This time it’s a “two-fer,” as I answer two of Bernie’s questions from his series on black gay men at mid-life, concerning the end of our youth and the “second act” of life. For myself, I think I have to answer them together; just to take myself on the journey from one answer to the other.
The first question is a hard one for me to answer. Not because I don’t know the answer, but because it means going back in my mind to a time and place I haven’t revisited in a long time.
How did you envision your life beyond the age of 30? Did you have any regular interaction with gay people who were older than you?
How did I envision my life after 30? I didn’t. Because I didn’t plan to still be here at 30.
When I was younger, before I went to college, I couldn’t envision my life at the age of 30. I knew, or assumed that it would be different than the lives of the people I grew up with. I remember saying to my mom once that I didn’t think I’d ever marry or have children. She got upset about it, but by then I knew I was gay, and I knew at the time that those things weren’t possible if you were gay. So, I assumed that it would be something else, but what i didn’t know.
I didn’t have any role models or examples of what to expect. I had no contact with older gay men until I was in college, and then only with a few friends. There was one, a black gay man, whom I saw as something of a role model. He was out, apparently happy, and successful in his career. So, I saw in him what was possible for me.
But by the time I was 25, though, I didn’t want to think about my life at the age of 30. I’d graduated from college by then, but was still stuck in town, working on campus at a job I hated, with a boss who hated me. Most of my friends, or so it seemed, had moved on to graduate school, marriage and careers. I had graduated after six years, going part-time for most of it because, even though I didn’t know it at the time, I was dealing with untreated ADD
I was also dealing with depression and anxiety (which goes hand in hand with untreated ADD). By that time, I was particularly anxious about being alone. So, I mostly swung between panic and depression for a year or more. I dreaded going to work, and I dreaded coming home because I knew that I’d probably be alone since my roommate spent half the time at his boyfriend’s house.
At the beginning of 1994, I decided that if nothing got better after that year, I wasn’t going to be around for 1995. I decided how and where I would do it, and even bought some of the materials I’d need. But I also decided that I needed to make some sort of effort to make things better. So Is started looking for a job in Atlanta, and ended up getting the job offer that brought me to D.C.
What were some of the best and worst aspects of being young and gay?
I think the worst aspect for me was having to find my own way, without much in the way of support, community, or role models. At least at first. I had to learn how take care of myself emotionally, from a young age, because there wasn’t much support when I was coming out. I had to to be pretty resourceful in terms of getting the information I needed just to know what my feelings actually meant. And then I had to learn how to cope with hostility from my peers.
I spent most of that time waiting to get away from home, to go to college somewhere that had at least some kind of gay community. In fact, I researched schools and sought out universities that had active gay student groups. I accomplished that and then some. So, I guess the best and worst aspect of being young and gay for me were the same. I didn’t have a roadmap or role models So I had to find my own way and I had to resourceful. As a result, though,I know that I can take care of myself, and get through a lot more than I thought I could.
How has the vision you had for your life beyond age 30 matched your reality?
Actually, given the above, I’d have to say my life beyond 30 has surpassed anything I envisioned, because on one hand I didn’t envision living beyond 30, and on the other hand I didn’t envision success or happiness in my 30s. My 20s had been mostly about surviving, keeping my head above water, and keeping one step ahead of disaster. I’m still trying to sort out what to think of those years, and what worth they had beyond carrying me to where I am now. They still seem to me to have been nothing but constant, pointless struggle. All I can say about them is that I got through them, and most of the time was too busy to think about what lie beyond.
I didn’t have any concept of the life I have now, from my relationship with my partner, to being a parent, and the work I’m doing now. For the first time in my life I feel successful; beyond my expectations, actually. In just about every way, my 30s have been about finding my path, finding my purpose, and building the life I’ve wanted. It’s definitely surpassed anything I envisioned.
Talk about the quantity and quality of your platonic and sexual relationships now. How has that changed, if at all?
Now? I’m married, quite happily. Sex? Absolutely wonderful. No complaints at all. In fact, lately, we’re like newlyweds.
As for platonic relationships, most of my “real-time” friendships these days are with other parents, some gay and lesbian, but mostly heterosexual. It’s one of the biggest changes in my life that I spend more time around straight people these days than I do around gay people.