Today I turn 33 and as I did last year I wanted to again share my perspective on what you learn as you grow older as a gay man. So often in the gay world, aging is heralded as losing something very precious with a value so high we become consumed with holding onto our youth as fervently as possible. To some it becomes a full blown obsession and any reference to them approaching 30 or older sets off a manic frenzy of doubt and insecurities with an ever looming shroud of shame. At that pace some give our youth so much value sometimes more than it’s actually worth.
Setting aside the assumption that once we come out we go through what’s often referred to as a “second puberty” retaining a certain look of vitality and strength the fear of growing older as a gay man is much more pronounced in our community than our straight counterparts. Maybe it comes from feeling like we wasted so much time in the closet that we have to make up for lost time. We often harbor on the illusion that our youth has the most value.
When in actuality it is the complete opposite. Aging is what gives life true value. Not only in the monetary wealth we acquire or the relationships we nurture but also in how we value ourselves. What have I seen over the past year is a testament to that. We are so hell-bent on hanging onto a period of our lives when we are revered for our youth and vitality that we only focus on staying in one place for eternity. Aging is a beautiful thing.
Some may spend a lot of effort in justifying the cons of becoming older while their message unconsciously speaks about our waning years and how we should make the most effort in living life to the fullest. Others may lament on how it is harder for us to make connections as we approach middle age. But I feel the opposite is true. As you grow older you find relationships to be much more fulfilling because you are at a point in your life where you honestly know yourself and the kind of people you want to invest time and effort into building something worthwhile.
As a result we don’t grow from our experiences or come closer to the actualized person we were always meant to be. That means we forgo the potential to be a more profound, worthwhile human being. So we become stagnate and eventually lost. You can try as much as you’d like to hold on to the present and this perfect image but it won’t last. But you can hold onto the experiences and let them enrich your life as you grow older.
Trust me I’m not saying I want to look older (though I’d rock the hell out of a salt n pepper beard). No one does. But it’s okay to be older and wiser than the year before. You can look great and be older at the same time. We’re all vain. And that’s okay to be a little vain. What I’m saying is that it’s okay to appreciate the experience of growing a little older. A little wiser. To have a little more wear on you than when you were a brand new gay ready to take on the world. You can hold on to wanting to make change in this world with each breath you take.
But if stop for a moment and reflect you’ll remember those times of first being out of the closet and after that feeling of euphoria washed over you like summer rain you soon realized you didn’t know the first thing in actually making those dreams come true. I lauded loudly about how aware I was about the world but I still needed to grow because I didn’t know it all or myself. I panicked because the answers weren’t as readily available to me as I had once presumed would be the case once I came out. All the time I spent contemplating coming out and how I would do it and how different the world would be meant I had not taken into consideration how different I would be.
While in my 20s I did my best to externally exude a stoic reverence about where I was at in my life. But on the inside I was always vacillating between confusion and doubt and insecurities about how I looked, how I talked (I have a thick southern drawl) and even while in school was completely unsure about who I was as a person. Basically I was a mess because I was unsure of what being gay meant to me. That may be true of everyone at that age but as always it’s a bit different for us. More intense because we are readjusting to the world being openly gay.
Despite the previous knowledge I had about what being gay was like, the do’s and don’ts, the endless time spent silently observing gay men and what I thought gay lifestyles were like, I hadn’t experienced life enough to know what the hell being gay meant for me. The constructs that I’d held onto for so long and feverishly doing everything in my power and beyond to hold on to my youth was somewhat crippling. Always making such an excruciating effort to not only to maintain the look of someone in their early twenties but also keep up with that mindset is stifling. So I stayed in one place and didn’t grow.
That was true for all areas of my life. I was too busy trying to replicate the best examples of being a well-rounded gay man that it caused me to be a shadow of a man rather than just standing in the light and allowing myself to learn and discover my identity. Growth requires light and you can’t do that by always standing in the shadows of others or holding onto one specific place in time. While it is vital to have something or someone that inspires you at some point you have to be your own inspiration. After all, that’s how the people we most admire are on top is because they were willing to climb. They had some assistance and pushes in the right direction but ultimately they crafted themselves into those great figures by having the courage to find out who they were. And we all must do the same.
Again I forgot that lesson of appreciating the moment and moving onto the future because as a black man I had to do the same thing. You have to reconcile so much in life that you even have to account for how your race affects who you are, especially when everyone is always made aware of it. I had to decide if I would succumb to the weight of the stereotypes placed on me or refuse to be defined by them. Or choose to be obsessed with how much they impacted my life and defying them. My experiences as a gay man and the notion of vanity and youth reflect the same philosophies. And I finally got it and decided not be imprisoned by retaining youth I was free. I let myself be.
You may think that others won’t value the more seasoned you but I can honestly say that guys are more interested and drawn to the 33 year old me who’s tall, a bit lanky and truly knows who he is than the 25 year old me with a twelve pack abs and had absolutely no idea who he was. Maybe it is a thing of confidence. But really it’s about experience and allowing me to grow. And knowing that above all my faults and imperfections that I wholeheartedly love who I am, at any age.
Of course we don’t want to appear older. Nor do we want aging to slow us down. But this ravenous, all-consuming obsession we have with retaining our youth in this community is suffocating.
As with everything, this too is a balancing act. Be active in keeping both your mind and body healthy. It is perfectly okay to want to look good. You should always hold onto your youthful spirit and hunger for life. Just don’t become consumed with staying in one place in this life or you will miss out on the rest of the world. You’ll miss the person you always dreamed of being.
And you’ll miss out on birthday cake so no one wants that.