Good God, the mirror's a challenge. Gravity's relentless tugging and all those summer tans are conspiring with time. They dash in an unholy, unruly, triathlon of, well, let's call it maturing. It's not as if I wasn't warned. Beauty is only skin deep, and stay out of the sun. But, I must admit, gravity kind of surprised me. Unless a cliff was involved, I always thought it such a benign and helpful force. Gravity keeps everything in place and the heavenly celestial bodies orbiting as they should. But that sneak, gravity, eventually pulls your face, your butt, and everything else on your body in the absolutely wrong direction.
There's no denying that sometimes it's hard to face your maturing face. I remember Dad looking at his reflection once and exclaiming, "Hell's bells, who is that old man?" I got it, but at the time I could only sympathize with his pain. Now I feel it too. The quest for graceful aging -- and a salient belief in the truth of inner beauty -- is officially urgent.
Code Red: This is not a drill.
So take a deep breath, ignore most of the new music, most of the fashion, and all the teenage supermodels. Pay no attention to the economic demographers that conspire to make you last year's iPhone before it's even released. Remind yourself that getting old is an honor and a privilege. Also know that's BS, but it's the kind of BS you must work with. There are two options: Get older or don't.
I think the trick is to not embrace the "aging gracefully" thing completely, and certainly not all at once. It's OK to kick and scream and dig in your heels a little, as long as it doesn't involve super skinny jeans on a 60-year-old body. But do try to take baby steps toward enlightenment. Just take a lot of them, and at a quick pace. One must keep up with Old Man Time's long, loping strides to the finish line.
So why are our ambition to age gracefully and the actual reality of getting older in a demolition derby? It's the fault of a market-driven youth culture, sort of. But, Grasshopper, look within. Practice that inner, beautiful wisdom you so easily preached when you were young and beautiful. And before casting rainbow-hued stones through the iridescent glass houses of the total culture, look at the particulars. Consider what lurks in the shadow of the rainbow flag.
The LGBT community's grown tremendously in a relatively short time. We've grown from closeted toddlers to rowdy teenagers to more thoughtful, AIDS-scarred adults. But the divisions in our community glare. Bright as a supernova or subtle as the cranky shopper you beat to the checkout, we glare. One only needs to look in the mirror to see the real culprit.
Our community is hilariously obsessed with physicality. Too often, only chiseled abs and chins need apply. A cold chill passes over me every time I see those sculpted couples in a print ad for gay cruises. Personally, I can imagine wearing a burka for the duration at sea. I suppose a full body cast could work too, and sympathy would be an effective icebreaker. It's all so crazy, because I know we're better than the form, reflected by light, off our skin. But I also know that very few people, including myself, don't judge. Our first impression of others is their appearance, and as hard as I try, I still evaluate. We all do this, straight or gay, but I think gay people do it more and do it longer.
Here's another theory. I think straight people are off the hook, once they have kids. Mom just went through a physical ordeal that's unbelievable. Conveying the nutrients and the astoundingly mysterious life forces of gestation, then stretched beyond belief, and then ultimately giving birth, which is such a pleasant euphemism for a really horrifying process. I know pediatricians and neonatal medical folk who secretly believe the human reproductive system as preposterous. Marsupials figured this one out a million years ago. But the point is, Mom is allowed not to wear a bikini for a while.
Meanwhile, Dad's done his thing. He goes to work and comes home and goes to work helping raise a family. He has to, because two incomes are the root for survival in America. Suddenly, there's just no more gym time, and the little time left is dedicated to a well-deserved time-out with the recliner.
Are these huge, sweeping generalizations? Hell, yeah! And wait, there's more!
Gay folks, especially men, generally don't have these societal fallback positions. We're expected to die at the pec fly machine, working in that third set of 10 reps. And if we have to leave a button on our 501s unbuttoned, it can't be the top button. We can only let people speculate if there's not enough room for the bottom buttons.
The reality is the fine line between healthy fetishes and unattainable or unrealistic stereotypes. Not everyone can be a muscle-bound biker or a wasp-waisted lipstick lesbian. And let's not even get into ageism in the gay community. Ahem ... note this column, the voice from the old gay elephant graveyard. But the point is, these aspirations and fetishes have to lose some grip as we grow older unless we want to be that mad, bitter queen in the skinny jeans, drinking alone.
Now, how do we do these things? How do we age gracefully? Who are our role models to guide us through the golden years? Why. it's us, by golly! It's up to you and me, and I think there are many paths down the golden yellow brick road. Garden, play bridge, go to the gym and do eight reps instead of 10. It's all good. Just don't buy into the hype. Businesses and corporations are always going to try to sell you stuff, and most of them think a 20-year-old can sell anything.
OK, another sweeping generalization. Sorry.
A 20-year-old pitching Viagra might be kind of creepy.
KURT NIECE is an artist, jeweler, and author of The Breath of Rapture and Mercury Fields. He and his partner, Gary, live with their beloved feline in the crystal valleys of Hot Springs Village, Ark.