Father Tony

Loving your old gay face

Filed By Father Tony | November 20, 2008 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: old gay face, older gays, personal stories, plastic surgery

Fr. T,

I hear you've had some work done. Fess up. Care to recommend your doctor?

-- Anonymous

Dear Anonymous,

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.

  1. 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?
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

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That was one hell of a long post for just making a vanity statement ;p.

I would warn against applying it to everyone. Some people who've had surgery are very happy. Others, they tend to do so compulsively. People need to be able to differentiate between wanting surgery to improve self-image, and wanting surgery because you believe that some improved self-image will make others love you.

Bargaining for love is never a good idea.

# 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.

Ah, Father Tony, please remember, some of us younger ones with the once perky, now less so butts, actually prefer a more learned, aged like a fine wine, man.

Of course, maybe when I'm fifty I'll be chasing after the perky butts myself.

I watched Y & R while doing my Master's Thesis in 1991-1992. At that time Nina's mother's boyfriend David went to a plastic surgeon to have himself made over to look like David Hasselhoff (so no one would realize he was evil David) and the surgeon instead scratched 'KILLER" on his forehead. That was an awesome scene when he took off the bandages (and completely unexpected!).

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.

Thanks for the laughs, T! :)

Indeed, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If one has surgery, they may miss out on their soulmate because they may have been attracted to the 'real' you but not the new you!

We get old and die. Accept it naturally and gracefully like Paul Newman. I enjoy looking at handsome younger men but I don't care if they look back at me. I have accepted reality that I am old and have had a great life with pleasant memories. I am also loved by my husband which counts for alot.

atomicplayboy | November 21, 2008 6:51 AM

Had to step out of the office, 'cuz tryin' to hold in the laugh didn't work. Hilariously written!

I've had grey in my beard and on my head for so long now, I've forgotten what it was like to just have brown hair. I started going grey at 25. Jerame swears in another 5 years I'll look like Anderson Cooper.

Which wouldn't be a bad thing, per se, but I'd need some of Father Tony's Non-Miraculous Cure to do it! :)

I've got 60 year old friends who've kept their bodies in good shape, their minds open and sharp, and who are hot as hell. They're great as friends and great in the sack--far more skilled and interesting than the twinks. So maybe their recovery time isn't fifteen minutes any more--quality definitely trumps quantity in this case!

Tony, I have experienced most, if not all, that you describe -- but my abdominal intruder managed to retrieve the appendix, as well, so, perhaps, my scar is longer by a bit.
All you say is certainly true. However, no matter how much respect and honor we older guys receive from the younger (I am 72) it hardly compensates for the extreme loneliness we feel from time to time. If you only had a surgical answer for that, perhaps I'd be interested.
That having been said, I am grateful for your columns and your marvelous insight into the human personality.
Much Love,

Anony is a very rude individual, but I am proud that you took the time to post this and respond to it. Cosmetic surgery seems to me such an utter waste of resources for those simply wishing to appear more youthful. It is my opinion that age is a badge of honor, and that attractiveness is just as much an inner quality. Through exercise and diet, we can maintain a healthy and attractive appearance. I am also against the dying of hair, though obviously the majority of gay men disagree. I think owning one's age is sexy as hell, and that gray is OK! Reddish brown tint in sunlight makes baby jeebus cry.

Tony (the short one) | November 21, 2008 6:22 PM

As someone who will never see 50 again, I have to admit there are mornings when the hound dog eyes do get me down a bit. That said, I have no desire to monkey with things. Thinning hair, gray, wrinkles, come what may I feel that I am just becoming more myself. I certainly don't want to go back to being young. How did I manage to get through it the first time?

If anything I look at the benefits, those who do choose to still notice me have on occasion referred to me as a silver fox, so if I've lost anything I've also gained. It all balances out.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | November 22, 2008 11:18 AM

The good news is that they once said people had the kind of face they deserved at forty. I have had no facial surgery, but I wouldn't put it past me. When I am an older man of course. But at 55 now my concept of older keeps moving.

And yet Jill turns out the be Katherine's daughter. Who knew?

I have a few thoughts to share here. I partially agree with Father Tony, and part not. I make my living as a photographer, and I deal with alot of actors and performers...as a group, some of the most insecure people you'd ever want to meet. The object of my profession is to get warm, inviting headshots of these folks. Tony is right in that a winning, outgoing personality, and confidence can work WONDERS in the way we are perceived by the rest of the world, and I contstantly have to tell my subjects to pretend that they've never taken a bad photo in their lives, and that the ENERGY they project in a photo will do wonders to distract from any of their perceived "flaws".


What kind of plastic surgery are we talking about here? It only seems that Tony is talking about the most ill-advised, poorly performed sort. If the plastic surgery is so visible that he can tell, and it looks bad, then it was done by a hack. Most of the "good" plastic surgery is undetectable.

Also, what about people who are otherwise happy with their looks, and themselves, but say, have disproportionately large noses, ears that protrude, big distracting breasts, or other traits that they just don't care for? I'm not talking about stretching skin to appear youthful (which is actually on its way out as a technique), but people who want to just have a normal nose, or eyes that don't LOOK tired regardless of whether they're actually tired or not.

There is no denying that we live in a culture that (for better or worse) judges (in part) by appearance, including the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, personal grooming, as well as the architecture of our faces. As a retoucher of photographs, I can say that a light hand at retouching goes a long way. One does not obliterate character in a face, one tries to remove distractions, so, people can focus on YOU. This is especially imporatant for men, as if you remove too much character from a man's face, he starts to appear feminized, which..is not usually the goal.

I think what would be better advice for people is to approach plastic surgery judiciously, and to have realistic expectations. I have a few friends that have had discreet procedures, and they've all been happy with the results, and I don't laugh behind any of their backs.

Dear Gary,
Thanks for the balanced and intelligent commentary, rooted in the diplomatic field of portraiture. I used to be heavy handed with my Photoshop cosmetic efforts. Now I tread lightly and I know I've succeeded when the subject doesn't know he has been Photoshopped. If cosmetic surgery is denial, it is wrong, in my opinion. If you look tired, you should remedy the circumstances that cause it. If someone has features that are by common definition unusually large or oddly formed, I may still side with the "own it" point of view, and maintain my opinion that there is no such thing as an ugly man or woman. There are only those who neglect their bodies, but then, there are those who have by herculean efforts lost weight and want what is left to be firmed up. They have earned it, so I suppose I'd be wrong to criticize what they have done.

PS: I'd love to see some of your photo work.

Dear Father Tony,

"If cosmetic surgery is denial, it is wrong, in my opinion." Said like a true Catholic! :-) I might suggest the phrashing "Ill advised" for wrong, but I think we're in the same ballpark here...

"If you look tired, you should remedy the circumstances that cause it." I have large, dark circles under my eyes, regarless of my normal sleeping habits, exercise program and healthy diet. It's genetic and runs in my family. I'll attempt to remedy this by picking different parents next time. Or maybe one of these days I'll opt for a blepharoplasty. Never cared much for those dark circles.

"If someone has features that are by common definition unusually large or oddly formed, I may still side with the "own it" point of view, and maintain my opinion that there is no such thing as an ugly man or woman." I'd like to live in that world. Call me when we can start our own planet where Quasimodo and Frankenstein are hailed as beauties for the contents of their souls. And frankly, I'd still rather make out with someone I consider attractive, which is probably some indefinable nexus of looks and personality.

Here's looking at you, kid.