"At 50, I don't exist socially in the gay community anymore. Having a drug connection has made me "cool' although it's temporary. But it's better than being invisible when I want to get laid."
Steve was more surprised than anyone that he had ended up in my office for therapy. He was a handsome, fit, financially secure man who had a good job, a nice home, and a supportive circle of friends. Despite these, Steve had increasingly turned to drugs, and especially meth, to "connect" with other men, and this had quickly spiraled out of control. Drugs helped Steve numb the troubling emotions that arose as he grew older and with each passing month felt a little less attractive, less energetic, and less like he fit into a gay community that emphasizes youth and looks.
While Steve's comments are based on a narrow view of sex appeal and contain more than a little self-pity and rationalization, the notion of invisibility and aging is shared by many gay men. It is true that both straight and gay culture value physical beauty and youth. Observing change in our bodies as we grow older can be difficult if we rigidly define ourselves by our looks alone. Steve spent a lifetime classifying himself based entirely on externals such as physical appearance and his career. Throughout his adult life they buffered him from shame and other uncomfortable feelings and when those became less effective he used drugs and alcohol to push discomfort aside. With time, however, nothing really numbed his fear that he was no longer valued and he found himself in a growing crisis of identity and self worth.
In therapy, Steve was able to intellectually understand that getting older didn't necessarily mean becoming less attractive. Sexual templates (who you are attracted to) vary greatly among individuals and, for many, include older men as well as diverse body shapes and sizes. The real problem was how Steve viewed himself.
It is critical at any age to define yourself more broadly than by outward appearance alone. Otherwise, you miss the inner spirit that truly defines who you are. Self image can be enhanced in many ways. Practice developing an awareness of your unique skills, personal gifts and talents. Get in the habit of identifying positive personality traits as well as positive physical characteristics (not just what you dislike about your body --for some that is a real challenge). Develop gratitude on a daily basis and remember to nurture all of you: body, mind, and spirit.
Connecting to the community in a variety of ways is vital to this process. You are not alone. SAGE (Senior Action in a Gay Environment - www.sagewebsite.org) has many activities and supports. The GLCC (www.glccsf.org) hosts a variety of groups that provide social interaction outside of bars and clubs, as do many organizations in the faith community. It may take a little research, but many alternatives exist.
Once free of drugs, Steve took a hard look at his core beliefs and sense of self. To his surprise, he found that the wisdom he had gained through a successful career and a variety of friendships and relationships was eagerly sought by a community hungry for role models and elders. Once he began to value himself more, Steve felt more confident both socially and sexually. By valuing more than just his physical appearance, Steve not only became visible but liked what he saw.