The Old Gays — yes, that's what they’re called — never knew this latest chapter in their lives would be so rewarding or that they could become famous for just being themselves. They recently learned what the word “viral” means, and they’re very surprised their humor and heart has been circulated widely across the internet, winning fans and followers along the way.
“Oh, I'm just absolutely flabbergasted,” Michael “Mick” Peterson, 65, told TODAY.
“I'm still having a hard time wrapping my head around that, truly,” Bill Lyons, 77, added. “I mean, at 77 years old, I never had any idea that this would happen to me. It's totally surreal. I feel like a dinosaur, but the way that people are reacting to me and to the others, I can't believe it.”
Based in Cathedral City, California, right outside the LGBTQ enclave of Palm Springs, the foursome of gay men, who range in age from the mid-60s to late 70s, were already friends when the dating app Grindr began using them as subjects in videos back in 2018.
“The first video we didn't really get paid anything for, we just went basically for the fun of it,” Robert Reeves, 78, told TODAY. “You know, to tell our stories. It turned out to be rather enjoyable.”
From there, people of all ages, especially younger social media users, fell in love with them and started following their conversations, which include everything from their hilarious reactions to Cardi B's “WAP” music video to sharing their coming out journeys to a look back on the loves of their lives.
“I have cried, and they have been tears of joy,” Jessay Martin, 67, told TODAY. “It's like we seem to be making a difference in these young people and to some older people, as well. They're feeling good, too. It’s a win-win for them, a win-win for us.”
Amassing more than 1.4 million followers on TikTok, the Old Gays are just starting to think of themselves as influencers, even though that in itself is concept that is still slightly foreign to them. “Ever since we did an ad for Shack Shake, the world influencer is now heavily involved in my brain,” Lyons said. “Although my tax man says that we're video educators.”
So what are they educating their fans and followers on?
“I think the most important thing that we're educating people on is that 60 years ago, coming out was a real struggle,” added Lyons, who never openly came out out to his parents, even though he knew all his life he was gay.
“You didn't talk about coming out to your parents or anything. In fact, a lot of situations, I heard when parents found out that one of their children was gay, they kicked him out of the house right away. It really wasn't easy in the beginning.”
Meanwhile Martin believes they’re educating people on “being human.”
“Old gays are really no different than younger gays. You can find some old ones that are just as bad as some of the younger ones,” he quipped.
Growing up in a religious household in the Bible Belt, Martin didn’t come out to his mom until he was 30 years old, even though he'd been out to other people for years.
“She was just in tears because she felt bad because she couldn't be there to help me through it,” he said of her reaction when he finally did tell her. “This happened just right on time, and we were best friends until she passed away 10 years ago. It's still like it was yesterday because she was my bestie.”
Martin has an answer for everything, it seems, but he struggles to find a response on why people love them so much. “But I just love back, and if I could hug everybody that says something, I would,” he said. “I'm a hugger, and when I say on a video that I love you, it is from the bottom of my heart, it really is because I genuinely do, and that was an inheritance from my parents of loving.”
Reeves quickly answers that there are a “multitude of reasons” that the Old Gays have become an internet sensation.
“When I read the comments, many of the younger generation have adopted us an an icon of the older gay generation, to which they feel a great indebtedness because the strides that have been made over the past few decades,” he explained. “And so they're using us to show their appreciation to everyone of our generation.”
“Another factor is they no longer fear getting old, particularly getting old as a gay person, because when they see us having so much fun about life at our age, it gives them hope.”
The comments section of the Old Gays YouTube and TikTok videos are full of young fans and followers extolling their love for them. Their most popular video, “Old Gays Look Back At Their Younger Selves,” has almost 10 million views and a little more than 16,500 comments.
“I wish these guys had a show they are adorable,” one person wrote.
Another added, “There is something so wholesome yet so sad at the same time about this. The secretiveness they might have had to endure to enjoy their slice of life while their straight counterparts could do it unabashedly out in the open.”
“I want to have a conversation with these guys and them to be my best friends,” another commented.
But in the LGBTQ community, many gay men aren’t interested in forming intergenerational connections. As a gay man myself, I’ve seen firsthand that when older men at bars try to strike up conversations with younger people, even with platonic intentions, they’ll often be ignored.
The Old Gays seek to bridge the dialogue gap between the generations using the internet, while also giving more visibility to their own peer group after so many died during the AIDS epidemic of the '80s and '90s.
Another other defining element of their success: They’re authentic. Authenticity is a word that's used often nowadays, but it seems to really be the key to their virality.
“We are four really different people, but we get along great and have a blast,” Martin said. “But also it’s our openness, because we never know what we're going to be talking about. We don't know any questions, and that's why I love it, because what everybody sees is our realness.”
Martin added that the series has helped him rediscover his own voice.
“I have not always had a voice,” he shared. “This has given me an opportunity to really use my voice and to just not to worry about what people are thinking of me. For me, it really has been and still is quite the journey. I don't know where it's going, but right now I'm on cloud nine and I'm thankful to be a part of it.”
Above all else, Peterson just wants to entertain.
“I hope that they take our experiences and see that we're honest about them and reflect on those experiences towards themselves, either as a cautionary tale or something to have a laugh with us on,” he said. “And maybe they learn not to ignore the old gay at the bar next time.”
During LGBTQ Pride Month, TODAY is sharing the community’s history, pain, joy and what’s next for the movement. We will be publishing personal essays, stories, videos and specials throughout the entire month of June. For more, head here.