It’s never fun to admit your vulnerability, perceived or otherwise, and it goes against our IG-saturated, social-media world to post about problematic life subjects.
But, heck, as older gay men, the more we open up about those “closed” topics, the more we can relate, and help, one another not just surive but thrive late into a glorious old age.
So here, five topics that need to be discussed more often. Share if you dare.
There are times in my life when I’ve had money and times when I’ve been flat broke. (I’m a writer, dudes—it ain’t a solid paycheck.) Growing older and gay without an established, stable lifestyle is one of the hardest topics for me to discuss. When you don’t have money, people feel free to chat about your finances in mixed company, usually referring to you in the third person. When you do have it, oddly, they only talk about it behind your back.
For those of you struggling, if you haven’t figured it out from the news, you’re not alone. Even a lot of people who act like they have money actually don’t—they’re living on a borrowed dime. If your friends exclude you, from parties, from dinner, from weekend getaways, because you don’t “bring anything to the table”—yes, that was said to me once during a time of financial duress—then get rid of them. Their superficiality isn’t worth a dime.
2. Sex drive
I’m not going to get any dates for writing this post.
Like many men my age I’ve been subjected to that fateful cliché, Don’t worry; it happens to the best of us. Our gay world is sometimes about the penis, and when your sex drive dwindles, your social life often suffers too. (On a side note: Medical remedies are important to keep in mind, but out of my jurisdiction, discussion-wise.) Porn, hook-up apps, the sex saturation of marketers, and good old-fashioned bitch brunches steer us into the false belief that we’re always horny and hard.
If you’re sex drive is a bit off these days, either for a significant period of time or just an evening, don’t beat yourself up. Tell your partner, your date, and opt for a night of the many pleasures of compasionship: conversation, cuddling. You may be surprised how erotic emotional intimacy is, even if it does not involve “release.” And by all means, talk to your friends about how to keep sex and romance alive in a time when sex may no longer be your life’s ambition. Most of them have been there, and the stigma attached lifts when you realize the cliché, above, really isn’t an insult.
3. Body image
I haven’t been completely content with my body for about 15 years. I’m always at least five pounds above my ideal weight, no matter what the scale says, and my arms are never sculpted enough. After years of working out alongside younger, more “perfect” men I’ve been conditioned to feel this way. And then there are the Photoshopped hunks that haunt our self-esteem.
Distressing as that may sound, it’s fairly common. I’m friendly with dozens of men who aren’t happy about the way they look, many to a much worse degree than myself. We have to work on this issue, and we need to do it together. In the past couple of years I’ve opened myself up more to accepting physical imperfections, and it’s been through the encouraging words—and actions—of friends and lovers, as well as my own personal growth. Sometimes I’m shocked at the parts of my body partners have loved, and I know they’ve often been surprised at how much I loved that, say, six-pack-free stomach.
And walk around naked more often. It’s one of the best ways to learn how to be comfortable with your own body.
4. Substance abuse
I’ve made no secret of abusing alcohol in the past, and believe the more we’re all open to discussing addiction, the healthier we’ll be—not to mention more likely to seek help or refrain from excess. And in case you haven’t looked up of late, we have an opioid epidemic in this country. As we age, anxiety and depression may increase, and we need to check in on our loved ones.
In the past year, I’ve found out that I have close friends too dependent on, among other things, sleeping pills, anti-anxiety drugs, and booze. In each of the above-mentioned examples, I found out through honest conversations about life and all its myriad challenges—I had no idea there was abuse taking place. Most people who abuse drugs and/or alcohol want to talk about it. Many of them don’t feel comfortable, fearing judgment. Do neither; just love them and you’ll both get a boost.
It’s common to fight the physical aspects of aging—diet, exercise, cosmetic enhancements—but how much emotional work are we putting into actually accepting that rising number? It’s safe to say this is one issue we all share, and we need to make share our fears and joys about getting older are out in the open.
Because one of my parents is deceased and another is elderly, my large, extended family talk about the aging process regularly. But among my gay friends (my other family), I sometimes forget to move the aging discussion beyond the “remember when we were younger?” conversations. Since I’m single, a lot of these guys will be my old-age friends, and we have started to talk about health, finances, home life, and everything else leading up to the really fun topic, death.
And since I’ve lost so many role models to AIDS, these survivors have become my solace, my inspiration.
When you think about it, there’s no time like the present to talk about the future.