Ain’t Over Yet
DAYS BECOME more imaginary the older you get; that is, more clotted by images of what might have been but wasn’t, of impossible love affairs, valises stuffed with money, at least one Nobel Prize, embroidered antimacassars of one’s youth, that age when one gave precious little consideration to time swiftly flying like a fantastic lizard into the future that is now.
My dreams, starting about three a.m., are populated by the kids I went to high school with, and college, all of us smart, unwrinkled, but with a curious combined incompetence. The operettas never come off because you’ve invariably forgotten to learn your part. Nor do the daily dramas of jealousy succeed, though I find, as if my dream mind were a lavish computer, that you can manipulate the physical attributes of yourself to unclassified degrees, as Hollywood art directors can doctor the floating heads of actors. I suppose this is what’s meant by entering the second childhood.
My lover of nearly 33 years died not so long ago. So, here I am at 75 with a new partner seventeen years younger, still a working man, an athlete, denizen of World’s Gym, a happy man of remarkable beauty, as rippling with energy as our year-old golden puppy. On long walks in the woods or desert, I pant along behind them listening to my thrashing heart. He plays basketball as he did in high school. I played clarinet. He recently climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro to the top. Two flights of stairs at full speed make me think of flickering mortality. He lifts weights. I can manage a twelve-quart stockpot. He swings a sweet racket. In my studio I make increasingly incomprehensible paintings of the abyss. He swims alarmingly in Lake Tahoe. I like a long, hot bath—or would still if I could get in and out of the tub without embarrassing thuds.
He says he loves me and in fact may say so more often than I know, because if he’s across the room I wouldn’t hear him. Otherwise, I’m in perfect health—“For your age,” the doctor says unctuously—and eager to live on the crest of the wave.
However directly I face the call, I sometimes find myself morphing into a third party who’s standing aside with folded arms and a wry look, observing these two men going about their fond, lopsided lives, one young enough to be in a rush (especially to a football game), the other receding into a contemplative life of reading, writing, even thinking of browsing Proust one more time, or Homer, or taking one last trip to Athens.
This third party, my Spirit Man, typically offers no useful advice, though occasionally suggests I get up and do something, and makes me wonder what Michael is thinking. We live 500 miles apart, a two-hour flight, so we’re together two weeks on, two weeks off—not ideal on the surface but possibly better than it seems. More than once I’ve discovered myself in San Jose or Salt Lake City when I thought I was in Reno.
Age, I find (and this is not news), requires a bit of drawing in, a cocooning, sheltering, de-accessioning, but it offers a chance, as my mother often said, to possess the soul. All these books, the dishes, the paintings will come to naught soon enough and, if the truth be admitted, largely have already, replaced by a purer joy of the day and my Spirit Man’s ironic grin.
Why do we collect stuff, more than we need or could ever wear or read? Someone has said that collecting is an expression of the erotic urge; another, that it’s protection from a hostile world; yet another, that it’s a crude way of compensating for a lack of depth. More simply, having worldly goods of no utilitarian value helps cultivated people enjoy a spot of pleasure on this earth. Aristotle believed that life is an activity and each man actively exercises his favorite faculties upon the objects he loves most. Whatever the answer at forty, it changes at 75. All those lovely things—the glassware, the silver (two sets), the dishes (four sets), those fabrics, the chairs we put so much store by, being gay men as we are, inclined to snuggle in with dazzling objects—what will become of them?
One has had a voluptuous life—travel, opera, books, galleries and museums all over the world, even in Chicago, friends, at least a couple of lovers, finally, also, a couple of cars that actually run. There have been struggles and setbacks, I’ve been startled out of my trance of happiness a time or two, flummoxed by the fragility of hope, but essentially it has been the good life, and being gay has made it livelier, more buoyant with awareness of every day’s possibilities. Despite the de-accessioning, this winding down ought to be met with open arms, I think, a folding in of the remaining richness, though, yes, bent inevitably toward the deep encounter.
I attend with grief to my dead lover, whose life enriched the central three decades of mine. He appears in dreams, not always approvingly. I sense he is always—well, usually (he blushed easily)—watching particularly when I contemplate a Rolex for Michael’s birthday, until I place it back into its velvet box, unbought. This is to say, one carries certain burdens into older age and cannot easily lay them down. They refuse separation. Others winnow out, fade into uselessness, yet I remind myself, I’ve forgotten so much, who even knows what was once there? Apparently, the mind, like a battered suitcase, cannot carry a whole life; it must sort.
Who knows how much future one will see, yet contentment grows from knowing that someone else’s future comes from our past. As Harry, a character in one of Deborah Eisenberg’s stories, wonders, “Oh, it’s hard to believe, isn’t it, that it’s the same person who has lived each bit of one’s life.” Days become more imaginary the older you get.
By John Weston
John Weston, professor emeritus of English at Cal State, L.A., is the author of seven books, including a 2003 memoir, Dining at the Lineman’s Shack.
Needed: A New Word for ‘Gerontophil’
THE HAPPIEST COINAGE of the late 20th century is the word “chubby chaser.” It’s descriptive, alliterative, and it rolls off the tongue. It has immense charm and it satisfies H. L. Mencken’s demand that a new coinage be “ingenious and amusing.” As a hint to future lexicographers, it probably appeared first in a play by Terence McNally called The Ritz. It has a pair of linguistic cousins in the words “chub” and “chubette.”
What is needed urgently by older men and their admirers throughout the world is another word for “gerontophil,” a word which only recently made its appearance in the 1989 Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition, and which I found after much research in no other standard dictionary. The OED defines gerontophil thus: “Loving or favoring old people.” (Note: gerontophil has no final e, so I’ve been spelling incorrectly for years). When I ask young men who show signs of gerontophilia whether they consider themselves a gerontophil, they look at me as though I were speaking Greek—which, of course, I am.
Eager as I am to have a coinage of mine in the OED, or even a dictionary of slang—especially a dictionary of slang—I can’t seem to come up with the right word. Logically, Gerry is the right word, but it doesn’t seem to work. “Are you a gerry? A gerry-chaser?” I think not. Notice there is no gender involved, which is good, and no age, because there are old gerontophils. One place where it works is in combination with the word bar. The Gerrybar in New York is currently “Catarenas,” the Gerrybar in Chicago is “Gentry,” and the Gerrybar in L.A. is called “The Other Side.” I’m trying out a number of spelling variations—it’s my word, and I’ll spell it how I choose. Calling them Gerrybars is better that their usual names, either “The Wrinkle Room” or “God’s Waiting Room.” In London the mother house of all gerontophil bars is called “The City of Quebec,” but it’s known to its friends as “The Elephants’ Graveyard.” Australians call gerontophil bars “Old Geezer Bars,” which I find charming.
My friend John Wykert, the genius, has come up with the word “gerodote”: someone who dotes on the old. That gives us the following possibilities: “gerodate,” a date with an old person; “gerobar,” a bar for older people and their admirers; and “gerosex”—you get the idea. So a sentence might read: “The gerodote had a gerodate and they went to the gerobar, after which they went to a motel where they had safe gerosex.”
I’m not satisfied with any of the above words. I plead with all of you to come up with something; we can’t go around calling our admirers gerontophils. It may be an accurate scientific description, but the word lacks charm and humor. It should be genderless. There are heterosexual gerontophils. I used to eat in a Chinese restaurant on West 53rd Street in New York and would watch—but didn’t notice until the friendly bartender pointed it out—young handsome men in their twenties, thirties, and forties picking up women in their sixties and seventies with no money being exchanged. In fact, what this country needs more than anything are more heterosexual gerontophils. For whatever reason, there seem to be enough homosexual gerontophils to go around (for now; but the Boomers are coming).
And the word should be ageless. As I pointed out above, there are lots of old gerontophils (I’m sort of one myself). Here are some other interesting notes about gerontophilia that I’ve been eager to share based on my scandalously unscientific research. In New York, at least, the ethnic demographics of gay gerontophils breaks down as follows, in descending order from the top: Arabs; gay athletes (with all sports equally represented); Israelis; Mormons, or perhaps I should say ex-Mormons; South Americans, including Caribbean islanders and especially Puerto Ricans; American Jews; Asians; and Greeks (and why not, they invented it); African Americans; and finally, international soccer stars and members of the gay softball league (mostly Irish), giving new meaning to “support your team.” There seem to be very few wasps—who knows why?
The British have solved the problem handily. The majority of the players on the great London amateur soccer teams are gerontophils. Those players on the teams who are not gerontophils call those who are “Bingo Chasers” because gay old men in London regularly play bingo in the bars on slow nights. But I assume this wouldn’t work in the U.S.
To think of a new word is not a hard task, though I don’t seem to have managed it: a snappy, funny, non-judgmental, charming word for people (male, female, heterosexual, homosexual, old, young) who are sexually attracted to older people. The analogous, glorious expression “chubby chaser” is admittedly a hard act to follow. But you think of a wonderful new word for gerontophil, your coinage and your name could appear in a dictionary, assuring your immortality! So get busy!
Finally, to end on a happy note, let me quote from the final citation for “gerontophil” in the 1989 Oxford English Dictionary. It comes from “The Listener,” dated November 25, 1965: “Robin one of those gerontophil types described by Proust as being so fortunately provided by nature for the exclusive gratification of old men.”
by Patrick O’Connor
Patrick O’Connor, a retired editor who headed several publishing companies, is the author of Don’t Look Back: A Memoir, and of the 1967 bestseller The Monkees Go Mod.
INTERGENERATIONAL RELATIONSHIPS—those in which the two partners are at least twenty years apart—seem to thrive in the gay male world, greatly surpassing the corresponding rate of occurrence in the straight world. It’s a phenomenon that many people have noticed informally, though there isn’t much hard data to confirm its existence or its prevalence. Just why so many gay relationships feature a large age gap has also been the subject of speculation, with theories ranging from the psychological to the economic.
My goal was simply to gather some data on five intergenerational couples that could help us understand how they live their lives. To this end, I located five couples in different parts of the U.S. and met with them in their homes, digitally recording their responses to my questions. While the discussion was open-ended, I followed a comprehensive questionnaire that asked them to talk about the circumstances of their meeting, their life together, their feelings about the relationship, their sexual relations, their interaction with family and friends, and so on. The interviews were conducted between February and June 2006.
Let me start with a description of the five couples and conclude with a brief analysis of the five case studies.
Eduardo, now 36, and Al, 69, are in the nineteenth year of their partnership. As a teenager, Eduardo Moncada literally walked the nearly 3,000 miles from his native Honduras to Tijuana, Mexico, crossed into the United States, and made his way to San Diego, where he had relatives. There, through friends, he met Al Best, a San Diego political pioneer, who in 1979 was the first openly gay person in San Diego County to run for public office, the San Diego City Council, and finished fifth of eleven candidates. The significance of the race, Al believes, was that it “raised a wave of interest in the gay community and it proved we were a rather powerful community.” Coming from a large family, Eduardo says his life in the U.S. has been happy. He realized that he was gay at “about age six,” describes himself as a peaceful person, has joined the Buddhist faith, and is an ordained monk. He sees his attraction to older men as “not young, not old, it’s life.” Recalling their early encounters, Al says of Eduardo. “He spoke no English, and “my Spanish was ‘poquito.’” Coming from a “wonderful, loving family,” Al grew up in Colorado, and knew he was gay at an early age.
Across the country, in Boston, Fred Mazyck, 27, and George Casper, 76, together five years, met on the Internet. Fred lived in a rural hamlet in his home state of South Carolina, while George was a lifelong Bostonian. One of thirteen children, Fred grew up in the low country of South Carolina. His early childhood was marked by an abusive stepfather, and “later on in my childhood I was molested, and that set me back.” Not until age twenty did he explore his “gay feelings” by visiting a gay bar in Charleston. “I think my grandfather is where I started to appreciate older men, when I was seven or eight years old,” he says. George is his first partner. They met on-line while solving a computer glitch that was frustrating George, which turned into a series of e-mails and phone conversations. “I don’t know at what point it happened, but we really started taking a personal interest in each other,” says George, who vividly recalls their first meeting when Fred visited Boston. “Fred flew to Logan Airport and I went to meet him. He spotted me, we walked up to each other, put our arms around each other, and I kissed him. I’m not a romantic; I’m a real hard-nosed old son of a bitch, so when I put my arms around this guy and kissed him, I knew I wanted to live with him.”
Casey Walters, 47, and Rowland Folonsbee, 81, together for 23 years, first met in Florida, where they both lived, and recently moved to Louisville, Kentucky. “We were a pretty close-knit family, the normal two boys, two girls, mother and father; my father was a military officer. We went to church as a family, took vacations every summer as a family,” is how Casey describes growing up in the Florida Panhandle, and there, around age twelve or thirteen, realizing he was gay. “My first crush was on the actor William Holden, who had to be in his fifties at the time.” Older men for Casey have “a lot of experience, stories to tell.” He has never questioned his attraction to older vs. younger men. A previous relationship, begun when Casey was eighteen, and his partner 52, preceded his relationship with Rowland, “so I really had no wild background.” They met “around noon time in a public park near where I lived. I was sitting in my car. I knew nothing about the gay life at all and I had heard that this particular place was where gay people hung at and I had been going down there for a few weeks on and off during the day to observe, literally, what are these people doing and Rowland approached me.” Both had a cover: Casey was scanning the Reader’s Digest, and Rowland asked if he had car trouble. Rowland, a New Yorker and World War II veteran, was married in 1951, separated from his wife shortly after meeting Casey, and got divorced in 1983.
Bob Carroll, 46, and Jerry LaBelle, 71, together for nineteen years, are also recent transplants, from Southern California to semi-rural Texas about forty miles northeast of Dallas. On first sighting of their nine-acre property, a visitor can’t miss the number of spiffy-looking American and European cars parked around the house. They turn out to be classic cars. “We moved here so I could open my car restoration business,” says Bob. Terminated from his high-paying California management job in 2005, Bob decided to turn a lifelong avocation into a new career. “I have enjoyed anything mechanical since then, got two model cars for my fifth birthday, had them built in two days, and have always loved anything that I can build. When the great salary I had went away, it was time to do it for real, the kick in the butt I needed.” Bob’s parents were from “the back woods of Kentucky and West Virginia, my mother’s family go back to the Hatfields,” he says. Surviving a family divorce and a second family, he describes growing up as an only child as “extremely dysfunctional.” At age seven or eight Bob resented being called by his surname, Carroll, “instead of my first name because it was done in the way of a sissy name, and I knew I was extremely sensitive about not being a sissy.” Jerry married “right out of high school,” fathered two children, and divorced “seven or eight years after our marriage.” Both Bob and Jerry had two relationships before meeting each other.
Mike Miller, 52, and Carl Stevens, 71, met in a restaurant, didn’t see one another for two years, met again in the same restaurant, and have been partners for five years. They live in Scottsdale, Arizona. Mike says he realized he was gay at age 27. “I knew I didn’t like women so far as dating, but at that point I didn’t know what I liked, so I would go to porno movies once in a while,” straight ones because he didn’t know where to find gay ones. “Of course, they are always the same thing, twenties and thirties. Then I saw one with a seventy-year-old guy, and said, ‘wow,’ and that’s what started the whole thing.” Growing up on rural Long Island was not a happy time for Mike: “very restrictive, very controlling, lots of arguing and yelling.” Mike’s parents and his four siblings moved to Tempe, Arizona, when he was twenty. There’s no family contact now and Mike thinks it’s because “they knew I was gay, but nobody said anything. I basically just walked away.” Before meeting Carl, Mike owned his own house, “in a mainly family area.” After about six years of commuting, he ran into Carl, and “that changed everything.” Carl, a retired California public schools executive, is active as a volunteer in several community organizations. His partner of 32 years died before he met Mike, and Carl describes that relationship as “completely monogamous, fabulous.” At issue between Mike and Carl is where they live. “I just like to move, I like a new start,” says Carl. Aside from a possible career-driven move, Mike wants to stay put.
INTERGENERATIONAL MALE COUPLING breaks at least two stereotypical molds: the notion that youth is universally prized by gay men; and the idea that gay men tend to be attracted to guys who look like themselves. While the first stereotype can possibly explain why the older partner would favor such a relationship, it cannot explain the position of the younger partner. Indeed it’s something that the younger men themselves could not easily explain. Asked “What drives your attraction to older men?” most replied that it had simply always been the case. One man turned the question on its head by asking, “Why am I not attracted to men my own age?” One of the men said he preferred men his own age until he met his partner, and things “just clicked.”
If anything, one is struck by how nonchalant the ten men are about the age difference in their partnership, something they don’t obsess about or regard as a defining feature of their relationship. The issues they talked about in the interviews were essentially the same ones that every gay couple has to address: where to live, how to share the burdens of everyday survival. Sexual activity, monogamy, and relationship satisfaction form a cluster of issues that each couple has worked out in its own way. The question of sexual compatibility is inescapable given the couples’ large differences in age, and there are hints of incompatibility for some of the couples. In general, they report that sexual intensity, frequency, and importance were highest after they first met and have diminished over time—which doesn’t make these couples all that different from most gay (or straight) couples after many a year together.
Fred and George were married in Boston in July 2006, and Casey and Rowland wed in Windsor, Ontario, in August 2005. All five couples see their relationship as a long-term commitment that is not affected by the partners’ differences in age or life experience.
by John Lockhart
John Lockhart is the author of The Gay Man’s Guide To Growing Older (Alyson Books, 2002). He lives in San Diego.