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Friday, March 8, 2013

Gay and Growing Older

One day last week, after having stepped out of the shower, barely awake and having applied the shaving cream to my face I looked in the mirror.  I wasn't wearing my glasses, didn't have my false teeth in and said "Who is that old man in the mirror?"

It was disheartening in many ways to realize that the old man in the mirror was me.  When exactly did that happen?  Now I know what some of you maybe thinking "Charlie, your only forty-six it isn't the end of the world"; and you know something you are right but I also know that for the first time in my life I have really accepted the fact that I am and have been officially a middle-aged gay man.

I was living as an openly gay man at eighteen, even though my family would not know that till I was twenty- one, I was living with HIV by the time I was twenty-four and had my AIDS diagnosis at twenty-five. I buried my first friend who died of GRID--what became AIDS-- in 1986 and my first lover died in October 1988, I was in rehab later that same year.  Two suicide attempts followed in 1989 and you could say it has been a hell of a life all along.  It's never been easy, many times downright painful to say the least.

The oppressing poverty,  the breaking away from a religious cult, recovering from a sexual assault, recovering from a drug and alcohol addiction, surviving a period of eleven months in an abusive relationship that ended with me shoved down a flight of stairs, and the list seems endless--because they is so much more I could talk about but many times do not wish to do so.

Yet that "old man" is still in my mirror, looking at me and in many ways "Saying who are you?"  I never thought I would even be this old to tell you the truth.  I am one of six people I personally know who have lived over twenty years with HIV/AIDS.  Now I know there are others but are they in my life-- no.  Do I personally know them--- no.  Nearly all of my friends of the late 1980's to mid 1990's are gone.  Dead; and to be honest--brutally so if I have to be completely honest--- I thought I would be among them....the dead.

I'm not by any stretch saying, implying that I want to be dead; that is far from the truth but the experiences I have lived through really showed no other way.  It was literally living one day at a time, if you woke up you were thankful that you were and did your best to live your best possible life for that day.  For me that kind of existence went on for YEARS!

No plans for the distant future, no IRA, no retirement fund, no plan for retirement and certainly no plan for what my life would be like at nearly 50.  Some of it I have been very blessed-- a great and supportive family who has been there every step of the way, an incredible man who literally was the great love of my life for ten wonderful years and now finally getting the education I have wanted for a very long time.  I have even been accepted to a Graduate Program-- if you would have told that to me ten years ago I would have said you were out of your mind.

But growing older, has some down sides--especially... in my opinion... when your gay.  You no longer the hot young thing fresh on the seen, your no longer the twenty-something gay boy.  You looks begin to slightly fade, grey hair sneaks (thank you Cancer Radiation treatments) and in my case fell out (thank you AZT for that one). I feel like I woke up one day and finally realized that realistically I could be the father of a 29 year old--how did that happen?  I've gone from the "boy" to being the "daddy"-- you will understand that if your familiar with gang slang.

Being gay and being forty-six is almost like being eighty; not there isn't anything wrong with being eighty but how many gay guys are still being pursued at eighty I ask you?  When you live in a culture of youth, beauty, the great physique that for many revolves around the bars, the dances, the circuit parties and you know what sooner or later you realize your not as hot as you thought you were.

Now I was never really the "party type" and I can tell you the last time I was in a gay bar--Chicago, July of 2012 while on vacation--- and I can say I felt old.  Maybe it's the way I have seen myself the last few months and I know deep down I need to change it.

Being gay and going on 50 is not the end of the world, and in my case it will literally be the beginning with my MFA in Creative Writing by that time.  Life will really begin and in a big way.  I have survived... and you know something I will here and now acknowledge I am a tough old bitch to do so.  22 years living with AIDS this July, 4 rounds of Cancer, 4 rounds of Pneumonia, one round of Meningitis and I'm still standing--takes a lot to to take this bitch down.

In the mean time I am going to enjoy the "old man" in the mirror, kick up my heels and in the words of the "Flintstones" ....."Have a GAY ole time"

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