Editors' note: Steve Publicover is a former DC resident who lives in southwestern Virginia.
I got the word from my doctor this week that it's time for me to schedule my first colonoscopy. That's the procedure where they dope you up and stick a hose up your ass looking for polyps and any signs of cancer. For straight guys, it's a milestone they fear all their adult lives. It's not so much an age thing, it's just that they've spent decades silently repeating to themselves, "It's an exit, not an entrance." Personally, I think they secretly fear they might actually enjoy it.
For the gays it should be no big deal, right? I mean, stranger things have happened at The Mine Shaft on any given Friday night (or so I've heard). As a gay man who has been sexually active for almost 35 years, this should be no big deal. In fact, the "light anesthetic" they use before the procedure is really not so different than meeting for drinks before you and your husband du jour get down and dirty. It's not so much to deaden any pain, as it is to help to set the mood. I wonder if they have a cover charge.
The news that any remnants of my youth have officially gone the way of the dinosaur reminds me of another milestone in my life that happened about ten years ago. I had just turned forty-one and my then doctor announced that I was due for my first digital exam. No, this has nothing to do with computers, iPods or texting. This is the one where he sticks his finger up your ass to check the health of your prostate. If it's swollen, it could mean trouble. Again, not a big deal for a gay man, but heteros tend to make a big, whiny deal over it.
It was one of those moments that will forever be indelibly etched in my memory. The doctor instructed me to stand up, drop my pants and bend over the exam table as he retrieved the KY from a nearby drawer and slipped on a rubber glove. Nothing new so far. Then he said, "You may find this a bit uncomfortable."
Looking back at at him over my right shoulder, my first thought was "How many fingers are you gonna use, Doc?" But to spare him any discomfort, instead I replied, "I don't think so."
Looking slightly stunned and a little red face, he stammered back, "Oh. Right."
I couldn't help but be struck by the irony of the situation. The doctor was concerned about my comfort level during the exam and did and said all the right things, as he probably had done a hundred times before with his other male patients. At the same time, I was concerned about his comfort level in sticking his finger up the ass of a gay man and was trying to lighten the mood for us both.
Not every doctor is comfortable treating gay patients. I've been to plenty of them, especially during the height of the AIDS crisis in the 80's. This procedure could be compared to a gynecological exam for a woman. There was nothing in my doctor's actions or words to suggest that he was uncomfortable or anything less than professional, but I couldn't resist the opportunity to have a little fun.
Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago when I was chatting with my dad on the phone. He lives on the west coast and we don't see each other very often. We've managed to forge a friendly relationship over the years, even though he wasn't around during most of my childhood. We were getting caught up on each others' lives and the conversation turned to health. I told him all about the back pain issues I've had for the last few months and he told me about how his fibromyalgia may not be that at all, but something else.
Then he joked, "This sounds like a conversation between two old men, not father and son."
"Thanks, Dad!", I said. I laughed it off and we finished up.
Afterward, I asked myself, "Whatever happened to my middle age?" I was just getting comfortable with it and all of a sudden I feel like somebody shoved me out the door and into my golden years. I don't mind the gray hair and the crow's feet. That's all superficial and besides, I've earned every one of them. I think they give me a certain Silver Daddy quality, but inside, I feel the same as I always did.
Don't look for me to be getting any nips, tucks, toxic injections or wrinkle fillers. Aside from the fact that it's ridiculously expensive, I really don't see the advantage in going through life looking like a ventriloquist dummy. I prefer look like I've lived a life than to look life-like.
So what if I have a touch of arthritis in my lower back. Who wants to do a lot of heavy lifting anyway? I do my stretching exercises and I'm still limber enough to not only touch my toes, but I can touch my knees with my forehead. Most people half my age can't even see their knees.
So here I sit at the ripe old age of 51, agonizing over making the call to schedule my up-the-butt exam and wondering if it would be inappropriate to bring my own lube and poppers. Regardless, I have resolved to feel good about myself no matter how old I get. If I ever get to the point where I can't laugh at myself or the absurdity around me, that's when it will be time to pull the plug. I really can't picture myself at age 91, but who knows. By that time, I'll be hooked up to feeding tubes and all sorts of life support machines and hopefully will have finally achieved my ideal goal weight. Just make sure they bury me in my skinny jeans.