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WHATS IT LIKE TO BE OLD?

Age is one of those things that sounds simple at first but combines and confuses at least four separate things:

1) Changes in the body: the physiological changes that take place in an organism over time. The shape and appearance of the body change, and so do its abilities. Not all of those abilities expand during childhood and decline in old age. At some points the chemisty of the body makes it more active and reckless and at others, more mellow.

2) Experience: the expanding knowledge of the consequences of one's actions, and what the juicier possibilities in life are, and getting over fears of the world as one discovers what it is all about.

3) Involvement: the changing entangelments with various groups and institutions. When you are a kid you are entangled with that artifical hell called high school, and maybe with your family. Your parents pull you one way while your friends pull you in some other direction. Later you might get bogged down in raising a family of your own, and holding a job and being responsible for your own. In between you may have a little freedom, even to build a scene which gives your friends some options you make on your own, rather than being limited to those provided for you.

4) What is expected: the changes in what you can get away with. At different stages of life, different things are encouraged and re-enforced, or discouraged and punished. This is partly a matter of custom and partly one of law: violence may be normal in the school yard but among adults it is assault and battery. Sex goes the other way, the law constrains it among the young, and tolerates it more among the old.

Thanks to the drinking age, there is a sharp break between the social life of the young and that of the old. And gay life is especially broken up by age. The young don't have so many chances to learn from the old, while the old to often treat the young like meat to prey on, or at least the young fear that in the old.

There is little room for the old to look out for the young; if we dont have kids of our own we should at least help raise the new generation, looking out for those abandoned by their parents, protecting them from predators, even buying them a few beers. We should protect the scene, keep other adults from interfering and clamping down, and make it more balanced in age.

Everything that seems fixed about us is actually part of a changing body and mind within a changing social world. So it is strange that someone going through what is clearly just a stage in life can seriously believe that being a skinhead is just something they always were and always will be, and that anyone who moves on in life must never have been a "real" skinhead to begin with.

Age works differently for gays as for straights. High school life, more than just about any settings around, is organized around assumed heterosexuality. Queers are, or at least used to be, dead meat. So queer kids get left out of high school social life and socialization, though they too often think they are the only ones who feel such isolation and alienation. Since many do not get bogged down with raising families, they don't have to provide for someone. And if they want to keep getting laid they must work to keep their bodies up long after their classmates' bellies have sprouted and muscles long softened under their guts. So gays who were blocked from being adolescents while they were teens often make up for it later. The main rite of passage to adulthood - marriage ceremonies - are out of the question for gays. So there are sociological reasons for the prolongued and delayed adolescences of gay men.


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