The god Thor was once beaten in an arm wrestle by a very aged crone, the tale illustrating that age will always defeat youth and vigour in the end. It was El Reid-Buckley and their suggestion of “realism is overrated” that brought folklore and myth into a recent conversation about age and ageing. El’s suggestion of looking to our own folklore, such as the idea of Tír na nÓg, when thinking about time passing, was introduced during an online round table interview that Rita Wild hosted in November of behalf of GCN.
There were six participants; Ailbhe Smyth, Aoife Martin, Cathal Kerrigan, El Reid-Buckley, Hughie Maughan and Thomas Heising, ranging in age from late twenties to mid-seventies and representing a cross-section of queer experience. We came together to chat about ideas of age and ageing in our communities as part of a Community Foundation funded project that included an online survey and a live event in Belfast in partnership with Outburst Arts Festival.
The whole project so far had been surprisingly uplifting, and this online round table was no exception. There were of course genuine concerns expressed, however the relentless queer optimism that infects all our communities was the most striking thing about the conversation.
All the participants expressed gratitude that even though we had plenty of challenges still to face, we also had plenty of opportunities for queer joy. It was often mentioned that the way in which we care for each other in the face of society’s intolerance has been the source of so much of our joy and well-being. Living a life and ageing in a world not built for us requires radical acts of imagination. Cathal Kerrigan rightly reminded us that we must also imagine that we can and will change, and that change can be quite significant over a queer lifetime. He asked that we as communities be less rigid and more accepting and acknowledging of how others might change, as he has had to do over the course of his own life.
Shame and queer bodies were, unsurprisingly, a recurring theme. Aoife Martin challenged us to talk more about older bodies, and particularly trans bodies. Aoife expressed hope that we could all talk more about the things we do not currently talk much about, like trans people and sex, or being an elder when you are still young yourself because there are so few ‘older’ people in Irish trans communities.
Another subject that came up often was the idea of intergenerational learning and how being in the company of people of differing ages enriches us all. Thomas Heising reminded us that sometimes it’s our younger friends who we relate to best around popular culture. Our other young gay man in the conversation, Hughie Maughan, reminded us that negative ideas of ageing were just social conditioning and that gay men particularly can often suffer from negative ideas of getting older.
Challenging such stereotypes has been ongoing work for our communities, as Ailbhe Smyth so eloquently expressed when speaking about her lifetime of activism. It was Ailbhe who delighted us all by introducing the idea of the “Queer Granny as Agent for Radical Social Change”. The final giggle was caused by Hughie; his hilarious parting comments about botox and donating his body to the plastics factory when he dies will stay with us all a long time.
These gorgeous queers were outrageously interesting company. I’m so grateful to have spent time with them.
Ailbhe Smyth Front Cover
Dublin, Activist, Queer Granny, Retired Academic
“Just because you’re in your 70’s, it doesn’t mean that you’re actually thinking about being in your 70’s. Every morning when I wake up, I do not say, ‘Oh, my goodness, I’m 76, what will I do today?’ I just get on with my life. And I think that living in what is fundamentally a very ageist society, as well as very lesbiphobic, biphobic, homophobic, transphobic, racist, you name it… I am now realising that I have to deal with ageism, as well.”
Cathal Kerrigan Previous
Cork, Activist, Historian, Retired Academic
“I want to play with being old. So let’s have fun being old. Like we had fun with being young and being activists, because we did have fun. But I also have to do it with an awareness… that ageing is a very physical process. So I’m very conscious of, ‘what do I want to do with this time, this precious time?’”
El Reid Buckley Right
Limerick, Activist, Student, Artist
“Having those conversations between different generations, even if it just means where you’re five or 10 years apart, or you could be 40 years apart, that has helped me grow so much as a person. And just being able to see older queer people live happy lives is really, really important. In the same way that I think reflecting on younger people being open and out, that there is not necessarily ‘Oh, I wish I could have had that when I was younger’, it’s like, I’m so glad that they don’t have to go through the same things that I’m going through.”
Cork, Activist, Graphic Artist
“I definitely would like to see… openness. Even someone who is 16 or 19 can provide as much value to my life as someone who’s older. I think, ‘I have to look to my elders? No, I also have to look to my youngers!’”
Dundalk, Vice Chair of TENI, Activist, Works in IT.
“Ageing within the queer community, specifically around ageing within the trans community - I do worry a little bit about that. I worry about trans people going into homes. What if they haven’t had surgery? They obviously deserve to be treated with respect and dignity and I do worry that that might not happen… what if a trans person has Alzheimer’s, you know? Those are the things I think we need to start talking about, we need to start thinking about and we need to start wondering - how are we going to address this?”
"Living a life and ageing in a world not built for us requires radical acts of imagination...