Fiction of Desire
By Steve Weinstein
Holleran also ruefully observes literature�s decline as a primary cultural touchstone. Earlier this year, accepting an award at the annual gathering of the Publishing Triangle, an association of LGBT writers and editors, he spoke of sitting on a plane next to a gay couple watching a movie on their laptop: �Years ago, they would have been reading.� Then again, in his 30s, Holleran was already looking at the world nostalgically. White jokingly tells me, �Andrew�s a Catholic. Even at the height of the disco era, he was saying goodbye to it all.�
For many of us, his first novel, the acclaimed Dancer From the Dance, published in 1978, defined �the Golden Age of Promiscuity� (as Brad Gooch titled his own 1996 fictional homage to the �70s). Even then, the beautiful and doomed hero�s fruitless search for true love amidst rambling couplings in the canyons of Manhattan and the dunes of Fire Island sounded an elegy to the disco era. It�s a theme Holleran would return to again and again; in 1983�s Nights in Aruba, the middle-aged narrator, a �ghost, a vampire,� floats into the memory world of his childhood while tending to elderly parents. The title story of Holleran�s collection In September, the Light Changes (assembled and released in 1999) pretty much sums up his autumnal worldview: In the early-fall chill on Fire Island, no one wants to warm up an older man. It�s not just the light that�s changed.
Not all writers share Holleran�s pessimistic outlook. In his Tales of the City cycle, Armistead Maupin reveled in San Francisco as a sexual playground, and his stand-in in Michael Tolliver Lives might be older, plumper, and HIV-positive, but the sex is still great. A friend of the title character cheerfully models for an elder-gay Web site and does daddy porn, while Michael is pursued by a man �an entire adult younger� than he is.
Like Michael, Maupin has a much younger partner. And so does White, whose boyfriend is 25 years younger. White lovingly describes Internet sites like SilverDaddy.com that allow May-December hookups in a neutral space outside of a bar scene where older men are made to feel invisible. Michael Tolliver too had given up on younger men, who �bore me silly with their tales of �partying� on crystal meth or their belief in the cultural importance of Paris Hilton�s dog.� But then he finds Ben, so different from the twinks who �seemed to think they were doing me a favor.�
Flowers contrasts these sexually active �daddies� with earlier characters like Christopher Bram�s dying queen in Gods and Monsters. The theme of lusting after an unattainable young sylph has long dominated the literature of gay aging, epitomized for many by Thomas Mann�s masterpiece Death in Venice.
These writers are challenging the image of gay men as pathetic narcissists, afraid of aging, of losing sexual attraction, of becoming invisible. �We fought hard to live our lives,� Flowers says, �and we�re not going away.�
It�s a trend Flowers himself detailed in Golden Men: The Power of Gay Midlife, a guide he wrote with Harold Kooden. For Flowers, aging is a �second coming-out,� a theme especially apt for literature -- �the first place,� he says, �where these images are showing up. You�re certainly not seeing it in magazines, on Here TV, or Logo. Popular culture is very much geared to youth.�
Poet and editor David Groff, who cofounded the Publishing Triangle, sees writers like Maupin as harbingers of a larger trend among older gay men. Having gone through physical and mental decline and the depression of middle age, they�re moving into a �new springtime� and even a �renewal of desire� well into their 60s, says Groff, who believes they may have �hit their crises sooner.� He cites studies that show gay men as happier in their old age than either straight men or their younger gay brethren.