On a dry, sunny day in Cathedral City, California, four men in their 60’s and 70’s practice choreographing Lizo’s new song. As “About Dam Time” echoes in the half-speed echoes in the poolside courtyard, it becomes clear that learning these dance moves may take longer than expected. The gestures of the hands above the head lift some of the boys upwards, while the transition from two fingers in the air to a less confrontational gesture demands that they be lifted up. Again. Over and over As long as they don’t nail it, only these four old homosexuals can.
The four have built a 7-million-strong phantom on TikTok, collaborating on Paula Abdul’s favorite videos and counting celebrities like Rihanna among their followers. To read the comments in their posts is to meet the crowd of fans who are happy to see Michael “Mick” Peterson, Robert Reeves, Bill Lyons and Jesse Martin left behind. Self-proclaimed older homosexuals have developed a sense of pride that is rarely centered on front and youth-centered floats or parades.
Whether they’re recreating a iconic Christmas “Mean Girls” dance, telling viewers stories of their past, pushing back against strict gender norms or, yes, dancing to Lizo’s last bop, older lesbians show their fans what it is. It means to grow old beautifully in your own way.
Before these four became social media superstars, they were living a life they never knew existed. “I moved to the desert and I’m going to die in a year or two,” Robert tells me as everyone leaves, leaving Lizzo behind. “Because in San Francisco [in the late 1980s] I found out I was HIV positive. And my whole circle of friends was dead. … But when I come here, there is something about the desert that gives you life. The desert type revived me and I just started doing my art. And I’m not dead. “
“I never thought I would live to be 40,” he recalls. “I thought I was living so fast that I was worried it would catch on to me soon.” It didn’t happen; The financial crisis of 2008 hit him hard. He lost his home and moved to a senior residence a few blocks from Robert’s house. Mick and Robert are roommates; Jesse lives on the side of the road.
Older homosexuals began as words of love and inner jokes. Ryan James Yezak, the group’s social media manager (now her husband, John Bates, once rented a room from Robert) helped transform the nickname into a fully-fledged event. Older gays started online as long-form YouTube videos of Mick, 66, Robert, 78, Bill, 78, and Jesse, 68 (hosted on Grinder’s channel), sharing their experiences in clear and hilarious conversations.
The foursomes then gradually evolved into the curators of a large generation of knowledge – something that was once shared among friends has now reached millions of strangers. Their upcoming stories, past relationships and, most importantly, YouTube videos on HIV (both Mick and Robert have spoken openly about their respective diagnoses) raised the name of their large group. Old age as a gay man in the 21st century is here. Their stories shed light on the history of more than half a century of gay life, through protests and parties, sacred kisses and hot hookups, historic political victories and constant culture wars.
Older homosexuals were bridges for generations; They offered a piece of meat with a strange history. This text of history was not vague or black and white. It was funny and hilarious and alive. Videos where they reacted to contemporary queer culture – like watching “RuPaul’s Drag Race”. For the first time or the first time they saw an exciting scene in a Lil Nass X video – viewers were urged to make their own intergenerational connections. Older homosexuals offered lessons that felt relevant at the time: living honestly is the key to life at any age.
Lip-sync videos, viral dances, and the online space that thrives on bizarre challenges to create videos for TikTok may seem like a step out of the old gay culture. But Ryan saw something more.
Push, a 35-year-old push-forward, was inspired by a canyon director-slash-stylist-slash-social media manager, a 35-year-old gay man who wants to give viewers a chance to see behind-the-scenes scenes. Gradually, they began to get a handle on what resonated: showing pictures of their young people received 13.9 million views, “Sex? Not the only one?” The meme received 35.2 million views and received 7.5 million views, guessing what it means to “move to someone’s DM”.
On TikTok, older homosexuals weren’t leaving their more contemplative content; They were diversifying – and for that they would have to find sometime soon, some choreography, lip syncing and a pep in their footsteps. When Ryan first came up with the idea, not everyone was on board.
Robert recalls, “I had a strong feeling that we were not going in the right direction.”
“He was very disappointed,” Mick explains.
When he saw the final product – and more precisely, the response it received – Robert was moved by the support he gave to those who were fickle. Sometimes just putting a smile on someone’s face was proof enough; And, perhaps even more so, four gay men who are flirtatious and glamorous can also shine their authenticity when they sip their lips.
Mick, who is currently being treated for an autoimmune disorder called Chronic Immune Thrombocytopenia, likes to hear TikTok videos from his various nurses on how to brighten up his day. “Just note that you brought a little hope and joy. It’s incredible.
“But really,” he adds, “I believe my life is no longer my own. So, as long as I’m here, I’ll do it. I have no desire to go back to my previous life, for better or for worse. Where I am. I am here. “
Which means it’s not an easy journey. The constant pressure to create fresh content has pushed older homosexuals to their limits. At one point, Ryan asked them if it was okay to leave Troy for a TikTok video – a suggestion rejected by some but turned out to be very successful.
“When we started, we had to learn to grow together,” Jesse recalls. “Ryan is too young. We’re too old. And so we had to learn, because we kept telling Ryan we couldn’t do it. But he didn’t get it because he’s never been around old people before. When we say no, it’s not, you know. Is it? And it’s not because we don’t want to. It’s because we can’t. ” However, in due course, the self-described “hard-headed people” began to reveal what they could bring without saying much.
“And it makes it a lot easier and more fun,” says Jesse Beam. “I’m going home smiling. Tired. But smiling.”
Speaking of exhaustion, Ryan admits he had to get back to the punitive rhythm he used last year (for months he was posting daily). He is already looking to the future. There is talk of a possible documentary. They are all cautiously optimistic, as they did before heading into the social network Milestorm. For example, Ryan doesn’t know how he would feel if he weren’t behind the camera, while Jesse is afraid of exposure. As a private individual, he is aware of what the broader platform will demand of him – although he acknowledges that the net is positive about his family and beliefs being revealed online. Being so weak has encouraged him and others.
Colorful wrestling singles and dances, balloons in hand, as another song in the pool, how to explain the desire of the four to play repeatedly this time through Latto’s “Big Energy,” portable speakers?
When Ryan finally fights them over their signs, all four lights up. It doesn’t matter if they are there for hours or if it is oppressively hot (just looking at them from my shadow makes me sweat). When the camera is spinning – and it will be a while before they get usable tech – Mick, Robert, Bill and Jesse are in their element.
They stunned for the camera. They blow kisses and lose themselves in music. After Ryan’s iPhone camera pointed out to them, they are happily living their best lives during those tenures.
“He pushes us in the right direction,” says Jesse. “And it just gives us energy. He helps us survive.”