I’ve been thinking a lot lately about aging, mostly because it’s something my body seems to be rapidly doing. Of course, much of this obsession is standard midlife reflection — ”crisis,” I suppose, if I want to be dramatic about it. First, there’s the realization that 40 is halfway to 80. Then there’s the recognition that, no matter how many hours one puts in at the gym, metabolism and nature ensure that one’s body will never again maintain the tone of a 25-year-old.
And don’t even get me started on the whole thinning hair thing.
I’ve already notified my husband that I don’t plan to age particularly gracefully, and will be taking all sorts of steps to mitigate the damage of passing years — though nothing approaching Joan Rivers fright-mask levels. I may be vain, but I have my limits. The upside to this outburst of midlife vanity is that it’s gotten me addicted to the gym for the first time in my life, and while I know that won’t return me to a younger state, it’s a healthy enough obsession that should help get me through my prime heart-attack years.
I also can’t help but contemplate aging because I’m watching many in my own family enter their later years. My paternal grandmother is about to turn 100, my maternal grandmother is in her 80s. They’re each cared for to differing degrees by my respective parents and extended families, most of whom still live close. It’s the family structure that for generations has provided support for our oldest relatives.
And so the realization: I’ve grown to be outside that system. Unlike most of my relatives, I’ve moved hundreds of miles away, so I’m not there to help provide support. And, more importantly, I’m gay, married and childless — and most likely to stay that way — so I’m not creating the same traditional support structure that, say, my cousins are.
This has been a growing issue for our community over the past few years, and something that was once again brought home for me last week with the passing of Frank Kameny. Frank had the great fortune to be loved and cared for by an appreciative community — as much as we should all be inspired by what he accomplished in his long life, we should also be inspired by the way so many in our community gave freely of their time and resources to make sure Frank was living comfortably and safely.
But we’re not all Frank Kameny, and as we continue to age we’ll continue to find that we have growing needs that are often different from our heterosexual contemporaries. While many gay and lesbian couples are creating families of their own, there will still be many of us who are childless or without that extended family structure to provide support. We have to build alternatives to those structures so that support is available to everyone who needs it.
I’m happy to see the continued emergence and growth of organizations such as SAGE and the services provided by organizations like the Mautner Project and Helping Our Brothers and Sisters. This isn’t an issue to be looked at for the future; it’s the reality of our lives right now.
As for me, while I don’t have the family that I grew up with right at hand, I am fortunate enough to have my ”new” family nearby, with so many of my in-laws being a part of my everyday life. We get to carry on some traditions of family support in a slightly nontraditional way. Thanks to that and the growing awareness of my own community, I have far less to fear about aging.
Even if I refuse to do it gracefully.