Time goes by...

Why the gay me at 40 wouldn’t recognize the gay me who’s pushing 50

Left: Me at my 40th birthday party. Right: Me at (almost) 50.

Age is so misunderstood, but I’ve got her number.

No. 1: She’s more than just a number.

I knew that for sure when my hairline began a gradual retreat at 29, when my recovery time from hangovers doubled and then tripled in my thirties, when I had to start squinting to read subtitles after 40, and when I had my first prostate exam at 45.

It’s evident in each new crack and creak, and in all 50 shades of gray sprouting head to crotch. I’m a man in the twilight of my forties who occasionally gets mistaken for 28ish in the most flattering lighting, but every time I look in the mirror, time stares back at me.

Despite the physical wear and tear, if the 40-year-old me could see me now (I’ll be 49 on May 7), he’d know exactly who I am. I still look like me.

The biggest–and frankly, the best–changes age has brought aren’t skin deep. They’re underneath the surface where, ultimately, everything matters more. If the 40-year-old me caught a glimpse of the current me there, he might squint and wonder, Is that you, Jeremy?

More than any previous decade, my forties have been an era of inner reinvention. Instead of clinging to the #TBT version of me, I’m embracing the changes of my forties, especially the ones relating to my evolution as a gay man. Here are six of them.

1. I’m now an unapologetic activist.

At 40, I proudly declared myself a non-activist. My work as a journalist revolved around entertainment and travel. I was more interested in seeing the world than changing it.

The shift began when I visited the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg in 2013 and left in tears. I still enjoy a lively dissection of pop culture, but most of all, I aspire to inspire change and enlightenment by writing about race, sexuality, and humanity. That’s what will get me out of bed tomorrow.

2. I’m cured of Saturday night fever.

I’ll never forget my 40th birthday bash at Rheo, a club in Buenos Aires–even if I can’t remember most of it. Hungover as I was the morning after, I was impressed that I could still party like a twenty-something rock star.

As the decade progressed, my lifestyle went from rock & roll to easy listening. My favorite weekend nights are the ones I spend on the couch watching history documentaries on YouTube. At 40, I still loved the nightlife. These days, nighttime is the right time because it means I get to go to bed.

3. I no longer seek out gay scenes.

When I became a world traveler in the mid-’90s, my favorite new-city ritual was hitting the gay circuit. I’ve covered lots of them, from WeHo in L.A. to The Castro in San Francisco to Boystown in Chicago to Le Marais in Paris to Silom Soi 2 and Soi 4 in Bangkok to De Waterkant in Cape Town to Oxford Street in Sydney.

Now I can barely be bothered to Google “gay bars in [insert city here].” I haven’t done it for any of the 21 destinations I’ve hit in 11 Asian and European countries since last June.

I used to judge a place by its gay ghetto. Now I judge it by how gorgeous it looks when I put on my running shoes and go for a jog at 7am.

4. I’ve never been more comfortable around straight men.

I can exhale around them in a way I hadn’t since I lived in the same house as my dad. At this point, I’m so comfortable in my gay skin that I’m no longer inclined to butch it up in anyone’s presence.

Hetero men are less likely to grill me on my love life or bring up theirs, so around them, I never feel like I’m missing out by not having one. And I know I’m not: I’ve learned to accept that Mr. Right may or may never show up, and I’m fine either way.

5. The guys I want have gotten younger… and older.

Guys under 25 were never into me until I entered my thirties. Now, they make up the bulk of my suitors, both on and off Grindr–and I don’t mind at all. I met Stefan, an 18-year-old Serbian going on 30, a few days after watching Call Me By Your Name in January, and he went on to be my favorite guy in Belgrade.

Meanwhile, no-one turns my head like a silver-fox daddy. I rarely noticed them at 40, but now that I’d qualify as one myself if I let my hair grow, James Brolin, 77, sitting next to Barbra Streisand at the Golden Globes looks yummier than ever.

6. In fact, my taste in men has never been so limitless.

Like many gay men, I used to be a slave to specific looks: Now my lust is all over the place, encompassing pretty much every physical and ethnic “type”: Brolin, Javier Bardem, Cory Booker, Jeff Bridges, Trai Byers, Timothee Chamalet, John Cho, J Cole, Zayn Malik, Skip Marley, Ben Mendelsohn, Dev Patel, Mitt Romney (sorry, fellow Democrats!), etc., etc., etc.

I hated beards at 40, but there’s nothing sexier to the pushing-50 me than a full face of hair. I used to value “straight(ish)-acting,” but my attraction now covers the gamut between masculine and not, with less deference to accepted gender norms. The best sex I had last year was with Zach, a “queer” Australian pastry chef who rejected them entirely

Another “queer” Aussie I dated in 2017 showed up wearing a dress. I would have chosen something without dated peplum, but he still took my breath and my libido away.

I was dying to get him out of it, which had nothing to do with the dress and everything to do with the man wearing it.