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.

While
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.

Connecting
to the community in a variety of ways is vital to this process. You are not alone. SAGE (Senior Action in a Gay Environment – www.sagewebsite.org)
has many activities and supports. The
GLCC (www.glccsf.org) 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.   

 

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