3 min

Embracing aging — literally

Chatting up those smart, sassy seniors

For most of us, one of the most dreaded aspects of aging is the loss of control. It may even rank higher than the fear of no longer being considered attractive, but maybe that’s just me.

No longer being able to take care of yourself on a day-to-day basis means having to depend on other people to do things for you, people who you may or may not like and who may or may not treat you the way you want to be treated.

“The thought of a seniors’ home is frightening, and not just to queer people,” panellist Richard Birney-Smith told a room full of service providers and seniors at last week’s Opening The Closet On Aging event at the 519 Community Centre. The audience responded with a murmur of agreement and a palpable shudder.

There’s no doubt that there’s a need for more programs and facilities geared toward queer and trans seniors, both to allow them to maintain their independence longer and to ensure that seniors forced to move into assisted living facilities don’t have to deal with homophobia, either from service providers or other residents.

There’s been talk in the past of building a rainbow retirement residence, and who knows, someday it might actually happen. In the meantime, three of the city-run Toronto Homes For The Aged have beds set aside for queer seniors, though I shudder to think of how many are living elsewhere and keeping to the closet for fear of harassment.

Back in the 1980s there were the Angels, a group of kindhearted souls who visited hospitals and nursing homes to lend support to queer seniors in need. The project was an initiative of the late Jean Duncan-Day, who I understand could have used an Angel or two herself toward the end of her time in hospital. (For more on Jean Duncan-Day see the Proud Lives tribute posted under Headlines in this web-update.)

Perhaps there’s a place for a homo version of Meals On Wheels — can you imagine the sorts of fussy offerings foodie fags and femmes would come up with? — or an aged version of Supporting Our Youth (Supporting Our Seniors?) that would provide social opportunities for older ‘mos beyond the stereotypical seniors’ staples of bingo and shuffleboard.

But as much as improved institutional supports are needed, I’ve got something a little more radical in mind. I’d like to see a shift in the way queer culture deals with aging and the way we relate to the generations ahead of us.

I’m not talking about volunteering to do chores for some crotchety old queen you’ve got nothing in common with. I’m talking about seeking out a kindred spirit a decade or a few older than yourself and establishing a mutually beneficial relationship, whether as a mentor, friend or lover.

I won’t blather on about how the older you are, the wiser get ’cause I think that’s bogus. Some older folks really are elders, as 2-Spirited People Of The First Nations’ executive director and Opening The Closet panelist Art Zoccole pointed out, and some aren’t. But I know for a fact there are a whole lot of sassy, sexy seniors out there who could teach me a thing or two about life because I’ve already had the pleasure of meeting some of them.

At the ripe old age of 30 I’ve come to the realization that aging isn’t just something that happens to you. It’s something that you learn to be successful at. Just like queer kids often lack good role models for queer adulthood, there are a hell of a lot of us queer adults lacking role models on how to grow older without resigning ourselves to a less than fabulous existence.

Despite the way some queers behave, old age isn’t contagious and it’s something that we all have to look forward to — if we’re lucky, that is. Even the twinkiest of twinks is bound to mature eventually, and no amount of Botox is going to change that. So instead of hiding from the reality, why not embrace it and get to know what it looks like up close and personal?