Does Getting Older Mean Becoming Invisible?

“At 50, I don’t exist
socially in the gay community anymore. Having a drug connection has made me “cool’ although it’s temporary. But it’s better than being invisible when I
want to get laid.”

Steve was
more surprised than anyone that he had ended up in my office for therapy. He was a handsome, fit, financially secure
man who had a good job, a nice home, and a supportive circle of friends. Despite these, Steve had increasingly turned
to drugs, and especially meth, to “connect” with other men, and this had
quickly spiraled out of control. Drugs
helped Steve numb the troubling emotions that arose as he grew older and with
each passing month felt a little less attractive, less energetic, and less like
he fit into a gay community that emphasizes youth and looks.

Steve’s comments are based on a narrow view of sex appeal and contain more than
a little self-pity and rationalization, the notion of invisibility and aging is
shared by many gay men. It is true that
both straight and gay culture value physical beauty and youth. Observing change in our bodies as we grow
older can be difficult if we rigidly define ourselves by our looks alone. Steve spent a lifetime classifying himself based
entirely on externals such as physical appearance and his career. Throughout his adult life they buffered him
from shame and other uncomfortable feelings and when those became less
effective he used drugs and alcohol to push discomfort aside. With time, however, nothing really numbed his
fear that he was no longer valued and he found himself in a growing crisis of
identity and self worth.

In therapy,
Steve was able to intellectually understand that getting older didn’t
necessarily mean becoming less attractive. Sexual templates (who you are attracted to) vary greatly among
individuals and, for many, include older men as well as diverse body shapes and
sizes. The real problem was how Steve
viewed himself.

It is
critical at any age to define yourself more broadly than by outward appearance
alone. Otherwise, you miss the inner
spirit that truly defines who you are. Self
image can be enhanced in many ways. Practice
developing an awareness of your unique skills, personal gifts and talents. Get in the habit of identifying positive personality
traits as well as positive physical characteristics (not just what you dislike
about your body –for some that is a real challenge). Develop gratitude on a daily basis and remember
to nurture all of you: body, mind, and spirit.

to the community in a variety of ways is vital to this process. You are not alone. SAGE (Senior Action in a Gay Environment –
has many activities and supports. The
GLCC ( hosts a variety of groups that provide social interaction
outside of bars and clubs, as do many organizations in the faith
community.  It may take a little research, but many
alternatives exist.

Once free of drugs, Steve took a
hard look at his core beliefs and sense of self. To his surprise, he found that the wisdom he
had gained through a successful career and a variety of friendships and
relationships was eagerly sought by a community hungry for role models and
elders. Once he began to value himself
more, Steve felt more confident both socially and sexually.  By valuing more
than just his physical appearance, Steve not only became visible but liked what
he saw.   


METH 911: A New Option for Help

We’ve all
seen the scary images of methamphetamine’s toll on the body: the remnants of a
handsome face reduced to a visible skull with sunken eyes, withered skin and one
really bad case of meth mouth.

   Such visuals,
at one time widely used in drug prevention campaigns, may have had some value. For one thing, they certainly got our
attention. Until recently, many gay men
in our area were naïve about meth’s downside and its potent and destructive addictive

   Florida arrived late at the meth party and
we were able to learn a great deal about the epidemic and what to expect from
gay communities on the west coast. But
even treatment professionals were unprepared and uninformed about meth’s unique

   These grisly
illustrations, however, also had unintended consequences. Men struggling with meth took one look and
went deeper underground. The images did
little to assist them in stopping the drug, but did a lot toward increasing their
shame about using it. Others in the
community who never tried meth were appalled that anyone would use a drug that
could do that, and a rift opened
resulting in further polarization.

   The South
Florida Meth Task Force, founded in 2003, responded to this knowledge gap by
providing “Meth 101” for over one thousand front-line professionals, including
therapists, substance abuse counselors, EMTs, law enforcement officers,
teachers, physicians, and HIV prevention workers.  The
Task Force, through the cooperation of multiple agencies and the volunteer time
of many individuals, helped get the word out about the risks of meth and other
substances among gay men as well. Soon the
meth problem became increasingly obvious.  People we cared for were crashing and burning
all around us and many were asking (as noted) “remember when sex
without speed did the trick?”

   Now, no one
can claim they are unaware of meth’s inherent risks. But knowledge itself, unfortunately, is
ineffective at fighting dopamine-fueled drug cravings. Scary skull pictures do little except remind
users about the harm they are causing for themselves. While self-help groups have become
increasingly available, south Florida has needed additional meth resources, and fast.

Enter Meth and Men South Florida (M&M), a
new program of Sunserve (
that grew out of the South Florida Meth Task Force. M&M is dedicated to the support of men
in our community struggling with the crystal meth epidemic. Their website already lists resources in
south Florida,
and will soon grow to include other informational pages. M&M is dedicated to filling gaps in
services and in the near future will begin a therapy group focused on sexual
issues in meth recovery, sliding-scale individual counseling, and a variety of
other events like town hall meetings.

however, the near future is just too far away. Good news!  On Monday, July 14,
M&M will begin offering METH 911, a free weekly drop-in
group. METH 911, a
collaboration of Sunserve, Broward House, and the GLCC,
is a confidential and non-judgmental gathering
for anyone affected by crystal meth: individuals, partners, family, and friends.

   It will be held at the M Project (2645 North Andrews Avenue, Wilton  Manors) every Monday evening from
6:30pm to 8:00pm. More information is
available at from SunServe at
954-548-4602 or by e-mail to .

the creepy pictures for Halloween. With
groups like METH 911 we can
face a really scary problem together and discover that action and community
trump fear every time.