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Open Access Work that body: Distinguishing an authentic middle-aged gay self

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Theorizing gay men’s sartorial tastes as a distinguishing marker from heterosexual men has neglected the way midlife gay men differentiate themselves through self-presentation from other gay men and how they respond to ageing and gay ageism. Based on interviews with gay men living in Manchester and observation sessions in its ‘gay village’, I examine what midlife gay men’s body management practices say about the construction of ageing and the discourse of ageism in local gay culture. I focus mainly on moral claims to bodily authenticity, which differentiate midlife gay men from younger or older gay men and indicate the multidirectional operation of gay ageism. Claims to authentic midlife self-presentation and sexual citizenship work in three ways: first, through reproducing ageism, especially a reverse ageism; second, by introducing ambivalences that indicate negotiation with gay ageing and ageism; and third, using resources of ageing like ‘ageing capital’ and at times age-related ‘technologies of the self’, ageism is subverted by critiquing it and re-claiming the value of age.

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Keywords: ageing; ageing capital; ageism; authenticity; differentiation; gay men; middle age

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Manchester

Publication date: 2013-10-01

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