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What it's like to be a gay man at 60

Advocate senior editor John Casey June 2024 lgbtq pride issue cover launch party
Roland Fitz for equalpride

Today I turn 60, and perhaps one of the biggest surprises of being 60 is being so happy with who I am.

I’m getting the same question lately, “What’s it like to be 60?” Previously, on a milestone birthday, I’d typically be asked, “How does it feel to be 50?”

After thinking about why the question went from “how” to “what,” I realized that it validated the fact the vast majority of the people in my life are much younger than me. When I was asked, “how” it was to be a certain age, it was more about me. Being asked, “what” is more about the other person’s concern about becoming 60 one day.

The trajectory of a selfless question to a selfish one, I suppose.

To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever been more selfish in my life than I am now. I don’t mean that in a negative way, but in a way that I have finally come to grips with who I really am. I’m also taking much better care of myself, and have more pride in myself. Humbly, I can say with certainty that for the first time in my life, I’m actually happy about becoming a certain age.

At the same time, I am overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude. I thank God, and my dad, about 50 times a day. I can’t believe how lucky I am. Truly.

It’s been 30 months since I stopped drinking, so physically, I don’t think I’ve ever felt better. I drank for 40 years. I never did any drugs. Just booze. I had a reputation for being the life of the party. I couldn’t imagine not drinking and partying. It’s all I ever thought about. On Mondays, I would count the hours till it was party time again.

What kept me from stopping was the worry about what I would do with my time if I wasn’t drinking. And, who would I be if I wasn’t the party guy? I wasted a lot of time around drinking and its consequences.

Part of what it’s like to be 60 for me is that those heady days of frolicking and drunken fun – and what eventually became two- and three-day hangovers, are behind me.

At 60, I look back on that career, and marvel. Ok, I wasn’t a corporate CEO, but I did so many different things as a public relations guy, and I did them well. I, for sure, had imposter syndrome, but now I look back and see how good I was at my job, and how fulfilling it was.

I think part of what it’s like to be 60 is that you know, for all intents and purposes, your career is winding down. You’re suddenly on the cusp of 65, the so-called start of retirement. It’s hard to think about not being relevant anymore.

But I am lucky. God gave me a big break after I was laid off in my last corporate PR job in 2023. The Advocatehired me full-time, and it’s a dream job, being able to talk to so many famous, remarkable people, and to work with an astoundingly talented group.

What it’s like to be 60, professionally and at least for me, is that it’s never too late to start again. I am extremely grateful for getting a second act this late in my life.

Being 60 provides an opportunity to take an assessment, and look back at where I was on previous milestone birthdays. My 50s were a jumbled mess. I battled severe depression, tried suicide three times, and was laid off three times.

What it’s like to be 60 is that I’m so happy my 50s are in the rearview mirror!

My 40s, for the most part, were also a mess. I lost a year out of my life with a nearly deadly brain infection and discovered it after I totaled a rent-a-car. My doctor tells me it’s a miracle I survived. At 30, I was halfway between being out and being in denial. At 20, I was certain my future would nightmarishly include a wife and kids.

For so long, I was gay and embarrassed by it. My sexuality was the thread that connected all those decades, and it was always frayed. When it started to unspool, I tried to rewind it, to no avail. Instead, it unraveled and got tangled up in melodrama after melodrama. Self-loathing to self-pity to self-awareness.

I’ve been thinking about all the ways throughout my life I tried to fight being gay. I always strove to be the antithesis, meaning that I bragged to people about how I loved sports and hated shopping, and how I didn’t have any gay friends. All I cared about was what people thought of me.

I started to think about these attitudes five years ago, when in one of my first columns for The Advocate, I talked to New York Times columnist Frank Bruni about what I considered to be “The Fear Factor at 55.” I went back and read that and cringe.

I was obsessed with how my body was changing, how close I was getting to 60 and 65, and the fear I had of becoming an aging gay man. All I seemed to think about was not what it meant to me to be gay, but what others perceived of me being gay — and God forbid, older.

I think Bruni summed it up best, when he said, “To me, the great upside of aging is caring a bit less in general, across many fronts, of what people think and caring more about being happy. So, the 'we' you refer to in terms of 'becoming embarrassed' does not include me. I can't speak for other gay men our age, but I suspect many, like me, remain quite comfortable in our gay skins."

I finally understood what he meant, and maybe it took five years, but I’m as comfortable in my own skin as I have ever been. In fact, more comfortable than ever.

What's it like to be 60? It’s about finally being proud - damn proud - to be a gay man, in any shape and form.

But don’t be fooled. Anyone reading this who is approaching 60, or over, knows it’s not all a bed of roses. Bruni added this caveat, "What scares me most at 55 has nothing to do with being gay. It has to do with less reliable energy, limited time left, and the undeniable ageism in America. I worry that my best opportunities are behind me and that I didn't take the fullest advantage of them. I worry about being able to fully utilize whatever talents and intelligence I still possess, about not being able to act on a kind and degree of wisdom that comes with accrued years and that I didn't have as much of in the past."

What it’s like to be 60 is that you realize two-thirds of your life is behind you. That’s a pretty scary thought; however, I’ve gained an infinite amount of wisdom over the last 60 years. I take full advantage and utilize that knowledge and lived experience in my writing talents. I am indeed a lucky man.

I’ve found myself bragging about turning 60 lately. I didn’t do that at 40 or 50. I’m pretty proud that after years of being knocked around, I don’t look so bad.

My friend Jamie Lee Curtis, who I wrote a cover story on last year for our “Advocate of the Year” print issue, told me that we are catapulted into life, “Where we bang around like a pinball in a machine and end up coming out the bottom, relieved that we are still here and somewhat whole, but battered and bruised from the journey.”

That’s what it’s like to be 60. And, I’m not stupid. I know that I’m going to be banged around a lot more because my journey is far from finished. At 60, I’m getting the chance to start anew.

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John Casey

John Casey is senior editor of The Advocate, writing columns about political, societal, and topical issues with leading newsmakers of the day. The columns include interviews with Sam Altman, Neil Patrick Harris, Ellen DeGeneres, Colman Domingo, Jennifer Coolidge, Kelly Ripa and Mark Counselos, Jamie Lee Curtis, Shirley MacLaine, Nancy Pelosi, Tony Fauci, Leon Panetta, John Brennan, and many others. John spent 30 years working as a PR professional on Capitol Hill, Hollywood, the Nobel Prize-winning UN IPCC, and with four of the largest retailers in the U.S.
John Casey is senior editor of The Advocate, writing columns about political, societal, and topical issues with leading newsmakers of the day. The columns include interviews with Sam Altman, Neil Patrick Harris, Ellen DeGeneres, Colman Domingo, Jennifer Coolidge, Kelly Ripa and Mark Counselos, Jamie Lee Curtis, Shirley MacLaine, Nancy Pelosi, Tony Fauci, Leon Panetta, John Brennan, and many others. John spent 30 years working as a PR professional on Capitol Hill, Hollywood, the Nobel Prize-winning UN IPCC, and with four of the largest retailers in the U.S.