Posted by: maxvoltage | May 17, 2011

queer aging

Max & Devan as kids

Yesterday at work I was waxing poetic over my upcoming 30th birthday this fall (mostly just trying to fathom what I will do to celebrate such a milestone).  My co-workers seemed shocked and in complete disbelief that I was 29.  One of them literally didn’t believe me.  “No way you are 29” she exclaimed.  And this seems to be happening to me a lot lately.  The older I get, the more people seem confused by my age.

I’m trying not to take it personally.  Reading into it that somehow it means the way I’m walking through the world is emotionally and intellectually immature.  That I don’t seem wise, that I haven’t accomplished enough yet to already be almost 30.  Age is such a relative and weird mile-stone.  Especially as a radical queer artist not engaging in the largely accepted rights of passage of mainstream society (home ownership, marriage, capitalistic career advancement, children, etc.)  Age becomes this weird nebulous thing.  I definitely feel older and wiser (particularly after getting to the other side of my Saturn Return with lessons learned and a clear understanding of who I am in the world and what I’m working toward).  And yet, somehow the people around me can’t sense all this wisdom i’ve gained in my 29 years on this planet.  But i suspect people’s confusion over my age has little to do with wisdom, gained or perceived.

I also noticed a funny thing, starting about 5 years ago.  When I tell folks that I’m 2 years older than my brother, people’s reactions tend to be one of shock and disbelief.  People I know well, people who know my brother well, and folks that know both of us and have for years.  They all seem shocked that I am older.  Everyone assumes that Devan is the older one.  Which seems weird to me because I feel like we have always fallen almost stereotypically into the oldest sibling/youngest sibling dynamic.  I was the responsible/academic one and he was the artistic/creative one.  Which is also kinda funny that we both ended up living queer artist paths.  So really, 2 two year age difference hasn’t mattered in a long while, and we’ve outgrown our oldest/youngest narratives.  But still, that I’m 2 years older seems to shock people.  It seems like people misperceiving our age difference has been a more recent development.

Then it hit me; my gender is younger than his gender.  My gender is a boyish gender.  A kind of peter pan.  My brother’s gender used to be a boy too but in the last few years, his gender got older, got a beard and chest hair, a deeper voice.  His gender got older and mine stayed the same.  So i guess its not that surprising that people think the person with the beard and deep voice is older than the one that has been featured on lesbians who look like Justin Beiber.com

We have these models and ideas about how each “sex” is supposed to age.  What you are supposed to wear to be age appropriate.  How you hold yourself, and the physical transformations that mark age.  Being genderqueer, I fall outside these models which render my age difficult to read.  I wear the clothes and styles of a faggy boyish creature in their early 20s.  And have for over 10 years now.  And will continue to do so well into my 30s.

It seems to me that radical queer folks of lots of different genders have this similar experience.  Plus, we live in Portland (where young people go to retire).  Aging brings a certain narrative of what we’re supposed to do, how we should live, what we’re supposed to believe, based on our age.  Many of us continue to do the things we did in our early 20s (attend & put on queer events, music shows & dance parties, live in communal houses, work poorly paying jobs).  We are told a narrative that your youth/early 20s is when friends & community is most important, but once you get older, you “settle down” with a partner.  Many of us choose not to do that, choose non-monogamous models.  Choose to continually invest in building community.  We are told that we must give up or radical “idealistic” perspective of the world once we get older.  Follow the narrative that our parents generation did; so much radical energy in the 1960s turned into capitalist-fueled yuppie-dom.

And at the same time, I am getting older, and it constantly surprises me, confuses me.  I don’t want to go out dancing every week in the same way I did when I was in my early 20s.  Certainly can’t drink the way I used to.  I’m more invested in fewer important friendships, staying in, working on my own projects & community, than I am in running around town and making sure i know every cute queer in Portland (though still awesome when I can swing it).

As radical queers, we get to write our own narratives for aging.  What changes do we accept as we get older? (some changes chosen, some not so much).  How do our bodies, our styles, our perspectives, our values change?  What parts of ourselves do we choose to keep, to hold fast to despite society telling us to give up our political, community-based, radical selves?  Aging is a privilege that was not afforded previous generations of queers.  Without a model comes a certain amount of unknown, but also the ability to write our own stories, write our own futures.  Scary and exciting all at once.

Plus, if I’m still getting carded at bars into my 40s? Fuck yeah.

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