sex in particular, that bothers them. I’m guessing that it was easy to find a gay man in the office with enough internalized homophobia to support their decision. “Oh god! That is inappropriate. What about the children? What about public health?” Well, that’s what parenting and security settings are for. btw, I grew up in a state without sex education (it would give children the wrong message) I graduated high school with two pregnant girls, three parents of toddlers, and I soon became HIV positive myself. Maybe a little more talk about sex can be good for kids, but I digress.

Pulling this site down is not about public health. Public health and the strain on our economy by disease would be better served if we shut down all sites contributing to obesity and stress. Google tells me those are the top health concerns of Americans.