Welcome to ¡Hola Papi!, the advice column where John Paul Brammer helps people work through their anxieties, fears, and life's queerest questions. If you need advice, send him a question at [email protected]
I'm a gay man in my early 30s. I've known I was gay since I was 8, but was raised in a very fundamentalist Christian household, and grew up hating myself and thinking I had no future. I'm still dealing with the aftershocks of this. It's only within the last five years or so that I've started having any self-esteem whatsoever, and only within the last year that I've started coming out to people (and discovering how freeing and joyous this can be), making queer friends, and actually envisioning a future for myself where I can just be who I am.
I know most queer people go through their teen years in their twenties, but even so, I still feel particularly old to be going through this all for the first time, and it's embarrassing to have no experience in terms of dating or sex at this age. I'm both eager and terrified to take the plunge; I'm torn between wanting all the firsts to be "special," and thinking that I'm too old to be that precious and that I just need to get things over with and start racking up some experience and worry later about it being meaningful. I downloaded The Apps, but don't really know what to do with them.
I know I'm far from the oldest person to ever do something like this, but that hasn't stopped me from feeling embarrassed and confused. So I guess my question is, do you have any tips or words of advice or wisdom for someone just starting to dip their toes into the world of dating, sex, and being openly gay, especially at this age?
Old New Gay
Hey there, ONG!
First of all, congratulations on coming out! That’s huge. I’m also happy to hear that you’re building self-esteem and community for yourself. That’s something a lot of people, gay or straight, don’t have going for them. We gotta celebrate. You know how rare it is for me to get good news in this inbox? Do you know the things I’ve seen? What I’ve been through as a person?
Sorry. Let’s focus on you, I guess. I think you know in your heart of hearts that you’re not too old for any of this. There’s no cutoff point for being gay or for engaging in anxiety-inducing life milestones. Those can happen at pretty much any point in time. I hope you don’t write this off as the naivete of a twenty-something, but I don’t even think early thirties meets the criteria for “help me, Papi, I’m an Old™.”
But I do understand your perspective. You have every right in the world to feel anxious about jumping into something new. When we step into an unfamiliar space, everything about us tends to take on the shape of “wrong.” Will people like me? Am I doing everything right? Are my interests too niche, my personality too dull, my goat hooves on which I stand too distracting? You have “new kid in class” syndrome. Again, that can happen anytime, and I think that’s both deeply unfair and relieving all at once, somehow.
I also think you, like me and a whole lot of other queers, have subscribed to this notion that life doesn’t truly begin until we come out of the closet. The time before, so the narrative goes, was a Dark Ages where nothing really happened and nothing was really experienced or learned because we had not been activated yet. Don’t get me wrong, coming out is an important aspect of any queer person’s life. But I think that story, the one we tend to stick to, diminishes the fullness and complexities of our lives.
This identity stuff is tricky, so I’ll use myself as an example. Before I knew what gay was and before I could put it into language as a part of me, I had something. Maybe I didn’t know it was gayness. Maybe it didn’t even have to end up being gayness. But it was something, and I’ve had that something for as long as I can remember. I grew up with it, held it, contemplated it, and in doing so it shaped my experience with the world and with myself. I eventually found a way to express it in a way that suited me, and yes, I wish it could have happened a lot sooner, but that something didn’t manifest the day I decided I was gay. It was there all along, growing with me and adapting with me.
What I mean is, we bring the entire width and breadth of our old experiences to new ones. You are new to dating. That’s OK. There are dating tips out there, but you kind of learn it by doing it. You are new to inserting yourself into gay spaces. That’s OK. They become familiar over time and I have no doubt that you’ll get to that point sooner rather than later. But you’re not new to being you. You’ve been you a while now. You’re not starting all over. You’re not arriving late to the party. You’re not starting from square one. You’re not being sent back to high school because you forgot to be a messy teen. You’re here, fully embodying the experience of being you, and sometimes people will offer you poppers in night clubs now.
Yes, there is a certain mourning to the years you could have spent being out. Trust me, as a kid who didn’t feel safe even approaching my gayness because I lived in rural Oklahoma, I’ve mourned mine. That’s fine. Give yourself that. The world owes you an apology for it. But remind yourself that we never really stop trying new things. Or at least we shouldn’t. I’d put the question of age out of my mind and embrace that knowledge instead. Hell, I haven’t even stopped coming out. As I said, our reading on who we are, on that something inside, is constantly changing as we learn more about ourselves and the world around us. It’s chaotic and it’s good and it’s life.
Welcome to the community, ONG! I’m glad you made it.
Con mucho amor,