This birthday marks the last year of my fifties. I’m going to celebrate by welcoming in the next chapter.
Funny thing, birthdays. When you’re a kid all you want (besides a shiny bicycle) is to be older. When you’re an adult, all you want (besides someone to ride) is to be younger… sort of. As much as the idea of being 25 again sounds appealing on the surface, there isn’t enough money in the world to make me want to revisit the painful moments of that time.
As my 59th birthday approaches (April 23, for those into gifting), I’m envisioning how I’m going to make the next decade spectacular while mourning what has, so far, been my favorite decade on Planet Earth. I’m hoping the two eras aren’t mutually exclusive.
My fifties, for one, were about embracing my sexuality in a way that evaded me for much of my youth. I turned “hot,” if not in a Brad Pitt “10” factor way, at least in the sexually desirable manner (hey, I saw it in the mirror when I was seven and chubby and pretending to be a rock star), the timing of age and physicality and hookup apps and Daddys colliding like a shooting star. PrEP upped my enjoyment of sex, too, having matured in an age when “breeding” was a cardinal sin… or what straight people did.
I also gained confidence in my writing, lost a lot of concerns about what others think of me—Yo, Bros, they’re connected—and put my friends up front and center. Unless you’re paying me quite a lot of money, I’m not going to take your shit. For me, the fifties have been about coming to terms with the life I’ve been given, not the one I was dreaming about when I was singing into that hairbrush microphone. Then strengthening the fabric. It’s also a time to remember that I’m still a kid inside, and to keep him alive and nurture his innovative designs.
They say 60 is the new 40, but I’ve witnessed plenty of people turn 100 the day they graduate from high school—and I’ve been around those who never really graduate at all. Being a gay male in New York City might have upped my narcissism factor a tad, but its revelry encourages a lifelong playing field. If I live to be 100 I’m getting ice cream.
Bummer stuff took hold too. I lost the rest of my hair (well, except the King Kong tufts that thrive on my backside), saw the most friends die since 1987 (turns out, we gay men do expire from “natural” illnesses), and learned that ageism is the oldest prejudice against the oldest among us. Really? Think about it, kids. It’s literally about hating what you strive for—long life. When I first started getting published I was bothered that I had to be in the “gay” section, but such as society was. Now I ponder why I’m in the “older” section, but such is society is. My life is a genre.
While I’ve had lovers among the other strangers, I know there’s a strong possibility that the single life is made for me. My mother never remarried after her divorce at age 34, and our personalities are frighteningly similar. She now has Alzheimer’s, so you might have to remind me about that ice cream. And don’t get me started on weight gain perils—now there’s something I’d rather forget.
So, with a year to ponder the sixth decade, I’m left to my own predictive devices—in case you’re new to the late game, gay men of my generation have few, if any, gay male role models. AIDS made us either the end or the beginning of our line, and since Dad-Son roleplay is all the sexual rage these days, it would appear my main societal responsibility is to take care of queer youth, either as actual father or intimacy counselor. My own mentors are on the words of gravestones.
Jane Fonda’s eternal goddess-ness aside, I’m worried about losing my sex appeal (and drive), getting more face creases than my pug, and, most of all, time. Like my father before me, debilitating mental health issues replaced much of my youth—oh yeah, I’m worried I’ll be plagued by them again when I’m not cognizant enough to ask for help—so many of my ambitions reached fruition after the “accepted” fact. I write screenplays now, I wish to direct again, and to act, to finish that novel, and I often feel the clock, not any bureaucrat, is my arch nemesis. The fear of aging hits most at night, as I would imagine it does for most of us, when I dream I’m, literally, in high school or college, then wake up and have to take a moment to do the upwards math. It’s often a shock.
On a sidenote, you couldn’t pay me to go back and take those exams again, either.
My Taylor Swift “midnights” epiphanies notwithstanding, I believe in the everyday, and, once again, as I’ve aged, I’ve come to further appreciate what’s smack-dab in front of me. The joy of morning coffee can’t be measured by the cup. I’m hopeful present wonders will exist in spades as I age, enlarging my pupils till they break the lenses.
Just as my fifties revealed delicious surprises and broken barriers, my convictions tell me there’s good coming up that surpasses the imagination. The bad holds court in the shadows, and straight-on facts of old age, but the promise lives in my desire to resist the “rules” of aging. I plan to exist where I’ve always felt most comfortable; not in the law of upward numbers, but in the potential of my imagination. I never was a joiner, not at 20, 30, 40, or 50, I’ve never listened to the naysayers, and none of my successes have been born from trying to fit in—quite the opposite. Because I play by my own rules, I find every reason to believe I’ll forge new ground as I enter this next decade of life.
Until my mom couldn’t take care of herself any longer, she never got “old,” and hated those who succumbed. She swam laps, she reveled in the music of my generation, she traveled to Europe with a friend and spent a night in a youth hostel… when she was in her eighties. Did I mention she’s my role model?
In the meantime, I’m still in my fifties, will be for more than a year, and I plan to spend that time enjoying its fringe benefits. So far, it’s been a hell of a ride, and I don’t want to miss a minute of it. I have no idea how it will pan out—I learned a long time ago that resolutions are about as effectual as “thoughts and prayers”—but I will do my best to make it memorable.
Who’s with me on this one? I’d love the company.