I was lucky enough to meet the legendary Quentin Crisp back in 1999. He appeared at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, where he told a packed house, “You are allowed to have sex for as long as anyone can call you ‘boy.’ This is usually around the age of 42. After that, you have to pay.” You could feel the cold wave of fear ripple across the room full of middle-aged gay men and I, the wee lad of 27 you see in this photo, thought that was hilarious.
Today, I woke up from a nap this afternoon with a heavy pain in my chest. My first thought was, “Well, that’s new.” In recent years, my meditations often include a diagnosic portion, where I catalogue the various joint pains, muscle aches, strained tendons I’m experiencing. As the ache in my chest subsided, I wondered if I might be having the panic attack I expected last Sunday when I turned 40.
Supposedly, it’s devastating–especially if you’re a gay guy. We’re mean to our old. Watch when younger and older gay men interact and it’s both sweet and sad to see their fumbling attempts to relate once they’ve decided they don’t want to sleep with each other. Not enough mentoring going on in a culture that’s just a step or two shy of Logan’s Run. We tend to describe our bars less by type and more by age: Buddies in your 20s, Woody’s in your 30s, Zipperz in your 40s. Funny how that never bothered me before, eh?
After all, I don’t even know how it happened. I was living my twentysomething big-city life, I blinked and I’m now being told I’m old. This seems terribly unfair–my little shelf of toy robots at home has instantly turned from adorably quirky to slightly pathetic–but I’m comforted by writer Doris Lessing, who wrote, “Your body changes, but you don’t change at all. And that, of course, causes great confusion.”
Last night, my iPod shuffled around to Tom Petty‘s “Learning to Fly,” a song that spoke to the 20-year-old me, leaving home for a life of possibility that felt exciting and terrifying:
Listening to this song again, I was alarmed to be having the same wistful reaction two decades later. I’m 40 years old (middle-aged!!) and I still feel the same, still feel like a kid. Have I learned nothing?
Probably not. But maybe a couple things, I hope. Here’s a few that occurred to me:
In my 20s, I drank with a lot of friends and knew a few people online.
In my 30s, I drank with a couple friends and knew everyone else online.
In my 20s, I broke up with my boyfriend because of his flaws.
In my 30s, I love my boyfriend because of his flaws.
In my 20s, I fussed with my hair because it was too thick.
In my 30s, I fussed with my hair because it was too thin.
In my 20s, I desperately wanted a dog but knew I’d never have the time.
In my 30s, I adopted a dog anyway and discovered ways to make the time.
In my 20s, I diligently worked to establish a solid career by 30.
In my 30s, I diligently worked to establish a solid career by 40.
In my 20s, I regrettably used people to get sex.
In my 30s, I regrettably used sex to get people.
In my 20s, I learned to ignore all the ways straight people told me I should live.
In my 30s, I learned to ignore all the ways gay people told me I should live.
In my 20s, I believed I was in great shape and it was totally true.
In my 30s, I believed I was in great shape and I was totally lying to myself.
In my 20s, I worried that other people would never love me as much as I needed.
In my 30s, I worried that I would never love other people as much as they needed.
So yes, at 40, I am still a work-in-progress. I can live with that. There are even days when that uncertainty is still liberating. I hope my next decade is a kind one, I hope I’ll still be around at 60 and I hope I’ll still play that Tom Petty song and feel hopeful and curious.
So I’ve started out for God-knows-where.
I guess I know when I get there.