One night in the club-crazed 1980s, I tried to saunter into a nightspot’s private area and was surprised to be rebuffed by the gatekeeper holding the clipboard. I was even more stunned that after he brushed me off, he muttered, “Tired old queen!” I was 30.
Perhaps this was karma for my having scoffed at 30-somethings daring to party when I was in my early 20s. The truth is that nightlife—which draws heavily on hormonal energy—is indeed for the young, though as attitudes change and lives extend, older people have become a bit more welcome in the glitter dome. One-foot-in-the-gravers like me will always be an unwanted reminder of mortality for certain revelers trying to lose themselves in the night, but the new normal is that people can live to 100 and our president is pushing 80. As a result, the fact that I’m 65 and dancing doesn’t necessarily elicit the same nausea it might have back when 30 equaled death.
In the distant past, there were occasional oldies dotting the club crowd, and they even got attention, but mostly as sideshow curiosities that P.T. Barnum could have drummed up on crystal meth. Their advanced age became their identity. Most notably, a nonpracticing lawyer/widow named Sally Lippman made nocturnal waves in the ’70s—in her 70s. Lippman became an oddball celebrity known as “Disco Sally,” cavorting amidst the flashing lights of that ultimate disco, Studio 54. A self-made creation, Sally would captivate the crowd and even lure the photographers away from the movie stars when she looked extra attention-grabbing, boogying in wild prints, shades, and sneakers. At 80, Lippman married a 20-something hottie—in a nightclub, of course—but her notoriety was always on the order of “Look at the old lady go! Isn’t it amazing that she’s breathing, let alone dancing?” A few years later, Walter Monheit became omnipresent as a similar disco novelty act. A motor-mouthed Austrian rake who balanced cocktail glasses on his head and relentlessly chased younger women around the Limelight, he was hard to miss—or avoid. When Walter died, at 85, in 2011, I wrote, “I’m now officially the oldest club kid in New York.”
But I don’t want to be the weird old man evoking disbelieving gawks and mawkish grins. I long to be part of the crowd—and have done everything imaginable to try and maintain that position, from staying plugged into club happenings to breaking nightlife stories in my various columns and on social networks. (I regularly get nominated for the Glam Award for Best Nightlife Writer/Blogger, and even used to win. I’m basically the Dame Judi Dench of nightlife.) And my fellow mature partiers, like promoter Susanne Bartsch, trans diva Amanda Lepore, and performer Joey Arias, are still among the most vital people on the scene, embraced by way-younger clubgoers who recognize their artistry and accomplishment. Miraculously, I don’t find myself that shunned either—I am still offered free drink tickets, and no, I don’t use them on Metamucil or prune juice.
It’s true that I often get respectful treatment simply because I’ve been participating in nightlife and writing about it my entire adult life. But that nasty VIP door dude back in the ’80s knew who I was and didn’t care—and even those who shriek “You’re an icon” don’t necessarily mean it, even if they look up from their phone for a second to say it. Kudos like that are nice, but they too often mean that the person knows you did something major in the past, but they haven’t bothered to read your Wikipedia page to find out what it was. Still, it’s certainly better than scorn—or the occasional eye-opening moment when a younger clubbie underlines your age without even trying. I admit I was potentially in the spell of a 30-year-old stud when I was 52, but that was instantly decimated when I ran into him at a party and he exclaimed, “Hello, darling!” That “darling” said it all. He might as well have said, “Have fun at the Life Care Center. Enjoy the Jell-O.”
Conversely, I’ve been jumped on as some kind of daddy slash male cougar, but I don’t want to be the new Disco Sally either. At one weekly gay party in the aughts, a 23-year-old guy made a play for me and we later went on a date, but I drew the line, feeling he belonged with a way more appropriate playmate. Besides, he was bossy and condescending, endlessly instructing me on how to behave. These young whippersnappers need to learn to act their age!
And what about how I should behave? Well, as banal as it sounds, I’ve come to realize that the trick to being old in nightclubs is to just relax and forget that you’re old enough to remember Topo Gigio on The Ed Sullivan Show. I may enter a boîte feeling that I should try not to attract unwanted attention, but I quickly drop all that and just become part of the fun. If I don’t dance too flamboyantly, it’s not because I’m afraid I’ll break something, but because I never danced that flamboyantly anyway. If some clubbies act like I’m invisible, that’s fine, because I didn’t exactly turn heads when I was a 21-year-old nerd in zippered turtlenecks either. Whatever exuberance I may be lacking is made up for with a mentor’s wisdom and a giddy willingness to encounter new generations and trends. And I’ve found that no one mocks me anyway—my “tired queen” days are long gone. I’ve seen the glory days, but with NYC nightlife on a resurgence, I realize that once I’m out there, the years melt away and my wizened ass is new and exciting again. These days, I go to Playhouse, the Q, the Spot, Hush, and XOXO Lounge, where I get the drag queens’ references and am now mature enough to know to tip for them. Come join me, darling. ❖