I hung out with someone recently whom I hadn’t spent time with before and, as you do with anyone new, I was sussing out their character as we spoke, trying to get a read on what kind of person they were. This is something I’ve honed through sex work—people often present themselves as a certain kind of person when there’s another kind of person beneath, and the desire to push the former forwards can reveal a lot about the latter.
I’ll often let people know that I’m trying to figure them out by saying ,“I’m trying to work out if you’re using long words to impress me or if you just like the pleasure of the words” or “was that sarcasm or are you just really German?” I know they’re equally trying to work me out, so why not openly acknowledge what we’re doing? Sometimes this steps the conversation up into a more playful zone, by stripping away some of that politeness and pretence.
So much of this obsession with youth is about desirability—what people want in others and what they assume others want in them
From some references this person had made, I was beginning to piece together a picture of who they might be, and so I took a shot at it and asked: “Are you really scared of ageing?” They stopped short—surprised, as we hadn’t spoken directly about anything to do with age—and then said, “It is my biggest fear. Does it come across that much?” When I nodded, they added, “That’s a problem, I’ll have to do better at hiding it. Aren’t you scared too?” I answered, “Not at all,” and once again they were surprised, because we were the exact same age, 30, and it seemed they had thought a fear of growing old was an inevitable part of that.
For my whole life, I have been surrounded by young people terrified of ageing, and in the last few years their fear has ramped up. Social media constantly throws anti-ageing recommendations at me, and well-meaning but panicked friends tell me about “glass skin” and “preventative botox”. A fortnight ago, I said to one such friend, “All this is based on the assumption that I want to look young, which I don’t.”
I want to be and look healthy, but that is not synonymous with looking young. In discussing this with people I have learnt that so much of this obsession with youth is about desirability—what people want in others and what they assume others want in them. I have always been into women older than me, and find lines around the face sexy, so I have never been concerned about having them myself. When I explained this to the person whose biggest fear was ageing, they said: “See, that’s the thing—I like to date younger women.” The straight women and gay men I know with the most acute fears of looking older are the ones who are into younger men, too. It seems bizarre to me that they are more worried about there being a perceptible gap in physical age than the inevitable gap in life experience. But I guess one is easier to remedy.
Sex work has also, unexpectedly, quieted any fears society told me to have about ageing. When I started at 20 years old, 30 seemed ancient. I couldn’t imagine still working in the industry then, or that I would be able to compete with the younger women that I was told were, inarguably, more desirable. At 30, I make more money than I did at 20, something I would never have predicted after the warnings of women older than me who said, “Make it now while you can.”
I see now that what you age out of is the ability to work long shifts, night after night; you lose the stamina, rather than the clients. And I also know that some of their fears came from having made a lot of money young and spent it, in the belief that it would never stop coming—a form of financial illiteracy that is common among people raised by families without assets, who lived day-to-day and so weren’t taught how to manage for the future. (A similar spending pattern that conversely also exists among the children of the very rich, who know they’ll always have something to fall back on.)
No one told me that although I would lose clients who only wanted me when I looked super young, I would also gain clients who want me now that I don’t. There are clients who want a bit of maturity—just what I want in people I fuck. No one told me, either, that I would feel lucky that I was living long enough to see my face pass through the transitions of age. But I realise that now, and I am gladly submitting to age as I see others around me fight it.