These days Surry Hills neighbours Frank and John rely on each other for company and support. Both are gay men in their early 70s, but both feel increasingly excluded from a gay scene they helped to create.
They are typical of the focus group of a new national survey being conducted into the concerns of gay men over 60. The survey is a work in progress but as researcher Charles Lo explains, results are already surprising.
The majority of urban respondents feel more discrimination on the scene than off it, Lo says.
Yes, there are still occasional problems from neighbours on the grounds of sexuality but many more feel hostility because of their age from younger gay men.
Lo’s survey targets men who were adults before sexual liberation and who have experienced different kinds of discrimination. But as Frank explains, nothing is more hurtful than that coming from other gay men.
John and I have lost many dear friends to ill health or to retirement villages on the Gold Coast. But we’ve lived here for 50 years and don’t want to move, Frank says.
We’re both active and like to go for a drink on Oxford St now and then, but these days not many guys seem pleased to see us.
John agrees: Discrimination takes many forms.
A disparaging look, comments about dirty old men, even just being blanked hurts. These guys don’t know what we went through to make their lives easier.
None of this surprises Steve Ostrow, leader of the Mature Aged Gay Men Project (MAG), a social and support group for older gay men.
The big issue is not the general population, Ostrow says.
We’ve been through that when homosexuality was illegal. When two men dancing together was illegal. What we have today is older gay men being a marginalised group within a minority.
Frank and John recall a time of secret parties and underground bars when younger guys looked to more experienced men for advice and support unavailable elsewhere. As young men discovering their sexuality in 1950s Sydney they were in awe of older guys who maintained gay relationships and social networks despite the legal risks.
Ostrow fears something fundamental has been lost from the community -“ strangely, in times when so much else has been gained.
We’ve lost our tribal community in which older men were venerated for their knowledge and experience, he says.
Society is now about image, and gay society most of all.
On a cold Friday evening Frank and John receive a warmer than usual welcome on Oxford Street. The conversation about how the scene has changed is animated and many take offence at the suggestion they would discriminate on the grounds of age.
Evan, 24, fears that a lack of sexual preference for older guys can be misinterpreted as ageism.
His boyfriend David, 28, goes further: So much of the scene is about hooking up that we all miss a lot of great opportunities to talk. Older guys are not the only ones to feel discriminated against. If you’re not someone’s type, it’s unlikely you’ll talk.
But for every group to share a beer and a smile while complaining about the rain, another stays clear of our table. Frank picks up on disparaging glances but in general he’s had a great night.
A lot of guys are friendly but there’s a big element who wishes we would disappear, he says.
It’s crazy, really. Some of these guys don’t realise that before long they’ll be us. If they’re lucky.