Summer and swimsuit season are quickly approaching, and with it a special focus on fitness. This is a little piece that I contributed to HIM-Magazine last year and am republishing on my own Blog. I hope you enjoy.
Note: much of the following material is excerpted from a work in progress that I hope to eventually publish as a book.
It began with the working title of "Midlife Manifesto" which was appropriate at its inception, but as time passes I'm sure I'll want to rethink that. Unfortunately, I believe "Memories of Things Past" has already been used.
I tend to approach health and fitness with the same rather relaxed attitude of avoidance and denial with which I approach all topics that I prefer to avoid and deny. Of course, I generally attempt to defend my stance on such issues by rushing to assure people that my attitude and opinions are actually based in pragmatism and practicality, lest they accuse me of just being a cynical and jaded old queen.
Fitness, exercise, diet, much like monogamy, are all quite admirable pursuits in theory, but in practice require a level of commitment that I'm just not ready for. A man reaches a certain stage in life where he knows himself and in so doing, he realizes that it's counterproductive to take on challenges which are apt to fail due to a lack of serious dedication, it's detrimental to one's self-esteem.
See, being a man of mid-century vintage, having rolled off the assembly line in 1957, I grew up with a much different aesthetic than we're presented with today. Expectations were totally different, a man in his mid-fifties wore a proper hat, either a homburg or fedora, at all times, and he certainly gave no thought to what he might wear to a Sunday afternoon beer bust or Gay Days at an amusement park.
I personally came of age in the epoch of Disco and that was an era when a gay man's physical goals were to be slim, with a classic V-shaped torso, a flat stomach and a tan line. My main concern was that my shoulders were wider than my hips and I could squeeze into a pair of "designer" jeans with a 29" waist.
Now, it seems that men have taken up the gauntlet of guilt that women have fought hard for decades to cast aside with regards to diet and body image. We're confronted, or rather assaulted with images of incredibly gorgeous men with rock hard bodies, nearly devoid of fat, six-pack abs, bulging biceps and shoulders that would make Atlas shrug in resignation and envy.
Don't get me wrong it's lovely to look at and it's certainly an admirable pursuit, but as man in his mid-fifties, I have to be somewhat realistic and careful to not judge myself or my progress in comparison with a model that is half my age and obviously did not spend the first couple of decades of his adulthood dancing the night away in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, existing on a diet of beer, booze, and Benson & Hedges. Not to mention often having kindly neighbors hailing from South American countries where snow seemed to be the prevailing export, despite their equatorial climate. Hell, for a good part of my life, menthol cigarettes were my idea of a green leafy vegetable.
Really, all joking aside, for the most part I took fairly good care of myself, worked out and jogged somewhat regularly and fortunately had a naturally high metabolism so weight was never really an issue.
Even though it was less than twenty years ago, gay culture in south Florida was significantly different than it is now. It was absolutely youth obsessed. A gay man over the age of 35 living on South Beach was treated with a mixture of sexual disdain combined with a bit of patriarchal reverence. You were treated almost as though you were a historical relic that was having a near death experience.
As I was nearing the age of forty, I felt it was time for a bit of mid-life adventure, so I decided to relocate to San Francisco where I could start a new chapter. I also figured it that my old friend had already endured enough of my emotional meltdowns and that expecting them to see me through a midlife crisis was asking a bit too much.
To be honest, I arrived in San Francisco a few months shy of my 40th birthday, I really had no specific expectations other than a change of scenery, I didn't come here looking for fame, fortune and least of all not for love. I'd had a rough couple of years and was actually looking forward to getting on with things. I really saw turning forty as being some sort of a lark, figuring the years between forty and fifty would be somehow a decade of reprieve, sort of like a holding pattern between pimples and prostate trouble. You know, your face has finally cleared up, now you're just biding your time until your ass falls off. I'm happy to confirm that my fears were unfounded though not completely, my face did at last clear up, but my ass continues to defy gravity.
The age of fifty came and went, and with those years I also lost many of my former fears and inhibitions, but more importantly, I stopped putting limitations on myself, I stopped comparing myself to others, and I liberated myself from this self-imposed prison of attempting to look like the man I thought others would find attractive.
I quit worrying about my weight, stopped obsessing over having a flat stomach and attempting to attain a six-pack. In fact, I met and fell in love with a man that loves to cook and eat as much as I do and who actually allowed me to see that there were plenty of men enjoying joyful and productive lives, despite the fact their waist size had exceeded 30 inches.
Fortunately, I had resigned myself to the fact that I was going bald by the time I was in my early thirties, in fact shaving my head at the age of 34 was probably one of the most liberating things I ever did. But, never did I think I would come to accept that it was my natural tendency to be hairy from the neck down. In fact, I had spent so many years clipping, shaving and waxing, that I actually had no clue just how hairy I actually was.
Over the last eight years I have put on a considerable amount of weight, and as it turns out, I'm so hairy that I've almost become a tourist attraction of sorts. A lot of horny men visit San Francisco and I've developed an outreach program with the mission of sending a certain share of them on their way with more than a trip across the bridge, so to speak.
Physically, I am the absolute antithesis of anything that I ever set out or imagined I would be, but the real shocker is that I have never in my life been happier, healthier or felt better about myself.
Through no real effort of my own, outside of getting older and not skipping meals, I've come to be referred to as a daddy or a bear. I find this all quite amusing as I personally see myself as a product of evolutionary cofactors. Around the age of 50, I experienced this shift where genetics, gravity, age and an absolutely deplorable diet merged together on the time space continuum to create this physical image that is actually viewed as an object of desire in this strange place on earth called San Francisco.
I haven't a clue what the next shift and convergence may result in, but I am eternally grateful for enjoying the fuck out of this one.
Do I go to the gym? Of course I do. I have memberships at three different gyms that have multiple locations locally and nationally. I go to one or two of them several times a week.
Now, whether or not I work out is a whole different story and largely dependent on how you define a workout.
I certainly don't go in there and do anything that is undignified or crazy, where I'm apt to make a fool of myself or break a hip. I'm the stereotypical old white man, so I avoid any type of group activity that involves moving in unison to rhythmic music, I've no doubt that Zumba, much like Reggae, Spandex and skinny jeans are part of a conspiracy, specifically designed to make men like me look gullible and stoopid.
Nor do I go in there and attempt to do squats while holding dumbbells and at the same time precariously balancing my aging carcass on half of an inflated ball. I've got a lot of money invested in these crowns and veneers. OK, I'm sure it’s wise to put some effort into maintaining a strong core, but at some point I can't help but feel that it must be akin to algebra in the sense that I'm not real likely to ever actually use it. After failing basic algebra twice in high school, I was advised by a guidance counselor that I probably didn't have much of a future to look forward to. Yet here I am, forty year later, having managed to keep a roof over my head and marry a man that sees to it that I have absolutely anything I could possibly desire.
As I stated, it's pointless to live your life by comparison with others, so let me not be petty and compare my ostentatious lack of achievement with the splendid squalor of that counselor's successful retirement.
Like any gym bunny, I have a workout routine. Monday is back and shoulders, Tuesday is manboobs, Wednesday is legs… and so on, I split it up. Occasionally I work my ab, but I do my best to prevent it from achieving mitosis, splitting and dividing like an amoeba. Having one ab is responsibility enough, I can't imagine what it must be like to be faced with maintaining an entire six-pack.
I make it a point to vary my routines and alternate between free weights and machines, trying not to bogart any particular bench or apparatus with more than two conversations with fellow members. Of course I don't wear anything that would draw undue attention to myself, no spandex singlets, short shorts or attire that may be mistaken for lingerie ordered from the International Male catalog. I keep it very simple, some cutoff sweats or a pair of cargo shorts, Chuck Taylors, a t-shirt or wife beater, nothing flashy.
The whole point is to be visible without being ostentatious and if you can achieve something that passes for the glow of perspiration, it helps to justify the inordinate amount of time that you spend in the shower, soaping your private parts while pretending not to leer at others that are soaping their private parts as they pretend not to leer at you, or whoever happens to enter with the largest private parts.
After all, in the real world of the locker room, a big dick often trumps impressive arms or rock hard abs.
Of course, I occasionally just go in and skip the workout all together and concentrate on doing a few super-sets of shower and sauna. Five minutes of each repeated three of four times is generally enough to impressively pump and flex my troll muscles.
Note: If your gym offers both steam and sauna, I personally would advise going for the steam. The steam provides a veil of mystique, softening those fine lines, enlarged pores and spider veins. Even extreme love handles take on a rather ethereal Rubenesque air when emerging from the vapors.
One of greatest lessons that I’ve learned regarding empowerment is to cease being so damned judgmental, particularly towards others. I’ve learned that when I have more realistic expectations of my fellow man, it allows me to have more realistic expectations of myself.
This is not about lowering standards, it’s about acceptance of reality, about love of self and life.
Go to the gym, eat a healthy diet, but more importantly, exercise your attitude of acceptance, enrich your spirit, worry less about the loss of belly fat and focus more on forsaking the need to compare, to be judgmental. Pay someone a compliment, offer an encouraging word, take a moment to notice and validate a friend or stranger’s attempt to make improvements in their life. Walk up to a total stranger that you see regularly at the gym and acknowledge them, let them know that their efforts are paying off.
There have been different stages regarding the manner in which I judge my body. When I was younger I felt that I was a success if my shoulders were wider than my hips and I had a flat stomach. Then gravity began to visit and I figured that if my shoulders were wider than my hips and I could look down and see my dick, I was a success.
Now it’s quite simple, I just figure if you can see my dick, I’m way ahead of the game.