In a culture that throws away its elderly, in a community that thinks life is over at forty, how do we find relevance as gay elders? I propose that we move into the natural role that older members of communities played for millennia.
Own Your Own Value
In our consumer culture companies have learned to capitalize on our desire to be young for ever. They have led us to believe that only the young have value. Looking young is great as a bi-product of healthy, mind, body and spirit. Aimlessly chasing youth is a never ending battle that only brings misery.
I often hear older gay men complain that young men are dismissive. Of course they are. So were we. So are most youth, and young adults. But, we can still influence their thinking. If we stand up, refuse to reflect stereotypes, and choose to be in healthy relationship with them, some young men will recognize what we bring to the table. Of course it is equally important to honor their contributions. That us how we can move into an elder role.
Become a Mentor
On a personal level mentorship is the best thing we can offer. While mentors are usually older that doesn’t have to be the case. Be open to what you can learn from everyone in your life regardless of their age. Mentorship is at its best when people share a passion and teach, or learn, for the pleasure of it . There are certainly times when sexual mentorship is appropriate. More often, a platonic arrangement is better. Sex can change dynamics.
What is a gay elder?
Defining the gay elder role is tricky. We’ve dispensed with the elder role in western culture. I grew up in a house with my mother’s parents in the flat upstairs. I had elders. While the generation gap was already well in place by then, they still provided me with valuable insights based on their experience. They were buffers between me and my parents. Like many grandparents, they were more relaxed about everything.
Elders within communities play a similar role. They act as buffers between generations. They represent wisdom of days past. So what role can we play as elders within the queer community? Where is our place with everyone looking forward? Everything human beings are is built upon the foundations of what we were. We need to integrate where we came from with where we’re headed. That is where we add value.
History is important
Many of us have lived in a world without HIV, and a world without the rights we enjoy today. A world young people need to know about. How else can they understand that the fight is far from over?
We’ve been there, we’ve done that. If we discuss our experience without being dismissive we can offer insight, and perspective, that young gay and bi men can’t get from the culture at large.
Live as an example of wisdom
We can’t force anyone to embrace us. But, if we live by the wisdom we wish to share, if we become examples of growing old gracefully, if we embrace coming generations with respect, then we can learn a lot from each other. To remain relevant is to honor what we have fought for and help shape where younger generations are taking us. That’s what it means to be a gay elder.