3 min

Sex in the middle ages

Queerdom goes old-school

Credit: Capital Xtra files

“No dear, I did not say Honda.” The elderly woman leaned on her cane and shuffled the labels on the pots of plants so they were easier to read. “I distinctly said hosta – the shade-loving plant.”

“Well, I heard Honda,” her companion retor-ted. She raised her hand from her walker and adjusted her hearing aid discreetly, not wanting to admit it was her that had not heard the word properly.

Jamie noticed me observing the two women. Both were in floral print dresses crisp as the so far cool summer. He laughed. ” Is that us in a decade or two?”

“A decade or two?” I replied. “How about now. Middle-aged and no longer go clubbing – these days, our sights linger on hanging baskets than those cupped in denim.”

As I stood intrigued by the two women (were they friends, sisters… lovers? I couldn’t tell), I was transported back to a Montreal bar in 1968. It was a lesbian bar. The men’s section, on the first floor, was a cubbyhole of the stairway that led up to the large second floor women’s gathering place.

I was the only man in there and it was getting lonely. Each time the door opened, the cold air blew in and I shivered, partially in nervous anticipation that another guy would enter looking for a night of delight.

To counter my boredom, I watched the parade of women, in pantsuits and shagged hair, rush past and up the stairs to join the growing throng. At one point, I heard the weight of the door slowly creak open. I turned. Two – what appeared to me then to be old – women shuffled toward the stairwell. Their mid- calf dresses were patterned. They clutched plump black purses in white-gloved hands. Little hats perched on their coiffed heads. They looked like they were dressed for church. Did these women know this was a lesbian bar? All of a naive 18, I couldn’t imagine older people as lesbians or gays, only hip young people experimenting and exploring.

This incident took place 36 years ago. In 1968, 36 years ago would have brought us back to 1932 – the ’30s, a decade beyond my comprehension except through history books. So, in the 36 years since 1968, I wonder how much change there has been in the perception of young gays and lesbians toward people of my generation and sex.

We’ve come a long way. In Canada, 1969 was the year homosexuality was decriminalized. Recent polls indicate that in the year since same-sex marriage was sanctioned in Ontario (followed by British Columbia and then Quebec) acceptance among the Canadian public has risen to 57 percent. Among young people, approval stands at 77 percent. Now that’s impressive.

What then is my own generation’s attitude toward sex, as libidos seem to go on cruise control? Medical studies suggest that the sex urge moves gradually toward empty once one is past the half-century mark. After years of use and going full throttle, the gearshift wears down and the warranty runs out. Oh dear, it seems to go along with our stamina, our eyesight and our hearing. I heard one nationally-known gay radio announcer lament one afternoon: “Alas, sex just isn’t what it used to be.”

Many years back, I had a long-distance relationship with an 80-year-old man. His sexual dexterity, while not that of an 18-year-old, was certainly memorable. It paralleled his gusto for life, his voracious curiosity and his appetite for indulging in all things sensual. Over the years, as ailments began to plague him, his interaction with the world around him grew narrower. His urge to have sex declined in a similar fashion.

Friends were perplexed about this relationship. Some labelled it a father fixation. I found this amusing – our need to categorize, to attribute things to convenient boxes. I thought gay life was about being different, thinking and acting outside the box. Undoubtedly though, our attitudes evolve and change as our bodies and lives do.

Once this man and I went to visit two friends of his, men who had been a couple for over 50 years. I sat in their living room bemused. Their conversation was a series of repeated phrases, each time said in a louder voice. At one point, the older of the two (he was 92 to the other’s 89) turned to me and said: “After all these years, I don’t know why he persists in thinking I am deaf. I love the boy dearly, but if only he would enunciate clearly the first time, we could get on with the conversation.”