50 years. 50 queers.

Sky Gilbert

Sky Gilbert

Mar 20, 2013

Name: Sky Gilbert
DOB: Dec 20,1952
Occupation: Writer
Favourite Book: Excellent Women
Favourite Movie: Ken Park
Favourite Music: Donizetti
Favourite Person At/Over 50: Paul Bettis
One Word About 50: Ph.D.

Pushing buttons and boundaries has never been a problem for Sky Gilbert. The playwright, author and professor came to prominence as the co-founder and artistic director of the landmark Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. Since then he has been challenging norms both inside and outside the queer sphere—and at 60, he shows no signs of slowing down.

Gilbert has accomplished much in the decade between 50 and 60: getting his Ph.D. and teaching at the University of Guelph, writing books of poetry, and writing and producing plays both in Hamilton and Toronto. With all these going on he barely had time to notice hitting the half-decade mark. Of course, having a baby face didn’t hurt. “I think it was stalled for me because—and I don’t mean to toot my own horn here—but I’ve always looked younger than I am,” he says recalling turning 50. “Until 50, I really looked to people like I was in my late 30s. Sometime around my late 40s, I began to read as no longer a younger man and that was the first time it happened. I went through all of my 40s never having to deal with it, until I was 50, then I had to start to deal with it. I remember the first time I looked in the mirror and thought, ‘why do I look so tired?’ then I realized that it wasn’t that I was tired but that I was old.”

“It’s really important to separate yourself from whatever narratives are out there and to be whoever you are.”

Making the transition into middle age was mostly smooth for Gilbert but there were some adjustments to be made, particularly with how he was perceived by potential sex partners. Gay men over 50 tend to be handed the label of Daddy, and that comes with a certain amount of expectation as far as sexual roles are concerned. “Because I’m a slut, I noticed it in the environment of sexual situations in terms of how men react to me,” he explains. “I actually see it a lot more and it’s a lot more difficult for me to deal with in social situations. I’m a male, and I’m big so people see me as a patriarch. The Dad thing and its implications for the sexual is a whole other thing. In terms of dealing with it socially, I’m not a Dad at all. I’m a perpetual boy and I’m a girl sometimes because I dress up in drag, I’ve never been a Dad or a patriarch, I’ve always resisted that identity.”

As a writer, Gilbert is conscious of narratives both on the page and in life. As he has moved through the decades, he has become increasingly aware of the narratives that inform his life and the lives of all of us. While these can act as identifiers of who we are as individuals, Gilbert feels they can be confining at the same time. “I was in narrative therapy for many years and I’d recommend it,” he says. “One of the principles of narrative therapy is that you understand that there are many narratives in the world out there. There are many, many ways of looking at stories that are based on very external, superficial things. So if you’re a man there are narratives around men, if you’re gay, there are narratives around gay, if you’re a professor, a writer, an actor, then there are narratives around each of those things and it’s really important to separate yourself from whatever narratives are out there and to be whoever you are.”

When it comes to aging gay men, Gilbert sees a definite set of narratives and, of course, he challenges them. “I think there are a lot of narratives around old homosexuals,” he observes, pointing out how his identity tends to run in opposition of those narratives. “I might even be more visibly gay than when I was younger because it’s less appropriate in the way I dress and everything for a man my age, for an older man to have an earring, a shaved head and tattoos and to be a little bit effeminate are all indication of gayness. I feel more ‘outed’ now than I was when I was younger. I’m more of an oddball. Then all these people have the conceptions about what it means to be a gay old person. There are all these narratives that I constantly have to resist.”

“Sometimes I feel objectified as an older man. There are guys who actually ask me my age during sex.”

One of the conceptions of being an older gay man is the Daddy role. While this is not necessarily new to the world of gay men, it has come out of the closet in recent years as a symbol of virility and power, especially in a community and culture so entrenched in youth. As empowering as the Daddy moniker can be, Gilbert takes issue with how it presupposes his innate sexuality. “The biggest qualm for me is that I’m basically a bottom,” he says. “My instinct isn’t to take the power or to be the dominant person sexually so for me, I resist it. But, I’ve had all of these extremely young men coming on to me and asking me to be their Daddy. I had sex with a guy recently and all he wanted was for me to be the Daddy, which I always resisted with him. He wanted me to be a total top with him. If I ever acted as if I wasn’t a total top he wasn’t interested anymore.”

“Any older man who says, ‘the younger men aren’t interested in me’ are out of their bloody minds,” Gilbert contends citing the plethora of young men seeking an older partner or playmate. Again, this can lead to challenges in expected sexual roles. “Some of them are obsessed, it’s kind of scary,” he continues. “In fact, you feel objectified. Sometimes I feel objectified as an older man. There are guys who actually ask me my age during sex. It was almost like the way they used to ask me my weight when I was a bit heavier. They were fetishizing weight, well, these guys are fetishizing age; it’s so funny: ‘Wow, I had sex with a 60-year-old. Wow, that is so hot.’ It has more to do with sex. Sex is a great equalizer. That doesn’t mean there is no body fascism but sex is the great equalizer. There’s always somebody for whatever you are if you open your eyes and see it. It’s always nice to meet somebody of any age who understands that just because I’m an older man doesn’t mean I have to be a dominant person sexually.”

As he has matured, Gilbert has become aware of what he calls ‘the privileges of aging.’ These are the sorting out of what is important to you, what you want, need and are willing to do. These can challenge the expectations put upon gay men as perpetual sex machines. Gilbert perceives these with a little bit of humour now. “I’m trying to be less sexually compulsive,” he admits. “I’ve always had sex, not when I wanted to, but when I thought I should. Again there’s kind of a narrative thing going on that I’m supposed to be a really hot gay guy or that I want to be a really hot gay guy because a really hot gay guy has sex all the time. So what I’m trying to do is to recognize ‘do I really want to have sex now?’”

“Heteronormativity is about hard cocks, it’s about procreation, it’s about daddy and getting respect from the patriarch and being wise.”

“You begin to ask ‘what do I really want here? What’s valuable to me?’ Because I might have to make some choices, and trying to realize the fact that I have less sexual desire than I used to. Now I’m thinking, ‘do I really want to march up those steps to the bathhouse or would I rather just want to read a book?’ Gilbert says with a laugh. “On the other hand I don’t think that when I’m 85 I’ll be a non-sexual person. I’m not there yet so I really don’t know what that means. I joke about things like I’ll be hiring boys at the strip place but the problem is I’m not really attracted to the people who aren’t attracted to me. I don’t really enjoy having sex with people who aren’t attracted to me.”

While Gilbert has done some fine tuning internally as he has gotten a bit older, he has no problem looking outward to the community as a whole to see some of the challenges that lay ahead as queer people age en masse in a world where we continually strive to find out place. True to form, he raises a wary eyebrow at the idea of ‘heteronormativity’ that is permeating the queer world. “It is basically that gay men are saying gay is not different than straight, I just happen to have this sexual preference based on the same thing as a straight person. Like there’s no such thing as gay culture and there’s no difference between gay culture and straight culture,” he explains. “Heteronormativity is about hard cocks, it’s about procreation, it’s about daddy and getting respect from the patriarch and being wise. If you decide to go that routes as a gay man,” he continues, “if you decide to pressure yourself to find the same joys in life as heterosexual men do, it’s going to be tough for you.”

“As a gay man, what you should be doing is looking at what our culture offers you in terms of very specific, different ways which gay culture is different than straight culture—if you acknowledge that there is a gay culture,” Gilbert says. “That’s the biggest danger, with all this normalizing, gay men are going to think, ‘I guess I should become a patriarch and I guess I should have children and I should have a partner and I should be revered as wise and I should be old and take my Viagra and have a hard penis.’ That’s a lot of pressure to live under, as you get older.”

Sky Gilbert photo credit: Sean Howard

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