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David Pevsner is a writer, actor and the author of Damn Shame: A Memoir of Desire, Defiance, and Show Tunes.

“Grandpa, you’re fugly. Put it away.”

A message to me from an internet troll. Charming, right? I’m 63 years old, so yes, I’m old enough to be grandpa. And I’m naked on the internet. A lot. I have been a nude model since 1989, and over the years, I’ve collaborated with many artists on photographs running from gently erotic to XXX. I began curating a gallery of these pictures on Tumblr in 2013 and eventually developed an international following.

In 2018, Tumblr decided to create “a more positive” website by purging any content with nudity or sexual activity – a decision that annoyed the crap out of me. I joined the platform OnlyFans, where users can share content for free or charge a fee for access. When the pandemic struck, being away from all the voices warning me that such exposure could hurt my career, I felt emboldened to do something I’ve always wanted to do: post erotic videos. Because I wasn’t interested in the snarky opinions of judgmental lookie-loos, I began charging a subscription. This limited my audience to only those who really wanted to see my content, and helped pay the bills when acting gigs dried up because of COVID-19.

I try to be as creative and entertaining in my erotic media as I am in my mainstream writing and acting work, and I have revelled in it. Through social media, I receive a ton of positive feedback; messages from folks all over the world telling me they’re inspired by a man of my age putting it out there, thanking me for my “shamelessness.” But social media can also be a buzzkill with the anonymous comments from those who love to condemn a man of my age celebrating his sexuality.

“Keep it on, old man!”

I don’t care what they think. But it’s taken me a long time to get to that point.

I’ve struggled with body image for most of my life. In my mind, I was always a skinny ugly Jewish kid with a ‘fro and braces. Growing up, my two greatest fears were being seen in a bathing suit in public and taking showers after gym class. I sometimes had to hold on to the tiled wall while rinsing off because I thought I was going to faint from the embarrassment.

Years later, I began working out and finally got to a place where I felt good about how I looked. I started exploring my sexuality with more bravado and began posing nude for photos and art classes. When I was 36 years old, I began working for a male escort service that catered to clients who liked older men. (Yes, 36 was considered old.) I led a double life, charging for my services while I was working in a high profile, very funny and touching off-Broadway comedy with nudity called Party. When I got cast, I received an earful from fellow actors. The unsolicited opinions thrown my way before I even went into rehearsal ranged from “Oh, I could never do that” to “Oh, I can’t believe you’re doing that!” I had total respect for the first and absolute hatred for the second. Screw you, I thought. You try doing comedy naked.

Skip ahead to today. I’m now a gay man of “a certain age.” My generation has had to overcome so much condemnation and self-loathing in order to accept and celebrate our sexuality, and one would think society as a whole would be past all that. But I have a friend who comments on any photo I post on Instagram or Facebook in which my torso is exposed with “Put on a shirt.” I know he means it in good humour, but there’s something else in there, a kind of disapproval, that suggests not wearing a shirt on social media makes me less than a serious person, that I suddenly don’t have credibility because I’m posting torso photos at my age and I’m not some kind of a fitness guru.

Why? What’s so horrible about an older guy showing it off, all of it? To many, there’s a shelf life on feeling sexually relevant and free to exult in our bodies and the pleasure they can provide. I guess it’s okay if you do it behind closed doors, but if you bring it into the light and you’re over 50? Nope. It inspires everything from discomfort to sheer vehemence. The anonymous negative comments thrown at me on internet forums run the gamut from lightly judgmental to anti-Semitic, ageist and just outright mean.

“The man looks like a melting grey candle.”

Professionally, I’ve been dropped by a couple of agents along the way because of my erotic work, and I’m sure that I’ve lost out on some acting roles for the same reason. Because I’m a mainstream actor (not a star by any means, but beyond my Broadway and TV appearances, recognized mostly for my off Broadway and indie film work), I know I’ve made myself a target for this kind of thing, so have at it. Send the brickbats my way. And then I’ll ask again … why? Why does it push such buttons? Guess what? Some folks really enjoy looking at a naked 63-year-old body, especially that body in the throes of sexual activity. You don’t? Great. You don’t have to look. Move on. Simple as that.

We all have sex, we’re all naked underneath, so the judgment and evasion regarding sex and nudity have bewildered me for my entire adult life. Everyone has different levels of comfort and morality, and I get that, but people who are freer about putting it out there shouldn’t be maligned just as folks who have less comfort should be respected. However, the conservative, Bible-beating, right wing, puritanical (and very American, I say as an American myself) attitude about human sexuality is, I believe, the source of a lot of angst and shame that gets passed down to our kids (especially our gay kids) and it can seriously screw them up.

So when is one not too old? Who decides? There are those of us who don’t feel our age, who enjoy feeling vital in our maturity, despite being part of a community that can be obsessed with youth and physical beauty, making so many of us feel unseen and obsolete. When I was younger, yes, I could be dismissive and ageist; I remember disdainfully referring to a matinee crowd of quiet blue hair ladies as a Bob Vila audience – This Old House – not really considering that one day, I’d be included in that particular demographic.

Is there a shelf life to sexual viability? Should I “put it away” or “put on a shirt”? I’ve never felt more confident, joyful and free than when I started taking it off. Call me a sensualist; a provocateur. To some, it’s trashy. To some, it’s been life-changing. I know. I get messages all the time telling me that they feel better about their bodies, less ashamed, more accepting of themselves. If you think sex and nudity should be a private thing, I get that. But not everyone is you. And I fail to see why putting something out there that is a natural part of human existence should be criticized, demonized, ridiculed or scorned.

There is no age limit on feeling sexy, and nudity and sexuality are not evil. It’s shame that’s the devil.

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