Friday, March 6, 2009

On gaze, acceptance, history and connection

Black Gay Men and Aging

by Charles Stephens

Read more from Charles here on LifeLube.

Usually it’s at a conference or a workshop or a meeting. I will come across another black gay man 55, 60, 65 or so. Most of the attendees will greet him politely but cautiously. Watch him from afar, without trying to look at him, not wanting to stare. Avoiding gaze. The gaze symbolizes desire and we are careful how that message is sent, economical. Curious but guarded. Awkward. As gay men, far too often our social interactions are mediated by desire or shade.

If the facilitator knows him, or is familiar with him, he will give him attention, reference his age. The audience will respond. Maybe through applause, or through nodding their head, or the “mmm hmm,” affirming that the brother is still here with us. But then do any of us really wanted to be affirmed? Wouldn’t we rather be accepted? Fit-in? Be in the in-crowd? Among the beautiful?

He might speak-up. Even outspoken. I find that often, when a black gay man of a certain age, especially an elder, crosses my path, he is hungry to share his story, to share his experiences. Even entitled, especially in groups. But then, why wouldn’t he be? Any survivor — and if a black gay man is 50 or more he is a survivor in more ways than one baby — would feel compelled to share his story. However, we have failed to erect the appropriate monuments. We have failed to carve out those spaces for that sharing, at least outside of pathology, support groups, and clinical settings. Our stories have to exist outside of mental health settings.

It’s unfortunate how we banish our elders to the forests. Send them away. That is our challenge, to figure out how to honor them, retrieve them, and give them space to share themselves.

Sometimes, in a group setting it can be awkward. Sometimes, the brother of a certain age, can take up lots of space. Too much space. There is an eagerness to be acknowledged, to be recognized, an urgency. An eagerness to be heard. In conference settings, unlike club settings, we are forced to listen to each other. Listen to him. And if he goes on and on, we might look at our watch, or stare at our phone, or look outside, or cough, flip through conference books, or ramble through our bags.

In club settings, and more explicitly sexualized environments, the young, the beautiful, the selfish, have the ability to ignore. It’s even encouraged. Rewarded. What’s more desirable than a beautiful asshole? Or online, especially online, we can filter out who we want to talk to, filter out the undesirable. In conference settings, we are polite, we know we have to be polite, so we listen, we acknowledge, at least most of us try to. Or fake it.

He will sometimes talk about Stonewall. Often Stonewall. “Outside of New York, it wasn’t a big deal,” he might say. Or those 80s, “I went to funerals every week for years. I got so tired of wearing that damn suite.” They were in New York and DC and Philadelphia and knew Marlon and Joseph and Essex. Remember Charles Angel, the founding of GMAD, Other Countries, and so forth. I try to see myself in him, I try to imagine myself as I grow older.

I try not to be vain about aging. I barely made it out of my quarter-life crisis in one piece and now I occupy that bizarre space between young adulthood and middle-age. Of my quarter-life crisis, it was less about fading beauty and more an anxiety around not feeling like l have accomplished enough, achieved enough, done enough.

Maybe it’s because I never valued youth, that I refuse to be vain about aging. Not really. I would never be 20 again. I swear to God. And I have always been more sexually attracted to older men. Always. As a youth, an identity that was always ill-fitting, I never much cared about advocating for youth or youth issues, even as I was frequently tokenized as “youth,” or “queer youth,” the spokesperson for this youth or that youth. Don’t get me wrong, I chose to be that, to do that, who wouldn’t like being invited to things, to feel special, but it always awkward since I never saw myself as youth or young.

Now that I’m no longer considered youth, and I creep up on 30, I want to look forward to the time when I will be some old man sitting in a conference, and people having to listen to me. Or I could start doing DILF-oriented porn. I also look forward to a culture where aging isn’t seen as a burden.

Charles Stephens is an Atlanta-based writer and activist. Check out his blog.


  1. well said Charles, it is true that we put our elders to pasture. Sad when we can learn so much from em

  2. Thank you so much, and we certainly have our work cut out for us.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

select key words

2007 National HIV Prevention Conference 2009 National LGBTI Health Summit 2011 LGBTI Health Summit 2012 Gay Men's Health Summit 2012 International AIDS Conference abstinence only ACT Up activism advocacy Africa african-american aging issues AIDS AIDS Foundation of Chicago anal cancer anal carcinoma anal health anal sex andrew's anus athlete ball scene bareback porn barebacking bathhouses bears big bold and beautiful Bisexual Bisexual Health Summit bisexuality black gay men black msm blood ban blood donor body image bottom Brian Mustanski BUTT Center on Halsted Charles Stephens Chicago Chicago Black Gay Men's Caucus Chicago Task Force on LGBT Substance Use and Abuse Chris Bartlett chubby chaser circumcision civil rights civil union Coaching with Jake communication community organizing condoms Congress crystal meth dating dating and mating with alan irgang David Halperin David Munar depression disclosure discrimination domestic violence don't ask don't tell douche downlow Dr. James Holsinger Dr. Jesus Ramirez-Valles Dr. Rafael Diaz Dr. Ron Stall drag queen Ed Negron emotional health ENDA Eric Rofes exercise Feast of Fun Feel the love... female condom fitness Friday is for Faeries FTM gay culture gay identity gay latino gay male sex gay marriage gay men gay men of color gay men's health Gay Men's Health Summit 2010 gay pride gay rights gay rugby gay sex gay youth gender harm reduction hate crime HCV health care health care reform health insurance hepatitis C HIV HIV care HIV drugs HIV negative HIV positive HIV prevention HIV stigma HIV strategic plan HIV testing hiv vaccine HIV/AIDS homophobia homosexuality hottie hotties how are you healthy? Howard Brown Health Center HPV human rights humor hunk Illinois IML immigration International AIDS Conference international mr. leather internet intimacy IRMA Jim Pickett leather community leathersex Leon Liberman LGBT LGBT adoption LGBT culture LGBT health LGBT rights LGBT seniors LGBT youth LGBTI community LGBTI culture LGBTI health LGBTI rights LGBTI spirituality LGV LifeLube LifeLube forum LifeLube poll LifeLube subscription lifelube survey Lorenzo Herrera y Lozano love lube lubricant Lymphogranuloma Venereum masturbation mental health microbicides middle Monday Morning Perk-Up MRSA MSM music National AIDS Strategy National Gay Men's Health Summit negotiated safety nutrition One Fey's Tale oral sex Peter Pointers physical health Pistol Pete pleasure PnP podcast policy politics poppers porn post-exposure prophylaxis PrEP President Barack Obama Presidential Campaign prevention Project CRYSP prostate prostate cancer public health public sex venues queer identity racism Radical Faerie recovery rectal microbicides relationships religion research safe sex semen Senator Barack Obama sero-adaptation sero-sorting seroguessing sex sexual abuse sexual addiction sexual health sexual orientation Sister Glo Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence smoking social marketing spirituality STD stigma stonewall riots substance abuse treatment substance use suicide super-bug superinfection Susan Kingston Swiss declaration syphilis Ted Kerr Test Positive Aware Network testicle self-examination testicular cancer testing The "Work-In" The 2009 Gay Men's Health Agenda Tony Valenzuela top Trans and Intersex Association trans group blog Trans Gynecology Access Program transgender transgender day of remembrance transgendered transmen transphobia transsexual Trevor Hoppe universal health care unsafe sex vaccines video violence viral load Who's That Queer Woof Wednesday writers yoga You Tube youtube