50 years. 50 queers.

Scott Dagostino

Scott Dagostino

Jan 29, 2013

Name: Scott Dagostino
DOB: July 31, 1971
Occupation: writer/editor/bookshop manager
Favourite Book: Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin
Favourite Movie: The Royal Tenenbaums
Favourite Music: Pet Shop Boys
Favourite Person At/Over 50: Ian McKellen
One Word About 50: Daunting

Scott Dagostino is in a good place in his life these days. The popular Toronto writer and manager of the rejuvenated queer literary landmark Glad Day Bookshop has been busy—and happily—feathering his new nest with his partner of a decade while helping to promote the venerable book retailer to queer readers and the community in general. At 42, he is laying the groundwork and looking ahead to mid-life with a positive attitude, and feeling a greater sense of freedom—a mood that starts at home. “We’ve been creating a home together which is a really lovely feeling,” he says. “That’s something that’s new for me. I’ve had great roommates before and we’ve always lived really well together, so I know that I can live with people—I’m not like a caveman [laughs]. But I also know that when I do live by myself it often brings out the worst in me. I’m actually better off in a couple.”

This is the first time Dagostino has lived with a partner and, of course, the inevitable question of marriage comes up. While supporting same-sex marriage, he and his partner don’t feel there is any need to rush down the aisle (or to city hall) to tie the knot. However, he does see why so many gay couples do feel that need—but not necessarily for the most talked about reasons. “I think people think we’re fighting for gay marriage [globally] because it’s about emulating straight people,” he asserts. “It’s not about emulating straight people, it’s about creating protections for ourselves. My partner and I aren’t big on the idea of marriage for us. But at the same time, the minute it becomes an issue where we need to be married in order to have health benefits or something like that, it’s like, ‘fuck yea I want the right to make sure that we are legally protected’. You hear these stories about women who have died and their partners have their houses taken away from them by douchey family members. You have no right to do that to someone. You have no moral right. But of course moral rights and legal rights are two different things. We always argue about marriage and we talk about it in a very moral language, but as far as I’m concerned it’s all just legal. The world is run by lawyers.”

“We all had a real esprit de corps kind of thing, like, ‘you’re a gay man you’re in the fight’. It was like Casablanca.”

Creating those protections and a sense of stability and security is a challenge Dagostino sees as far reaching as the LGBT community ages. For that first time there is a whole generation of queer people openly marching through the gates for middle age—a milestone we aren’t collectively used to pondering. “The horrible truth of it is we haven’t had a lot of gay seniors because so many people died in the late 70s and 80s,” he says. “We lost so many people during the AIDS crisis that we would have had a lot more seniors kicking around right now, but we don’t. However, I think that’s obviously changing. It’s something we have to start thinking about. So much of our struggle the past 10 years has been about the straight assimilation stuff: we want to get married, we want to join the army, we want to have kids, we want to do all the things that straight people do. But we haven’t really thought beyond that yet.”

One of the big quandaries facing the queer community as we age—as Dagostino sees it—is to reconnect and reignite the care networks we developed so effectively during the early years of the AIDS crisis. “We’re not very good at taking care of each other anymore,” he says of the state of community connectedness these days. “We used to have amazing caregiver networks where people with HIV had friends who cared for them and we all kind of bonded, and the homophobia was so thick that we all had a real esprit de corps kind of thing, like, ‘you’re a gay man you’re in the fight’. It was like Casablanca.”

“The way we treat our elderly combined with the way we treat gay people fills me with a sense of terror.”

After the initial war years waned, Dagostino sees a kind of complacency that settled over the community as many of those hard fought battles were won. Yet, one of the biggest may lie ahead: accepting and supporting each other as seniors. “I worry as we age that there’s this kind of ‘Gay Darwinism’ where the fabulous ones with money will take good care of themselves and maybe a couple of their friends, but those of us who maybe aren’t so fabulous and don’t have quite as much money, are going to be left to the wayside,” he observes. “As our well-meaning but slightly homophobic straight friends will tell us, ‘Oh, I really worry about you because you don’t have children. Who’s going to take care of you?’ I always brush that off when they say these things but at the same time there’s a grain of truth in there. As I get older, I wonder, who is going to take care of me?”

The idea of gay retirement homes has been bandied about for several years. This is born out of the need to create safe communities for aging queer people who are often forced back into the closet as a way of dealing with systemic homophobia in eldercare facilities. The thought of these, however, leaves Dagostino feeling squeamish. “My misgivings about a gay retirement home don’t come from the gay side of it they come from the retirement home side of it,” he explains of his reservations about the whole idea. “Retirement homes in general are not necessarily pleasant places. I hear many, many horror stories about people being mistreated. Queer people have always been treated by the mainstream as vaguely disposable. The way we treat our elderly combined with the way we treat gay people fills me with a sense of terror.”

The fear of facing homophobia once again is a reality for many queer people as we age. After all, we fought long and hard for acceptance and the freedom to live openly as who we are—we don’t want to spend our final years shoved back in the closet. Another concern is sexuality, expressing it and living it. “There was this stereotype years ago that gay men were afraid to age because there was this idea that you’ll get old and no one will want to have sex with you and you’ll be lonely,” says Dagostino.  “The one thing we seem to have gotten better at is that I see that’s no longer the case. There are guys in their 60s who get laid often and there are kids looking for daddies. Being gay and 60 doesn’t mean you have to be lonely. Which is fantastic. There are networks out there. But at the same time in terms of being gay and 70, I don’t know if there’s the same thing out there for you.”

“I love that Ian McKellen was free enough to go out and say, ‘I’m going to go out and look for tush’.”

Just as many of us experienced feelings of deep loneliness in our youth—either from living in the closet or not knowing how to create connections when newly in the community—isolation is a concern on the other end of the spectrum. To that end, Dagostino has a somewhat surprising idea of older queers avoiding loneliness. “I like the polyamoury movement,” he says matter-of-factly. “Not because I’m necessarily polyamorous but I like that it’s trying to create new models. I’ve got friends who are married but they sleep around, there are couples that sort of swap with each other, and it’s all incredibly complicated, inevitably there’s drama. But I kind of admire them for testing the boundaries of their fidelity and their possessiveness. I think it’s an expansion of being human, partly because I see it as a philosophical idea and also, it would be fun to explore.”

He goes on to envision what the gay retirement home scenario may hold in store, albeit with a slight wink and sense of humour. “[The gay retirement home] could turn so easily into the gay cruise ship, which is basically the gay floating bathhouse,” he says with a laugh. “I have no judgment about that but at the same time that’s a lot of navigating. But it’s an adventure. Wasn’t it Lily Tomlin who said, ‘growing old ain’t for sissies.’”

While growing old is a challenge for most everyone, there are still woefully few role models we as queer people have to look to for guidance and inspiration. While the numbers are small, there are a few names that come to mind when Dagostino thinks about some of his older queer icons. “Ian McKellen. Hands down. There is no one more awesome than Ian McKellen,” he announces without even thinking about it. “Someone told me years ago he was in Toronto doing one of the X-Men movies and he went to Woodys and my friend was scandalized Ian McKellen was a little tipsy and he was groping young guys and chatting them up. He was talking to a twenty-something guys and he had his hand on this guy’s bottom [laughs]. And I said, ‘you want to know why? Because he’s a fucking rich movie star!’ If I were 65 and Ian McKellen I’d be at Woodys fondling 25-year-olds. That’s awesome! Jesus! It’s an honour. I could say I was felt up my Magneto. I love that Ian McKellen was free enough to go out and say, ‘I’m going to go out and look for tush’.”

Other names that come to mind are Tim McCaskell. “He’s worked for the Toronto Board of Ed pushing for a more queer-positive curriculum in the schools,” says Dagostino of his admiration for the man. “Whenever there’s a Lefty, rabblerousing kind of thing going on, Tim’s there and I love that.” Another is Gore Vidal. “That man was a lion,” he contends. “His partner of about 50 years died. They lived together in this incredible villa in Tuscany. After his partner died, Vidal sold it and moved back to the States. When he was asked why, he said there were too many memories, and that it’s hard for an old man to live alone in such a big house. But also, he said America was just falling apart and I love a good fight. He wanted to rescue America from George W. Bush. I love at the age of 80 Gore Vidal still had fight left in him.”

“I don’t have time for the politics, the drama or the pettiness. I just don’t give a fuck anymore.”

Perhaps one of the most memorable stories about the queer old guard was his meeting with literary legend, and iconic raconteur, Quentin Crisp. “I met [Crisp] in 1998 at an evening at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre,” Dagostino remembers. “I think he was probably 80-ish. He had a big sold out room. There was this beautiful moment when he was talking about aging and he said, [affecting an uncanny Quentin Crisp impression], ‘As you age, you can have sex with anyone you like as long as they can still call you boy. Generally, this is about 42. After that, you have to pay.’ You could feel this cold ripple of terror go through the entire audience. Now having reached the age of 42, I have noticed that no one calls me a ‘boy’ anymore.”

“I feel like I’ve hit Quentin Crisp’s threshold—except that I don’t believe in it,” says Dagostino. “I think that what Quentin didn’t realize—being a product of the 40s—is that things move along. He was also venomous about London, England. He had nothing good to say about it. He loved New York. I got to meet him, I asked him why he was attacking London so much and I told him I’d always wanted to visit, and he suddenly took my hand and looked me in the eye and said, ‘No, no my boy. Don’t go to London. No one will be your friend there, they will only pretend.’ Finally, I went to London and it was glorious but I could see what drove him out, the relentless classism. The English are not that kind to their elderly. We’re much more touchy-feely that way here in North America. So that bodes well for us as we get older.”

As Scott Dagostino looks ahead to turning 50, he feels two very palpable internal changes happening: a growing sense of compassion and a shrinking tolerance for life’s timewasters. “It’s amazing this freedom that’s happened,” he says triumphantly. “It’s the best thing. I’m sad that my body is now decaying [laughs], but I’m thrilled that I’m finally just doing what needs to be done and what makes me happy, I’m doing more to help the people around me. I don’t have time for the politics, the drama or the pettiness. I just don’t give a fuck anymore.”

2 comments

  1. Scott, you’re absolutely marvy! Good interview!

  2. Great interview – yes it is so wonderful to get over all the stuff that brought you down – almost to the point of a new freedom – congratulations!

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