Intergenerational Gay Male Love: It Doesn’t Have to be (a) Complex
He is 26 years older than me. We have been going together since June.
He is not the first person with whom I’ve been intimate who could be mistaken for my father. This is how it has always been for me. While not the rule, my sexual preference — whether by brain chemistry or cultural conditioning or both — tends toward men with silver-specked hair or none at all who’ve grown up a generation or two before me.
I know there are plenty others, past and present, just like me (and you). Yet we seem rare breed. Popular depictions of gay romance typically prioritize culturally acceptable pairings between men of equal age with statuesque bodies. Very little do we get glimpses into gay male life as it exists for “May-December” couplings in part because these relationships are often deemed predatory — even within the gay community. One is trying to suck the lifeblood of the other — be it in terms of youth or money or status or … . Then there are the homophobic cultural stigmas around pedophilia.
I didn’t come out until I was 23. It took me a long time not simply to square with my non-normative sexual identity in a heterosexist world but with the particularities of that identity in a puritan society. I have never been sexually attracted to men my own age. I have tried to force that attraction but, as with my failed attempts to date heterosexually, those efforts were met with my body’s resistance.
For years, even after I had come out and as I was dating older men, I viewed this gerontophilic predilection as a pathology — an unresolved daddy complex indicating stunted psychosexual development. I do not deny there has been some element of this complex at play in my process of sexual individuation. I am multiple generations removed from my dad who is now in his 80s. While I have grown closer with him over the last decade of his life — a tumultuous ten years of successful if harrowing battles with cancer and heart disease — it is not without a childhood bereft of his everyday presence. A Baltimore city cop who often worked the night shift, my dad was asleep while I was awake or awake while I was asleep throughout my formative years. Furthermore, I had no living grandparents growing up, save my mother’s emotionally distant father who might as well have been dead before he passed of cancer around the time I came out.
I have no doubt that my choice of older men as mates is in part a compensatory measure making up for the lack of paternal presence in my early life. This should not make me exceptional, however, as we often work out issues related to our parents and family systems in relationship with a beloved irrespective of age, gender or sexual orientation. Furthermore, my preference for older men is hardwired into my genetics. It is an inescapable aspect of my being gay and one of which I have grown proud with a lot of practice (and heartbreak).
In the course of two previous long-term relationships with Baby Boomers as well as short-term experiences with multiple others at least 10 years my senior, I have come to realize that my identity is something to celebrate. Through these pairings I have been given a profound opportunity for personal growth.
Certainly, there are challenges specific to this kind of love and loving.
There are the cultural differences that come with having grown up in separate eras and being influenced by the collective value system of our respective social locations. Life experience comes often, though not always, with age. I appreciate that the men I’ve been with have lived through the AIDS crisis — a couple of them survivors themselves — and come out the other side with insight and wisdom only they could share.
There are also physical challenges related to the signs of aging for men’s sexual health — the natural onset of impotence one of them — which can throw one’s sex life into a momentary crisis.
If you’re the self-aware type (which you likely are if you’re reading this piece), there is the psychological challenge of understanding your own projections and how they may constellate around the person you’re with — elevating him to the status of an archetype or god-idol. For the older person in the pair, this may manifest as an activation of projections around eternal youth, or around caretaking a child, that his younger partner may trigger. For the younger of the two, as noted above, he may have to deal with whether or not he is simply looking for a father rather than a mate. The projections could be flipped around too.
Yet these and other issues open space for creativity, spontaneity and fun as we grapple with what it means to love across the generational divide(s) that seemingly separate us. None of them are inherently unique to cross-generational gay relationships between men but they do come up — at least they have for me. And none of them are really problematic unless they block intimacy — which more often than not is a matter of communication. Talking through and being aware of one’s relational habits and issues in a psychotherapeutic context as well as in the relationship itself is paramount for your own and the other’s well-being.
When it comes down to it, being gay for older men is just another invitation, in the words of deceased poet Mary Oliver, to “let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”