Does the Beard Make the Man?

Jonathan Goldsmith - "The Most Interesting Man in the World" and champion of the sexy beard. (image from wikipedia)

If a beard does make the man, what does it make him?  For a long time now I’ve found men with facial hair very attractive.  I think part of that is that men with facial hair tend to appear more mature and it adds to their masculinity.  Don’t get me wrong, I find plenty of clean shaven men attractive, but from a simple mustache to a full beard someone with facial hair is likely to draw my attention.  However, recently I’ve become much more obsessed with full beards.  I don’t know what it is but men with full, well groomed, beards really get me going.  I even find myself giving men my own age a second look.

Beyond my own experience, it is interesting the significance beards can have on social interaction.  There is certainly a wide spread perception that men with beards are more masculine.  A few years ago a gay friend of mine grew a full one and found that people in the workplace questioned his suggestions less frequently.  He also told me that other gay men perceived that he would take a dominant sexual role more frequently than they did before he grew out his beard.  He also noted that he received fewer snide remarks from straight men regarding his sexuality.  Certainly, this is just one anecdotal account, but from observation it is pretty clear that, in general, society treats men with beards differently.

My partner John has a goatee, and for the past few months I’ve been trying to convince him to grow out the rest of his beard.  At first I was just curious how he’d look.  At times he goes a day with out shaving and I find the extra stubble cute.  But as I’ve become more obsessed with full beards I’ve become more determined to get John to grow his out.  I’ve even dreamed he came home one day with a full beard, and I “really like it”.  Am I falling prey to false stereotypes about men with beards?  Perhaps, but if adds some excitement to our life why not go for it.

How do you feel about facial hair? Do you have a beard?  If so, do you feel it affects the way others treat you?

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New Responsibilities With Older Partners

For the first time in my life, I’ve had to take complete responsibility for someone and their well being.

Recently John had some minor surgery which required general anesthetic.  I took him to the appointment, listened to all post operation care instructions, picked up meds while he was in surgery, waited through the procedure, and took him home afterward.  It

wasn’t until later that afternoon, once we were settled back in and home and John had mostly come out of the anesthesia, that I realized how much anxiety I had built up about taking this responsibility.  Sure the surgery was minor and on an out-patient basis, but I still worried that the worst could happen.

I grew up as the youngest child, I’ve never babysat, and the most responsibility I’ve probably ever taken for a life other than my own was during brief periods of pet sitting.  For the first time I had to care for someone that was utterly helpless, if only for a few hours.  For the following days I helped John care for his surgical site and watched what he did to help him maintain doctor’s orders.  For years now I’ve realized that a day would come where I’d truly have to care for John.  Being more than 40 years older than me it is almost inevitable that his physical condition will impact our quality of life; that I will need to do more for him.

In hindsight the most frightening thing me for during this period, is how unprepared I was mentally and emotionally to be a caretaker.  Leading up to the surgery the anxiety got to me and by the day of, the muscles in my back were in knots.  For the first couple days John was my clear focus.  Fortunately his recovery was swift, but I’m not sure how I would fair should a prolonged period of such intense care be needed.

However, the on the plus side, I did have this experience under rather controlled conditions.  The surgery wasn’t urgent, we were able to plan for it, and recovery only took a couple of weeks.  I don’t want John to have to rely on me, but I want to be there for him  should the need arise.  Hopefully, this experience has tempered me for a day when he will need more.  Hopefully I can rise to the occasion.

Like a Light Switch: Thoughts on Physical Attraction

Physical attraction is a funny thing.  Everyone can describe characteristics they are attracted to, but can seldom explain why.  In American culture there are “normal” characteristics that make people attractive; whether it’s ample breasts for women or six-pack abs for men.  Oh, and lets not forget that attractive people are inevitably young.  For those attracted to the norm there may not be much attention paid to why.  And, when others are attracted to something other than they norm they are seen as odd or asked to explain their attraction.  Oddly, I think few of us are truly capable of explaining why we hold the attractions we do.

I am attracted to older men, usually over fifty.  I can’t really explain why.  Why is it that a perfectly nice man in his forties usually doesn’t raise my pulse rate, but a similar person over fifty might.  I had an interesting experience recently that highlighted that threshold in attraction.  For a few years now I’ve known a friend of John’s whom we’ll call Maurice.  Maurice was one of the first of John’s friends I met when we started dating.  Though John and Maurice have been friends for a long time they don’t socialize a lot; I think in part because of Maurice’s work schedule.  So over the three year’s that I’ve known Maurice I’ve only seen or spent time with him two or three times each year.

Though I’ve always though Maurice was really nice, I never gave him a second though in terms of being attracted to him.  Recently I started going to some workshops for my job and curiously enough Maurice was participating in the same workshops.  It had been several months since I’ve seen him, but not a full year.  Still, I suddenly found myself more attracted to him than I ever had before.  The bit of chest hair peaking out of his shirt, the gray in his hair, his eyes; all of this drew my attention where it never had before.  I kept finding myself glancing at him across the room.  Last year I was not physically attracted to Maurice, less than a year later I am; it was like a light switch had gone on.

Curiously, I found out that Maurice is verging on the fifty mark.  This knowledge isn’t what fueled the attraction, I found out about his age after I recognized the attraction, but it highlight my self professed age range of interest.  I’m not the only one either that sets what are seemingly arbitrary age limits to which they are attracted.  Recently I was talking with a friend and he pretty clearly set his lower limit at forty-two.  For those that are only attracted to younger men they are often characterized as self-centered, or at the least unrealistic.  For those attracted to men over a certain age they are labeled as weird or having daddy issues.  Ultimately though, I think defining why we have the attractions we do is much more difficult when we reflect on it; whether that attraction is outside the norm or not.  And if we become more cognizant of our own attractions we might not be so quick to judge the attractions of others.

Do you have a particular upper limit or lower limit for the age of the people you seem to be attracted to?  Do you have other types of attraction that seems to be outside the norm?  Have you been able to determine the reason for that attraction?

“Chris and Don” an Intergenerational Love Story

Today’s post is the third installment of our special features series.  Today’s topic is the documentary film Chris and Don: A Love Story.  However, since we are on the topic of film, I want to congratulate Dustin Lance Black and Sean Penn on their Oscar wins for their work on Milk, best original screenplay and best actor respectively .

From the official "Chris and Don: A Love Story" site.

From the official "Chris and Don: A Love Story" site.

Chris and Don, which is being released this Tuesday on DVD, explores the long and extraordinary relationship between writer Christopher Isherwood and painter Don Bachardy.  Chris Isherwood is probably best known for his book The Berlin Stories which was one of the inspirations for the musical Cabaret.  Don Bachardy has been portrait artist working on the west coast for decades.

Formally the film is spartanly, yet beautifully realized.  The story of Chris and Don is told through snapshots, home footage, Isherwood’s diaries, and narration by Bachardy himself.  Additional narration is provided by Michael York, who played William Bradshaw in the film adaptation of Cabaret.  A few anecdotes are illustrated by actors that reenact events in the lives of Chris and Don, fortunately these are done subtly and they blend nearly seamlessly into the film as a whole.

The narrative of the film follows a primarily chronological order.  The stage is set by an examination of Isherwood’s early life in Britain, his experience in Europe, and then his move to Los Angeles.  It was there that he met Don, a man thirty years his junior.  It then explores the burgeoning of their unlikely romance.

The film then turns its focus to their relationship proper.  It explores the extraordinary aspects of their partnership such as being unabashedly out in 1950s Hollywood and the large age difference between them.  It reflects on the more common aspects of their life together.  And ultimately the film follows the relationship through Isherwood’s battle with cancer and Bachardy’s life after his partner’s passing.

While this film is a touching biography about two incredible men, it is also, refreshingly, a nuanced look at what a successful intergenerational relationship can look like.  Their story is an inspiration for those of us attracted to others of a different age, and hopefully an eye-opener to those that find our relationships questionable.  It explores the benefits and challenges confronted by men in may to december relationships.  We see Chris help Don cultivate his talents, but we also see Don struggle with developing an individual identity in the presence of his older an more established partner.  We also witness the care Chris is given by his partner during his final days, but also the loss Don must endure.  Ultimately the film is a rewarding vision of the strength and potential found in age disparate relationships, a true portrait of intergenerational love.

If you have seen Chris and Don: A Love Story, leave us a comment and share with us what you thought about the film.

Homeland: Perhaps We Can Go Back Again, Pt. 1

I have mentioned before that I thought that telling people that I was interested in older men was like coming out a second time and that the age difference between my partner and I was where I felt I would encounter the most resistance about our relationship.  I visited my parents over the holidays and really confronted the consequences of coming out to them face-to-face for the first time; thankfully without much anguish.  It is also now coming upon one year of being out to them and, in a way, that means one year of really, truly being fully out to the world.  It feels like a good time to reflect on the past year and this final, monumental step of coming out.

During November and December of 2007 I began seriously considering coming out to my parents.  For the first time in my life I was in a committed relationship, and the idea of coming out started to feel less like a lie of omission and more like a bold faced lie.  I began reading a number of books about coming out; I found Betty Fairchild and Nancy Hayward’s Now That You Know exceptionally helpful.  The idea of coming out to my parents filled me with anxiety.  We were always the sort of family that never talked about controversial topics, so sex and religion were generally off the table.  I had no concrete idea of how my parents felt about homosexuality.

When I went home for the holidays that year I intended to come out, but couldn’t bring myself to do it.  There was another sort of family crisis happening at the time that was already affecting the mood back home, and so I decided not to add to the stress of the season.  However, the visit was incredibly stressful for me;  having to make secretive phone calls to John, being unable to talk to my brother about the relationship for fear of being overheard, and the general dis-ease created by denying my relationship.

Upon returning home I decided that I needed to come out sooner rather than later.  In late January I mailed a coming out letter to my parents.  This isn’t a method I’d necessarily recommend to everyone, but I decided for my parents and I it was the best option at the time.  In my letter I discussed how I came to identify myself as gay, my personal journey with that identity, and how I now felt happy and successful in my life.  However I did not state that I was in a relationship or discuss John;  I decided I’d let them acclimate themselves to the idea that I was gay for a bit before jumping into the relationship side of it.

I waited about two weeks after mailing the letter before I contacted them.  I had hoped that they would call me first, but after giving them some time for the letter to reach them and for them to process what they read I called.  I spoke to my father first and was buoyed by his reception of my letter.  He told me that the thought that I might be gay had crossed his mind in the past and said that “people are they way they are, you can’t try to change them”.  He also related a story about someone he had gone to school with that had gotten married and had kids, but later came out and now lived with a partner.  I was elated at my father’s willingness to try to relate with me.

During the first call my mother hadn’t been at home, so I called back a couple days later.  She was clearly much more uncomfortable talking about the subject than my father was.  She asked some questions and didn’t seem too upset, but overall she seemed to want to avoid the topic.  She did ask me if I was in a relationship with the man I was living with and I admitted yes, but said I’d prefer to discuss him more later after they’d become more comfortable with the idea of me being gay.  I did convince my mother and father to check a copy of Now That You Know out of their local library.  I think it helped them innumerably as well.

Over the proceeding months I began to reveal additional information about John.  Eventually I wrote them a second letter.  Through both the letter and phone conversations I explained that I had always been attracted to older men, that John was exceptionally important to me, and that I considered him my partner.  I also sent them some photos of John.

By the time it came time for me to return home for Christmas of 2008 they were getting a pretty full picture of John.  They knew he was much older than me, though I still have yet to give a precise age, they learned he has adult children, and I often spoke to them about our life together.  However they seldom asked about John or even alluded to him in conversation unless I brought him up first.  I was anxious to see my parents face-to-face, to see if they would be more willing to discuss my homosexuality in person, and what questions they might ask about John.

Coming up:  My visit home during Christmas 2008.

An Older Man’s First Gay Experience

I little while back one of John’s oldest friends came to visit; one of his fraternity brothers.  John has been out to him for some time, but we were curious how he would take to me.  Interestingly though, for our guest the visit was almost like an a 72 hour crash course in gay life.

I should start by saying that John’s friend Howard is a fairly liberal minded person, but but he’s a straight man who’s spent his life in relatively conventional relationships.   So I don’t think he’s spent much time around gay people nor had he really considered what our lives are like.

Howard’s trip came in the late fall when the weather here starts getting a little unpredictable, so we weren’t quite sure how to keep him entertained.  We new he wanted to try some of the fine dining in the area, but other than that he was open to our suggestion.  Prior to his arrival we settled on a big fundraiser for a local HIV/AIDS charities for one evening’s entertainment.

The fundraiser is a annual event that is combination drag show and fashion show.  The show was hosted by a local personality dressed in drag, he has a fabulous sense of humor and always keeps the show lively without being too risque.  There were also several professional/semi-professional drag performers that performed several numbers.  Amidst this were two fashion shows in which volunteers from the charity organization modeled clothes from two local boutiques.

Despite looking a little like a fish out of water, Howard seemed to really enjoy the show.  He seemed most uncomfortable at the reception where he must have felt like the only straight guy in a see of gays, lesbians, and transgendered people.  It probably didn’t help that John and I were the only two people he knew in that room.

Over the course of his three day visit John and I ended up discussing a lot of gay issues with Howard.  The drag show brought up issues like transgender identity; John and I both told him stories about transgendered people we knew and their motivations for transitioning.  I also think the fundraiser was a valuable thing for Howard to see, the mixture of social conscious raising and community building aspects of the gay community that most straight people don’t get to witness.

And of course we talked about our own relationship with Howard, and he got to witness our day-to-day life first hand.  I give Howard lots of credit for being so friendly and open-minded.  Despite the fact that he knew he was opening himself up to new and possibly strange experiences, he embraced the potential in that.  He asked questions with a genuine curiosity to learn more about us.  If only more straight people would take that sort of initiative they might learn that our community is something to be valued rather than demeaned.

Relationship Skepticism: The Problem With Pals

My partner and I can be, at times, self conscious of about our relationship, but for the most part we take it all in stride. I have to admit that we have it pretty good. We live in a pretty liberal town. Most of our friends, both gay and straight, are pretty accepting of our relationship. And, though there have been a few highly publicized instances of violence against gay people in our town, we feel fairly safe. Over all we’re in a really good place.

It can be hard though when people close to us seem to have a problem with our relationship. Especially when those problems seem to go away only to pop up again later. I can understand that people might initially have trepidations about our relationship. They wonder what we have in common, whether I’m using him, whether he’s using me, etc.; all those myths I’ve discussed before.

A, now mutual, friend of ours once told me he was shocked when my partner told him that he was beginning to date a 20-something guy. But, after he really saw us together he decided we made sense, that we were a good couple. It seems that most of our friends come to that conclusion after they’ve spent some time with us together. In the abstract such an age disparate relationship seems irrational, but in reality it works great for the two of us.

It can really sting then when someone we know seems to question us being together or doesn’t give our relationship much credit. My partner recently went to a pride event. I couldn’t go because I unfortunately had to work that day, but John went and took a 40-something friend of ours that was visiting from out of town.

While at pride John ran into a friend of his we’ll call Joe. When Joe saw my partner with our guest and not me, he made some remarks as though he were probing to see if I was still around. John asked him directly if he was wondering if we were still together and he admitted that, yes that was what he was wondering. John explained that I was at work.

Later that evening John told me about the encounter, but he didn’t perceive the probing as negatively as I did. It really hurt my pride to think that others might not see our relationship as durable or that I might be so easily replaced. From the first time I met Joe he’s seemed rather skeptical of me. In some ways it is to his credit; I don’t think it is out of malice, rather he likes John and is protective of him. We don’t spend as much time with Joe as some of my partner’s other friends, but over the past couple of months we’ve seen him a few times and he seemed to be warming up to me. I think that’s why his behavior at pride really struck me.

After a little time to reflect on the situation I’ve mellowed out some. It doesn’t bug me as much as it did when John first told me, but it makes me wonder how many others may secretly think my partner and I aren’t good for each other. I’d like to believe that it doesn’t matter what others think. To a certain extent that is true, but when it comes to your friends you hope for them to be supportive and trusting. If they’re not, then where will that friendship lead? For now I’ll just have to double my resolve to win over Joe and we’ll see what happens next.