It’s always One Thing or Another … a lighthearted look at aging, life, and the absurdities of it all.
By Mark McNease
The late George Carlin once lamented in his stand-up routine that no one gets old anymore. We’re all just “older.” It’s one of those word games we play with ourselves, masking, and in some cases burying, truths we find inconvenient or unpleasant. After all, we can be older indefinitely; getting and being old has the sound of finality, or at least of an end approaching faster than we’d anticipated.
A couple years back I was visiting my sister who’d just turned 62 and the subject of the O-word came up. She told me some people responded to her saying without shame or embarrassment that she’s old, “Oh no, don’t say that! You’re not old!” As if she’d admitted to having a highly contagious disease and they’d forgotten to wear their face masks, or she’d just told them a terrible secret they would have to carry alone for the rest of their lives. I suppose the thinking is that if my peer admits to being old it must mean I am, too, and we simply can’t have that in a society that treats age as a dire prognosis.
How ridiculous is it to hear people described as “84-years-young”? Our age-phobic culture forbids us from referring to anything as old other than cars, pets and things we leave on the curbside for someone to pick up and repurpose once they’ve had it fumigated. Maybe that’s at the heart of it: We believe that to be old is to be disposable, to be at that point where we are no longer needed, wanted or respected, and we can be tossed out with the recyclables.
You know the age-denying culture has won when we cannot refer to ourselves as old without being labeled defeatists. When Olay has an ad slogan saying, “Why look older?” as if that is a bad thing. (I’ll keep an eye out for their ads asking “Why look darker?” and “Why look gayer?”) When even well-respected advocacy and service organizations for seniors (another word that’s become pejorative) must emphasize “older” to prevent offending anyone who can’t accept getting old, we see how far we have to go and how much ground we’ve ceded to the desperately young.
Old is not a dirty word. Old is not a slur. Old is a magnificent tree that has stood for two hundred years and doesn’t care what anyone thinks of its bent branches and its weathered bark. Old does not deny its age or claim to be what it is not. Old is beautiful, sublime, honorable and wise. I am, at 56, an openly older man, and in just a few years I’ll be a proud, openly old one, too.
Mark McNease is the Editor of lgbtSr, a website “where age is embraced and life is celebrated,” serving the over-50 LGBTQ audience. He’s the author of the Kyle Callahan Mysteries, co-editor and publisher of the anthology Outer Voices Inner Lives (Lambda Literary Award finalist), host of the Live Mic with Mark podcast, and the co-creator and original writer for the Emmy and Telly winning children’s program Into the Outdoors.