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Rant of the Week: You don’t get to define the success of my life

Rant of the Week:  You don’t get to define the success of my life

Editor’s Note: I haven’t done one of these in a long time, so if you’re not in the mood for a rant, you’l want to skip this one.

A social media buddy of mine approached me on Twitter last night, and he was a little pissed. Now, to be clear: Jim’s not a reactionary and I think in all the years I’ve known him online this is the first he’s come to me in order to vent a little.

Somehow an old article crossed his path from Queerty entitled “40 things every gay man should do before turning 40”.  At first when I read it, I thought it was meant as tongue in cheek and just a usual Queerty article: low on substance, high on click bait but it wasn’t.  The author of this actually thinks that this is the roadmap for all gay men to take in order to have a full, valued life:

Getting older is never easy. For many gay men the idea of turning 40 is nothing short of terrifying. We ask ourselves the big questions, “What have I done with my life? What have I accomplished? Why is no one responding to my OKCupid profile?” Our life experience checklist will continue to grow as we get older. Here are 40 things every gay man should do before turning 40.

Let’s take a look at some of the things this article thinks I’d better have on the resume of my life, shall we?  I’m not going to detail them all, just some of the ones that leave me hanging on the skinny branches and wondering what the fuck they were thinking in writing this:

  • Dress up in drag:  Why? It’s not my thing.  I know plenty of guys that dress up in drag, and are fantastic performers. Guys in drag are neither a turn on or turn off for me, it just is.  I can’t see myself, a 51 year old man, 6’6”, 262 pounds and spent the last 14 years of his life in the gym having a drag fest.  Could you see it? I’d be the biggest woman out of the Amazon in gay cultural history.
  • Accept that you will never have sex with Jake Gyllenhaal:  I wasn’t aware that I had a hankering to have sex with him in the first place.  My guy is far hotter to me.
  • Date someone that is at least five years younger/ten years older than you:  I’ll be the first to admit, guys my own age bore me to tears. Too many of them I have found rigid in their thought patterns and sex lives.  By virtue of the fact that I’m very physically active, fit and willing to try new things when they present themselves younger guys seem attracted to me and that’s fine.  I embrace my Daddy credentials fully. My guy is almost 20 years younger than me, and our age disparities are nothing but a number.  It’s not an issue that comes up between us.

Here’s a few more that stand out to me as just being completely and utterly weird: stop being afraid of lesbians, go to an NFL pro game, be in an open/monogamous relationship, go to an adult bookstore, have sex with a woman just so you can say you did. The big finale? “COME OUT!”

Wait, what?  Why is my ability to check off all these ultimately superficial things from a bucket list make my life experience more worthwhile?  I have a flash for the author of this piece: some people are so situated that they can’t come out. It’s not my decision to say that someone has to, or they’re not living a life worth living if they haven’t. That’s just not my place or decision to make.  My buddy Jim was good and cranky about this whole piece, and justifiably so in my book. He shared his two cents with me on the subject:

But so many of us suffered through years of feeling like something was wrong with us simply by virtue of who we are as human beings and we had those ideas reinforced & institutionalized against us. To then be told — by others like us, no less — that we’re still doing it wrong? Yeah. It’s just not cute.

And he’s right, this article isn’t cute. It’s insulting.  To back up my claim, let’s talk about my life in a few bullet points:

  • I came out in 1977, the same year I lost my viriginity. To me it was no big deal, but at the time being gay was still a big dirty secret.  Gay bars were unmarked and finding social acceptance was done in secret.  Until I learned to defend myself I was assaulted plenty for being gay, and in those days nobody gave a damn that you were gay. They thought you had the beatings coming.
  • I survived a big time drug and alcohol addiction. If I stay on the path I’m on I’ll have 27 years sober at the end of this year.  I watch gays and lesbians struggling with addiction on a daily basis and it’s heart breaking.  You can’t sit down with a  20 year old gay man who’s addicted to meth, fucking any guy who looks his way and not be changed when he’s struggling to get clean.
  • I lived through the scary era of HIV/AIDS.  The news reports were conflicted, the US government’s reaction was slow and people were dying.  The drugs of the time to combat HIV were such that you really wondered what was worse: living through the drug side effects or just dying.  As much of a whore that I was in the 80’s, I have no explanations on why I dodged a bullet when so many other’s didn’t. My doctors have their ideas, but that’s a post for another time.  I was bedside for virtually all my friends who became HIV positive, and I was there at the end of their lives holding them in my arms as they let go.
  • None of my friends from the 80’s are still around: those that didn’t succumb to AIDS related illnesses didn’t survive their battles with alcohol and drugs.  I’m the last man standing from those days.
  • I had a stroke at 37. My life at the time was unhealthy and it caught up with me which is why I live much healthier now. My diet doesn’t suck and I’m a lot more physically active at 51 than some people are at half my age and all my parts work quite nicely these days.
  • In the line of my duties as a journalist, I was shot not once, but twice.  I covered three conflicts: two I made it out without so much as a scratch. One I got shot twice in six months. Go figure.
  • I survived the death of not one spouse, but two. One was killed by a drunk driver and the other took his own life thanks to his inability to get and stay sober.
  • I recently lost an eye thanks to an industrial accident at work. Long story short: hazardous chemical in an unmarked box splashed and got me in the face. My right eye is gone, and I’ve got some scarring on my face. I’ll be having surgery soon to remove the eye, get a glass one, get the scars off my face and move one.

Yet, if I’m to believe Queerty’s article, I’ll have a much more fulfilling life if I dress in drag?  Really?  I’ve been through more shit in my life than most people have in twice as long, and I’ll be a more centered and fulfilled gay man if I get a pair of high heels and wig going on?

I have a better idea on things to do before you turn 40, and in light of the fact that I’m hell and gone from 40, I’ll title mine “Things to do with your life, from middle age to beyond”

  • Love unreservedly: that goes for your friends and partner.  If they’re in your life and they mean something to you, tell them you love them. Not at the end of a phone call, either.  Look them in the eye, share your feelings and give them a hug and/or kiss.  The people who make your life worth living need to know their value to you.
  • Share your passions with anybody who’s listening.  Excitement is infectious and your passions have more value when somebody knows what they mean to you and why.
  • Share your strength. And your weaknesses. People need to know what puts the bounce in your step so they can learn for themselves. They also need to know they’re not the only one that feels small and afraid sometimes. They need to know they’re not alone.
  • Push yourself – mentally and physically: I recently made a wonderful friend and just by virtue of our relationship and his sharing the road he’s taking pursing his life via academia, his actions convinced me it’s been a long, long time since I did my mind any great service. I recently enrolled in some online courses just for the sheer benefit of doing it and exercising my mind.  I give a lot time to my physical benefits, and I’ve really screwed off when it came to continual learning.  I’m taking a class in beginning calculus and one in mathematical biostatistics.  Because I want to. Your physical pushes don’t need to be anything extreme like what I do in the gym or on the bicycle daily.  Figure out what your limits are and push past them. That might be something as simple as walking two blocks instead of the one you do daily with the dog.
  • Give to those that need it/Be there for those that need you. You may not have money to give, and that’s just fine.  When was the last time you dropped what you were doing and made all your time and energy available for someone who was struggling? Sometimes the most valuable thing you can give someone is two listening ears, a shoulder to cry on and unlimited hugs and cuddling.
  • Give back to your community.  That’s just being a good citizen.  You’d want the help if you needed it, so it squares your karma in the universe when you roll up your sleeves and give back in the community in any form or fashion.
  • Set up a better life for your family than the one you had.  You don’t have to leave a fortune, just make it so they want for nothing, either materially or emotionally. Keep a roof over their heads, food on the table and the lights on.  Be there for your kids.
  • Teach your son/daughter how to be a good man or a woman.  I don’t need to explain that, do I? Help them achieve success, find their own passions and become what they want in life.
  • Leave a legacy:  You don’t need to develop a cure for cancer, leave a ten digit bank account or write a piece of music that outlives time itself.  When you’re dead and gone, people should look back on the memory of your life and say “He was a good man…” It’s really no more nuanced than that.

Those are the things that are a template for my life.  I’m sure Queerty meant well, but they failed miserably. My life isn’t centered around my being gay: that’s actually the least interesting thing about me.  If that’s the most interesting thing about you, then I’m sorry: you’re wasting your life.

Next time Queerty, you might want to do one of these lists AFTER you talk to others who have hit 40 and beyond. Ask them what the road to success and contentment is paved with. You have a lot of balls telling anyone what they have to do in order to be content with their 40’s and 50’s.  Getting older doesn’t have to be a painful, wretched existence. It’s going to be just as hard or as easy as you make it.  I love being 51 years old, and I’m proud that after everything I’ve gone through I’m still here. Mentally and physically I feel like a million bucks.

One size does not fit all, and we’re not all cut from the same cloth. Queerty, you couldn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what it really takes to get to middle age in my book.

Between their list and mine, I’ll stay right where I am, thanks.

 

 

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