Gay retirement - Mothership Gay Dating member ‘outerlimits’ reflects on his own experiences:
Is retirement for gay people a different experience, just as their earlier working life has been, as a consequence of our sexuality? Most definitely. I took early retirement in January, and have become aware that as a gay man I’m especially privileged as I try to get the most from this neglected phase of life; but why?
What I wish to explore here is how the gay retirement experience qualitatively differs from that of heterosexuals. We all need enough money to sustain us in our pursuit of happiness, and many problems we may face will be similar, so what’s different? As the coalition govenment has now made working longer and longer a possibility, even dressing it up as something desirable, we may well question the sanity of working till we drop. A gay perspective enables us to do this more readily, because we’ve learnt to be more rebellious, questioning, and imaginative, just to survive.
To my mind, in an ideal world, everyone would have the financial security to retire at the age of fifty, in order to do what they really wanted in life. By that I don’t mean living a life of unbridled hedonism, but one open to infinite possibilities. And who can be better equipped to think outside the grey boxes and reinvent ourselves?
I feel busier now than ever, though not in a physical sense. Time suddenly feels to be elongated, whereas in the working years time felt short, as if I was always rushing but getting nowhere in particular. I’ve always been a believer in achieving a dream now, rather than putting it off. Seeing my father die of coronary thrombosis when he was only fifty-one taught me that, plus seeing others expiring before retirement age, or living briefly if they reached it.
Health problems pushed me into early retirement, but I was ready to be pushed. I like to think an angel saw me in a rut and thought let’s get him out of it, let’s give him rheumatoid arthritis in the knees so he is able to give up work and do something more meaningful. Thanks angel, for allowing me this freedom.
So what might a gay person make of this freedom, as opposed to a straight retiree? At my father’s funeral, one of the hymns we sang was, O Love That Will Not Let Me Go, written by George Mattheson in 1882 at, he tells us, a time of ”the most intense mental suffering”, due to an unrequited love affair. He recorded it was written in five minutes flat:
“I had the impression of having it dictated to me by some inward voice rather than working it out myself.”
Apparently, one line in the hymn - “I trace the rainbow through the rain”, was revised by an editor, Mattheson’s original line being, ”I climb the rainbow through the rain”. I prefer the latter, as it suggests a much more strenuous sense of engagement. Being as familiar as gay men are with Dorothy’s rainbow, our desire would not merely be to discern it from a distance, but to climb it and hold it in our hands.
On a practical level I decided to take weekend stalls at Merton Abbey Mills in south London to clear boxes of books (my passion) I’d accumulated over the years, along with small antiques, not as a business but for spending-money, removing clutter and boosting my finances in one blow. The relaxation, and great conversations I have with customers, provide a hidden bonus.
I learned that St. Thomas a Beckett not only studied from the age of ten on this former monastic site, but was there the week before being murdered in Canterbury Cathedral. The area later became the centre of inspired artistic creativity from the late nineteenth century onwards. It’s become a habit with me to offer up a silent prayer on the little bridge that spans the river Wandle, as I enter and leave the site.
Another thing I sell is a range of handmade cards. I’d been making them for my own use for a considerable time, and it’s another way to be creative. It’s also interesting to hear what occasions people buy them for, and to find they’re being sent to other parts of the world.
Retirement should give us the space we need to expand our inner horizons, just as much as we may seize the opportunity to travel outwardly. It’s an opportunity to find a level of spititual contentment that the clamour of daily life may have denied us before, which may include enjoying sex more, because we ‘re relaxed over it, and have nothing to prove.
It might be thought that gay men would be plagued by loneliness on losing the social routine of paid employment. In the gay world the accent has always been on youth, fitness and physical attractiveness, so it’s important to continue to make the best of ouselves as we age. Look around, and it’s easy to find examples of guys who have let themselves go, but with confidence, pride in our appearance, and playing to our best features, it’s possible to remain attractive; and often to those much younger (without going down the sugar daddy road). The internet is nowadays invaluable for defeating loneliness , being a much cheaper and easier way to cruise than the old method of trawling bars.
However we look at it, retirement at best is a continuation and expansion of the finer elements that lay latent in our previous existence. Being gay is the secret ingredient - the old impulse to aim higher, to risk everything, to dare to be different.
By John Hartley
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