Is gay culture shifting away from its obsession with youth?

I was sitting at JR.’s having a beer once, waiting for a friend to arrive. I turned and caught the eye of the young man sitting next to me. I estimated he was about 26. “Hey,” I said with a nod. He gave me the “gay sigh” — you know it, the “not this again” force of air that says “Calm down!”

“Sorry, not into daddies,” he said.

Jones, Arnold WayneI was 32.

In gay culture, as we mostly know, over 30 is “old.” And gays are all about young’uns, right?

Well, sort of.

True, a lot of 20somethings like to date other 20somethings. Some are OK with 10 years up … max. And of course, there have always been chasers — chubby-, daddy-, bear-, leather- or other. At 32, I felt too young to be a daddy. I also didn’t take too much offense (I had a boyfriend) because I knew, in four years tops, this kid was gonna be 30 and someone was gonna give him the gay sigh.

Karma’s a bitch, y’all.

What was strange was, at 32 — and 35, and 39 — I was not getting many complimentary stares (I was also not on the market, and Grindr was still years away). Then, at 44 — single and looking to mingle — I started getting hit on. There were older guys (50s and 60s) who would hit on me of course, but far and away the most propositions came from men in their 20s and early 30s.

I was officially a daddy. And I liked it.

I created a word for myself — a “cougay” — to reflect my dating of younger men. But the truth was, I was not one of the youth-obsessed gays. I wasn’t seeking them out, they were seeking me. Some were close to my age (late 30s/early 40s); none I was seriously interested in happened to be older. And they kept coming at me.

I don’t know why that is. I was always very clear: I am not your sugar-daddy; I am, at best, a Splenda-daddy. I won’t pay your rent, but you can be my plus-one to opening night of the symphony, though you have to rent your own tux.

I was happy to share, but not looking to support another human being. There was a reason I didn’t have kids, and I didn’t want one now, especially one with expensive tastes. But if you wanna call me daddy (or, just as often, papi)? Knock yourself out.

I don’t know if I was too young at 32 to be considered a “real” daddy (maybe that twink at JR.’s was worried I didn’t look enough older than him that his friends would think he was just dating older), and I have no idea whether every 40-something goes through this. I somehow don’t think so. In any event, I have long enjoyed my cougay status. (When people ask me, “What do you talk about with a 22-year-old?” I usually say … well, I won’t say what I say, except that I know plenty of 50-year-olds who can’t carry on a conversation, either.)

New York magazine just wrote about this phenomenon
, so I know it’s not just me, but it does raise the issue: What makes a daddy? And why are you attracted to them or not? I’m not specifically looking for a man in his late 40s (an age I am now) but I wouldn’t say no to a date with such a man if we hit it off. (I’ve also routinely dated outside my race, but interestingly enough, virtually no one will ask, “What do you have in common with a black guy?” Funny how age is a fair topic of “appropriate” dating and not race.)

I think I look fairly young for my age (not too many crows feet, and I’m energetic and active), but I know I will not be mistaken for a 32-year-old anytime soon … though 32 didn’t do much for me at the time.

I look older, and that’s OK, especially since I have an enviable head of hair. They say 50 is the new 40 (sometimes even the new 30!), which I can get behind. I’ve been called daddy in bed a lot, and it never bugs me; it doesn’t sound “incestuous” as some people have suggested. It’s something of a fantasy role, and if I fit it well, and it fits me? I’m comfortable with that. I wonder why so many folks aren’t?

Arnold Wayne Jones is the executive editor of Dallas Voice.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 9, 2015.