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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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5 Films for Intergenerational Couples

Depictions of intergenerational relationships and desire pop up from time to time in film.  However, by in large they are straight couples comprised of an older man and a younger woman.  Famously we saw sexual tension between Sean Connery and Katherine Zeta Jones highlighted in the action thriller Entrapment.  However films with characters or relationships that may appeal to a gay intergenerational crowd are few and far between.  This list presents, for your consideration, six films that reflect intergenerational relationships and age different desire that appeal to a gay audience.

Chris and Don:  A Love Story (2007)

Chris and Don is a charming documentary about author Christopher Isherwood and his younger partner Don Bachardy.  I’ve discussed the film at length before, so won’t do so here.  That said, I highly recommend it for its overall positive look at a real life mixed age relationship.  It shares with us the joys and challenges of their relationship while also giving us insight into the thoughts and lives of two incredibly creative men.  Find out more here.

The City of Your Final Destination (2009)

This is a story rich with characters.  At its core is a young man seeking authorization to write a biography of a deceased author, but he must first get authorization from the executors of his estate; the author’s wife, his former mistress, and his brother.  While the story centers on the young man and his quest and romances along the way, some of the most touching moments come between the author’s brother, played by Anthony Hopkins, and his younger partner.  Of all the relationships depicted in the film, theirs is refreshingly the most healthy.  Find out more here.

Gods and Monsters (1998)

Ian Mckellen stars as the classic horror director James Whale who desires an attractive young handyman played by Brendan Fraser.  The story unfolds as Whale cunningly entices the younger man to become more and more involved in his life.  However, tension arises as the older man’s sexual attraction becomes evident.  The film explores themes of desire, aging, and friendship resulting in a touching but bitter-sweet story. Find out more here.

Love and Death on Long Island (1997)

This is the second film on the list to deal with the unrequited love of an older man for a younger one.  Here John Hurt plays a reclusive English author that has a sexual awakening when he becomes enamored of a young American actor he sees in a fluff summer comedy.  Like a teen having a crush for the first time, the author seeks out all the information he can about this young man; even going to the extent of buys teen girl gossip magazines.  Ultimately he travels to America where he orchestrates “accidentally” meeting the actor.    Viewers will likely find the character both tragic and one they can sympathize with, as Hurt deftly portrays the painful awkwardness of burgeoning sexuality.  Find out more here.

Harold and Maude (1971)

This film is a classic that explores themes of self expression and discovery as well as unconventional love.  Harold is a young man who’s wealthy family pressures him to become a cultivated individual, marry well, and find a sensible calling in life.  He finds these pressures unbearable and acts out in a number of unusual ways.  However, he doesn’t really find happiness until he meets and falls in love with Maude, a woman in her 70s.  While the story isn’t explicitly a gay one, its anti-establishment and anti-convention message lends the film a queer sensibility that will leave gay audiences quite happy.  Funny and backed by an upbeat soundtrack from Cat Stevens, this is a film that can’t be passed up.  Find out more here.

The Witnesses (2007)

We’ll end our list with this French film set in Paris of the early 1980s.  The film’s central character is Manu, a young gay man.  Through him the other characters in the film are linked through a web of relationships, including two older men whom vie for Manu’s attention.  The older of the two is a successful doctor that mentors Manu and plies him with affection, but the affection is not returned.  The other man, a police officer, succeeds in obtaining Manu’s love and carries on an affair with him while in an open marriage.  Tensions rise as relations between Manu, the doctor, the policeman, the policeman’s wife, and Manu’s sister get more and more tangled.  This all changes when a new crisis appears, the specter of the emerging AIDS epidemic.  Find out more here.

Please, share with us your thoughts on these films or any others that deal with mixed age relationships.

Jealousy: The Specter of Former Lovers

When relationships are new there tends to be a lot of uncertainty and insecurity.  One of the number one things that can spur on that insecurity are the former lovers of your partner.  This can be especially true for the younger partner in interegenerational relationships and for older men who have recently come out of the closet.  When these sorts of individuals enter a relationship it can mean there is a large differential between the number of lovers each person in the relationship has had.  Compounding this challenge is the fact that gay communities can often be small meaning that former lovers are still within your partner’s social scene or network; sometimes even remaining close friends.

When John and I first got together I found this sort of thing particularly challenging.  John was very open and honest about his past dating and sexual experiences.  While this was great in the sense that we could have a trusting, well communicated relationship, at times I felt like he was constantly revealing people he had dated or slept with. I had only had one previous lover while he had many.

One individual, Oscar, was especially challenging.  Oscar is a very attractive Latino man, a bit older than me, and very successful in his career.  Shortly after I met Oscar and his partner, John revealed to me that they had dated for a while some years before.  He even recounted an evening during which he gave Oscar a blow job while he lounged in John’s whirlpool tub.  This painted an indelible mental picture that still sticks in my mind today, and at the time I wasn’t sure how to process.  It was clear John was still attracted to Oscar. I couldn’t help but feel as though I was being compared to Oscar (and others) and I worried that I could lose him to one of these other men.

As I recount this story, I wish I could give easy solutions for getting over this sort of insecurity and anxiety, but I can’t.  John and I have now been together for over three years and those fears from the first year no longer nag at the back of my mind.  How did we stick through it?  I’m not completely sure.

To a certain extent I think it simply took time.  It took time for us to become fully comfortable with one another, to fully trust one another.  I think it also took coming to a point where we accepted the fact that we might be attracted to other people, but this didn’t mean we weren’t committed to one another.  And ultimately it took good communication and a willingness to talk about our pasts, our attractions, and our love for each other.  While that early level of openness on John’s part was a bit unnerving at the time, I think it helped me grow.  It helped me come to terms with my own sexuality and eventually helped me love John for exactly who he is, complicated past and all.

What have your experiences been with your partner’s former lovers?  Have you had bad experiences with these former lovers?  Good experiences?

Previous thoughts on anxieties in intergenerational  relationships.

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?

The Joy of Seasonal Change

leavesFall has pretty much embraced the whole of the United States by now.  The leaves have turned and where I live we’ve even had our first snowfall already.  For many this may signal the dreaded march into winter, but I embrace the change of the seasons.

Sure, I like the Fall colors, the crisp air, and the upcoming holidays, but as the seasons change I also observe a secret celebration.  The change from warm weather to cool signals a change of wardrobe for everyone.  And I confess it gives me hidden pleasure.  As cool weather approaches all those ill fitting t-shirts and tired khaki shorts go back in their drawers.

Soon I’m noticing that handsome older man at the grocery store is wearing a coal grey sweater that perfectly accents his blue eyes and silver hair, and my blood boils.  Winter wardrobes bring a bit of formality back to fashion that I find really sexy.  Somehow the mass change in clothing renews my sexual attraction to men.  Even John benefits from the seasonal make-over;  I find myself staring at his ass the first few times he dons his cords and he looks exceptionally handsome in his long-sleeve oxfords.

Of course this heightened sense of attraction is temporary and cyclical.  By the end of winter I’ll be bemoaning all the baggy sweatshirts and concealing coats.  As Spring comes I’ll celebrate seeing a little skin as those older men around town start to roll up their sleeves and unbutton their top button.  But until the novelty wears off I’ll take pleasure in all you handsome older men out there as you break out the fashionable winter duds.

What do you think about the change of seasons, do you take new notice of people due to the change in wardrobe?  Is their some other secret pleasure you derive from the coming of Fall?

Top Five Anxieties When Entering an Intergenerational Relationship

anxietyFor individuals entering any type of intimate relationship there is going to be some level of anxiety.  One is always concerned if the other party is going to like them.  However, for intergenerational couples these anxieties may come in the form of age or status related concerns.  Often these anxieties can be subliminal, not fully apparent to the individuals involved in the relationship.  By addressing these anxieties consciously, though, an individual can either move beyond them and let the relationship flourish, or identify incompatibilities that are irreconcilable and decide to move on.  Today I present to you five major points of anxiety for gay intergenerational couples.  I hope they serve as a starting point for self reflection for my readership as well as a conversation starter here at GtD.

Perception – Individuals within intergenerational couples are often concerned with the perceptions of others, particularly if they are entering their first age disparate relationship.  As I discussed in many of my early posts here, there are a number of stereotypes surrounding intergenerational couples.  This can lead to a lot of anxiety for those individuals, which can effect how they approach the relationship.  I remember fearing intensely the reactions of family and friends to the news that I had entered a relationship with someone much older than myself not to mention anxieties over the way strangers may treat us as well.  Outside societal pressure can definitely have negative impacts on ones relationship and until I came to the conclusion that I had to make my own decisions, I questioned what future John and I might have.

Opportunism – Both older partners and younger partners my have concerns that they are taken advantage of.  Is the younger partner simply using the older for financial gain?  Is the older with the younger merely for sexual reasons or for status within the gay community.  While the problem of opportunism can be a legitimate concern, and I would never encourage an individual to let themselves be taken advantage of, the charge of opportunism is a serious one and can be quite hurtful if not true.  Fully examine anxieties over opportunism, before acting upon them.

Performance – This is probably an anxiety felt more acutely by older men than younger men.  Incidence of decreased sexual function increases with age.  Some older men fixate on problems they may have with sexual function leading to anxiety about how that will effect the relationship or how the younger man may react.  To a lesser extent younger men may have some anxieties in this area, worried how they may measure up to previous partners in the love making department.

Autonomy – On the other hand anxieties over autonomy are more likely to touch the younger partner.  Older partners in intergenerational relationships are often more established financially and professionally, and may have a leg up in terms of their relationships with friends and family (i.e. how long they have been out and accepted by those groups).  For the younger individual this may pose a challenge to their independence and self authorship.  How do you cultivate a healthy relationship with someone that has already established their identity when you’re still working on yours?  At the same time the older partner may fear hindering their younger partner’s development, concerned they may hold the younger man back.

Rejection – Ultimately the anxiety we all share when we enter a new relationship is the fear of rejection.  The previous anxieties feed the fear of rejection as do other concerns.  The older man may fear that he not in good enough shape.  The younger man may fear that he’s not educated or experienced enough.  And because of these or other anxieties both parties ultimately have anxiety over rejection.  Early on every small argument and disagreement my feel like grounds for rejection.  Fortunately as time goes by, if all these anxieties are confronted and dealt with, that anxiety of rejection begins to fade and a stronger relationship is left in its place.

In The Media: The Advocate’s Silverfoxes

I was excited when I received this month’s issue of The Advocate in the male. On the cover it declared “Silverfoxes: The rise of the mature man”. It also featured a picture of Anderson Cooper with little text blurbs highlighting the attractive features of older men such as gray hair, soulful eyes, and laugh lines. I normally read The Advocate from cover to cover, but this month I couldn’t resist flipping directly to the feature article “The Age of the Silverfox” by Sean Kennedy.

I naively believed that for once, when it comes to sex appeal, The Advocate would briefly set aside the cult of youth. That they might truly examine the appeal of mature men. Unfortunately that is not what Mr. Kennedy did, and I came away from the article with a very mixed impression.

The Good:

1. The article encourages men with gray hair to avoid the temptation to dye it. It makes the case that natural gray hair can express confidence and be sexy. Oh, they are so right.

2. The article also makes a unique observation about the expression of masculinity. That gray hair offers an alternative to bear culture or ultra gym bodies in the race to express manliness. (Of course we all know women gray too, but it is more acceptable for men, got to love double standards.)

3. By focusing on what some might call “prematurely gray” men the article raises awareness about failing follicles. I hope it has helped younger men stop obsessing over the possibility of going gray.

The Bad:

1. The article really only focuses on gray haired men in the under 45 crowd. Despite its pleas that getting gray hair doesn’t mean you’re past it, the article still manages to marginalize older gay men. We are treated to copy about being silver and still having toned and tanned bodies and photos of baby faced men with gray hair. However older men are excluded from the silverfox category and dismissed as the “daddy type”. (I don’t want to get into exactly what that means, but the connotations aren’t always good.)

2. Gray hair is equated to maturity and sophistication, but the article doesn’t feature any older men from whom that association presumably comes. It seems to me that Mr. Kennedy is presenting gray hair as just another fashion option for trendy young men. The article only recognizes the value of gray hair on the heads of the young. On the other hand I must give the men that were featured credit for being self confident and for bucking the status quo.

Ultimately, I had hoped the article would have explored nuances in attraction in the gay community. Perhaps I should have known better when Anderson Cooper was the cover model rather than some older man, but to my defense the cover copy was a bit misleading. My hopes were raised and then dashed by an article that, in some ways, supports stereotypes and avoids addressing the truly complicated nature of male/male attraction.

Have you read this month’s issue of The Advocate? What did you think of the article “The Age of the Silverfox”? Did anything else from this issue jump out at you?