Growing older invisibly

April 27, 2010

We are always the same age inside. [Gertrude Stein]

My paternal Grandmother (RIP) and I both celebrated ‘milestone’ birthdays in 1977; I was 21 and she was 70. Our birthday dates were only three days apart and that year there was a family get-together to mark the two. I remember my Grandmother saying to me that, whilst she may be 70 ‘on the outside’, she didn’t feel much different inside from how she felt when she was 21.

I’m 53 now and recently I find myself thinking about that quite often. Not only in terms of how I feel inside, but also in the way society views, and treats, older people. It’s hard not to see a lot of ageism, both in the prevailing prejudices towards older people – as well as in older people’s prejudices about younger people.

And prejudice is, I think, at the root of ageism. I often see the term used to describe a form of discrimination against older people; a shorthand for prejudicial attitudes towards older people, old age, and the aging process. In that sense, perhaps it could also be considered to be a form of oppression.

But ageism can, and does, run in both directions. Younger people can use oppressive and discriminatory words and actions against older people, just as older people can use oppressive and discriminatory words and actions against younger people. “Turn that noise down” versus “If it’s too loud, you’re too old”, to pluck one random example from the air.

Where all this is leading me, in a very roundabout way, is into the question of the way our lives as well as our attitudes change as we grow older. In particular I’m becoming increasingly concerned about what the future may hold, in a way that the 21-year old me would probably have been either unable or unwilling to comprehend. It’s all very well musing on memes like “If I could be 21 again, but knowing what I know now”, or “If you could go back in time and give your younger self advice that she’d benefit from in the longer term, what would you say to her?” but it’s a bit like thinking about what you’d spend your lottery winnings on (assuming, of course, that you play the lottery anyway) – you know it’s never going to happen, but it’s fun to imagine.

As part of the process of coming to terms with the passing of the years, I’ve recently started to look for online resources that might offer practical information. And I have to say I’ve been really disappointed. The couple of trans specific sites I’ve found seem to be both out of date and U.S. focused whilst ‘official’ (government) sites here in Britain seem too generalised to be of any use – and it’s hardly a surprise that I can find no mention of the specific issues that seem likely to face older trans people. The most comprehensive and current sites seem to be run by older cis people – but those, equally unsurprisingly, completely invisibilise trans people. Although many of our needs overlap with cis people’s, there are trans specific issues too – to give a couple of examples: health issues around the long term use of hormones; whether being trans makes any difference to (for example) residential care providers, etc.

To be honest, the almost complete invisibilisation of older trans people in already limited online resources is really rather disheartening – so if anyone can recommend any sites that might be of interest, please leave a link in comments.

One Response to “Growing older invisibly”

  1. pragya Says:

    I am little over 21 years of age , 3 years to be exact and subjected to the reverse bias.It’s almost like since you are young you supposed to have a little bit of naivity or stupidity. Both at work and amongst my friends most of my thoughts are contemptously declared precocious. For example i am expected to get excited about movies or some cute guy in office and my views on politics or life’s philosophy is considered pre-mature!!

    I definitely dont feel like a conventional 21 year old , i am either 5 or 50 . :)


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