On the verge of my 37th birthday I celebrate a little over a year of partnership with a man 26 years my senior.
This is not a new phenomenon for me—coupling with older men. It is a preference that kept me in the closet until I felt I was safe enough to express it at 23. I had never been with another man sexually before then. In fact, I had only ever been with women my age. That’s what was expected of me, if not the celibate single or religious life, in the conservative, working-class Catholic household in which I was raised.
It was in this environment that I was taught to hold the body in suspicion and to avoid sex. Masturbation, I was told, is a mortal sin. “Impure thoughts” were grounds for confession. By fifteen, in the throes of pubescent sexual urgency, I broke down and committed the ultimate transgression for a Catholic boy that age: Not only did I masturbate for the first time, I did so to a picture of another man. I was terrified. My sexual fantasies were all about pro-wrestlers and movie stars with chiseled jaws and hirsute bodies. I went to confession sometimes multiple times per week at that stage of my life, living in constant fear of this layered secret and its consequences for my soul. At one point I confided in my high school’s campus minister that I thought I might be gay. Only I couldn’t get the words out.
“Are you attracted to other men?” he asked candidly one afternoon when I cornered him in his office about doubts I was having around my sexuality.
The question rang in my ears like an episode of tinnitus.
“No … no … nothing like that,” I lied, knowing I couldn’t answer the question without disclosing a secret within a secret: I liked older men.
I denied the truth because my sexual attractions were not within the range of what I considered acceptable homosexual behavior, even then, when “homosexual behavior” was anathema to the “moral life.” It felt like a perversion within a perversion.
Nevertheless, in the work I’ve done to explore my story in a psychotherapeutic setting and in writing about it, I have come to realize that, while there may be aspects of a still-resolving “daddy complex” at play in my sexual preference, it is something that I’ve come to embrace as unique to my gay male identity. In a way, I am proud of my non-normative leanings, as they challenge the status quo of our collective ideal, which brainwashes us into believing that you have to be young, svelte, hairless, and chiseled—and white, and well-educated, for that matter—in order be loved. For me, my attraction to older men is an invitation to love more deeply—both myself and the other man.
At least that is what I’m finding in my third long-term relationship, which is based upon a shared value system oriented toward social justice. We laugh, we cry, we spend time in nature, we read books, we exercise, we have sex, we eat, we sleep, and we work together. While there are physical limitations—the sexual dysfunction that comes with age being one of them—the rewards of mutual affection and friendship far exceed the seeming deficits of cross-generational love. In addition, there are stage-of-life issues dealing with career, health, vocation, and retirement that challenge cross-generational lovers to creatively engage the age gap with empathy and excitement. But then these are issues not isolated to intergenerational commitment.
As history will tell us, intergenerational gay relationships are not unusual; nor should they be. They bring out the wise fool in each person, and they provide a basis for experiencing wholeness within ourselves. They also teach us a lot about gay cultural history and politics. In the context of my own “May-December” couplings, I have become more familiar with the horrors of living through the AIDS epidemic from people who saw many of their friends and family die as a result. I have also learned more about gay culture: books, film, music, and visual art. As a millennial, I reap the benefits previous generations of gay men have accomplished. Publicly professing my love for older men is just one of them.
Rob Peach is community outreach and engagement coordinator for a homeless service agency in Humboldt County called Arcata House. For more of his story and to contact him, visit: https://robertkpeach.wixsite.com/brotherpreach.