Interview with Charles Lum director SEX and the Silver Gays

Charles Lum spoke to us about senior gay men, porn, sex and orgies, racism and some history of LGBT night life. His film SEX and the Silver Gays screens 2nd October at 6.15pm

How did you meet the Prime Timers (PTimers PTers)?
Bob”Woof,” the PTimers President attended a screening of Age of Consent at the Queens Museum of Art, where we also premiered our short about the last gay porno theatre in NYC, been too long at the FAIR. Bob stayed for the Q&A and introduced himself to us after and told his story of taking his
group, the NY Prime Timers on a ‘field trip’ to the FAIR! This movie presented itself to us, exactly like Age of Consent did when Kurt, the owner of the HOIST approached us after seeing Tom’s Gift at the BFI!

SEX and the Silver Gays shows the men who survived AIDS in the 80s and still enjoy sex without fear, what are your thoughts?
There are many years of rationalizing our activities to the mainstream, the legal, the ethical. We pay attention to cultural & medical news, new tactics to use w/the disease. We either take our meds, and/or change our lifestyles to live, and with that living comes the realization of the importance of SEX. Sex got us here, born and then AIDS, & we still need/want to DO it! If not for love, then for good exercise, both mental and physical.

How do you think different generations of gay men will receive this film?
Millenials are so different! Gay bars are hardly necessary anymore, gay assimilation has been so successful. I don’t think millenials are as scared or in as much denial as ageing gay men. Also they are not as identified by their sexuality as the older generations were, other issues dominate.

I feel that boomer gays are represented by the festival programmers who won’t program this film. Their target audience, the boomers who historically/financially support gay film festivals, want to see beautiful youth have sex with THEM, not themselves having sex with each other! It’s just too scary & real & won’t sell tickets. Like documentary vs. fiction. I’ve never understood why half of gay features in festivals are about ‘coming out’ and that 90% of the tickets sold are to older gay men. I understand why young filmmakers want to make this story, I don’t know why older men watch them again and again.
Where they spend their money shows they are not interested in their own stories: ageing; finance; health; new gay ‘family’ dynamics; politics etc.They are interested in nostalgia…and porn. Millenials don’t have the same ‘coming-out” dilemmas in our new century, therefore all of this is actually foreign to them. They’re not at film festivals anyhow, they’re on social-media. Their interest is the future, not the past, but this future of getting old is too, too far ahead for them, I fear.

The Prime Timers Group was not racially diverse, why is this?
This age group grew up in a much more segregated time. Even when I was younger in NYC, there were black gay bars and white gay bars, all on Christopher Street. While people did mix easily, they generally stayed within their own social/racial circles in neighborhood bars. Remember, gay men did NOT mix with lesbians at all then either, you’d never cruise from Ty Bar to Henrietta Hudson, although an adventurous white gay man might have gone to Keller Bar. The big dance clubs mixed more than local bars, but the barriers to entry there were much, much higher. The velvet rope allowed in the beautiful, the rich and well dressed, and most importantly the BUFFEST gym bunnies. It took alot of money and time to be ready for that rope, a very intense segregation, not only along racial lines. But after the clubs closed, EVERYONE went to the sex venues – no segregation there!

When I worked on the film Mississippi Burning I was astonished to find out that the two gay bars in Jackson, Mississippi, were strictly segregated, not by gender, as in NYC, but by race. Lesbians and gay men clubbing together was a revelation to this NYC boy in 1987. But the Black bar stayed open later, so when the white bar closed, ABSOLUTELY EVERYONE would go over to the Black bar for the last hours of the night. It was crazy mixed & wild, but only ‘after hours’. In NYC, it wasn’t as clear cut, but pretty much the same, except that the sexes didn’t mix. The Saint was men only

I think it was harder for people of color to stay in this gay mix in NYC for multiple reasons, most notably that white people had/have white privilege. Consequently there are simply less people of color alive now to mix it up. People of color in the 80’s were less able to be out & gay, less able to survive AIDS, living shorter lifespans, and therefore less able to find themselves within this community. But within this group of PTers they would be very welcome!

There were some gender non conforming men one of whom was at Stonewall Riots. How do other gay men of their generation relate to them?
As potential sex partners, friends and as brothers/others & sisters in arms.
(At least I do.)
There were completely different gender issues then, we segregated ourselves by sexuality and gender in the gay
bars of that era, and this is where we supported and strengthened ourselves for the broader fight for the rights that now make those segregated spaces (like gay bars/dyke bars) largely unnecessary now. Bars are victims of our social success, like the strict gender roles butch/femme, clone/twink which are archaic now. Gender/Queer Theory was nascent at the time, now it is approaching dogma and millenials must represent that. Gender non-conforming used to fit into an “otherness” which was embraced by the queers of the day, even if they were mostly celebrating their way butch-ness or seriously femme-ness. It was seen as a queer-political choice as opposed to a theoretical one. Gender/identity issues became ascendent when oppression issues declined.

In an era where everything is about marriage equality, the men were not homonormative can you say why it’s important to see these kind of older gay men?
There are many many many more unmarried gay men then married ones. Who is homonormative? How was this discourse hijacked AWAY from gay actuality? AWAY from sexual freedom issues, health & support issues outside of traditional family structures??? “Marriage Equality” allows mainstream culture to ignore the true difference of how the majority of gay lives are lived.

You show explicit gay sex with ageing men, why? 

  • So people get it and get used to it!
  •  Seeing is believing – No CGI !!
  • Censoring is selling out!

Many of the men spoke about sensuality and cuddling and (tugging?) – why do you think this might seem a rarity to hear men speak in this way about sex?
Most frank talk about sex is a rarity. A cultural shunning, shyness, embarrassment.
This is the crux of my career. I want to de-shame sexuality. Most of the human issues I personally & artisically deal with are a direct result of my sexuality. The actual mechanics of it. Finding it, doing it, it’s political meaning & it’s repercussions. And gay male sexuality is way different than gay female sexuality, & straight sexuality – actually each sexuality is unique! They’re ALL fabulous and gay sex is what I know. It is my own experience. I want to anaylze and investigate those experiences. In mainstream eyes, I am making pornography! We are so afraid of incorporating our genitals into normal discourse, that we’ve made it clinical and lifeless (Master’s & Johnson) or forbidden and “pornographic.” Whereas in antiquity, the naked human form dominated the art & culture (at least that’s what’s left). It seems that sexuality was much more integrated into the general culture in past societies. Now we have separated the two, like high/low culture, erotica vs. porn. Who is to tell which is which? Where are the differences made over something you masturbate to and something your culture respects? The legal
porn definition: “I’ll know it when I see it” represents an unspoken bias, a rule, a taboo.
Sex undergirds almost everything, but we are in active and insidious denial about it. That makes us want it even more! I also want more but I want the “Why?’s” asked & answered too, even if it’s way too much for our sexphobic western culture.

The play room as a space to build family for ageing gay men- your thoughts?
Older men are shunned when beauty is celebrated in the sexual excess of youth. But desire doesn’t fade (at least mine.) It becomes increasingly acute as we age away from the “beautiful youth ideal” Actual sexual
opportunities will also fade if we too ardently chase an evanescent youth ideal. Therefore we must come together more for our individual needs than our collective desire. It is important to have the structure of sexual giving instituted as opportunities naturally cease. The PrimeTimers Sex parties foster a stronger, more resilient community. After the hubris of youth is gone, sex becomes more of a necessary bodily function. And as we age, we start to need help with these normal functions, physical and mental. The PrimeTimers sex parties do exactly that.

Grindr vs Back in the Day Back Rooms – why?
People are lazy. Also rejection is easier  to take online; no-one can see your hurt.

Check out Charles Lum’s website


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