Wayne Hoffman published his first novel, Hard, through Carroll & Graf in 2006, and Don Weise was his editor. Set in New York in the ‘90s, Hard follows twenty-something daddy-hunter Moe Pearlman, whose sexual talents are legendary. As a conservative mayor, with the assistance of a few gay activists, cracks down on the typical sex hangouts (bathhouses, adult theaters, dirty bookstores, etc.), Moe fights back in every way he can. The Lambda Book Report called Hard “a breath of fresh air in gay male fiction.”

This summer, Moe Pearlman returns in An Older Man, Hoffman’s sequel to Hard, being published by Bear Bones Books. (Bear Bones is also reissuing Hard in print and digital.) Set during Bear Week in Provincetown, An Older Man sees a now forty-something Moe struggling to accept himself as a middle-aged man. Hoffman and Weise sat down recently to talk about both books, and how much gay sexual culture has changed over the past couple of decades.

What prompted a follow-up to Hard, almost ten years later?

I hit my forties and realized that the characters were now mostly in their forties, too, and I was curious about where their lives had gone. I didn’t want to pick up where Hard left off in the late ’90s, either. I was interested in now, in what would happen to these rabblerousing, energetic, very horny twenty-somethings, now that they’re middle-aged.

Moe’s sex life in An Older Man is not that different from what it was in Hard.

Moe is a cocksucker. He’s always going to be a cocksucker. And Moe’s approach to sex as a very affirming vocation—as something he really loves, a core part of his life that brings him pleasure—isn’t going to change. It doesn’t mean the things he’s looking for are exactly the same, but the underlying desires are the same.

And he’s still chasing after older men.

He’s still looking for daddies, but he’s also beginning to notice younger men for the first time. And because he spent so many years looking at older men himself, he can understand what younger men are thinking when they look at him.

It takes Moe a while to reach that point, though. A young guy named Rudd is pursuing Moe in An Older Man, and Moe is so not into that kid. In the larger gay world, that makes no sense: You’re a forty-something guy, and you’ve got some cute twenty-something guy, totally available, and you’re not interested in him? Moe is actually running away from this kid. I’m trying to think of an example in gay literature where the older man is running away from a totally available, totally cute, totally hot younger guy. It’s counter-narrative.

Moe’s not interested in Rudd because he’s too young. But also, Moe’s annoyed with Rudd because as another cocksucker, he’s competition, and that plays into Moe’s insecurities as someone who’s used to being the younger man. When you’re looking for daddies and you’re in your forties and the person next to you is in his twenties, most of the time, that daddy is looking right past you at the cute little twenty-something cub. So it takes Moe a long time to wake up and realize that he knows exactly who Rudd is, because he used to be him.

There’s a scene in An Older Man when Moe is sucking cock on the beach, and Rudd is sucking cock nearby, and the guys Moe is servicing are telling each other that there’s a really hot kid over there, and they start to drift away to check out the younger guy. Moe must be losing it on some level.

When being the “younger man” is a huge part of how you’ve organized your sex life, and your sex life is central to how you see yourself, and it’s challenged in a way you can’t fight against (as Moe is only going to get older), it’s terrifying. When Moe first sees guys choosing Rudd over him, he sees his own desolate future. It’s only going to get worse: the world is going to fill up with more Rudds. Moe needs to figure out how to be a forty-something gay man. You have to learn new strategies.

You’re writing about bears and other guys who are not typically considered the gay “ideal.” How do you write about a group of people in a very sexual way—because this book is very sexual—who you know even gay people are largely not going to consider hot?

An Older Man

 

That’s one reason I set it during Bear Week in Provincetown. When bears are in a place that’s bear-dominated, they can finally, to borrow a phrase, let their hair down. The bears can cruise openly. There’s a sense of public bear sexuality that only emerges when you’re in a safe space for bears. It’s that sexual energy that I think anyone can understand, even if the guys involved aren’t your type.

What’s Provincetown like the rest of the year?

Bears are still mostly welcome, but it’s different. I will always take my shirt off on the dance floor during Bear Week, for instance. It’s not because I think I have a good body, because I do not; I do own a mirror, and a scale. It’s because at Bear Week, nobody’s ever said anything nasty to me, and second, some guys are actually turned on by me with my shirt off. But as soon as Bear Week is over, I will get nasty looks and comments on the very same dance floor. It doesn’t have to be people coming up to you and saying, “Put your shirt on, fatty!” It could just be a sideways glance, a person recoiling from you. Moe is dealing with the same thing—trying to overcome his own insecurities about his body image. Of course Moe doesn’t want to take his shirt off in public. And of course, once he realizes that Bear Week is one of the only places where he actually can take off his shirt, it’s immensely liberating.

An Older Man isn’t just about bears, though. It’s about how all kinds of gay men deal with getting older. This book goes across three generations. There’s the present generation of younger guys, there’s our generation of men who are now in our forties and fifties, and there’s also the generation that came before us. There’s a lingering sense of AIDS and the people who died.

I’ve always been in intimate contact, sexually and otherwise, with older men. So when I was in my twenties, I was dating men in their forties and fifties, and we shared culture. I was telling them about techno music, and they were telling me about John Preston novels and the ’70s bar scene. We learned things from each other. I carry their memories in me. Of course it’s filtered through my own lens, and they didn’t tell me everything, and I’ve forgotten some of it. But I have residual memories from older men. That’s how someone like Moe can remember things, too. There’s a scene where an old man dressed as a pilgrim, who’s a fixture in Provincetown, keeps teasing Moe about getting older, and he makes a reference to Preston’s novel Franny, Queen of Provincetown. Moe says that most people aren’t old enough to remember that book, and the pilgrim says, “But you are.” In truth, Moe’s not old enough to remember that book firsthand. That book came out when Moe was in elementary school. But he probably dated older men who gave it to him. So Moe knows the book, but indirectly, as something passed between generations.

In a way, Moe’s generation is a sort of “middle generation,” especially in the sense of AIDS. We were not the generation that was decimated by it, but we knew men, loved men and had sex with older men who were, so we remember the worst of the epidemic, directly or indirectly, even if we weren’t the ones most devastated by it. But we’re also not the younger generation of today, who can’t even imagine what all that looked like. We’re in this odd middle ground, and Moe is representative of that “middle generation” of gay men.

Moe and his friends, who are also in their forties for the most part, were young enough to have not had to watch all their friends die. But they’re old enough to have watched a lot of their friends seroconvert and then go on meds, and they did lose some people they dated or slept with. They also went through the years of the epidemic when there weren’t great treatments, so they did live through constant anxiety about safe sex and risk. That’s when Hard takes place, in the ’90s, when people are trying to figure out what these new meds mean, and what’s still risky. By the time you get to the next generation in An Older Man, which takes place now, Rudd knows about the epidemic and AIDS activism because he took a class about it in college. Moe, now that he’s in his forties, carries the memory of the older men he knew who are gone, but also his own memory of going through the epidemic without necessarily losing his entire circle of friends. AIDS has made a huge imprint on Moe’s life—his sex life, in particular. So yes, he’s a bridge between the generations.

There’s a scene at Spiritus Pizza where an older guy tells Moe he saw him in a porno magazine once, and he takes a photo of his lover out of his wallet. Moe’s old enough to remember porno magazines, obviously, and old enough to remember when people kept photos in their wallets. But it already seems old-fashioned to Moe—and a younger guy would be confused by the magazines and the wallet, since everything is now digital and on your phone.

Moe straddles the generations in terms of sex, too. He still goes out cruising in a very old-fashioned way—walking to the Dick Dock, flagging a hanky in his back pocket—but he’s also cruising on his phone, which he certainly wasn’t doing ten years ago. It’s a big shift from the dirty bookstores and bathhouses he was fighting for in Hard, during the sex wars of the ’90s. Cruising and gay sex don’t really need brick-and-mortar institutions anymore. You can cruise anywhere, anytime, with the phone you already have in your pocket, for free. So basically, the world is your bathhouse now. Although having everything available all the time, everywhere, means that cruising doesn’t require the same level of commitment or intentionality. Ninety percent of people cruising on their phones aren’t really cruising. They’re killing time while they wait for the subway or taking a break between games of Candy Crush.

An Older Man opens with a massive blowjob scene on the beach. But one of the most interesting things about it isn’t the blowjobs; it’s the preparation. I don’t think I’ve read anything since the early novels of John Rechy where an author  really got what went into having sex, particularly in a novel like Numbers, where it’s about having sex with as many people as you can.

For Moe, the sex he’s having is not something he’s doing without consideration. I wanted the reader to see how methodical he is. He’s chosen the Dick Dock for a very specific reason. There’s a certain kind of sex he wants to have, and in order to have that sex, he knows he has to go at a certain time; and if he wants the best results, he has to wear a certain kind of outfit, put certain things in certain pockets and check the tide charts. He’s got it down to a science. Nothing about it is unintentional. These things can work together. Someone can think it through very methodically and still go have a fucking rollicking great time giving blowjobs to strangers on the beach.

But not everything in An Older Man is as explicit as that opening. There’s a great scene when Moe wakes up on a Tuesday morning, wants to get laid and puts together a four-way. You show him setting up, and then, in the next sentence, it’s all over and they’re all getting dressed. You’ve completely bypassed the sex.

This is one place where Hard and An Older Man required different writing strategies. Since Hard is so much about what risks we’re willing to take for sex—physical, emotional, financial—it’s very important that you know exactly who did what to whom. You need to know all the details to understand the risks people are taking. An Older Man has a ton of sex in it, but it’s really just meant to illustrate the larger issues about getting older. I wanted to open with a bang, because I wanted readers to get a sense of Moe’s continuing libido in his forties, and to know how he thinks about sex. After that, though, you don’t need all the details of every sex scene, because Moe’s sex scenes will all be a variation on the same theme. His desires are fairly single-minded. And, in the end, even though I’m writing about sex and there’s a lot of explicit stuff in both books, this isn’t porn. I borrow some of porn’s literary conventions, intentionally. But the climax I’m going for in the end is ultimately a psychological one. Sometimes, that means including every little detail, and sometimes, it means leaving the details out entirely. There’s more to writing about sex than the sex itself



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2 Responses to “Wayne Hoffman: On His New Novel ‘An Older Man’ and How Gay Sexual Culture has Changed Over the Past Couple of Decades”

  1. Perry Brass 12 June 2015 at 11:05 AM #

    It’s fascinating to me how antiquated this novel seems already: most of the writers I know are working on themes that are so much larger, deeper, and world-focused. And for Wayne Hoffman to categorize a character as a “cocksucker”—well, that would be like calling Mitt Romney and his scintilating followers “Republicans.” The only time I chased after guys in their 20s was when I was also there. The most intensely emotionally satisfying, sexual period of my life happened after my 40s, 50s, and now into my 60s. Maybe, Wayne, it’s time for people to wake up.


  2. Stephen Mead 12 June 2015 at 6:35 PM #

    I think it’s a good idea to read a book not only before passing judgment on subject/ideology, but just to discover what might very well have emotional/spiritual merit. Of course we all know criticism, likes/dislikes, are subjective and I am certainly not an expert on literature or anything else!



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