Is Ageism Still a Problem in the Gay World?

ageism in the gay world

“Don’t tell me our youth is running out…it’s only just begun” – Foxes, Youth

When you’re in your late teens or your 20’s, old age is the last thing on your mind. At best, it’s something to laugh at and make jokes about. At worst, it’s something to fear. How many times have you been accused of being ‘old’ when you’ve declined a night on the town, or when you’re older than your friends by a year, or even less than that? The fact is, ageism is a pretty huge issue in all of society, but particularly in the gay circles.

When you’re younger, you have time to kill, and life on your side. You have everything to gain and nothing to lose. You are looked upon with affection by others, and aren’t affected by your age. The fact is, our youth gives us an advantage, and often with youth comes arrogance. I’m sure at least once we’ve been come on to by someone who has a good few years on us, and even if we haven’t, we’ve all seen them out and about in bars and clubs. And how many of us, with our high handed attitude that we all have when we’re in our teens or early 20’s, laughed at the ‘oldies’, thinking they were desperate and out of place?

The thing is, and what a lot of us might forget, is that the older generation haven’t had quite as easy a ride as we’ve had it. As little as fifty years ago, it was a criminal offence to be gay – the legalisation of homosexual acts was not passed until 1967, and even after the decriminalisation, the laws of discrimination had not yet been put into place. Coming out was not an option for a lot of men, so they instead led secret lives, marrying and having children, yet sneaking out to have sex with men at night. It’s no surprise that a lot of older gay men have children because they were too scared to come out in the olden days.

Age wasn’t always an issue in the gay community. Gerry Poet, a legend of Manchester’s poetry scene, spoke about his first experience in a gay club in an interview with BBC news last year: “I was seventeen and terrified, me and Brian my best friend quaking at the top of a stairwell. There was a door, we knocked, an eye-slot opened and a rough as red-brick voice growled “come in”. It was a dump, but to me and my best friend it would become a pleasure palace, housing a huge mix of very different aged, shaped and gendered people. It seemed everybody was welcome. There were very few bars back then so everybody had to mix together. The scene was multi-aged, young and old on the same dancefloor, doing different dances to the same record. The scene now seems committed to the young and only the young which I think is both mean-spirited and desperately short-sighted.”

It seems backward that in a time where there really is a no better time to be gay, it seems like the circle is becoming more and more exclusive, rather than inclusive. I’ve spoken previously on how gay men often seem to discriminate, whether it be about race, religion, size or gender, and that’s without age being thrown into the mix. Rather than progressing forward with a community that supports one another, it often seems that we prefer to segregate people who are different.

And here’s something else to think about. Next time you’re in a bar, and an older person comes on to you, or even tries to strike up a conversation with you, instead of dismissing them, stop for a minute. This person has lived a lot longer than you have. They’ve been in love. They’ve probably had their heart broken. They have lived through that frightening period of time where being gay was met with ridicule, with fear, and with hatred. Imagine getting through that, and then having the freedom to live in a time where it is undoubtedly the best time we’ve had for gay people to be alive, only to have some snotty little punk with a bad haircut and a Hype T-shirt looking at you like you don’t belong. I realise that this isn’t the attitude of all young gays, but it’s the attitude of a lot. And it’s something that needs knocking on the head.

Age is wisdom, age is natural, and it’s nothing to be scoffed at or made to be shameful. It’s an age old saying, if you’ll excuse the wording, but age really is nothing but a number.

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