50 years. 50 queers.

Greg Kearney

Greg Kearney

Jan 25, 2013

Name: Greg Kearney
DOB: March 4, 1973
Occupation: Writer
Favourite Book: “Such Times” by Christopher Coe
Favourite Movie: “Desperate Living”
Favourite Music: Any astute, middle-aged, female singer/songwriter, really.
Favourite Person At/Over 50: Kate Bush
One Word About 50: Yes!

Observing the passing of one decade into another is regarded by many people as being a milestone in the road of life. It’s a time when we tend to take stock, analyze the past and look ahead to how we can navigate the road ahead. Greg Kearney has been doing just that recently. 2013 is a year of milestones for the writer; he is releasing his new novel, “The Desperates” this fall —and he is also turning 40.

Taking a leap into a new decade can be a source of consternation for a lot of people. However, Kearney has been doing some legwork in preparation for this milestone. “I’m quite comfortable with the whole prospect, I think,” he admits when thinking about marking a new decade. “This past year has been a lot of that anticipatory angst over turning 40, but I just finally feel so well-positioned and so relaxed in my chosen community, within my work and my body. I can only see that amplifying in the next decade.”

Kearney has worked to develop a healthy attitude toward his mind, body and soul, and while it’s paying off, it’s not something that is necessarily easily or commonly done. “Well, if you’ve done the preparatory homework I think you’re really home free,” he asserts. “I’ve been doing some casual cognitive behavioral preparation on myself to work at finding men my age and older attractive. Just challenging every kind of ageist presumption that I have. I think if you’re really rigorous about that leading in, you can have a really great time.”

“Certain gay men have just really been intuitively spot-on in how to navigate their lives sexually as they get older.”

Projecting ahead to the future and the idea of turning 50, Kearney admits that there is still an existential angst in much of the queer community. Getting older is certainly something that is not commonly embraced by many. However, there are pockets where acceptance—and even celebration—is burgeoning, like the leather, BDSM community for instance. “I’m not part of the leather community as such,” he says. “There is a comfort of knowing age has cachet in a huge part of the sexual culture [in that community]. That said there aren’t a massive number of really holistically minded gay men. There will be lots of boys in the wreckage—but it’s not inevitable.”

While he does see attitudes towards aging shifting in the overall community, Kearney believes that it’s the pockets where real strides are being made to celebrate maturing minds and bodies. He sees this particularly in the bear community where, he says, “Sage masculine authority does have cachet. Certain gay men have just really been intuitively spot-on in how to navigate their lives sexually as they get older. I think of someone like Sky Gilbert, who just turned 60, he still has sexual cachet, and he’s a real beacon of hope for me. Certainly fetishization will be a refuge for many of us who still want to be promiscuous.”

One of the challenges Kearney has had to face and work to overcome is being “hyper-sensitive to rejection.” While that fear is universal, it’s not something you want to wear as an emotional yoke as you move through life. Again, he has been doing his personal homework and has found his fears are beginning to wane with age. “I’ve been a casual Buddhist this past year and I’ve never felt more liquid and accessible—and not grumpy. I can only see it becoming more and more pleasurable. It’s all contingent on my own self worth.”

“I’ve just never had more sexual cachet, so I can only anticipate more of the same which is really fun.”

As gay men, much of our identity is predicated on our physicality: are we thin enough, beefy enough, muscular enough, hairy enough, smooth enough, or tattooed enough? These are just a few of the aesthetics we judge ourselves—and one another—on. Some gay men come into a healthy self-esteem early, some later in life and some not at all. As Kearney steps into his 40s, he’s finding his physical sweet spot. “I’ve come into my cachet belatedly,” he admits. “I was a really dumpy twink [laughs]. Then I was a misshapen and unhealthy looking thirty-something. But now, I have a killer bod, my face is holding up, I’ve just never had more sexual cachet, so I can only anticipate more of the same which is really fun. But, it’s not as intensely important to me as it was when I was in my 20s.”

In general, it’s hard to find a 20-year-old who has a very multi-dimensional, well-constructed, internal sense of self. That tends to come with getting older. Of course, most 20-year-olds spend little—if any—time thinking about turning 40, 50, 60, or beyond. Certainly, it wasn’t the case for Kearney. However, he was taken with other thoughts in his 20s. “I mused on my mortality [back then],” he says. “Perhaps it’s being 40 and being a long-term person with HIV. I definitely did a lot of internal legwork about myself 20 years ahead and aging and the aging process and the cult of horror around aging that’s all such a big part of my aesthetic when I’m writing. It’s fun to play with these tropes of aging.”

“I’m constantly musing on death in a sort of breezy way,
in the abstract.”

Kearney became HIV-positive at 20. That reality has informed his life in many aspects as he has gotten older and as the attitudes and treatments for HIV have progressed over the decades. “I’ve been so incredibly lucky the way the sequence of events has unfolded,” he explains. “In that the effective drugs were available to me when I needed them; although I did seroconvert officially before the age of the cocktail.”

Another offshoot of his status is the underlying spectre of death. And while that may sound morbid on the surface, it’s not something that has hobbled Kearney. “I’ve always lived with mortality,” he says. “I’m constantly musing on death in a sort of breezy way, in the abstract. Knowing that it’s a constant neutral companion. I only know adult life as someone with HIV. There’s no really crisp before and after. There are a lot of heavily pre-treated middle-aged men falling. My lone terror in the next decade is that my liver will blow out.”

Perhaps it’s that musing that has given Kearney more clarity and resolve than the average middle-aged person. He sees far too many gay men who reach their 40s and 50s and become “calcified, jaundiced and bilious”. He laments that he meets so few middle-aged, fiftyish gay men who still have a sense of curiosity and a thirst for experimentation. He sees a lot of gay men who become sedentary with age and posits the idea that, “People accrue a certain set of milestones and then just pack it in. There can be the loss of a great love, or some sort of unfortunate real estate exchange or some silly, boozy betrayal, after which one tends to close up shop.”

Within that he sees the challenges and the opportunities to fight against that apathy. “We’re all just in a state of this intense post-traumatic stress from the fact that most of our comrades are dead in that age group,” says Kearney. “So, it’s a huge leap of faith to stay open to encounters and intimacy and trusting. I don’t think there’s any sort of pocket of necessary struggle at any juncture of our lives. I hate the idea of 50 being this sweaty but necessary pit stop.”

“Honestly, we should just shut the fuck up and get on with it.”

Pushing against that mid-life apathy and pushing through 50 can lead to other issues that many people—especially queer people—face as we get older: loneliness and isolation. As Kearney sees it, you can stay open to new relationships or you can learn to be alone successfully. “Most people are so horrible at being alone,” he insists. “I personally adore it, and clamour for it. I’m really incredibly happily married and have been for many years. But were my partner to die before me, I would work like hell with being okay with being alone.”

When he gazes through the generational looking glass, Kearney doesn’t see a lot of role models for gay men to aspire to when it comes to aging. Perhaps that puts our generation (40-50-years-old) on the vanguard of defining what it means to be an older queer person. But being a trailblazer comes with responsibilities and pitfalls. One of those pitfalls is cosmetic tweaking. What does Kearney think of gay men getting a sprucing job? “It always looks bad. Always. Always. Without exception,” he says with a laugh. However, he does make one concession. “I would do the ‘Streisand-neck-clippie’ thing and have that snipped away should I develop a turkey neck but that is entirely all. Any sort of massive hang from the general facial architecture I may consider having it done, but otherwise absolutely not.”

Aging gracefully and without vanity (or Botox or facial fillers) may be one of our greatest challenges in accepting the inevitable. What does Kearney think is one of the best ways to achieve this as the decades tick by? “Well, there will be some niggling, media-fueled angst around turning 50, I’m sure, but I think my innate sense of humour and insistence on well-being will only guide to the next step happily,” he says. “My partner is 46; he’ll be 47 this year and is aging beautifully and quietly. Honestly, we should just shut the fuck up and get on with it.”

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