By Bob Anderson
"You're a geezer queen!" my lesbian acquaintance pronounced when I told her I liked "older" men. Needless to say, I didn't consider this label to be very complimentary, and I doubt whether any of the number of "older men" I've loved would have considered themselves "geezers." The first "older man" I fell in love with was twenty-six years old. I was fifteen. He seemed old and wise. He had a wife and kid and was my boss at the restaurant where I worked part-time after school and on weekends. He took a liking to me (I can be very endearing when I want something) and I hung out at his house and helped him in his tree-trimming business. He had flaming red hair and a twangy West Virginia accent and I adored him. He regaled me with tales of banging girls and the excitement of getting laid while I tried only to brush against him as we worked in the close confines of the restaurant's kitchen. I left for college a couple of years later and never saw him again.
My first real lover was a man who celebrated his 60th birthday the day we moved in together. I was twenty-three. He was a Catholic priest on leave for alcoholism recovery. We had met on retreat at a Trappist monastery during the Memorial Day holiday. He spotted me immediately and came to my room to meet me. We talked long into the night about theology and priesthood, and as we said goodnight, he kissed me long and deeply. I spent the rest of the weekend in his company. I visited him during the summer and he came to see me a few weeks later. In September, I left my home and job in Chicago and moved in with him in Minneapolis. He died six months later in his sleep; heart failure they said. But I discovered only later that the bishop had just ordered him to move out of our house and back into a parish rectory. I believe he chose to "leave" instead.
This was before the AIDS epidemic so most people my age hadn't even considered, let alone experienced, the death of their lovers. It was a hard lesson and one more likely to find you if you love older men. For years afterward, I would have panic attacks in the middle of the night, fearing that my lover had died. Even now, I can get a little anxious if I can't hear him breathing.
Nonetheless I remember saying to myself that even if I would never have another relationship, I had been greatly blessed with the opportunity to show a man who was struggling with the waning of his life, power, and status as well as with a chemical addiction, that he was lovable. Perhaps it was my love that allowed him to let go and move on. It was a gift I'll never regret nor forget despite the pain it brought me.
After that I had a series of affairs with other older men -- all priests. They ranged from 8 to 22 years older than I. Finally, I met the love of my life when I was thirty-seven. He had just turned fifty, was bald, beefy, and mustachioed, and I knew we were destined to be with each other. And (thank God!) he was a layman, which greatly simplified the relationship (those celibacy/chastity vows had always kept a lock on the closet). That was nearly eleven years ago, and I am as much in love with and turned on by him today as I was then. It's great to find your soulmate and have him also be just the type you lust after! Life together just gets better.
I've had straight people tell me that as you get older sex becomes less important in the relationship (read: they don't do it much anymore). I've found that although it's not as central to the relationship as perhaps at the beginning (read: it is the relationship at the beginning!), it is still an important expression of love for us and we love doing it and indulge ourselves often. I've found that physical performance and functioning are sometimes affected as we age, but desire, emotional and sexual excitement, and intensity of orgasm are not.
As a flirty Gemini I still find it fun and a turn-on to flirt with older men in social situations. They love the attention and I'm sure it makes them feel like they've still "got it." And don't think for a minute that this flirting is based on pity or even compassion -- as if I feel sorry for them. I don't. I find them attractive. And I think it's important to let them know that. The older we get the less we feel sexually appealing because we can't help buying into our culture's idolization of youth and its youth-based definition of beauty. Ageism, like sexism and homophobia, needs to be opposed. As gay people we are aware of the lie of the latter two phenomena, but often not of the former. Instead of recognizing it as a biased perspective and a prejudice, we accept it as reality and feel "less than" as we age. There's another interesting experience about liking older men: When I admit to others around me that "that old guy is pretty hot," I often feel queerer than queer -- a minority within a minority -- because of their negative reaction. Admitting to other gay men that one is sexually and affectionally attracted to someone other than the young, buffed Adonis/International Male model stereotype can often be more difficult than admitting one's same-sex orientation to a straight stranger. It's just like coming out again. Not only did I have to come out to myself and others about being gay, I have had to come out to myself and others about being attracted to older men (and, even "worse," I like 'em heavy and hairy, the type known in our community as "bears"). It is indeed coming out twice, and often the second time is harder than the first. After experiencing the liberation of coming out, one again experiences ridicule and "otherness" because of one's objects of desire. But just as one finds support in the gay community for being gay, one can also find a subgroup within the gay community that will give the needed acceptance: for example, S.A.G.E. (Seniors Active in a Gay Environment), Primetimers, and Bears groups. And just as it's important to show straight society that you exist as a gay person, so is it important to show both the straight and gay communities that we are a diverse group not to be stuffed into stereotypes. But even more important, I believe, is to show yourself this truth, for no amount of acceptance or tolerance from others can substitute for self-acceptance.
Just as in the coming out process one often reflects on/agonizes over why one has these feelings, I have long pondered where this attraction comes from and whether it was somehow pathological (raised Roman Catholic, my conditioned response is that any desire I have must be bad). Was it simply a "father issue"? Am I looking for the daddy I didn't have (or didn't relate to the way I wanted)? Yes, there is some of that. There probably always will be for a gay man. As children we have a queer Oedipal complex, wanting to take Mom's place in bed with Dad rather than vice-versa. But if it were simply a matter of that, wouldn't every gay man be more attracted to older than younger men? Most are not. Most gay men worship the youthful muscularity of younger men. Even the roles of "daddy" and "boy/son" that some gay lovers play are not, I think, based on an age difference as much as a dominance/submission dynamic. My desire is something different. I've always wanted to be older myself. As a kid I always played with the older kids. In college I hung out with upper classmen or professors. And I've always looked forward to my fifties and sixties and even seventies all my life. Now that I'm pushing fifty, I'm happier than ever about who I am and feel more attractive than ever.
So what's going on then? Although I'm learning to accept, appreciate, and enjoy my inclinations and desires as they are and not to analyze the mystery of sexual attraction too much, I am curious nonetheless. I have found meaning in Carl Jung's theory of the archetypes of the Unconscious and his theory of individuation, the psychic drive for wholeness. One archetype in particular has shed light on my love for older men: the archetype of the senex, the wise old man. This archetype symbolizes the spirit, said Jung, and the realm of spirituality and wisdom (as well as judgment and authority and other "father" things). When he appears in dreams or in life situations, it is a communication from spirit. This makes eminent sense to me since I have from an early age been drawn toward religion and spirituality as well as to older men and in fact have usually combined the two by falling almost exclusively for men of the cloth.
God in the Judeo-Christian mythology has been presented to us as a hoary old man (although I prefer a manly old whore!), the Ancient of Days with white hair and beard; God the Father (Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling image nails it). This image, for me as a gay man, is my Anima, the central archetype of the soul in Jung's psychology; the Other Half (traditionally feminine) that a man needs to assimilate to become whole and an individual. Not for me the seductive femme fatale beckoning me to her bower. Give me God the Father and, oh, Daddy, I'm in heaven! (Oh-oh, perhaps I will need yet a third coming out to admit that I still prefer God as father -- not too P.C. a position where the Goddess is now the preferred icon!)
To psychoanalyze further, I'm sure that there is psychological projection on my part as well. There always is in relationships. We project onto others attributes we don't recognize or accept in ourselves, whether desirable or undesirable. My desire for wisdom, maturity, and individuation is projected on to older men. I see this projection in retrospect because most of the older men I've loved have recognized in me a "wisdom beyond my years," and that often I was the wiser of the two. Perhaps I have been a victim of my own ageism because I seem to have believed that I couldn't be mature and wise until chronologically older. My older lovers have, in fact, usually been "younger" than their years and less serious about life than me, which has helped me to lighten up and have more fun. I used to wonder who I'd find attractive when I'm old. Younger men? Men my own age? Really old guys? Well, it seems that as I do mature and assimilate projected parts of my personality, I notice that my taste in men has widened. There seem to be more younger men that are attractive as well as older men, but that may be only because I'm old enough now that even younger men are not that young!
The goal is ultimately individuation; wholeness (holiness), salvation, liberation. Jung commented that the purpose of marriage is not happiness but individuation. That's a definition that transcends sexual orientation. Our relationships are workshops; opportunities to learn and become who we are. The archetypes at work within our psyches are the gods that direct our lives. Accept and love them and they will be benevolent gods leading us to salvation, which after all is only our true selves. When we are fully ourselves, we give the people in our life the opportunity to become who they are, too. It's the best gift we can give to another. Find yourself and all men will be your lovers, for your intercourse with them, at whatever level, will be life-giving.
Bob Anderson lives in San Diego.