I REMEMBER coming to Sydney after splitting up from a long-term relationship – dumped, actually – thinking: “That’s it, I’m done at 37.”

I have often heard 30-year-olds saying 30 is 60 in gay years. I know men who do not hold birthdays after reaching 40 and gays who will never tell you how old they are. There is generally a fear about aging in the gay community and it can affect the way we live our present lives by not accepting the benefits of becoming more mature.

Should you go to Mardi Gras when you are 70? Absolutely. Should you go to a nightclub every week when over 50? Probably not.

So how do we age gracefully, without giving up expressing our gayness socially, physically and sexually?

When we see the young gays looking fit, slim, and expressing vitality it can be easy to be nostalgic for those days. Being young has its own problems though, feeling awkward about looks, worrying about fitting in and an acne spot means social disaster. A lot of insecurity comes with youth, with the lack of internal confidence replaced by a fake-it-or-make-it attitude. Nothing wrong with that but do we older gays want to go back to that? I don’t think so.

The gay scene as we all know is full of a body beautiful-culture and it is interesting to see where this culture came from. With the advent of the Village People in the 80s we witnessed masculine portrayals of gay men and we took to the gym to beef up. Straight men then saw gays as not fitting the stereotype of tight pant-wearing, effeminate, poodle-loving wimps as the media portrayed them. Straight men then decided to copy the gays so as not to be left behind in the attraction stakes. And here we are today with a gay friend in New York saying – no guns = no sex in NY.

OMG where does that leave a lot of us – are you feeling anxious?

As we age we witness weight gain and body shape maturity as our metabolism slows while the young ones eat chips and burgers with gay abandonment. Of course we can hit the gym hard, run, swim, diet but it in the end it can become an obsession, exhausting and very boring. Mind you, keeping fit at a reasonable level, is a really great idea. Aiming to be best for our age is an admirable goal but striving constantly to turn back the passage of time means missing out on experiencing nature’s plan.

What do other gays think about getting older?

Geoff is a lawyer living in Glebe: “I just had my 50th birthday and I no longer care what others think. If I want to wear double denim I will and if I am tired I will sit down to pee.”

Glen is 46 and lives in Surry Hills: “I no longer feel comfortable in some gay venues if the crowd is much younger. I thought why do this anymore so now I organize more dinner parties with friends.”

Stephen, 37, accountant living in Neutral Bay: “I was brought up in country so my partner and I visit my family often. Society has changed and gays mix more these days. We are all getting older together which is comforting.”

Us gays living in the big cities are constantly reminded to keep young, fit and health conscious. Gyms have sprung up everywhere to answer this call. But has the sell to keep young and be muscled gone too far where gay men feel uncomfortable if they naturally age and do not join in with this body obsessed culture?

I have counselled 50 year old gay couples who come to see me worried about their failing relationship only to find their lives consists only of work, gym and dance parties.

The latter causes jealousy and feelings of disconnection with the constant sexual flirtations of the other. These men are paralyzed by limiting addictive behaviours.

One way to keep mentally fit as we age is to find more identities other than the gym, work and drinking. Tennis anyone? Country weekends away with partners and friends, learning a language, further education, painting classes, meditation, creative writing are but some activities to discover more identities within us.

Feeling more comfortable in our own skins, accepting our age and finding life activities appropriate to it will bring a greater sense of happiness. Acceptance is home.

Nature has provided us men, gay or straight with various transitional periods in life:  childhood – puberty- adolescence- young man- middle aged man- mature man- senior man. It would be a great shame to miss out on experiencing life to the fullest when within these life passages.

Hankering for youth and being obsessed about body culture could deprive us of a great deal at our one shot in life.

Rob, 76 from Potts Point in a 40 year old relationship said: “I have seem many changes in my gay life but honestly you see the world more clearly as you age. I love my life more and more with my partner and my gay and straight friends. Getting older has been just fine for me.”

* Names were changed to protect confidentiality but all very willing to help.

Gerry North is a couple’s counsellor and treats depression, anxiety, sexual identity issues and addictions. Email: gerrynorthcounsellor@gmail.com. www.gaycounselling.vpweb.com.au

Related: Sean Mulcahy on why same-sex couples are not all just like straight couples

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