I hear you've had some work done. Fess up. Care to recommend your doctor?-- Anonymous
Loving your old gay face
Glad you asked. I have been thinking about old gay aging very often in the past few weeks.
At Gay Pride Buenos Aires, among the thousands of very young revelers, I saw very few faces older than perhaps forty-five. Why were the older men and women not there? I wondered, on which morning of one's life should one, upon waking, look into the mirror and say "I can't go to Pride anymore." Or "I can't go to that bar anymore."?
At the two recent Prop8 protests in Manhattan, I stood in front of the Mormon Temple and in front of City Hall in crowds of thousands of twenty-somethings, their energy like an exhilarating stiff brush against the peeling paint of this old house. Here, at least, older gay folks showed up, and while everyone shouted for justice, I took note of various individual cosmetic and sartorial adjustments made by those elderly who won't go quietly into a furrowed future. Why bother, I wondered. Who's looking at you over there, at your age, and, what do you think they want to see if and when they do look? Maybe there are only two options: visibly old or ridiculous.
I don't know which bitch among my friends may have told you that I've had some work done, but I will fess up.
I have been under the knife. The doctor's name was Aseltine. I'd recommend him, but he's dead, a situation which may have finally steadied his hands.
The surgery was preformed many years ago to rid me of one pernicious gall bladder and the hateful stone that raged within it.
I was twenty-four years old and living in Rome when the attacks became unbearable. I returned to the states rather than trust the crap shoot that is Italian medicine. (In Italy, doctors trace all maladies to il fegato (the liver) and treat everything with olive oil.) I checked into a local Catholic hospital where I was treated like a prince. I understood full well that the staff was fawning not because of any personal charisma but because they knew that I'd be ordained within a year and working among them with significant authority. I got extra orange juice because making nice with a seminarian is like making a down payment on a ticket to heaven.
Old Steady-hands Aseltine stopped by my bed the day before the surgery to tell me that I didn't fit the ordinary profile for gall bladder problems: fat/fifty/female....
My archbishop came to visit me in the hospital. In those days, I was one of his favorites. He often called me his "young olive shoot" which is probably some biblical reference that I should have known. When he arrived, I was watching The Young and the Restless. I was mesmerized by the sight of Kay Chancellor stroking her chin with a bejeweled finger as she conspired with Esther, her maid. The Archbishop arrived just as the evil Jill rang the doorbell. Damn.
In an effort to be pastoral and warm, the Archbishop sat on my bed rather than in the bedside chair. He didn't realize that he had sat down on my foot under the covers, pressing it into a circulation-deprived and painful position. I didn't know how to say "I really need to get my foot out of your ass, Your Excellency", so I endured. He suggested we pray together and instructed me to turn off the TV. The remote would not work, and the staff could not be summoned, so we were stuck with reciting some psalms in Latin while I peeked occasionally at the screaming Jill who was choking the gasping Mrs. Chancellor in front of the terrified Esther.
The surgery left me with a long scar. Dr. Aseltine stopped by my bed two days after his jagged performance to tell me that he would have taken the appendix out as well while he was rooting around in there but it just wasn't close enough to the incision. I replied "Doctor, you could have reached China in the hole you dug."
Not long after that, the actress who plays Kay Chancellor had a face lift which was worked into the Y&R script, with the actual surgery filmed and worked into an episode. I was glued to the set. She was "young" again, but we all knew what she had looked like a few weeks ago, and for the first time I was able to see the illusion of cosmetic surgery in the harsh light feared by Blanche DuBois and by every gay man who is over thirty-nine years old.
I tell you this as preface to the meat of my response.
- I initially hated my long scar. It was a slash against the perfect beauty of youth that each of us is allowed during exactly one part of our life. The older I became, the more I liked the scar. It was butch. It told a story. It had character. It was curious. Men run their fingers over it, ignoring the unplowed side of me. And my face? The build-up, the debris, the residue, the riddled heat shield of so many re-entries from so many orbits is the admirable mark of a life well spent. Why should I have that sanded off or acid peeled?
- There is no such thing as believable cosmetic surgery for the face if the goal is to restore youth. Even if you spend more, and snag a skilled artist who can lift those jowls without creating the wind-tunnel effect, what have you gained? Your friends will call you mahvelous while holding back their laughter.
- Yes, gay guys will hit on a young guy with a perky butt before they will chase that nonagenerian sipping an old-fashioned in the dim glow of the far end of the bar. It's only natural.
- Understand your season and embrace it vigorously. If you find yourself middle-aged and are unhappy and have not accomplished much and have not learned how to love and be loved, botox will not make you attractive, but will make you look frozen with fear.
- Nothing is sexier than a healthy and fit older man or woman. Some strategies for being sexy at any age are free and appropriate. Eating to support the body and not to fuel depression or anxiety is worth learning. Running or jumping or swimming or spinning every day is absolutely essential and will make you glow while keeping the spring in your step.
- Laughter is youthfully sexy. When friends think of your face, what do you think is the expression that comes instantly to their mind? Is it you smiling or laughing. If not, no cosmetic adjustment to that face will help you. If you are middle-aged and not laughing frequently in the course of your day, you probably feel victimized by your life. That is not attractive. Rather than get a facelift, seek counseling for this. Demand happiness of yourself. It will show in your face.
Finally, dear Anonymous, let's look at the elephant in the room here. All cosmetic surgery dialed up by an older gay man or woman is really a flag of desperation waved by someone lonely who dreads a solitary and loveless future, and is insecure about the person they have become. The nip and the tuck do not obscure this. They telegraph it loudly. If you find yourself inclined to spend money on this type of adjustment, stop and have a little chat with yourself. Before you schedule it, give yourself a year to resolve some of the problems in your life and to get into the best shape possible for the real you. Set goals and pursue them. I guarantee you that if you do this, when that year is up, you will have no interest in cosmetic surgery and can spend those dollars on something fabulous like a cruise or a vacation or a foreclosed condo in Florida.
So. The answer to your question is no. The face you see is not augmented or lifted or injected or adjusted with anything other than daily moisturizer. Sometimes before the mirror, I stretch the skin this way and that to see what the possibilities might be, but then I think of Kay Chancellor, and I come to my senses. Sometimes, my own wisdom is misplaced and I find myself at the Duane Reade reaching for a box of "Just for Men". Suddenly, my hair is dark. This is only acceptable as fun. If I don't do it for laughs and like a child playing with fingerpaints, I should not do it at all. Oddly, I am always delighted when I shave it off, revealing the silver roots.
There are so many issues involved in the business of survival and longevity in the gay community. In Fort Lauderdale, there is a large restaurant called Tropics. Their Tuesday night two-for-one dinner special requires an advanced reservation because the place is booked solid with gay men of a certain age. Sitting in that room and looking at the crowd is extremely informative. I study the personal appearance of those men, the sound of their voices, their interactions. Their powerful acts of survival. The constructions they have made of their faces and bodies and lives. It's OK that there's rarely a man in that room I'd like to see in my bed. Their appetites are intact and in their shared conviviality is a fountain of youth that we cannot sip if the old among us slip out of sight or disguise themselves. The guidebook to old age is that room, and if you do not have old gay men and women among your close friends, you are making a mistake that will cost you much when autumn overtakes you. And when your autumn does overtake you, let its glorious foliage turn, as nature intends, from green to all those fabulous fall colors. Blazing colors, raked into piles into which you can jump and roll about, smiling brilliantly and looking fine for your long walk down the red carpet of your winter. Celebrate it. Don't fight it.