- 13 Oct 10
For the middle-aged gay man, the promiscuous clubbing circuit can be a strange place.
ulian Clary had a piece in the Guardian recently about being gay and middle aged. (http://url.ie/7ci5). I made myself read it. I am still in denial about my middle age. For those who don’t know Clary is, he once was big on TV, as a very camp, arch comedian, with a pervy dress sense. He’s still doing the regional British comedy circuit. When boiled down, his humour is classic English single entendre smut. I interviewed him for Hot Press, many moons ago, and I noted how attached he was to his ailing dog, who formed part of his double act on the cabaret circut as The Joan Collins Fan Club. Within a day of publication, Gay Byrne provocatively asked him, live on the Late Late Show, how he was going to cope after her death. He looked shocked and dismayed. Gaybo was never a sentimentalist.
The reason I mention this piece of trivia is that Clary’s perspective on relationships and gay men are still unchanged. In his article, he recommends: “on his 40th birthday every gay man should get a letter from his local dog’s home inviting him to come and choose the life companion of his choice. It would make a change from crabs”.
I went out to a big late night club last night. I realised that I’ve protected myself over the past few years from the full brunt of meat-market forces, since escaping London in 2005. Which was, in a way, the point. I’ve been lucky enough to find some wonderful friends that inhabit the warmer, more fun, less cruisy end of the Dublin gay scene. Going back to a heavy club felt like returning to a scene of a crime. But I didn’t feel self-conscious or out of place, which, come to think of it, is rather a nice thing to remark; I used to be riddled with that sort of insecurity, even when I had the capacity to juggle potential suitors, but I used to spend so much time and energy trying to hide it. It’s always your choice whether or not you want to be judged as a commodity, and if you fear being left on the shelf, then don’t put yourself on it in the first place. But when you’re young, that seems completely absurd.
Descending into the glittering warren, I found myself surrounded by skimpily-clad Brazilian cage-dancers and throngs of beautiful people, all being rather, erm, jolly and exuberant. I don’t mean to make this sound as if I am a stranger to clubs or that I checked in my Zimmer frame at the door – I love dancing, and, on average, I do it once a week – but it has been a while since I’ve felt that cruising vibe so strongly in Dublin. Everyone there was on the pull. “This is such a manky club!” my friend and I shouted at each other over the music, grinning in glee.
I wasn’t the only middle-aged guy there, by a long shot. But we were in a small minority. The thing about us oldies, however, is that even though an outside observer might think that the logical thing would be that we should huddle together and be sociable, or maybe even chat each other up, invariably three things prevent this.
One: we have already “done the biz” with each other over the years. In the greater scheme of things, this is a neutral fact – I’ve got great friends that started off with a shag. It’s not the fact of picking someone up, it’s the person you discover afterwards. But nightclubs like that bring out the worst kind of man, in my book: the casanova cruisers – the ones who flirt romantically and build your hopes up solely in order to bed you. I suspect women are far more savvy about spotting the heterosexual variety, but I can’t be doing with the gay variety, because I can’t stand unnecessary bullshit. If you want sex, for jaysus’ sake just say so, don’t bring the promise of romance into it. (Is that a tautology? Isn’t romance all about promise?) Those guys leave a trail of carnage behind them, with a sort of tsunami of bad karma tottering over their heads (I wish). They have mastered how to completely ignore their former conquests, and how to focus on the only thing they’re looking for, fresh blood: a newbie, a tourist, someone who hasn’t yet been warned off them. They’ve got long-range night-vision sensors, and manage to ensure they never, ever catch your eye once they’ve chalked you up on their bedpost. The few I recognised from my past last night looked miserable: sulky and glowering in dark corners. Sadly, there isn’t a way of avoiding them on the gay scene, I’ve found. There is, of course, the simple rule of not “putting out” until after a few dates, until you’re sure someone’s serious about you. If you like it/you gotta put a ring on it. But hey, only women operate like that, only women care enough about protecting their feelings. If a gay guy tries that line, he’s got “issues”, he’s precious, he’s high maintenance. Gay men have no time for that malarkey.
Two: our advanced years mean we probably have seen each other around the scene, over the decades, even just as background extras in our personal dramas. This is hardly an aphrodisiac – if there was a spark, then why didn’t we say hello to each other before? The gold standard of club pickup is when it starts with an electrifying stare across a crowded room, that curiously freezing/sizzling locking of a gaze that is both challenge and come-on. Subtle conversation is out, when you have to shout. Getyourcoatlove.com.
The third reason middle-aged guys don’t hang out together at such a club is that, in my experience, practically all of them are trying to pick up someone younger. We keep our distance from each other, almost as if age is contagious. It’s a sexual arena, not a social one, and the rules are simple. They’re out to score, trying to look like a solitary silver-fox daddy, so don’t cramp their style.
And am I on the pull? Well, I’ve learned, for my sanity, to just not-think about it. Of course, I keep my eyes open, but I’ve not been noticed for years in that way in a gay club, I don’t blip the radar any more, and I’ve got used to it. When that started to happen, about ten or twelve years ago, I found it incredibly painful.
Loss of pulling power is no joke, when you believe that being able to pull can stop you feeling lonely. Now I realise, in some odd way, that it really doesn’t matter. Loneliness has nothing to do with whether or not you can score out at night. For someone young, however, that concept makes no sense. The giddiness of being on the dancefloor surrounded by crowds of potential lovers – throwing glances and curves and shapes and smiles, wondering who to encourage, who to play, who to ignore – that’s what it’s all about.
Now, I just observe it all, as my younger friends are still enjoying all the fun of the fair. It’s not vicarious or sleazy – I really couldn’t be bothered. One of the wonderful things about being middle aged is you realize how lovers come and go, friends stay. And, over time, friends are far, far more fun. Last night, I had a ball – this is largely due to the fact that I get so much pleasure from dancing that I can happily spend hours on the floor if the DJ is on a roll. And yes, it’s a shame that everyone had eyes for everyone else but me, but fuck ‘em. Life’s too short. It really is as simple as that.