Facebook is a great way for people to keep in touch, track down people that have been absent from their lives for years. But it is also a way for us to keep up to date on things that are happening to people we care about and what they are facing. I am one who hesitates to engage in conflict, but I am not the type of person who shies away from it when it comes my way. The past several days I have been sitting at home and I have been thinking, reminiscing about my past, reflecting on what I have been through and planning for what I am am facing. When a friend of mine shared pictures of himself and a simple statement about age, I saw it and thought about what was written and the pictures that were posted. Then I started reading the comments and what I found troubled me a bit, because I knew exactly what the others were saying, I have felt the way that they are, were feeling. And in my youth I actually participated in the very practice that I am about to write about.
I like to think of myself as a pioneer, a person who puts themselves out there in the forefront and helps blaze a trail for others to follow. How could I know that simple actions that I had in my youth would impact the lives of others so deeply. Only now in retrospect can I see that many of the things that I did in my youth have had a resounding effect on others, and that I was one of the people that help inspire and bring about change throughout the LGBTQ community. Yet I am one of the people in this world that is causing a problem and a break in our community. Though today my ideas are a little different then they were years ago, I still find that I am an ageist. This is troubling to me because I have so many friends that are my own age and I care about them, but only once in my entire life did I date someone the same age or older than myself.
Like many in the community I believed that it was my preference to date younger people, but in a sense it was a blinder that I was wearing, I was looking at the outside person and not the package as a whole. I was one of those high maintenance queens that searched for perfection and could pinpoint ones flaws and faults within minutes of meeting them. I was shallow and vapid though I thought that my opinions and thoughts mattered. But a hard life lesson was soon to come my way. It first struck me at the age of 24 and literally robbed me of my 20's and 30's and scared me mentally and physically for life. It left me an outcast in the community that I helped mold and create, and today I stay on the fringes of it. I still consider myself part of the gay community, but I refrain from many of the things that I should still be involved in. Because somewhere inside of me is the deep abiding fear that I am not perfect and therefore not worthy of love and acceptance into the community that I love and dedicated my life to building.
When I got sick with cancer and then ended up with not 1 but 2 colostomy bags, I turned away ashamed of my body and my broken form. I secluded myself and sought refuge in drugs and other means to escape the fear of persecution. Yet, repeatedly human nature has surprised me and I have found friends and sometimes companions along the way. I have more scares than most, have had more surgeries than most, and I still have the fear that I can't be accepted for me because somewhere in my mind I have decided that people in the gay community are discriminatory against those that don't fit the ideal image of perfection. Though I have found and joined groups that accepted me limitation, scars and illness and all. I have found friends when I never thought I would and I have found a sort of peace within myself that I never thought I would because of my battered and broken body. I have even found people who don't see me as damaged but as bright and shiny star of hope and comfort. These are things that I would never have thought possible.
But as I was reading my friends post and the comments I realized that there is still a problem with age in the community, that the young still look at those of us with age and have prejudice. I have come to the realization that I don't look at people the way that I used to, yes I still look at physical appearance, but that is not the person. I have had the unfortunate experience to love a beautiful looking man who was very ugly and dark inside and that made me realize the truth in the adage "you can't judge a book by it's cover". Yet, my own insecurities continue to hold me in a pattern. I am afraid to put myself out there again and hope that someone can look past the body and see the person on the inside. I sit in the house day after day and I watching TV, reading and avoiding the truth. I am lonely, and afraid, these are my truths. Yet, I continue on and do what is expected of me.
Yet, something that my friends wrote stirred in me a desire to once again get out there and make a change in my life. In doing so I hope that I can inspire others to do the same. Life for the gay population is different now then when I was growing up. I have learned that the superficial is not the way to look at another person. Maybe there are others out there that have begun to see that too. Maybe it is only something that happens with age and wisdom, but I hope not. I think that if I were to step out of my comfort zone and do something about my situation I might others doing the same. I am beginning to understand my limitations, accept my physical appearance, and instead of hiding the person that I am. I am letting the world see the person that I have become. I live my life by example and have been doing so a long time. I write about my life here in the blog, and I talk about my differences to everyone I meet. My story is one of survival, it is one of hope, and it is one of comfort. I have lived with 6 terminal illnesses for a long time now and I have done so with courage, and against overwhelming odds. I do it with a smile and a positive attitude that everyone notices. So, if I can change and look at my mistakes with grace, knowing that I cannot change what I have been and done in the past, I certainly can make adjustments and do something about it in my future.
So I have taken to writing this piece about age. I have never let it define me or limit my actions. I have taken care of the things that I must and have been there when others have needed me. But that is not all to my life. When replying to my friends post, I was reminded of the things that I have done in my past, the accomplishments that I have made, and the triumphs, as well as the defeats. But in all of this I have been a motivator and an instigator for change. I have been as I put it a pioneer and I have done things that at the time seemed inconsequential, yet had far ranging affects on my peers and those that have come after me. I may not have been able to rescue everyone, I haven't been able to save the world, or help as many people as I had wanted too. But in my life there have been thousands of lives that I have touched and I have helped and they are out there. They know what I have done for them and I am not asking for any praise or thanks. I am looking to those people to help me spread the word that age is a number, physical beauty is a thing that fades with time, and that we must look at the persons heart, soul and attitude to find the things that we are missing in our own lives. A friend found a sense of belonging and community in his church, he found acceptance and he also found a feeling of wholeness and completion the likes that I have never really felt other than in fleeting times.
Yes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but there are things that you need to think about before you wrinkle up your nose at the affections and attentions another casts your way. Don't let their age be a detractor, because with age comes experience, wisdom and understanding and with those things comes the added bonus of compassion. I don't know how to change the world or change how the gay community looks at one another, but I can tell you that without my friends of age I wouldn't have made it as far as I have in life. I wouldn't have been able to face the uncertain times that I have come through or had the strength to persevere when all about me seemed bleak. I have come through some dark times and very rough medical situations and I have become a stronger person because of them and their advice. I never gave the appropriate thanks to those that came before me. The ones that fought for gay rights, however, I have performed in the play Stonewall and celebrated those lives. It is unfortunate that many of the younger generation know very little to nothing of the days of the 60's and 70's that gave rise to our "Gay Movement" of the 80's and the "Equality Movement" of the 90's and 2000's. What I can honestly say is that I am grateful to have been a part of those times, I wouldn't change my involvement and actions in anyway.
So here I sit and I want to begin a new movement, be a voice for compassion and understanding and hopefully change the way the younger generation thinks and feels about us the old guys. I am tired of being a Yuck or Gross. I am still an attractive person and I have more to offer today more now than ever. I am stronger and wiser. Age hasn't made me less fun, I still can keep up with the 20 years that still are in my life. But I am not looking for love there anymore either. I have tried repeatedly to find it in the younger generation and have been left wanting and disappointed. I am tired of feeling like I am being used and unappreciated. I am comfortable with who I have become and I have surprised myself that there are those out there that find me attractive and have shown some interest in getting to know me. Honestly, with my medical situation the way it is I am not really hoping for any new developments, but I am learning that my time isn't always the right time. I have faith in God and His plan for my life, and if He decides to put a new face in my equations then who am I to argue or find fault. At least I know that I am not alone right now, I have friends, and people that care about me, and I am not far from my family if something happens that I should need them.
Let me remind those out there that old is not ugly, old is not boring, old isn't anything but a state of mind. I am one that can talk about this, I am almost 50 now, and I still do things that I did when I was in my late 20's and things I should have done in my 30's but because I had cancer and missed almost all of those years, it took me some catching up to do. I have a unique perspective about things because I experienced a lot of them later in life than most. I found knowledge and wisdom in older friends when I was going through some really tough medical issues. Those friendships have enabled me to survive and adapt. It is the job of us that lived through the 80's till now to enlighten those that are younger and teach them about the past and the hardships that we and those before us had to endure. Gay pride is not a marketing theme, though lately it seems to have become commercialized, no it is a time to celebrate our heritage, our loss, and to remember those that were taken from us early by AIDs. It is also a time to celebrate the victories that were won and the sacrifices that were made to get us to the place we are at today. Not only do us of age have things that we can teach the younger generation, we can show them understanding and compassion, offer guidance, and wisdom and help them through the issues that they are facing. Never forgetting that we still have a long way to go yet in the battle for equality and acceptance. We have the moral obligation to unveil the myths and misconceptions that surround HIV and AIDs we need to honor the memories of the friends and family that we lost during the height of the epidemic. Plus, we need to remind the world at large that AIDs is still with us we are still loosing brothers and sisters still today to this disease. Though it isn't the media focus that it once was we would be neglect in thinking that we have vanquished and won. The war is still being fought, and many are still being persecuted because they have been diagnosed.
Many of us are tired we have battled long and hard, created a better world for those that come after us, but we are not able to rest just yet, there is much left to be done. I am reminded every day that I wake up that I am still here way longer than any doctor ever predicted I would be. I have overcome some incredible odds and I am still fighting today. We can't let the younger generations forget all that has come before, the heritage, the community, the bonding that we felt and developed in the 80's in the fear of the unknown disease. Community centers were born, research centers organized and help organizations established that have become the norm. We need to remind the young that many thousands gave their lives, tears, and suffering for these mediocre changes that we have finally received. Yes today is a better place, there is a bit more acceptance in the world, but there is much hatred and bigotry still out there. Our community still suffers from many such forms, and maybe there needs to be a movement inside our own movement that tries to foster change. Ageism is a form of intolerance, and discrimination that we cannot and shouldn't allow to fester in our community. We need to look beyond the sexual revolution and think towards a more unifying and holistic love of ourselves. To look to our elders and still love them and accept them, to show respect and compassion. Being gay isn't defined by sexual attraction alone, it is being comfortable with those that you are more drawn towards, who you can associate and understand better. We are different yes because of our desire to be loved and we enjoy sex with the same sex, but it goes beyond that I think or at least it does for me. I feel more comfortable with women as friends, but I feel a kinship and bond with males that I cannot quite describe.
The human heart has the capacity to love and bond to many different things, and people. We need to understand ourselves better, look at our motivations, and think about what where we truly feel the most comfortable. Age is a number, it doesn't define us. It may limit us physically, but emotionally and mentally we are still those same 20 somethings that we once were in a much more experienced and worn package. Most of us wear our age well and are proud to do so. Every year that I am here I am thankful for. I have worked hard to get here and I plan on hanging around a little longer, if I have to do it alone then so be it. But, I don't think so there is someone out there looking for the inner me. When they finally stop looking at the outer me and see the inside they will find what they are looking for. Until then I will keep trying to raise the awareness that age is not something to be afraid of, it isn't something ugly, it is a gift, it is a treasure. Hopefully others will begin to see that we are of value still and we have things been through situations that can help them, we have lessons we can teach and we still have our voice to make change happen.
So from the age of 49 looking back, I remember the days when I was afraid of being 30, then 40, and of course 50. But look here I am I have made it this far, have learned much, endured more, and I have something that I can help the world to understand and that is the human spirit. I know how to give hope, how to inspire through living and comfort just by being there. Life is a journey that doesn't end. I can tell you that I am still going through some things even now, but in the end it will have made me that much stronger a person and will give me another lesson that I can teach another person.
So don't wrinkle up your nose at the attentions of those older men that admire you, take it as a compliment, get to know them, maybe just maybe you might find what you have been searching for and it was right in front of you the entire time and you just couldn't see it because of the blinders you have been wearing. Age is beauty, a gift and something to be cherished.
As always my hopes and dreams are with you. Let me encourage you to live your life full with laughter, love and light.