Catch Me If I Fall… Gay Life in the Third Age
Fifteen years of marriage have brought us happiness and contentment in our personal lives. After both working in the gay scene for 30 years (and therefore having no prospect of getting a pension) we decided it was time to leave the urban gay scene, move to the countryside and start a new life, more suited to our needs as we grew older. We slowly built up a new circle of friends and neighbours and started a new business selling antiques, growing herbs and giving workshops.
Then, after 20 years of building a small but steady farm business in Holland, our landlord suddenly wanted us out! We were confronted with the choice of either downsizing or taking on a new challenge. We chose the latter and decided to move to Belgium where we could hope to rebuild a bigger and better business and support our modest lifestyle. Although it meant giving up all our savings, we were determined to build a new life in which we could continue to work into ‘old age’, and confident that we were strong enough to succeed.
Our Dutch friends told us how ‘brave’ we were! Our gay friends told us how ‘lucky’ we were! Our new neighbors told us how happy they were to welcome us to Belgium. And we kept in touch with everyone with regular newsletters and updates to our website.
After we landed, the paperwork took most of a year to organize. We scratched our way through immigration, health insurance, car registration, residency permits, work permits, and myriad other forms until we eventually felt that we were beginning to settle. We opened our new farm-shop and found slots at local markets where we could start to sell our produce. We made friends with other local farmers. We started to grow our business again and get support from the local community.
But we had still overlooked the snakes in the grass. Our new business started to grow and we sold well in the summer months. Then we learned that the Belgian government wants not only the Sales Tax for the summer, but six months of Sales Tax in advance(!) and, with our savings already gone, we face a cash crisis. The income we can generate at this point will not pay for both the advance taxes and the investment we need in equipment and to build up our stock. Retailers and restaurants want to buy our products in the future, but we still have a big investment to find before we are ready to supply them.
We’ve decided to try crowd-funding now, hoping that our friends and community will possibly step in to save us from going over the cliff, but we have no idea whether it will work. Does a lifetime of being responsible citizens, good, caring friends, and generous in helping others really bring us any ‘social capital’? We’re biting the bullet now and will shortly know the answer.
If we were straight folks then we would perhaps have a better chance. But our social circle has been decimated by HIV, leaving lots of them sick and living on benefits. Others have moved away and are no longer as close as we would like. And since we are no longer shopping around for casual sex, we seem to have little direct contact with the majority of the LGBT community. Of course, there are many others in a similar situation; couples living in the country with a few cats, but we haven’t yet found a way to meet the older rural gay community with whom we can build a network.
The business keeps us both busy for 16 hours a day, up to our elbows in jam and manure, with little time to work on anything else. That’s not unexpected with a new business, but makes us feel isolated, fearful, and sometimes overwhelmed by events around us. It’s hard to stay focused when the whole project has become precarious.
We don’t regret our decisions, nor would we consider moving back to the city life as two older gay men with their youthful excesses long gone. However it’s still hard to see what ‘community’ we can develop beyond it.
We’d love to hear from others who recognise themselves in this story. Perhaps you can help us find the way forward or just want to offer us a web-hug? And finally, of course, perhaps YOU are in a position to help us with our crowd-funding campaign? gf.me/u/v24yri
Sint Annastraat, 29