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Cathedral City's viral 'Old Gays' meet LGBTQ youth where they are: TikTok

The Desert Sun (Palm Springs) logo The Desert Sun (Palm Springs) 9/26/2021 Brian Blueskye and Maria Sestito, Palm Springs Desert Sun
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Hawaiian shirts, checkered short-sleeve button ups, compression socks. These men might dress like other seniors in the Coachella Valley, but unlike their peers, they're easily recognized by Gen Zers — even when masked. 

William Lyons realized this when he was in line at the Palm Desert Best Buy and the cashier recognized his voice, spitting out the words: "TikTok!"

On an inconspicuous street in Cathedral City sits the home of Robert Reeves where, for the last three years, instead of being pummeled by jets in his entryway jacuzzi, four seniors have been filming videos on the back patio. Doing what, you might ask? Talking. 

Social media stars from right to left, Robert Reeves, William Lyons, Jessay Martin, and Mick Peterson at the Cathedral City home where they create the highly popular "The Old Gays" videos, September 10, 2021. © Jay Calderon/The Desert Sun Social media stars from right to left, Robert Reeves, William Lyons, Jessay Martin, and Mick Peterson at the Cathedral City home where they create the highly popular "The Old Gays" videos, September 10, 2021.

Their subjects: what is being "woke," how they came out to their parents and who will be honorary grandfathers to Lance Bass' children if not them? 

This has made them internet sensations with 2.5 million followers on TikTok, including Rihanna, Drew Barrymore and Oprah Winfrey. 

So who are these men? They call themselves "Old Gays."

Reeves, 78, Lyons, 77, Jessay Martin, 68, and Mick Peterson, 65 are doing what they've always done together, but now with the added bonus of a platform. 

A foundation of friendship 

Reeves and Lyons have known one another since the '80s when they both lived in San Francisco. Peterson entered the picture in 2013 when he started renting a room from Reeves. Then, in 2015, Martin moved across the street.

“It’s very organic what has happened,” Reeves said. “We all knew each other and we’d get together frequently for holidays, celebrations, birthdays, and we all had this kind of natural at ease interaction. We all liked each other.”

The videos started when another man Reeves was renting a room to told his partner about how delightful watching the men interact with each other was. His partner happened to be a freelance videographer and, later, would become a producer for the dating app Grindr. "Old Gays" ended up being featured on the platform in 2018. 

“(The video) showed a very positive result and we started making more,” Reeves said. “It’s been over three years now and it just keeps growing.”

Their producer, who declined to be interviewed, has expanded the creators' audience by producing content for mainstream platforms. In 2020, they joined Instagram where they have over 160,000 followers and, this past January, they joined TikTok. Since then, their popularity has skyrocketed. 

“It was a different format than what we were doing on Grindr, and because (TikTok videos) are shorter, more immediate and done with one take, that’s where the growth has been,” Peterson said. 

The four friends are earning income from their videos and, the bigger they become, the more opportunities they're getting. "Old Gays" have done endorsements for HBO, the FX series “American Horror Story,” burger chain Shake Shack and high-end intimate lifestyle company Lelo. 

There's even talk of them having their own reality show. 

The Golden Gays, perhaps? They do often get asked about which "Golden Girls" characters they each identify with.

“Being the oldest, I have to identify with 'Sophia,'” Reeves said. “I see a lot of myself in her personality.”

Lyons is Betty White's character "Rose." Peterson is "Blanche," according to the guys, but he identifies more with "Samantha" from "Sex and the City." And Martin, well, he has the same answer every time: “I’m none of them because we weren’t represented.” It was a cast of all white women. 

'It's OK to age'

So, why the name Old Gays?

"It's what we are," Lyons said. And, though they've embraced it, it has led to a few hiccups for their viewers. 

They’ve been mistakenly referred to as “Old Guys” several times.

“A lot of the straight guys in the comments say, ‘Hey, I thought this was the ‘old guys’ but I have to tell you how much I’m enjoying it,” Lyons said.

Aside from the humorous conversations the friends have on camera, they try to do more than what Peterson called “old gays try the new day slay.” They have a mission statement: generating positive interactions between different generations of LGBTQ people.

“It used to be when you turned 30 in the gay community, you fell off the map,” Peterson said. They want to dispel the belief that Palm Springs is “where the elephants go to die.”

"It's OK to age," he added. 

By using the TikTok platform and, in some ways, going along with what younger influencers are doing, they're meeting youth where they are. 

Most of their audience is 34 and under and a little more than half are estimated to be women. 

More work to be done

Not everything the foursome does is fluff and frivolity. In addition to their lighthearted conversations, they have shared their coming out stories and, Peterson said, it's too early to say how else they will make their mark on younger generations. 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the men lived through the early days of the AIDS epidemic that began in 1981. Gay men in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York City were hit hard by the virus. Lyons, who was living in the Bay Area at the time, said he lost 80% of his friends. Reeves, who was diagnosed as HIV positive in 1987, didn't think he would live past age 50. As medications like Truvada — an antiviral that suppresses HIV in people already infected and prevents transmission for those who aren’t — have become available, knowledge of HIV and AIDS is declining among millennials.

“I can understand why younger people wouldn’t want to talk about HIV, because it’s not a very pleasant subject to talk about,” said Reeves. “I don’t know if there’s ever a way to communicate to the younger generation what it’s like to lose virtually all your friends who are young, vibrant, leading creative lives to just suddenly disappear and have agonizing deaths.” 

But, despite what younger gays might think, not all gays were wiped out by the epidemic, Reeves said. 

“Just reading the comments that people make really feed us,” he said. Viewers tell them they they’re “no longer afraid to get old” and that they appreciate seeing vibrant older people.

Life actually has gotten better over the years, added Martin. 

“We bring joy to peoples’ lives,” Peterson said. “It’s something to get up for in the morning."

Desert Sun reporter Brian Blueskye covers arts and entertainment. He can be reached at brian.blueskye@desertsun.com or on Twitter at @bblueskye. Support local news, subscribe to The Desert Sun.

Maria Sestito covers issues of aging in the Coachella Valley. She is also a Report for America corps member. Follow her on Twitter @RiaSestito, on Instagram @RiaSestito_Reporter or email her at maria.sestito@desertsun.com.

This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Cathedral City's viral 'Old Gays' meet LGBTQ youth where they are: TikTok

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