Last month., a post appeared on NewNowNext’s website about 40-year-old U.K. model Jan Cavalli. “Model Jan Cavalli, 40, Is One Distinguished Gentleman” contained a brief write-up and featured several shirtless photos of this attractive,and incredibly fit, man. It was a flattering story, although a lot of the shade was thrown around in the comments section because people thought Cavalli looked a lot older than 40.
Honestly, I didn’t see this entry when it was first published. It came to my attention courtesy of one of my Facebook friends when he shared it along with the following status update:
WTF?!? UMM, thanks NewNowNext for being SHOCKED that someone could possibly BE attractive at 40! Thank God you provided proof! Yet, he's still a "distinguished gentleman." Way to go, perpetuating and enhancing, albeit subtly, the "if you're over 35 and gay you don't exist except to daddy chasers, the very occasional DILF party, and leather bars" mindset of too many gay men.
Clearly, my friend was more upset about the way NewNowNext titled the entry than he was by the actual post. I’m certain it wasn’t the intention of the writer to sound mean-spirited or offensive. However, seeing my friend's rant on Facebook got me thinking about the ageist attitude that exists among gay men. We don’t address it publicly, and not everyone subscribes to it, but it definitely exists.
When we’re in our 20s, we’re considered hot. Our youth is celebrated. We command attention as we walk into the bars and clubs, and tend to develop a sense of entitlement from the barrage of admiration that reinforces a belief that somehow the world revolves around us. Basically, we’re fabulous.
As we hit our 30s, we’re still hot but we’re not new to the game anymore. We’re morphing into seasoned veterans who are better at navigating the ins and outs of different facets of gay life. The youthful naïveté that once illuminated our faces is slowly being replaced by character lines and aging masculinity. But even though there are always younger and prettier guys hanging out at the other end of the bar, we can still turn heads.
Once 40 and beyond comes along, that’s when things begin to change. Subconsciously, we become more in touch with our mortality. If we’re still single, we begin to panic and question our worth. We also realize that the deepening creases of those character lines we observed in our thirties are even more noticeable (especially under the fluorescents). And as we examine our faces under the harsh lighting, right on cue younger gay men start to look at us in a different light as well — almost as if they were witnessing the onset of some type of gay menopause. The days of “hot” are now in the rearview mirror as we drive into a new age demographic.
In some instances, “hot” is replaced with “attractive” and yes, maybe even “distinguished.” In other ones, crueler adjectives are thrown around. Either way, these new labels feel like a slap in the face since it wasn’t that long ago that we thought of these younger guys as our peers. In fact, when we jog our minds and take some unpleasant strolls down memory lane, we remember that we used some of the same colorful labels to define the older men we encountered that are now being applied to us. Where did the time go?
The realization that we no longer fit into the “hot boy” category within gay culture begins to manifest itself through subtle changes in our behavior. For instance, something as trivial as one’s age becomes a subject that must be concealed when it’s asked about. We either mumble, “I’m older,” or just sidestep the question by bringing up another topic of conversation. If you happen to be one of those men who feel confident enough to reveal his true age, you’re usually greeted with, “You look great for your age! I would have thought you were still in your 30s.” Thus reinforcing the unspoken thought that gay men truly do consider 30-39 to be the last hurrah before publicly falling off the radar … or riding off into the Palm Springs sunset.
Ageism is not exclusive to gay men; it’s an attitude that runs rampant within society as a whole. Women deal with much more blatant displays of it than gay men do. However, it’s funny that ageism is part of gay culture since there’s an ideological belief that we’re all in this together. Shouldn’t we be making more of an effort to bridge the gap that exists within the different generations?
Fascination and preoccupation with youth can prevent people from seeing older men (and women, for that matter) as human beings who are still capable of enjoying romantic and sexual experiences. Make no mistake about it though, the circumstances might change over the years, but everyone is still in the same game. Dismissing someone because they are no longer deemed worthy of the flattering adjectives as their younger counterparts is nothing more than uninformed speculation.
Growing older is part of life. It’s happening right now even as you read this op-ed piece. Some of us age gracefully, while others go down kicking and screaming. It’s our prerogative, whatever path we choose. My word of advice for those who are younger is to keep in mind that one day you’ll find yourself in a similar situation. Truthfully, no matter how “hot” you think you are now, there will always be someone younger and hotter walking into a room right behind you.
Brace yourself and keep looking ahead.
JUSTIN HERNANDEZ writes about sex, dating, and relationships for The Advocate and Gay.net. Follow him on Twitter @HernandezJustin.