Last June, I took the stage at Gay Pride dressed as a giant vulva.
I was Minora, a leatherdyke with vigorous pubic hair and a dinky piercing. My acting buddy, Margo Dunn, was Majora, pink and somewhat imperious. Margo is 63 and has issues with asthma and arthritis. I am 58, deaf in one ear and have high blood pressure.
The costumes were heavy. The day was hot. The stage was the size of a football field.
Why did we do it?
Here’s the story. A recent study by scholars at McGill University found that old queers are unacknowledged in Canada, or worse, the victims of outright oppression and injustice.
Homophobia is rampant in senior residences and care facilities. Longtime relationships are trampled underfoot when life partners are placed in separate facilities or separate rooms.
The mainstream media have tended to reinforce the invisibility of older LGBT individuals in our society. What were the last big-budget movies with queer content that you saw? Brokeback Mountain? Transamerica? Kinky Boots? No old queers there, that’s for certain.
Hollywood seems ready to sympathize with and understand the transsexual journey (as it should), and celebrate the dashing flamboyance of drag queens (as it should), and the passion of handsome young cowboys (well, okay, yes), but where are the old queers? Judy Dench as a lecherous, sociopathic lunatic in Notes on a Scandal? Gee, thanks!
Queer culture seems little better than the mainstream in this regard, and in some senses perhaps even worse. I do watch the L-Word (though Jenny drives me nuts with her stupid ‘writing’) but, really, are the baby dykes in LA fitted with time bombs set to detonate after 40 years? Where are the old lesbians?
A look at our local queer media reveals the same story. I looked at all the representations of people in the Apr 12 edition of Xtra West and found that out of 181 photos or pictures shown, 144 were clearly young, 26 were possibly middle aged, and only 11 were clearly old.
Apart from an excellent article on Gail Meredith and Eric Brogaard (pioneers of spousal survival benefits for same-sex couples) there was little written that was of specific relevance to old readers, despite the very real challenges we face in terms of housing, disability, depression, grief and loss, isolation, health care, and financial insecurity (especially for lesbians).
If you think that this sparse, and occasionally belittling, coverage is because old queers are just home knitting, think again. We’re active in Vancouver.
Programs offered by the Generations Project include the Generations Players, a theatre group whose mission is to educate and entertain around issues of ageism. The Vancouver Chapter of Prime-Timers provides a wide range of activities for queer men over 35. Gazebo Connection, a social organization for older lesbians, has produced a newsletter for 25 continuous years, which I believe is a North American record.
Quirk-e, the Queer Imaging & Riting Kollective for Elders, just concluded a successful exhibit at the Roundhouse, and will also show at the Vancouver Public Library and the University of British Columbia over the next few months.
The annual BOLD Conference for Bold, Old(er) Lesbians & Dykes last year drew close to 200 older lesbians and their younger friends from across North America. Not to mention the Menopausal Old Bitches (MOB), who have been engaged in activism and dialogue since the 1970s, and still are.
Whether we are retired or still in the workforce, old gays and lesbians represent an important pool of wisdom, strength, and intelligence, and an important repository of queer history.
We’ve lived through the changes. We helped make them happen. We’ve learned the hard way.
Experience doesn’t make everyone wise, but it can afford a higher chance.
The truth about old people is that we’re a mixed bunch.
Some of us are querulous and complaining. Some of us are light-hearted and fun.
And yes, sure, we’re a little closer to death. But that only serves to make us pay a little more attention and maybe to give less of a damn about what anyone else thinks. We don’t have time to waste.
There’s a bunch of cultural assumptions about being old. Some young people over-romanticize us, as in the ‘wise old crone’ stereotype. Others assume that we’d much rather be young.
They mean to be kind when they tell us that we “don’t look our age,” but when you analyze it, this kind of comment is insulting. Are those who ‘look their age’ to be pitied? For what?
As Gloria Steinem once said, “This is what 50 looks like”—whether it’s crinkly or smooth, grey or blond.
There’s nothing wrong with aging. We’ve all been doing it since we were born.
And sure, there’s a point where we age so much that we actually get there—that Zen arrow eventually reaches the target and we become OLD.
Many of us, including OLOCH (Old Lesbians Organizing for Change), prefer that term to the more euphemistic ‘aging’ and reclaim it the same way that we’ve reclaimed dyke or fag.
As the queer adage has it, we’re not asking for ‘special treatment’ only ‘equal treatment,’ though like anyone else with physical ailments, we might appreciate a little help as we shuffle along with our shopping bags, or stand on a moving bus, or scramble up the steps to the stage.
Just don’t patronize us, and don’t ever imagine that we’re not as angry, sexy, intelligent, insecure, well-informed, daring, bloody-minded, mentally agile, stubborn, creative, edgy, passionate, amusing, and dangerous as you.
Margo and I went on right after the belly dancers and just before the strippers. We held things up a little because, well, we had to stop and pee (one of the things I could do without quite so much of in this whole aging process).
After the stagehands helped us up the steps, our entry was a little rocky because our feet were hidden from view by our costumes’ voluminous vulval folds, and we were scared of tripping over the electrical cords.
But despite it all, we were there, and that was the point—to be the only old queers to rock the house at Homopalooza.