Michael Weinstein, President of AIDS Healthcare Foundation
The famous Beatles song asked, “Will you still need me when I’m 64?” No question freaks young gay men out more than the question of what will happen to them when they get old.
Gay men prize physical beauty very highly—perhaps even more so than women. Their stock and trade is their ability to attract other men. Their self-worth is disproportionately determined by who desires them. Married heterosexuals rightly or wrongly feel that they have the protection of their family. Their husband or wife and their children will still love them and take care of them once they have lost their youth.
Young gay men living in a culture of idealized, beautiful, young, toned bodies have a hard time imagining a life where they cannot trade on their looks to gain acceptance, attention and love. Not so much older men (those 40 and above) become invisible and mostly unwelcome guests at the party. Therefore, many young men are far more focused on preserving their youth than making the most of a long life in which they will spend decades not being the pretty center of attention.
We have all heard about the myth of the invincibility of youth. Young people do crazy, reckless stuff without regard to the consequences because they find it hard to imagine that they could get seriously hurt or killed. I believe that subconsciously many young gay men would rather die young than deal with being an “old queen.” There are plenty of books and movies that reinforce this stereotype. In fact, there are very few role models of happy, self-fulfilled older gay men that can mentor the younger generation.
Young gay men need to consider that if they become infected with HIV at 22, they are potentially sacrificing decades of a healthy and happy life. A small investment in keeping yourself safe will have bountiful returns for many years to come. Likewise, the community we live in can look forward to a time when HIV and other STDs do not have such a dominating influence over our lives.
The movement for gay marriage and the increasing acceptance of long-term gay relationships should help to temper the reckless party scene that has been so influential for so long. As the opportunity to find a loving partner and have the benefits that this type of commitment brings are more apparent, more balance may be brought to the environment. Unfortunately, it is already too late for a very large percentage of young gay men who are already infected.
Being young, carefree and hot only happens once in life. Beauty fades, but HIV is forever. If we begin now to imagine our lives as successful, mature and happy men in our 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond, we are far more likely to make wiser decisions. You are more likely to be loved when you’re 64 if you start looking at life more holistically right now.