It’s been a very long time since I wrote one of these, but I was posting about an event being held at the SAGE Center here in New York City “for LGBT Older Adults”, and I just can’t help myself.
This is not an original observation. The late George Carlin once lamented in his stand-up that no one gets old anymore. We’re all just “older.” And then last week when I was visiting my sister in Ojai, CA, who recently turned 62 and started collecting Social Security, the subject of the O-word came up again. She told me with some irritation of people who respond to her saying without shame or embarrassment that she is old, “Oh no, don’t say that! You’re not old!” as if she’d just admitted to having a highly contagious disease. I won’t even begin to say how ridiculous it is to hear people described as “84 years young,” but God and our age-fearful culture forbid we refer to anything as old other than cars and things we throw away. Maybe that’s at the heart of it: we believe that to be old is to be disposable, to be at that point where we are no longer needed, wanted, respected, and can be tossed out with the trash.
You know the age denying culture has won when we dare not refer to ourselves as old. When Olay has an ad slogan saying, “Why look older?” as if that is a bad thing. (I’ll look for their ads asking “Why look darker?” and “Why look gayer?”) When even a well-respected advocacy and service organization like SAGE must emphasize “older” to prevent offending anyone who simply can’t accept the fact of getting old, we see how very far we have to go and how much ground we’ve ceded to the desperately young. Even “senior” has become a slap in the face, and I haven’t figured out of it’s age or our aging selves we’re rejecting.
Old is not a dirty word. Old is not a slur. Old is a magnificent tree that has stood for two hundred years and cares not what anyone thinks of its bent branches and its weathered bark. Old does not deny its age or claim to be what it is not. Old is beautiful, sublime, honorable, and wise. I am, at 54, an openly older man, and in just a few years I will be a proud, openly old one, too.
In fairness to SAGE, a great organization, they serve people over 50 and “old” vs “older” is hard to differentiate, but the perpetuation of us as forever “older” remains.