I was out dancing the other weekend and "Forever Young" came on. I was dancing with a small group of old friends, some of us have been dancing together for 30 years. I'm 48 and I often go out dancing. Do I want to be forever young, as the song says, or not? Should I have taken myself off the dancefloor in shame?
Gay men are often accused of having a Peter Pan complex. And while we visible ones on the scene help create this stereotype, it's often applied to all homos with thin-lipped disapproval, to show we aren't really serious or mature somehow. We don't want to grow up, apparently. We like to do "young" things, like dance, dress up, go to parties, sleep around, and worry about our appearance, apparently. We spend money like teenagers, apparently. So we are judged by some, including some of our own, to be immature.
Well what's mature? Holding down a nine-to-five job till you retire? Getting to bed at 10 on a Saturday night because you're really too old at 50 to be out in a bar and dancing, it's just not seemly.
And so what if parts of this accusation are true? Most people are forced to grow up because of the needs of families, children, buying a home, all the stuff that typically goes with being straight. As gay men, we don't tend to follow this path. Our lives are different, because most of us don't have kids to worry about, and we can do a lot of things without having to put a whole group of other people in our calculations. I can remember a few years ago my mother saying to me, out of the blue "You know, I don't feel any older inside than I did when I was 20, it's just my body has aged." I hope I can say that - imagine feeling old inside. I don't want to.
Often it seems to me that the criticism of gay men not acting their age comes from our own, from other gay men, who for whatever reason, feel uneasy at the prospect of men in their 40s, 50s or 60s still going out and having a good time. Do we remind the young ones that they too will age, and do the older ones disapprove out of envy? I think so. But who decided that everyone had to retire to the suburbs at 39 and behave like their grand-parents?
You know, our generation watched an awful lot of friends sicken horribly and die, and while I was dancing with that small group of old friends the other weekend, we were all aware of all the ghosts on the floor who hadn't made it. I think, far from being immature, we're very mature: we grew up pretty damn fast in the worst days of the AIDS epidemic. We had to. And I think that experience helps us value now, value the joy and fun that is in the world, because we've seen how fast it can all disappear.
I know the scene is not for everyone, I know it can be shallow, vapid, and heartless and so can some of the men on it, and I've been through times in my life when I haven't been interested in it, but I've enjoyed coming back into it as well. I'm lucky because of the friends I have. And while some of those friends the other week were my age, or older, and dancing till 3 in a sweaty shirtless frenzy, they all have real grown-up jobs, and are strong clear individuals.
I don't care that I don't have a gym-buff body (well, if I could take a pill for one I'd do it but you know, I'm lazy...) and I don't think I'm having a mid-life crisis by having riotous weekends at 48 when most of the men I went to school with are fast asleep in the suburbs next to a woman they married 20 years ago. They are the ones who will wake up one day and have a mid-life crisis, I won't, because I've been lucky enough to lead a life that allowed me a lot more choice: I have very few regrets. I will get a new tattoo this year, and probably another piercing. And I will keep on dancing like a fool. Because life is for living, you only get one go, and I just don't care what anyone else thinks.
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