Since 2012, I’ve lived part-time, and since 2016, full time near the center of all gay life in South Florida. Wilton Manors, according to several sources that are a few years old, ranks 2nd in the nation for the number of gay couples per 1,000 residents. Overall, the Fort Lauderdale area ranks 4th in the nation for the number of residents who identify as gay. Our area is one of the top destinations for gay Seniors looking for a retirement home.
From personal observance, I can tell you that there are thousands and thousands of older gay residents. Our circle of friends, which probably extends from the 8 or 10 we socialize the most, to about 50 or 60 that we see on a more casual basis are for the most part all over 70. At the upper end, there are a couple of guys in their mid-90’s, and still squeezing out every inch of life they can.
In this relatively small sample, and I know it extends out to the wider community, a number of these older men were in a “traditional” marriage, most had families. After their spouse died, they eventually migrated to “The Drive” and are basking in the sunlight enjoying the company of other men.
John and I have a weekly date night of sorts. Every Monday afternoon we’ll take off to one of the local gay bars on The Drive, hopefully early enough to get our favorite handicapped parking spot right out front. If someone else has beat us to it, we grumble and park across the street and walk the extra 100 feet.
We enjoy a cocktail or two, and as the clock ticks on towards 6pm the place gets more and more crowded. During the “Season”, which is beginning to wind up now, it is not unusual that by 6pm you are kind of locked into place because there are so many people in the room. I love the atmosphere, the bending down to talk into someones ear, the winding my way through the crowd to fetch another drink, waving at a friend I haven’t seen in days or a week.
John however gets more and more uncomfortable as the crowd grows. We always sit at the same high-top table, and we have a group of friends that know where to find us. Some of them hang around and chat, others just stop by for a hug and a quick hello an perhaps an exchange of some witty or flirty remark. But, by 6pm, just as the room grinds into full grid-lock, we slip out one of the side doors and head to one of the three or four restaurants that are on our rotation.
Sometimes one or more of our friends will join us, but most of them all laugh at us and call us the “early birds” because we arrive and leave much earlier than most of the crowd.
No matter which of the restaurants we visit, some on The Drive, others maybe a bit further out, we are always comfortable just being who we are.
We’ve been in this area, surrounded by our friends, visiting restaurants, bars and doctors and dentists where nearly everyone is just like us – a gay couple, or gay and looking, or very gay friendly (otherwise they’d have no business) and after a half dozen years of this, we no longer even give a second thought to the fact that there are still people in the larger world who think we are wrong just for existing.
We are about to take off on our annual visit to a relative in another state. For the next 10 days, we’ll be back in the “normal” world, where we will need to watch what we say, how we say it, or how we act or even dress. For the next 10 days, despite the fact that the media tells us that we are more accepted than ever before, we will need to remember that we are not on The Drive.
We certainly are not ashamed of who we are, but over the course of our lives we have learned that in certain circumstances, around certain family members, or when in public places, no matter how accepting society has become, it’s simply not like being at home in our gay ghetto.
We will enjoy our travel, our time with family, the new places we might see, the brief exposure to something actually resembling winter, but after the ten days, we will be itching to return to our Ghetto, where we can shift gears and get back to not worrying about what we say, a mannerism, how we dress.