Volume 75, Number 5 | June 22- 28, 2005

From the Pines to Chelsea, confident maturity is in

By Tim Gay

In this final season of “Queer as Folk” a 20-something shows interest in Ted’s “maturity.” While in bed, the younger man finds stray gray hairs and adores Ted’s love handles. Ted responds in subsequent scenes by bleaching his hair and checking in at Pittsburgh’s leading plastic surgery hospital.

Like most of “Queer as Folk,” this is a tired, old stereotype. Quite the opposite is taking place. From my observation, New York City gay men are boldly going forward to middle age and beyond with a self-assured style and determination.

I’ve spent three weekends in the Pines doing the old Fire Island activities of the early ’80s. What a difference a quarter of a century makes. The men are literally the same, just older and more self-assured.

Back in the ’70s and ’80s, each house had too many men in too few beds. Today, those houses are more likely to be owner occupied. Children in strollers are becoming as common as dogs on the boardwalks. Sex toys are being replaced by Playskool toys. Dinner is now served at a reasonable hour, and houses no longer vibrate throughout the night with disco beats.

The house I stayed in has a closet of toys — for a real 2-year-old boy who comes out with his daddies on alternate weekends. The six-pack of Coronas stayed untouched from Mother’s Day through Memorial Day.

At Low Tea and High Tea my boyfriend (age 50 and 11 months) and I (age 49 and 11 months) counted dozens of men in their 30s, 40s and 50s, who we’ve known personally, by sight, from gyms or otherwise over the years.

The same was true later that night. At 2 a.m. I drank two espressos and went to the Pavilion. We made our entrance and established our dance spot. There were some younger men, but my dancing group estimated the average age to be 43.

There’s still that sexual energy of toned bodies in slim-fitting shorts, but it is an energy of maturity instead of youth — calm and deliberate, as opposed to frantic and immediate.

From its post-Stonewall drug-haze fabulous disco days, the Pines is becoming a leisurely, laid-back place for mature upwardly mobile gay men. Another decade and the Pines will be on the cusp of becoming a “naturally occurring retirement community.”

I see gay men as the next generation of blue-haired ladies. Instead of Chanel suits, we’ll go forward deep into retirement with our Levis, polo shirts, cargo shorts and investment portfolios, traveling to far cities to see our grandkids.

The growing-older theme carries on in the leather community. At Folsom Street East, the leather-S&M street fair on W. 28th St. on June 19, I found hundreds if not thousands of leather guys (and some women). Again, there were few people under 30.

I ran into at least two-dozen guys I’ve known since our old Spike bar days. I asked their thoughts about the crowd and aging.

Bob thought the average age in front of the Eagle had to be mid to late 40s “But I like it like that. I like playing with guys my own age,” he said. “This way, we don’t have to deal with attitudes or immaturity.”

David, a burly guy about my age, found self-acceptance in aging. “Remember about 10 years ago when I was an aging bubble-butted beauty boy trying to control my weight? And remember that body builder who confessed that he was crazy for my pot belly?” David asked. “Since that epiphany, I’ve grown to be larger and happier, and along the way I’ve made a lot of other guys happy too.”

William, in his harness, noted, “Hey, we’re still here. I often think of Michael and Bill and Tom and a lot of other guys who are no longer with us, and I think they are all happy to know we’re alive and having fun.”

“After all, there really is only one alternative to getting older,” William reminded me. “We’ve been given the gift to grow old.”

A few years ago I realized that I prefer men my own age. Anyone under 35 seems cherubic or even embryonic. Give me character lines and eyes that have seen the world!

Maybe it’s because about three years ago younger guys started calling me Poppi.

It first happened along the Gay Pride parade route. Then it happened at the gym. Not once or twice, but fairly often, and on a regular basis.

I guess it’s because of my military buzzed gray hair, or my white “Mr. Clean” T-shirts and biceps. Maybe it’s my slight paunch or the multitude of laugh lines around my eyes and mouth (I forgot to moisturize during my 20s and 30s). Perhaps it’s because of my penchant to offer fatherly advice.

The last time this happened was Memorial Day weekend, while dancing in the Pines. We went outside to cool off, and when we came back in a 30-something man opened the door. He said, “After you Poppi.”

Insulted? Hardly. I took it as a compliment.

I smiled back, patted him on the cheek and said, “That’s Sir to you, little Puppy Boy.”

He was quite surprised, but smiled back and said, “You’re welcome, Sir.”

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