As a sex worker, most people assume that the majority of my clients are unattractive. This is untrue: most of my clients are rather handsome actually, they just seek sexual services based on convenience, not desperation. People also assume that most of my clients older men — and yes, they are.
My clients skew older for many reasons: older men are usually more financially stable, have a better understanding of their desires and are able to articulate them clearly to a sex worker like me. But people assume my clients are older because gay and bi men don’t find older men sexually desirable, leaving me to fulfill their needs.
I thought about these things as the only gay man under the age of 30 at an ageism workshop during Creating Change, the National Conference on LGBTQ Equality. After being broken into a small group with three older gay men, we recieved a print ad for an anti-aging cream and a birthday card reading “AAAAAGHH! We’re getting older! Our bodies are falling apart! Our minds are going kaput! Which means we’ll forever feel lousy and exhausted, we just won’t remember why.”
It’s no surprise that our sexual culture completely excludes older gay men. One of the men in my group mentioned how gay media often presents young guys as affluent as a way of further glamorize youth. Another noted that images of beauty idols haven’t changed since he was a young man — while the consumer have aged, the models have remained the young. Thus, our very concept of beauty has stagnated, pushing older generations out of the sexual imagination.
That senior citizens get excluded from beauty magazines is no surprise. But that gay men in particular — a community that expresses its cultural ideals and values almost entirely through sex — has used online dating and other offline media as a way to exclude and discriminate against older people yields consequences much costlier than most young people realize.
It struck me that I’ve never spoken to a group of older gay men about ageism because I’m not often in contact with gay men over 65 in a frank, open space such as Creating Change. A 2013 survey of 616 San Francisco LGBT residents between the ages of 60 and 92 showed that 63 percent lived alone with no partner. When we refuse to talk to our elders or allow them into sexualized spaces, it only increases their isolation, and our own.
These are our people we’re talking about — OUR people. They share our history of erasure, our history of being locked up in mental institutions, the massive loss we felt during the height of the AIDS epidemic. They fucking lived it. Their perspectives are valuable to us; without their voices, we lose our history. It’s true that some seniors have small support networks, but many of these support networks are made up of other seniors, isolating them even more from young gay people.
The men in my group told me that they wished younger people would seek out older LGBT individuals, that we should be the ones to find them. This makes perfect sense to me. Senior gay men especially don’t feel welcomed in our highly sexualized spaces, so where else can they meet us and why should they try?
Thus, it is up to us to set aside our highly sexualized culture and create a bridge to our older counterparts. They need us and, if nothing else, communing with them will help lay a framework for when we too become seniors. If we could find a way for senior gay men to share their experiences with our community — histories that are not being shared in a sex-focused culture — we won’t lose the most valuable thing we can get from each other: a stronger sense of our own identity, one that will last for generations.
(featured image via Carl Nenzén Lovén)