D Gregory Smith

The Next Time You See An Old Man On The Bus...

Filed By D Gregory Smith | April 18, 2010 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Living
Tags: Castro in the 70's, LGBT Elders, Old Queers, prejudice, wisdom

I have met a lot of interesting people in my wide and varied life.

I am especially enamored of old people. Mostly because as I get to know them, I get to hear the stories of their lives- and to me, there's nothing more interesting than people and their stories. GeriI also love that their stories often directly contradict the first impression- which is usually along the lines of: "What a sweet, lovely, peaceful, old person with little or no sexuality, political preference or opinion on popular culture."

I love hearing the stories of our elders- LGBT Elders. And, yeah, I know I might be getting into trouble for calling them that, but that's what they are. And that's exactly what we need. We need the voices of experience and wisdom in our community. We've forgotten that in the wake of parties, anti-retrovirals, botox and high fashion.

We lost many (mostly gay men) in the 80s and 90s to AIDS. We ignore the ones we have now in deference to our cultural fixation on youth. We call them "trolls", "hags" etc. It ain't right. I mean, seriously, it's incorrect. They are human beings. With stories.

I have a friend, who is of an "advanced age." He made mention of his rowdy youth once in our correspondence, and I asked him exactly what he meant. He responded. Wonderfully, graphically, he responded.

How did I get rowdy?

Let me count the ways.....

Now let me see, in the beginning there was sex. Usual sex, sucking and fucking.

Then I moved to San Francisco. I lived in the Haight-Ashbury just when the 'movement' got under way. Had to move since I was going to night school and worked days. Gray Line buses blocked the traffic and overhead trolley wires were moved to a parallel street.

Then came the 70s. Most of my inhibitions (but not all) were slowly eroded as I started on drugs. The usual: weed, LSD, hash, Amyl, speed & occasionally cocaine. I didn't really like coke since it cost too much and you never knew what it was cut with. Just give me old acid, black beauties (speed) and booze. Thus prepared, off I went to the bath houses, aka the tubs. The sleazier the better, to wit, THE BARRACKS, sleaze central, kinks galore.

But I was bashful, no S&M, no fisting please, we're proper & catholic. But sex, pure unadulterated sex, any which way, up down, in and out and someone once mentioned a goat but I think that was drug induced delusion- but ya never know. Pile of bodies in the orgy pit, a Norwegian freighter was in town and a bunch came to the Castro Rock Bath House and I was on the bottom. "Do not sit on my face, you have hemorrhoids. I do have my standards. More amyl please. Ah, yes, that's better. Giggle, giggle, fuck me again. You want me to do what?"

Then there was the Halloween costume party down at the Garden of Earthly Delights at the foot of Potrero Hill. A hotel and restaurant, catering to the non-discriminating gay man and lesbyterian. After the evening meal, coffee was served with a fine selection of the drug of your choice. Ah, good choice Monsieur, guaranteed debauchery for your evening's pleasure. A little cognac to enhance?

I must have looked odd since I was dressed in a full Benedictine habit but encountered someone outfitted as an Augustinian - Luther in disguise? - 'fraid not. Just another perv.

I ended up in a flat on Mission Street, swapping drugs with someone who had the proverbial dick of death. It's a wonder I could walk when I finally left...in daylight. Getting on the bus to go back to Castro St. The driver did cast a wondering eye but I spied Betty Grable in the back with a one piece bathing suit, brief case, high heels and beard. No one batted an eye. This was in 1973. Sure was making up for lost time. It was 9 years before I left paradise and returned to the east. Another chapter, another life. I had a full time office job with tie, the entire time.

Today the young ones look and all they see is an old man - if they only knew.

Indeed. And maybe we could all try harder to give the elders in our midst a bit of respect. Maybe we could try and see them for who they are and for who they once were.

Because in a few years, they will be us.

(Image by INoxKrow via Flickr)

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Wilson46201 | April 18, 2010 1:26 PM

You mean like having sex openly under a soundtruck in the middle of a crowd of a million people in Washington DC at an anti-war demonstration? or infiltrating a convention of the American Medical Association breaking up a scholarly medical panel on how to cure homosexuality?

I've been told I am interesting at 76 and get invited to dinner parties with lively conversation. It's because of my varied roller coaster life and amazing people I have loved and admired. I have had alot of affairs (men and women). Young gay activists often come on to me but they want something, like a donation for their cause. Why do the orgs pick the most handsome guys for fundraising. Duh!

Wilson46201 | April 18, 2010 2:41 PM

when the Human Rights Campaign was starting up, Tennessee Williams promised to be the initial signatory to a public letter of support. To actually get the signature, a young cute guy was sent who later revealed he had been willing "to put out" if necessary to get the signature of the famous author. It took 4 hours of conversation and booze but no sex was needed to get his John Hancock!

Juston Thouron Juston Thouron | April 18, 2010 4:10 PM

Greg, I remember in high school our teacher taking us to see Reds as part of a field trip. In the movie there are people who actually knew John Reed and other characters portrayed in the story and one elderly man said something to the effect of, "I think there was just as much fucking going on back then as there is today. People just didn't talk about it openly as much as they do now" or something to that effect. Our entire class of, I think we were 16 year old's, went completely apeshit. I mean we were whooping and hollering and laughing. We were talking about that man for months. We loved him.

I talked with an elder friend of mine about it much later and he said, "I know. Young people think they invented fighting and fucking. It's always a shock for them to find out older people were crazy kids once too. All of them. The ones who say they weren't are lying."

I remember my one trip to SF, the Castro. Four days in 1996. I had helped to move a friend there from Boston because he wanted to take care of Ramsay, who was dying of AIDS. We walked into a cafe (I forget the name of the place) and every square inch of the walls were covered, floor to ceiling, with pictures of those who died in the epidemic. I met Ramsay in his apartment, confined to a bed in his living room so it was easier to care for him. CD's of all of his favorite operas were stacked three deep on the bookshelves. He was very brave, very fiery, outspoken, without regrets save one; he missed his partner who had died first. He told me the story of how they had met. Ramsay talking to a friend, quoting a line from his favorite opera (Carmen I believe it was, or maybe it was Mikado) and this beautiful stranger finishing the line. They were inseparable for the rest of their lives until AIDS robbed them of their elderly years. The one's where they wink and smile at each other when a younger person brags about some crazy things they did. He died four months after I met him.

I know what you mean about people's stories. I have so many of them from so many people because I asked and I listened and I respected. Small price. Genuine curiosity always rewards.

Now I have more than a few of my own. And I am looking forward to having many more. I wonder if I will ever have someone to tell them to before it is my time to die.

I'm so delighted by stories- even the tragic ones, because they bind us together, somehow. If we let them.
Thank you to everyone who has shared theirs with me privately and in this space as a result of this post....

Retired physician... my elderly patients were BEST when they were so very eccentric as to almost be past reality...which, indeed, they were.

Trained in Oakland during early AIDS epidemic.. with workers from businesses and docks of Oakland...and wonderful BERKLEYites who would quote you Shakespeare and assume you knew the exact sonnet #.

Heck, my grandmother was married April 15, 1906.. Honeymooned in SF.... "with 10,000 other people in tents in GG Park." Because Earthquake was April 17! She told the best stories about it, even 70 years later flipping through a photo journal of it.

All our lives are enriched and LIVELIER for knowing these people.

...and then just found this piece by Kate Kendall on the GAY ELDERLY couple in Santa Rosa! Too TOO many similar ones. We must get equal rights for all.


Lovely post. Had curiosity about this same topic today as a man with a walker offered a flirtatious grin this morning near the Tenderloin. Breaks my heart there are few elders for young gay/queer men like me. Thanks for the stories!

catering to the non-discriminating gay man and "lesbyterian"

I love that "lesbyterian"! What a great word!

I spent three years in San Francisco myself. I have lots of stories from those 3 short years, what I can remember anyway...

Thank you, thank you for the column and the sensibility it displays. I'm not quite elderly yet, but it's encouraging to know that I won't be ignored by everyone. And it's so so wonderful just to see all the blossoms.

And oh yes, how the stories do multiply as time goes by. So much so that we can pick and choose!

A wonderful post -- and wonderful comments, too. Ever since I was a young queer in my early 20s, I have always loved hearing the stories of LGBT elders -- and now that I'm in midlife, I equally adore the perspectives offered by friends who are younger than I am. My chosen family includes a wide range of generations, and my life is richer as a result.

The significance of these personal relationships also has helped me recognize the importance of creating institutional structures to preserve and recount the amazing stories of LGBT lives. That's why I'm a passionate supporter of the GLBT Historical Society, the LGBT museum, archives and research center in San Francisco, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

The Historical Society is now putting together the final plans to open an expanded museum in the Castro neighborhood this summer. For more details -- and to make a donation to support this groundbreaking project -- please visit www.glbthistory.org.

A very beautiful post. Remember, all of us are walking on their shoulders. Please let's not take their lives for granted. If we, as a community, don't have the maturity to take care of and respect those who walked before us, then maybe we don't deserve what we have or what we're fighting for.

I love this. I'm 47 and probably would have been that guy had I been born a decade earlier. As it is, I know that I'm on the crest of a wave of a large, aging gay population - many of my older gay brothers died with AIDS before the miracle drugs came along. I love being older, more staid, and with just as juicy a past that's mine to savor.

Actually the term is "of the lesbyterian persuasion" - sounds better than some of those harsher terms I will refrain from stating.

And I have discovered that when some idiot bothers you at some function and won't go away, all you do is say in a very loud voice:

They tend to slink away.

Happily and very intrinsically disordered,


jack magnan | April 27, 2010 9:04 AM

i think you made an especially good point in the title of your piece... on the bus!

i am "only" 66. in senior circles this is still quite young, and i have some younger friends who point out what SOME people are doing at myage.

goody for them...

i am living in near poverty on a small social security income i dare not augment for fear of losing the support i get from medicare and food stamps. i had been in reasonably good health and, although living alone, i led a reasonably active life and was working towards a better future. circumstances with an elderly parent involving her alzheimer's and health problems of my own after fighting the system for hers cemented financial situation, so that now i am poor AND in poor health. i found out to my shock you don't want to be old, alone and gay.

most of my peers died years ago, and to most younger gays i am invisible, if not laughable, in my none too good clothes standing at a bus stop. where i live, a "flirtatious glance" could cost me my life, so i keep my head down.

it is very sad, really. i have lived a wild life, had experiences, gained experience and now i know things, lots of things. some of these things could save a life or save years of misery, but i have no one to share them with. too many of the young gaylings forget that they stand on the shoulders of the vaunted heroes of the gay movement, but those of every gay man and woman who ever lived OUT and open before them. we took the risks, suffered the blows, for their freedom, their rights.

perhaps the well to do seniors have access and are not comical or invisible to young gays, but try to be aware of we tattered brothers and sisters. we need community more than ever, a fact i learned only recently and to no avail.