Ageism is a problem in American society as a whole which puts so much emphasis on youth and beauty and slim and toned bodies. This can be multiplied ten fold in much of the gay community outside of the so-called "bear" community where ageism remains but some of the other fixation on body perfection is diminished (in my view). Coming out in mid-life, this was a reality that hit me head on since in the minds of younger gays anyone my age was already a has been. Two things bring the issue to mind. First, a friend's birthday party on Friday night where we had attendees ranging in age from their twenties to one in their early 70's - something not always witnessed in the gay community. Second, a piece in Gay Star News that looks at the issue which is gaining more attention as more "out" gays are aging and suggest that many in the the younger generations are missing out by summarily dismissing their elders. Many of the issues/views translate over to the straight world as well. Here are article excerpts:
Over the last two years, getting older has started to scare me. . . . . . maybe it’s because I’ve always associated getting older with being written off; with being tossed out by society and not being able to enjoy a healthy, active social life anymore.The other night whilst out I met an older man. He’d hidden himself in the shadowy corner of the club, swaying awkwardly while nursing his drink, trying to avoid being seen. I recognized these traits as the hallmarks of social anxiety. It’s an affliction I’ve battled with more times than I care to admit. Never one to see someone standing alone, I wandered over and struck up conversation.
A few minutes into the basic chit-chat and he tells me his age. ‘I’m 62’, he says sheepishly. He then goes on to express worry that he ‘feels too old’ to be here. I shrug off this comment and try to soothe his concerns off by assuring him that he has the same right as anyone else to be here. He goes on tell me that he’s new to the city and that, when younger, he never had the opportunity to do ‘this’ (clubbing.)
However, a moment later, the conversation stopped mid-sentence when a younger gay (whose face was so smoothed over he resembled a malnourished Ken doll) shot a disparaging glare over towards the man. The look said it all; he was judging this man based purely on his age.
I’ve seen it so many times; judging glares from youthful gays at older gay men because they think it’s ‘weird’ or ‘creepy’ that they’re in the same bar.
What they fail to realize is that they’ll one day be that age. Ageism takes root in denial, in pretending that we’ll never get old. But everyone wakes up a day older. You don’t hit 40 and find the urge to visit a bar suddenly eradicated. Nor do you have to retire your social life and commit to a hermit lifestyle.
We are a community composed of all ages, genders and races. We should not be complicit in our further marginalization.
The best people I’ve ever met are the ones who follow the mantra ‘age is just a number.’ Eighteen or 85, you can go to a gay bar or club and have drinks. You should be able to let loose and dance in a joyous way; you aren’t dead yet, so why the hell not? We need to beat back that ‘you’re too old’ and ‘that guy is creepy because he’s older’ mentality like the medieval dragon it is.
But what I feel is more important is that we realize what we can learn from each other. After talking to that older man, I gained perspective and a better understanding of the struggles his generation battled – and he also bought me a drink, so it was a double win! You can find common ground with anyone, so don’t write people off because of their age. We are all a part of the same community.
What is lost on too many younger gays is the fact that the rights and social acceptance they enjoy is largely due to the efforts of the older generation they look down on or dismiss. Locally, it is us "old guys" and "old gals" who continue to do much of the work raising funding for the annual pride event, support Equality Virginia financially, and who blaze trails of acceptance in social organizations and settings that once excluded gays.
A friend has an interesting piece here on the issue as well.