No Life on Mars (Florida’s Mars Campgrounds, That Is) and The Forever Changed Gay Landscape

Last June, I went to Mars Campgrounds in west Florida for its Leather Daddy Weekend and, while most of the guys were, expectedly, over 45, like me, I had fun. The pool was festive, the nightlife was lively, traffic in the outdoor nighttime “playhouse” with its sling and glory holes was brisk and lusty, and I even had the hairiest guy (next to me) at the campgrounds that weekend.

This June, I went back for Leather Daddy Weekend and either I or something had changed. I found the place to resemble, well, a trailer park/retirement community for middle aged, out-of-shape men who just happened to be gay.  The idle conversation, in and out of the pool, ranged from boring to yawn-inducing and, most of the time, centered around alcohol and just how boozed up one could get. (The old fag’s version of the young fag’s meth I guess.)

And when Saturday night’s Leather Ball came, for every .5 hottie there were 20 notties,  decked out in their leather best, ass cheeks stretched and sagging out of their open chaps, stomachs touching the Panhandle, and tits bigger than my blessed late mother’s.  Outside of a few young Latins from Miami who were cute but no GQ model material, everyone there was over 50 and looked like they had spent the last three decades drinking, pnp’ing, smoking and living in a refrigerator, probably all at the same time. The “playhouse” never saw more than a few guys at a time and was deserted by 1 a.m.

Hell, I’m over 50 and I still have my shit together, thanks admittedly to a good gene pool, but also to regular exercise, no smoking, a few drinks on the weekend, and a thoughtful – not fanatical – diet regimen.  Just because you’re a “mature” male doesn’t mean you have to look like you’ve been hit by a train.

But were the men I saw – partnered off with their clones or solo – all that different from the average middle aged American male? Probably not.

And this aging of Gay America’s former Golden Boys – the Baby Boomers who broke the rules, and created a Gay Sub-Culture of guy bars and bath houses and leather haunts and nudist camps, and iconic gay destinations like Key West or The Castro or NYC’s West Village or Amsterdam  -brings me to another undeniable reality – that this World is not only changing but fast disappearing, perhaps never to be resurrected again.

I saw this change take place in just a few years span in places like Montreal and Chicago, saw it in San Francisco in my last visit in 2010 after a ten year hiatus, and even saw the beginnings of this transformation in NYC before I left a decade ago for sunny Lauderdale, where once exclusive gay haunts and ghettos created by Boomers had gone mainstream or seceded to a younger, more str8 than gay crowd. And, yes, I saw it at Mars where not one cottage or RV was occupied by a twenty something or thirty something couple.

The young gays may still frequent the bars for socialization but most are on their smartphones on Grindr or with their “girlfriends,” not cruising for cock. A place like my local sex club, Slammers, where you can walk in in street clothes and drop your jeans when the moment is right may draw some younger clientele, but most bath houses (maybe with the exception of places like Chicago’s Steamworks) are becoming Social Security waiting rooms for men reminiscing about the good old days and, I suspect, remain open because they may be cash-only fronts for laundering illegal money.  And once the guys at campgrounds like Mars become too feeble to drive or even walk, will the property be sold off to some developer or left abandoned?

Sure, you can blame a lot of this on the web which has changed the gay landscape globally forever and where virtual sex without ever leaving your bedroom or occasional hook-ups make bars and baths and hang-outs where cruising was their only reason for being as obsolete as last year’s Android apps.

But also playing a role are changing demographics, the graying of not only Gay America but Gay Everywhere, (as a traveling trick admitted to me, even Amsterdam has “gotten tired” and shrugged his shoulders, “it’s the web.”), changing attitudes where younger gays no longer feel a need to prove anything, and a sunk economy where the young are not making the $$’s of previous generations and would rather spend their disposable dollars, if they have them, on a very social RSVP cruise with their buddies (sex optional) than on thirty bucks a week on a bath house booth for an “if.”

So the old men go out to the bars they helped foster less and less, content to feel safe in their campground conclaves or bathhouse lounge rooms, or Monday night bowling leagues, or create false personas to continue some virtual sexual existence. And the young guys, practically born with a pc mouse hanging in their crib, rely mostly on the hook-up sites and Grindr for man-to-man action  – real or the facsimile thereof.  Everything else about gay life is for f-u-n, not s-e-x.

Hell, this year’s televised Tony Awards, which honors one of the gayest mainstream institutions in the U.S., garnered only six million viewers and registered the lowest number of viewers in the 18-49 demographic group in years. Even love of brassy Broadway, such an integral part of gaydom, may soon lose its luster among the internet junkies.

In ten years, give or take, stand-up guy bars and leather bars will either be out of business or cater to a chic-chic or even str8 crowd for survival, once pure gay ghettos will continue to be diluted, if they exist at all as standout refuges of our sub-culture, and bath houses and  campgrounds like Mars will only exist as faded pics in some gay museum exhibit.

Some say this is good and means we’ve been accepted and integrated into the rest of society as we should be, so we no longer need purely gay institutions to feel nurtured and protected. Others say just give the young’ens time – as they grow older, they’ll come around. But given what I’ve seen, I think not.

So whether you are nostalgic for the past and feel pity for the younger generation who will not experience what we did as out and proud gay men, or concede that this Brave New World is positive progress, the times, they are a-changing.

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