I recently turned 27. The one and only consequence of this is that it sets the countdown to 30 disconcertingly low. I’m trying to be a good sport about this since internalizing guilt and shame about the uncontrollable aging process is a stupid thing to do. But it’s hard. Society keeps complicating this for me.
There are a number of obstacles that prevent me from being a well-adjusted adult. Obstacle one consists of the expressed thoughts and opinions of everyone around me. Most my friends and acquaintances are my age or older and nary a day goes by where there isn’t some facebook update or conversation where someone bemoans the atrocities of aging. The most popular comment, by far, is some permutation of “my best days are behind me.” As someone whose life has been chiefly shaped by the swinging pendulum of recurring depression, such comments set off a blaring call to panic in the perennial paranoia that echoes about my brain.
“But mourning is an important step in healing,” I tell myself, and policing public opinion is futile. People have a right to vent. So I just tune it out.
Obstacle number two: woefully depressing self talk. I recently had a conversation with a friend that I hadn’t talked to in some time. After stating her age, she noted that she was getting older, “Well, not older but, less young.” Anyone who’s ever breached the topic of age to someone significantly older than them has invariably made the faux pas of referring to a certain age as being old, only to have to hastily backpedal and insist that 40/50/80 isn’t old, per se, just, you know, older. Such comments all point towards age as being a source of perpetual dread. There’s no escaping the encroaching shame of age. It haunts you your entire life. There is no freedom or emancipation from it. It would seem that, like Amanda Palmer says, my entire life is going to be “one endless hope for feeling better.”
Obstacle number three: enduring paranoia. When I turned 18 I had my first nervous breakdown. At the heart of it was a conviction that, since I had just turned 18 and had accomplished nothing, my entire life was shot. I carried this conviction with me through college, the duration of my time as a bank teller and it only recent began to lessen in severity once I started to travel. This is an exceptionally irrational conviction yet it keeps being reaffirmed by the sentiments of larger society.
Obstacle number four: all of my dating experiences ever. Years ago there was a particularly odd individual who was quite smitten with me. After months of chilling/fake dating, he asked how old I was. When I responded that I was 24, he visibly recoiled. After recovering from his stunned, vaguely betrayed reaction, he uttered, “Woah... I didn’t realize how old you are.” Our fake relationship petered out shortly there after. I moved on to what I thought would be a real boyfriend. A couple dates in he inquired about my age. “Oh... I didn’t realize you were that old.” To be fair, I was drinking a vanilla Ensure at the time, so perhaps the harsh, accusatory tone of his was well warranted. I could go on.
While I wish that society would be a bit more positive about the aging process, all these causes are greatly subordinated to my last and far more pressing complication towards healthy aging: being gay.
No one likes getting older. Everyone hates it but few people would disagree that there is more at stake for women. It’s even worse for fags.
Every time I go to the fag bar, I always start my rounds by chatting with the older gentlemen. It’s always the same. We chat, we share stories of woe, he hits on me, I politely decline and move on to flirting with the younger men, leaving him with the same look of sad resignation on his face. I feel horrible about it. I usually find them interesting. I just don’t want to fuck them. I once made the error of asking one how old he is. Immediately a look of intense pain and guilt washed over his face. It was an acutely painful grimace. He couldn’t bring himself to answer. I once complimented an older sex partner on his prowess, noting that younger guys don’t often really know what they’re doing. I thought I was being complimentary. He looked like I punched him in the face.
Am I doomed to spend the rest of my life fervently hoping that I’ll be mistaken for 29? What a wretched fate.
In gaysville, I fall into a certain category.* I detest this category, particularly its grotesque title. It sounds like a delicious hostess snake cake minus the “ee” sound on the end. This is an involuntary categorization and I resent it, but it is nonetheless thrust upon me (...and this is why so many older gentlemen come to my yard.) This categorization is inherently tied to being young, or looking like it. Those who are older and still fall into this categorization exist in a grey zone. Those who express interest in these people don’t like it when they state their real age. Once somebody passes out of this category there really isn’t another one that they conveniently fall into (although Dan Savage has been campaigning for the adaptation of a “twunk” label), unless they sprout a lot of bodily hair and gain a lot of weight along the way. The cost of being non-categorized is a high one. “Types” are a very important part of the gay community. It’s hard to explain to those who haven’t experienced it. What does this mean? This means that, in a very real, non-made up sense, once I fall out this category I will, in the eyes of my particular social subset, no longer exist. This inevitability sets off a number of panicked red flags in my brain about desirability and loneliness.
“But this is silly!” you say. And you are correct. Labels are very stupid. It’s a lazy way of reading people, it’s inherently reductive and it’s just plain lame. The rational part of my brain knows this and is trying to move past this. Yet this paranoia endures, and in no small part to the constant validation it is treated in the eyes of the wounded older gay men that I’ve so frequently encountered. So I need to find a way to rise above this, but for all my protestations of independence I am sadly susceptible to popular opinion, so it’s hard. For the incredulous reader, I must insist that this phenomenon is very real. Those who take this as a delusional ranting of my dramatic fag-brain will simply have to fuck off.
I am haunted by the memory of a particularly grotesque individual who I encountered a few years ago. He was an older gay gentleman, occupying the vast grey area between 35 and 60 that’s so infrequently spoken of. Youth, hair and vitality had abandoned him. There was a distinct bitterness about him and he wore it loudly. Somewhere past 50, all he had left was his bitchiness and his $500 designer glasses. He left a profound effect on me. I had to ask myself, “Is this my future?” In a subculture that so prizes youth, desirability and style, will I one day only have my designer frames to my credit?
I imagine that the choices we make have a lot to do with achieving that level of hardened bitterness. It must take a lot of effort to become that embittered and, bitch though I am, I don’t think I could ever be that self-centered and angry. So this is just another irrational sentiment. More formless paranoia. More B.S. that I can circumvent. I realize that so much of what I’ve just typed may seem so irrational, yet I it’s all so firmly enrooted in my experiences.
Aging sucks and it’s something that everyone has to deal with. I’m trying to be positive and well adjusted; this would be a first for me. I’ll replace paranoia and dread with productivity and I’m sure one day, with continued persistence, I will be the positive, well adjusted late-twenties/thirty-something/forty-som
*You may wonder how it is that people keep mistaking me for being younger than I am. The answer: dim fag-bar lighting. The right fag-bar lighting could make the corpse of Ethel Merman pass for thirty-something. It is a mysterious science.