My 44th birthday is approaching. I sense shadows in the distance. They’re looming; ominous. I question what they are. I squint into the rainbow-hued sunlight, my hand perched at my brow to block the sun from my eyes. It’s then that I can fully see them: buzzards. The shadows are buzzards. They’re circling, soaring in a loop, waiting for me. They’re anticipating the death of my relevance and desirability as a gay man. Wait, what? What’s going on here? I won’t star in this scenario. I will not accept this! This is not my story. Yet sometimes when I allow myself to just wallow in the loneliness and depression that inevitably affects all of us from time to time as we get older, those thoughts run through my mind.
We all get older. At least we better hope we get older. The alternative is death. The older I get the wiser I get. I’m still learning, growing, changing. I’m making better decisions these days. It’s become less about right and wrong and more about choices -- making the best ones in the moment with regard to the situation I'm in. As for me personally, I have a great job that I love. I’m saving money. I have a fantastic apartment to myself. I'm eating clean and working out with a personal trainer. Some of my favorite clothes actually fit me again. I've never looked better in my life. My salt 'n pepper beard has just the right amount of salt to look sexy. (I actually like all the white in it.) Why is it then that it frustrates me so much to not turn the head of some random 20 something that I don't even care about? It's a gut punch from karma. Yes, as the saying goes, karma is a bitch, and she’s having her bitchtastic way with me like you wouldn’t believe.
I turned 26 a mere week after moving to New York City. I felt the freedom to be myself — to be gloriously gay, to drink, to smoke, to live. I felt the city was my oyster and wanted to shuck it in as many ways as I chose as often as I chose. However, I couldn't be bothered to give a second glance to an older man (that would have been a man in his mid 30s early 40s) or return a smile with sincerity for that matter. Now I'm the older man and I'm receiving that very same treatment. Ah the evolution that continues to be the same.
I already mentioned that I’m wiser now, but in other ways I don’t really feel that much different from my 20 something self who moved to NYC in the late 90s. Sure, there are some aches and pains that weren’t present then. There are some lines that I wish time hadn’t left across my face. But even those elements of aging aren’t bad enough to make me feel old. I still love New York City and the energy that comes with it and that 20 something still lives inside me. There are traces of him in my youthful yet appropriate for my age clothing choices. There are traces of him in the nail polish that I wear on the index finger of my left hand. There are even traces of him in the reflection I see staring back at me in the mirror. I am older though and in a city thriving with youth — a city where young gay men are now even freer to express themselves and live life on their own terms than when I got here — all it takes is a rebuff from one 20 something to make me feel like an aging parent that can’t be carted off to Shady Pines fast enough.
Cue wallowing in loneliness and depression. You see, when things like that happen to me, my brain convinces me that no one wants me, that I’m going to be alone for the rest of my life, that I should stop trying, that my time has past. But on this day, without warning, my iTunes playlist (on shuffle) started to play “Man in Motion” from St. Elmo’s Fire. First I started smiling and then I started to laugh. This was one of those moments where the universe gave me exactly what I needed and I am so thankful I was aware enough to hear it.
My mood shifted. Sure I’m getting older. Thank goodness. That means I’m not dead. I have to deal with aging in Gayville just like every gay man before and after me. As I mentioned above, I don’t even want the 20 something so why does he matter? What matters is that I can’t turn his head anymore. Or the head of any age man who is not interested in me. (#GayManProblems!) OK! So what! Here’s where I have to make a choice and the choice is clear: piquing someone’s interest, while exciting, isn’t really what matters most to me. Sure, I want to be found desirable (don’t we all?), but ultimately my What Matters Most list includes: being happy, being healthy, being financially stable, having good friends, and living my life as contentedly and openly as possible in the greatest city in the world.
In the song “Man in Motion,” John Parr sings, “Just once in his life a man has his time, and my time is now.” I’m here, I’m queer, and really, I’m sexier as a 40 something than I’ve ever been at any other age in my life. He also sings about new horizons, eagles flying high, climbing mountains, and crossing a wild sea. It’s a journey. Life is a journey. Getting older means I’m still on my journey and there’s so much more to it than turning the head of a 20 something. The fire burning in me might not be St. Elmo's, but there is a fire. It's the desire to live my life without regret and without wondering what could have been. There is no what could have been. There is only what was and what is. There's more sunshine to feel, more flowers to smell, more music to hear, more art to collect, more food to eat, more wine to drink, more laughter to laugh, more love to give and accept. And for that matter...more men to see. Maybe if I take a second look those shadows are actually eagles instead of buzzards.