• Ryan Backer

Age Queer - why we need to queer age now more than ever

‘Age queer’. For those in the aging field, this phrase might seem uncomfortable, and for my friends who identify as queer, the phrase might be confusing. Inverting the words might make the concept a bit more clear: queer age.

It is an answer to the ‘ageless’, ‘age is just a number’, age denial discourse the media is saturated with. It is a relief in the tug of war between young and old. It validates the messiness of the politics of aging. ‘Queer’ has been reappropriated by those whom the slur was used against and it has transformed into a field of study, a way of being, and a cultural phenomena all of its own.

So what exactly is age queer? 

Simply put, it is the refusal to conform to the social constructs of age- namely rejecting the young/old binary, embracing the measurement of time without clinging to the idea that time is linear. Time is not linear, age is not a binary. 

Want to know more? Check out my age queer zine.

Queer Age Now 

While writing this piece the world has changed forever. The spread of COVID-19 threatens more and more people’s lives. The global community is experiencing deep sorrow and frightening reality. We are all suffering be it physically, financially, emotionally, and/or spiritually.  How drastic this change will be? Only time will tell. 

The ageist and ableist cesspools of the popular discourse are being revealed. I will spare you my anarcho-socialist ramblings, but the cracks are certainly showing. 

At the same time, the strict and severe measures taken to curb the spread are inherently anti-ageist and anti-ableist. People of all ages, abilities and social statuses are being asked to stay in their homes, stay six feet away from others and move their social connection online. Whether or not anyone- of any age- follows these guidelines and the severity of the impact of the guidelines is another story. These measures are not easy for anyone- especially not for those in long term care settings and those living alone. 

Our Missing Queer Elders

The work I do as an age activist is directly related to a type of pandemic I learned about years ago, one that has been plaguing olders for a lot longer than COVID-19: elder abuse. The news out of Spain about the abandoned care homes is devastating and just one example these two horrors combined. 

And then there is AIDS, a pandemic that has been killing healthy youngers globally my entire life. The first generation of survivors back in the 80s, and their loved ones, are certainly processing current events in a distinctly different way than the rest of us. The impact of those who were lost in the crisis, a huge portion of a generation of queer olders, is still mourned across queer communities today. Today there are communities just starting to experience similar impacts in China and Italy because of the current crisis.

Learning from Queer Elders – The Next Right Thing

The perseverance- physically, socially, politically and emotionally- of those who faced the havoc of AIDS in the early days is the only reason I am even able to explore the idea of age queer today. 

Reflecting on the wisdom gained from these pandemics gives me a bit of relief from the heartbreak of the current situation- and it reveals to me the next right thing to do.

I will stay calm.  I will do what I can to survive. I will help those around me to do the same. I will remember that there are those in the future who need us to thrive during and after these times of hardship.

originally published on ChangingAging

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