Ageism* (or agism) is commonly defined as stereotyping and/or discrimination based on the age of an individual or a group. It is a tendency to categorize and judge people solely based on their chronological age. As such, ageism is just like racism or sexism and – within the LGBT+ community – ageism may as well stand for a double discrimination.
Wherever we go to experience life, regardless of our age, it is a fact that we all belong to an aging society. Even on a more personal level – we all do age. If nothing else, it does feel a bit bizarre having to type this one down, as if it’s not already well known as an inevitable course of nature.
Simply put, every human being is destined to become older unless their life is unexpectedly cut short. Meanwhile, the spreading of prejudices, discrimination and stereotypes about aging are on the rise. However, how many of us are truly aware that our own influencing behavior can also impact our personal experience regarding aging?
Over the centuries, different societies valued old age in various ways yet the modern world, unfortunately, appears to be ageist on a daily basis. Research shows that social ideals of youth and the general anti-aging culture, in fact, reflect our personal fear of aging, which has been internalized during childhood and later tends to produce attitudes, expectations and perceptions regarding the aging process. It manifests in a way that younger adults will often attribute to older people the negative stereotypes that they fear will describe their own futures.
Ageism is quite different from other forms of prejudices based on race, sex, gender, etc. because it is a bias and discrimination by members of one group against members of a second group – which the first group will one day join. If you find yourself belonging to a community which was or is being wrongfully judged, where does that leave you exactly?
Five decades after the Stonewall riots many need to be reminded of the brave fight for LGBT+ rights, which are taken for granted. That generation of LGBT+ activists, who participated in the Stonewall riots, are now older and facing ageism. The facts might be unpleasant but true! In a society obsessed with youth, the LGBT+ community often supports ageism.
Placing all the eggs in one basket (which is youth) and not acknowledging the general aging of the LGBT community usually results in disregarding older adults and marginalizing them. On a more individual level, older adults are subjected to highly inappropriate “age limitations”, ridicule and insensitive language on dating apps, among other areas of life. Sometimes, it seems that the LGBT+ community forgets some basic historical community-related facts.
Many LGBT+ people, who are now over 50, experienced unimaginable obstacles, which consisted of hardships relating to coming out in times when homosexuality was criminalized, as well as, trauma related to the AIDS crisis. The majority of today’s LGBT seniors are the ones who fought for the right to be what they are and they are the ones who enabled younger generations to live with less concern and enjoy more freedom today. Yet, a NationalPoll on Healthy Living shows 82% of people aged 50-80 experience ageism on a daily basis. When it comes to LGBT+ seniors, their troubles double, as many feel aging to be harder due to the perception of age within their own community.
Being connected to others, regardless of our age, is critical for our overall well-being, our mental and physical health. LGBT+ seniors are one of the most resilient groups out there, if one considers the roads they’ve travelled, but it cannot be easy to put aside all the stereotypes of aging and discrimination which comes with it. While one can probably understand age preference being important in someone’s personal quest for a suitable partner – to use age as the only factor to determine if one is to even converse with someone – is nothing but disrespectful and narrow minded.
Ageism is a huge part of the world we live in today, representing a challenge for everyone. It’s a self-defeating mechanism, much like sawing off the branch you’re sitting on (a Slavic metaphor which seems fitting at this point). While there are more and more research studies and anti-ageism activists out there now, the LGBT+ community has to be double-sensitive on this subject – maybe more sensitive than the general population. It needs to prevent discriminatory manners and behaviors, and to take care of its older generations, as a community which evolved thanks to its forefathers (and mothers).
Getting older is so much more than our image or physical appearance. Most of all, it can mean knowledge and experience, the one that helps us expand our minds, while shaping and deepening our ways of thinking and understanding ourselves and those around us.
So! Next time before naming someone an ‘’Old Queen’’ – maybe one should kneel first.