A five-part series wherein I examine the pitfalls both real and imagined and difficulties both encountered or merely anticipated to being a gay author in the 21st Century, and attempt to discuss how said pitfalls and difficulties can be used to our advantage, thereby employing the old adage “Making lemons into lemonade.” (And, in advance of the inevitable inquiry, allow me to retreat into the naivete allowed one of my advanced years and answer simply: “What’s a Beyonce?”)
Aging, Ageism and Agisticism
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Get Fat
Before sitting down to write this, I took off my pants. That’s not supposed to sound sexy (or creepy, depending on how you roll). It’s a fact. A sad fact. In fact, it’s a much sadder fact because it’s so very UNSEXY (again, I’ll leave you to decide the creepy-factor). I’m like that father on the Goldbergs, with the one notable caveat that he takes his pants off after work and I get to take them off to go to work. Well, get to. Hmm, that’s true, but also misleading. I’m not sure I could sit at my computer for more than ten minutes in trousers. And definitely not in a belt. So, removing my pants is less a perk than a requirement.
It was not always so. Until I was about 28 I had a twenty-eight inch waist (less than that in my teens, and, one assumes, even less at birth). Then, in a cosmic alignment of misfortune, I discovered the wonders of yeast and hops just as my metabolism realized I wasn’t a hummingbird. For the next twenty years, I enjoyed all sorts of ales, beers and lagers (and cake dear God, the cake’s I’ve eaten. Though rarely with beer), while my metabolism progressed from highly strung avian, through startled gazelle to stoic wildebeest, past work dog to housecat, settling finally, I can only surmise, at South American tree sloth.
It wasn’t, of course, a steady decline (or rather increase). There were hills and valleys. Sporadically, throughout my late thirties and early forties, I enjoyed periods of rocking bod, well, relatively. That bod was still always attached to this face. But that’s a whole nuther essay. There was a night, it haunts me, still when I was walking up Castro Street arm-in-arm with some nameless (now) guy I’d just picked up when I spotted another (now equally nameless) guy walking in the opposite direction who was cuter and I said (in my best Joey from Friends): “How you doing?” And just like that I’d upgraded.
Hey, I warned you it was a haunting story.
But those days are behind me. At present, I imagine my best Joey would elicit only startled glances and the occasional call for help. The last five years have been particularly disfiguring (and never has that word been more appropriately misused). Of course, that period saw the passing of both my parents and my best friend since high school. Life events of that sort leave their imprint. I was going to say take their toll. But then I heard the voice of my deceased friend in my ear reminding me that she and my parents might all agree I’d actually got the best of the bargain. So like her to be always right.
Even my hair is beginning to turn against me. And, by that, I mean lose the mousy luster it’s thus far maintained.
So, I’m getting old and fat. I used a lot of words to get here, but that ‘s what I mean to say. The two cardinal gay sins. Old and fat. I’m also poor, but that’s only a venial gay sin unless you’re also old and fat. And it’s not even a sexy fat. Like a bear. I’ve oddly hairless legs and a pale smooth Scotsman’s chest and hairy patches on my belly and lower back. Seriously. Before we vacationed in Provincetown a few years ago, my boyfriend gave me a special treat: he took me to get my lower back waxed. And, while I lay there anticipating the pain, BF chatted up the esthetician about my strange hair groupings. I recollect some giggling. And I’m not even sure how well the Russian lady understood English. Undoubtedly karmic payback for that night I’d swapped out anonymous hookups on Castro Street.
But what I’m not here to do is complain about it. My motto these days thanks to Becky with the Good Hair is that when life gives you lemons, squeeze them. No, wait, that’s not right. Or, well, maybe it is. Yeah, squeeze them, add water and sugar to taste, chill and enjoy.
Last year, Paul Bisceglio, discussing a paper in the Journal of Language and Sociology entitled “Gay Men at Midlife” likened the study’s model of gay men settling into old age to the five stages of grief. He quotes the study’s author as saying:
|We’re scared of aging more than a lot of other people would be. Ask younger guys what their future will be like, and a lot of them say they have no idea. They don’t perceive of a future, because they think they’re not going to have kids. They don’t have landmarks for progression through life that a lot of heterosexual people have.|
That’s true enough. One lucky break I had was my previously-referenced best friend who raised a child, vicariously providing, to at least some degree, landmarks for my own progression. And, to get serious for a moment, I should also note that nephews and nieces undoubtedly provide similar landmarks to many otherwise childless individuals. That I actually lived (intermittently) with my best friend and her child over the years may have made my landmarks somewhat more acute.
|According to the model, many men developed specific strategies for dealing with their fading youth as they aged. [T]hose who successfully settled into middle age found ways to redefine themselves, such as looking down at youth culture ís annoying habits (a phone obsession, for instance), focusing more on accomplishments and less on looks, and embracing epithets like old queen and sugar fossil.|
|(Full disclosure: Bisceglio goes on to talk about both lemons and lemonade, but I didn’t know that until after I’d already settled on the theme of this blog tour and began research.)|
I’m not much on referring to myself as a queen old or otherwise. Royalty is inherited and, for better or worse, I’m a self-made man. Nor am I particularly partial to the term sugar fossil. That sounds like hard candy and just makes me hungry. Which isn’t helping.
However, I do really like that idea of focusing more on accomplishment than looks. I just wish I’d accomplished more. And sooner. When, in my boyhood, I imagined myself as, say, a thirty year old (my current age would have been literally unimaginable to me as a child), I saw me rich and feted and long settled with a hairy short guy who, besides doting on me, provided a convenient place to rest my elbow when we had to wait in long lines. I’d also have published several bestsellers and probably scripted (and maybe acted in) a few movies.
I can’t quite say things like swapping anonymous hook-ups on Castro Street or all the wrestling I did (again, a whole nuther essay maybe two or three) were a waste of my thirties (I certainly enjoyed them at the time), but they did distract me from pursuing a few of my goals.
Which is where we come to the squeezing of the lemons.
I’ve always been a writer. I know that sounds like one of those pat, off-the-cuff dismissals of all the hard work that goes into being a writer, but I stand by it. I always felt naturally inclined to express myself in words on the printed page. As to the hard work, well, I’m not claiming I was always a good writer. In fact, I still consider that to be very much a work in progress. Fortunately, I’m older now and can devote more time to that process. And, as long as I don’t get too fat, I may have enough years left to actually make something of myself.
In other words, now I can take off my pants and focus on the writing.
Wish me luck!
Thanks for bearing with me.
Jon Wilson is the author of Cheap as Beasts, a current finalist for the Lambda Literary Award Best Gay Mystery of 2015. He’s also written a follow-up volume, Every Unworthy Thing, as well as two westerns. He lives and works in Northern California, where, despite getting old and fat, he still thinks of himself as young and semi-muscular. This usually leads to panic on long flights of stairs or when he has inadvertently glanced in a mirror. His newfound (but wholly natural) aversion to mirrors also makes it hard to shave, so he currently wears a beard. Which, like the idea of sugar fossil candy, isn’t helping.
I’m giving away a signed copy of both the Declan Colette books at the end of this blog tour. Just leave a semi-cogent comment (which, I suppose, means I’ll have to allow “YOU SUCK!”) to any of the five parts in the Pink Lemonade Blog Tour to enter (if you leave multiple comments or comment each day, you get entered for each comment)!
And tune in tomorrow for Pink Lemonade Part 2 at The Novel Approach
Like most soldiers, Declan Colette lost his fair share in the war—in his case a sailor, drowned off Iwo Jima. Since then he’s been scratching out a living as a cut-rate PI, drinking too much, and flirting with danger. Then a girl arranges to consult him, only to be murdered en route, and the cops tag Colette as their prime suspect. To save his neck he’ll need to find the real killer, a quest that pits him against a rival detective firm, a dangerously rich family, and a desperate foe whose murdering ways started back during the war.
Could this be the case he’s been waiting for? Catching the killer could make his reputation. Failing, could cost him his life.
Release Date Words 78,900
Buy Link: Bold Strokes Books
Gay PI Declan Colette finds himself in the middle of a gang war between resurgent Japanese mobsters and the black gangsters who expanded operations during World War II. Complicating matters is crime boss Max Harrold. Whether he’s stoking the fires of racial hostility or not, Harrold is definitely making things difficult for Colette, shanghaiing the detective and planting the body of a murdered Japanese gangster in Colette’s office. Now Colette’s only hope is to find the kidnapped daughter of a powerful Japanese businessman and return her home safely. And he has to do it with criminals standing in his way and police hot on his tail.
Release Date Words 74,560
Buy Link: Bold Strokes Books