Review: The New 60: Outliving Yourself and Reinventing a Future

THE NEW 60: Outliving Yourself and Reinventing a Future, by Robert Levithan seems to have been compiled at age 59. Gay, AIDS positive and “in the 1990s the ‘designated die-er’ in my circle”, the author exudes the profound joy of one blessed with unexpected years of life who has attained through the new medications, luck and self-care: “extraordinary health.” His sadness, given AIDS means he cannot responsibly provide his seed to father children, is also reflected in this honest narrative. A therapist in private practice, and active volunteer with Friends In Deed, a crisis center for those with life-threatening illnesses, he is also an active blogger. The New 60 is a reprinting of about thirty-three of Robert Levithan’s on-going blogs.

Frankly, as Robert Levithan presents himself in writing, I found it hard to like the man. His style is flooded with a stressing of associations with persons and things accomplished — the Huffington Post, O — The Opra Magazine, having had a relationship with the photographer Peter Hujar, with another man who had “an Oscar and some Tonys,” and a “Venezuelan director,” his nephew being a “Lambda award-winning author,” being photographed by Robert Maplethrope, upcoming travels to Turkey, Greece, South Africa, etc. And an entire chapter that opens: “Of late, I have been dating mostly younger men —  much younger men.” And, further on in the chapter: “My lovers have been my teachers, my comrades, my students.”
I felt I was missing the point of the book, something that a target audience would know right away. So I e-mailed Robert Levithan to find out the intended target audience, given he hadn’t reached his sixties at the time of writing, the title wasn’t conveying well. He called almost immediately: “I have a real desire is to reach young men and women with the message that they don’t have to be afraid of getting older. A lot of people, particularly gay men, fear passing 40.”

Concerns about HIV & Gay Suicide

Levithan told me he was deeply affected by Bob Bergeron’s suicide. Bergeron had written a book titled “The Right Side of Forty: The Complete Guide to Happiness for Gay Men at Midlife and Beyond,” but it never was published despite a signed book contract, because he killed himself prior to the volume’s release. Levithan also of his concern for: “Narcissistically driven gay men that, when they lose attractiveness believe their life is going to be over.” He also writes of the dangers of vanity and the great beauty of “other-bodied people.”

Levithan further explained on our call: “The myth is those with HIV have a ‘shelf life.’ I show how to keep going and grow from it.” His goal is to offer an alternative view, that other chapters of life are possible, after 40, with/or without AIDS. It’s still not clear to me how a title “The New 60” would attract a readership of those fearing moving into their forties or fifties, nor what he knows, yet, about being in one’s 60s or beyond. His optimism and advice is abundant.

Questions of Boundaries

Given Robert Levithan is a therapist, his range of choices of partners seems strange. Surely he is aware of the problem of power differentials between people that arise not only professionally, but also by age. So I asked him: How do you view it as ethical to date young men?” Levithan first addresses this by explaining that he advocates recreational sex, not only sex inside of relationships and views it as a need of most men and some women. He also explains, as he does in the book, how having young lovers allows him to give them the mature mentoring he received from three relationships with older men when he was young. And then points out, as what he seems to consider a redeeming factor, a psychodynamic awareness he offers in the book: that perhaps dating young men is a form of avoidance of long-term relationships. “Besides,” he adds,  “I’m not a predator, young men approach me.”

“How do you tell someone you have AIDS?” I feel I have to ask, since safe sex isn’t a topic addressed in the book. “I really don’t have to; it’s listed in my profile on dating sites.” So I further inquired: “With so much that is fascinating to do in life, why is your ability to attract sexual partners a preponderant theme in your book?” His response: “In the HIV community, the HIV positive folks tend to feel they won’t have an opportunity; that their sex life is over. So I portray my own flawed journey, as a source of inspiration.”

Jewish Values Considerations

Since the author provides a chapter in which he strongly advocates honestly, I will give my honest opinion. I wouldn’t put this book into the hands of most young gay men under 40, or young people elsewhere in the spectrum of gender, despite it’s depiction of some beautifully realized Jewish values – particularly visiting the sick, honoring the dead, volunteerism and philanthropy. Actually, it is when he is sharing mitzvah-centered vignette’s and not talking about himself, that I find Robert Levithan is at his best.  

As a liberal rabbi, I’ve taught young people — gay and straight, the mitzvah of shmirat ha-guf, care for the body, the practices of safe sex, nutrition and exercise and the value of waiting on an intimate physical relationship until one is with someone likely to be enduringly beloved. This author’s values just don’t go there. THE NEW 60: Outliving Yourself and Reinventing a Future constitutes a provocative read for mature adults, and can lead to meaningful discussion. This book may well also be a helpful gift for those who tend to isolate, and/or lose their perspective on how life can continue in its joys and wonders in the wake of severe traumas, like contracting AIDS.