50 years. 50 queers.

About Queer50

50 years. 50 queers.

Queer50 explores the attitudes and ideas about hitting the milestone of 50 and being queer. It also seeks inspiration from those who are 50, are approaching 50 and who have surpassed 50. What is the queer perspective of 50? Fifty individuals offer fifty unique perspectives on 50.

Andrew Vail  – Author of Queer50

andrewv100x100Hi there! My name is Andrew Vail. On August 23, 2013, I will turn 50. It seems so far away yet so near I can almost feel the heat off of the candles that will be blazing on my cake.

I’m surprised I’m almost there. I’m almost as surprised that I lived this long. As a gay man, I grew up fearing the prospect of 50. I could never imagine myself being so old. Of course, that is not unique to gay people. Most folks have a difficult time imaging themselves at 50. It’s the halfway point of our lives (at least in the West). It marks the end of any vestiges of our youth. We are adults now. No way out of it. But how will 50 fit gay men? Will it be baggy in the ass or tight in the crotch?

We’ve watched the revolution women in our society have gone through as they’ve grappled with the notion of aging in a youth-obsessed culture. Not so long ago, a woman at 40 was considered over-the-hill and practically dried up. If she was single and over forty, well, leave her to heaven.

Over the rainbow…Not over the hill.

In the ensuing decades, women have embraced and re-engineered the idea of what turning 40, 50 and even 60 means societally, spiritually, sexually and professionally. Women have embraced and realized the power that comes with maturity. It doesn’t mean sitting quietly in the corner, demurring to the young chickens that are coming up to take their place. Indeed, women have turned 50 on its ear and have become a force to be reckoned with.

Gay men can take a lesson from our aging sisters.

While I—like most people under 25—never imagined turning 50, I discovered an added wrinkle in the visage of the big 5-OH. AIDS. In the early 1980s AIDS first reared its horrifying head on the world. Back in those days it was called GRID, or Gay Cancer, or any number of things as medical science scrambled to find out what was killing gay men.

As AIDS spread through the gay communities of North America and Europe, and young gay men fell by the thousands, the idea of reaching 50 suddenly seemed to become a landmark not many of us would see. As the disease—and hysteria—spread, our options for aging seemed to diminish exponentially. As the virus spread like a black cloak across the pink landscape, the idea wasn’t “if I get it”, but rather, “when I get it”.

Thirty years later and we seem to have somewhat of a handle on the disease and fewer gay men are dying of AIDS but rather living with it; though not enviably. Suddenly, the idea of growing old became a possibility once more. Gay men were staring down the barrel of middle age—and many of us were a little shocked by what we were seeing.

What were we if we weren’t the forever-young party boys? What did we do if we weren’t undulating in the hazy glory of nightclubs? How will we perceive ourselves once our sculpted gym bodies gave way to the physical humility of age? How do we really feel about getting older? Die young, stay pretty wasn’t an attractive option; but neither was watching the commodity we trade in slowly vanish.

Time to reinvent the concept and reality of gay.

Certainly, this is not the first time ‘gay’ was put in front of the full-length mirror and given a critical eye. Over the course of the past 50 years, the idea and ideology of gay has gone through many makeovers. From an in-the-closet, under-the-radar aberration to a social justice movement; from political movement to cultural zeitgeist, the notion of gay has been in flux for decades. And it continues to evolve as we age and discover new challenges and opportunities and move through time with it.

So, what of the state of gay today? What does gay look like at 50? What does gay look like for the 50 year-old? Are we ready for 50 en masse? Will gay boomers boom or bust? How will our history shape our future? Who are the ones who helped get us here? Who are the ones to watch? What will our legacy be as the first openly gay generation of seniors? Are we still afraid of 50? Are we ready to retire or are we on the cusp of another cultural revolution? I’m leaning toward the latter.