Friday, September 7, 2001

Even Daddies Need Daddies: Leather and Aging

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #164, September 7, 2001)

A question I constantly ask myself is “Why can’t the rest of the world be more like the leather community?” Today’s case in point: Age, aging, and ageism.

So much of the world today is obsessed with youth. General-audience fashion and entertainment revolve around images of people (models, actors, entertainers, musicians) in their teens or twenties—and those already youthful images have been retouched to make them look even younger and more perfect. A huge cosmetics industry has been built on “reducing the appearance of aging.” People want to deny aging, because they know that as they grow older they become less desirable and more disposable. But they grow older anyway, and they find themselves lusting after someone younger. Having a young, beautiful trophy wife (or husband) on their arm, they think, will say to the world that even though they’ve gotten older they still have what it takes. (That’s what they think; actually, they often suffer from the comparison.)

Unfortunately, a large segment of the gay male community mirrors this behavior. There are certain bars, coffeehouses and other gay gathering spots where “older” is defined as over age 35. At the other end of the scale are establishments snidely referred to as “wrinkle rooms,” hangouts frequented by primarily older gay men and visited by younger men only because they either want to find a sugar daddy or laugh at the—another unkind word here—“trolls.” The trophy wife concept is mirrored in the gay male community by the concept of the “kept boy,” whose sole function in life is to live at the gym and in the tanning booth in order to present a testament to his partner’s virility.

Members of the gay male leather community (and the bear community as well) tend to think differently about the whole concept of age, whether our own or someone else’s. A person’s age tends to be just another physical attribute like hair color or shoe size. We notice a person’s age, but we tend not to value or devalue them because of it. Instead, we as a community tend to celebrate all ages. We cherish our young men (some of whom call themselves “boys”) for their beauty, their energy, and their potential. But we also cherish our elders (some of whom call themselves “daddies”) for their history, their experience, their knowledge—and their beauty, energy and potential.

Visit any leather contest, or flip through a leather-themed calendar (from The Minneapolis Eagle, International Mr. Leather, or the South of Market Bare-Chest Calendar, for instance) and you’ll see hot men of all ages. Our community’s elders are anything but disposable, as evidenced by the popular t-shirt that reads “Even Daddies Need Daddies.”

Where else would other men realistically and respectfully consider a gay man of age 55, 65, or 75 to be beautiful, attractive, desirable, and sexy? Where else could that man have an image of himself as a beautiful, attractive, desirable and sexy man—and not worry he was delusional? Where else can a man of age 55 get together with a man of age 30 and not be called a chicken hawk? Where else can an older man pursue a younger man, or a younger man pursue an older man, and not set tongues wagging?

Something about the leather and bear communities encourages people to be real. It’s okay to look our age and to act our age, whatever that age is. That quality of “real” can be very sexy. Gray hair or beards can be sexy. Balding or shaved heads can be extremely sexy. On the other hand, bad toupees, comb-overs, obvious dye jobs and other attempted deceptions aren’t generally considered sexy. Trying to look 45 when you’re 60 isn’t real, and it isn’t pretty.

Maybe, for purposes of perpetuating the species, an obsession with youth used to make sense. If I was a man who wanted to keep my genes circulating in the gene pool, I would look for a young partner at the peak of her child-bearing years. Life spans used to be much shorter, so we would want to start having children right away, so we could raise them to adulthood before we died. (And if we lived on a farm we’d want to have a lot of kids because they could help with the chores.)

Well, it’s the twenty-first century. Life spans are longer, people are having kids later in life and families are smaller. Maybe, in another couple hundred years, society won’t be so obsessed with youth because it won’t need to be.

In the meantime, I am thankful that I belong to such a non-ageist community. What a gift it is, what a luxury, to be able to enjoy men of all ages, and to know that as I get older I will continue to be able to do so.

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