Musing the Parade, Youth, and Growing Older in the Castro
26 June 1999
Once again the highest of holy days in the gay community is upon us tomorrow: Parade Day. And tonight is the infamous “Pink Party” in the ‘stro. I will not be attending either event.
Having recently passed into my 40s and—for all intents in the Castro “community”—now invisible, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, pondering how to adapt to several important changes that this number brings, most notably the fact that I’m no longer turning even the few heads I used to. Almost overnight I went from being, even with a few extra pounds—if not good looking, at least downright respectable—to completely invisible, and I have no idea how to redefine myself in the wake of this change. I know I’m not alone when I say that those of us hitting this age have no one to look to, absolutely no gay role models to emulate, and that’s making the whole transition doubly difficult. AIDS decimated my generation, and those of us who remain are charting unexplored territory. What exactly does it mean to be 40- or 50-something and gay in San Francisco at the end of the 20th century?
At the risk of sounding overly sorry for myself (and I’m really not), I am slowly coming to the conclusion that—at least in this particular community in this particular city, no one I might be interested in is going to look at—much less date—a 225 pound 41 year old guy whose life is as excruciatingly non-cosmopolitan (i.e. boring) as mine. I don’t travel, I don’t do drugs, I don’t drink, I’m allergic to cats, I can’t stand Barbra Streisand, I find the “bear” movement just as off-putting and attitude-ridden as gym-bunny culture, I don’t live for White Days at Macy’s Cellar, I don’t work out 5 days a week, I look even more ridiculous than most guys with a goatee, my sex life is almost strictly vanilla, and I’m a borderline, if not a full-fledged geek. And you know—after careful consideration—that’s okay.
The hardest part of this whole aging process is that I don’t feel any different than I did in my 20s or 30s. Okay, so I have a few more battle scars and several more pounds, I’m hopefully a bit more world-wise and mature than fifteen years ago, I have no desire to stay out all night and watch the sun rise, I have less patience for pretense, attitude and stupidity, but other than that, I still see myself as that wide-eyed young man who arrived on the strange shores of San Francisco thirteen years ago, and can’t quite figure out why the guys 27, 28, even 34 or 35—who I still see myself as—aren’t interested in even making eye contact with me any more.
Somewhat painfully, what I’ve come to realize since my return to Oz last year after a five month haitus is that The Castro is very much a place for the 20- to 30-something buff, steroid-assisted, “I want to be a model” chemically-stimulated crowd. And I am not at all surprised that carrying around a few extra pounds (which in the 80s indicated that you were healthy and almost had guys flocking to my doorstep) is viewed with such disdain by a generation that has not lost half it’s population to AIDS and defines beauty only in terms of porn-star pecs and six-pack abs. I will readily admit that I am totally amazed at what incredible shape most of these “kids” are in; I mean, even when I was 25, neither I nor my peers had bodies that looked like they were sculpted by Michaelangelo.
Anyhow, I’m slowly coming to terms all this, accepting it and at the same time realizing that in general I’m simply just pretty much over the whole gay “thing”. Yeah, yeah, I still love men, and I’d jump Ben Browder in a heartbeat, but I just feel this whole rainbow-bedecked-naked-men-dancing-on-floats followed by copious amounts of drugs and sex is getting so…tired…especially in San Francisco where being gay or bi or transsexual or sleeping with your neighbor’s iguana is so accepted and so well integrated into the fabric of life here it isn’t even an issue. C’mon folks…there are more interesting things about us, about me—even with my admittedly mundane lifestyle—than what I choose to do with my genitals. At least I would hope so.
Lest I rise the ire of the politically correct among us, I do have to admit that the parade and ensuing pre- and post-Bacchalian events do serve some purpose, and that is they’re tremendously thrilling and reassuring and exciting and yes, even fun for the newly-minted or newly-arrived gay boys and girls in our community. That’s a fact I’ve been trying to stress with a couple friends who recently moved here from the east coast since they apparently feel “bad” that I’m choosing not to participate in this weekend’s festivities. I’m certainly not trying to be a pariah, but c’mon—for us older or maybe perhaps more jaded souls, the parade lost its appeal after the fifth or sixth year (if even that long), and that’s not just my opinion. Ask anyone who’s been here any length of time and you’ll hear the same sentiments. At least I was able to convince myself to attend for a couple years after that usual cutoff point by telling myself there would be plenty of opportunities for photographing future painting subjects. Or rather, plenty of opportunities for taking pretty pictures of half-naked men…but how many pictures of sunlight accentuating chemically-sculpted pectorals does one really need anyway? Personally, just from the photos I took over the seven or eight years I attended the parade, I’ll have enough subjects to paint for the rest of my life.
Then there’s the whole other issue of the AIDS epidemic wiping out almost my entire generation of gay men. A month ago, while standing in line to buy tickets for The Phantom Menace, I realized that every one of my friends who might’ve been standing in line with me and interested in seeing this film were now dead. Everyone with whom I shared that special Star Wars magic from the very beginning was gone: Kent, Steve, Dennis—and no amount of big-budget special effects was going to bring them back. The same goes for my dance music collection. While I now certainly have friends who are familiar with a lot, if not most of the music I’ve managed to bring back into my life, they’re new friends who have totally different memories connected with the tunes; they aren’t shared memories, so the full depth of the music is somehow lost.
This has left me at times feeling very alone and very much out of place in the world, and this sudden “invisibility” in my own community hasn’t really helped things either. I thank God, or the Universe, or whatever you want to call the Is, for friends like Lei, who, after hearing essentially the same sentiments I’ve just voiced, have the uncanny ability to tell me exactly what I need to hear and put things in perspective.
From one of her recent e-mails:
“I like your lack of need to attend the damn parade to demonstrate—what? You know who you are and anyone who interests you will know who you are. Those in their 20 – 30’s are still growing into what they will be and need to make a lot of noise. That’s fine, too. It was something you went through in “old” San Francisco. We need to remember that we’ve been young before but young folk have never been old before. (Not that, from my vantage point, I consider 41 to be “old” by any means.)
“I am so glad that you realize you don’t like travel, drugs, booze, Barbra Streisand or Macy’s cellar. You can enjoy knowing folks who do, even if you consider them to be a bit nuts. Some of my best friends…
“Case in point: a friend of mine last Monday began rhapsodizing over his upcoming drive in a motor home to ALASKA where he will do his yearly fishing at some salmon spawning site. He recalls the year that he spent sixteen hours there, without eating or going to the bathroom, standing in one place wearing his waders in water up to his blue…. It was just SOOO wonderful. He caught his limit of three, weighing blank, blank and blank and then he got to clean and can them himself! Now how can you beat that for wonderful? (In my considered opinion, by going to Safeway and selecting a lovely pre-cut and boned fillet from the fish market.)
“I don’t feel the least bit sorry for you. I’m delighted you know yourself—as much as anyone ever can hope to—and in no way are you close to being a geek, so forget that! (I am in charge of the geek list.)
“What is sad to me is women/men who are so afraid of not being ‘with it’ that they torture themselves to look, act and think like those they consider to be the ideal. They try to replace their own pleasures with what they hope is the most current. Y’see, life is set to music. You find the music that fuels your soul. Why learn all the lyrics to the latest rap song that you don’t understand just to prove—what?”
“You can be sure that there are many men of your gentle age, who are going through the same wonderings you are. You’ll find him—or he will find you. ‘Just being you’ ain’t bad, y’know.”