Blog: All My Elders Are Dead

I was talking on Twitter (when am I not?) and a joke about being A Tired Old Homo quickly hit a bit deeper. We have a problem in queer culture with glamorizing youth and forgetting anyone who’s beyond a “fuckable” age that feels like a concentrated version of the same problem with American culture. Everything in queer culture feels brighter and more strained and desperate to me, and that hints at what we’ve had to do to survive and how we’ve had to find each other and band together solely based on how we identify. The center doesn’t usually hold – do all straight people want to hang out with each other? Fuck no, and we don’t really either, if we’re going to be honest. We rarely are, and I’d argue we often cannot be, because we still need each other to bolster against society at large.

The effort tires me out, and it’s not just due to my advanced years, har har. I’ve never been good at going along with party culture and fitting in. It requires me to turn off enough of my brain and float, and I dislike that feeling. The last time I hung out with a group of who I’d categorize as “cool queers,” I quickly ran out of things to say, we all got drunk and danced and I went home feeling how I usually feel: ugly, blocky, strange, silent. It’s just not what I’m into, and I am tired of trying to pretend that it is.

I don’t begrudge anyone else that space. It’s not for me, but it’s for some. I’d argue not as many as try to be there, because I bet I’m not the only one who’s tired of fitting my weird form into this tiny box (irony.) But it’s definitely for some. And that gets to how we desperately cling to youth – the fucking, the beauty, the drag, the mess of it. I don’t think we know how to age. And I’m not going to say gracefully because fuck the respectability of that, but I feel the psychic struggle and casting about for a path, or an answer.

Another Way In

I live in the California Bay Area. I don’t like spending time in the Castro for a lot of reasons. I’m not a white cis gay dude, for one, and despite my yearning to be seen and made welcome in some ways in the cis gay community, it ain’t gonna happen. But I also don’t like spending time there because it’s haunted. And we all know by who, and why.

My grandmother on my dad’s side passed away on Pride weekend a few years ago in the hospice that was the first designated AIDS hospice in San Francisco. It’s not one anymore, clearly. She’d lived in San Francisco all her life, and so it made sense for her to be there because the city was in her blood. Still. I could hear the dyke march in the distance. I remember the sturdiness of the doorframe as I walked in and how the air in the place was a held breath. I remember the foliage on the patio where we sat as a family and tried to make sense and joy out of things. The golden light in her room and her blackened fingertips and how she scowled in her sleep, ready to get out of here, already. I remember being distracted from it all by the ghosts, feeling monstrous and huge and unequipped to deal with the family tragedy, much less the abrupt plunge into history. The ghosts still weigh on my heart.

Because it’s abstracted, right? I have never known a single person with AIDS, and it felt unbearably voyeuristic to be there because I feel like I do not deserve to feel this way at all. The horror of it was compounded by the ring of my straight, mostly ignorant or unaccepting family, but I felt like a true impostor.

The trauma of the death and the genocide feels wrapped in layers of plastic, shelved and stored away from me. No touching. I came out when I was 24. I just figured out my gender shit a few years ago. I have benefitted deeply from several queer people who’ve hinted at where I could go, and what I could be if I stretched for it. But I’ve never had a mentor or an elder to look to and think about how I might want to pattern my life similarly – or in contrast, even. The specter of AIDS has been blunted by years of society attempting to smooth the edges, and this country’s unforgivable first response to it, but it is still very much alive and makes deep waves in our collective queer psyche.

I’m vigilantly wary of tragedy porn, too, so these feelings are complex and a bit scary. They were taken from us, and the survivors make their own way. I can’t and will not speak to their experience. We don’t really listen to them much, they don’t occupy a ton of space in the queer groupmind because the queer pulse is always and will always be with the young. There’s nothing wrong with that, necessarily. Youth stretches and screams and breaks boundaries and fucks and drinks and parties and opens its arms to possibilities, and there’s a whole other conversation to be had about the wisdom there. But we have no road map for getting older except what monoculture’s absorbed and spits back to us: get married, adopt a kid, buy a house.

The iconic queers of the past are dead and buried, either gone too soon or hundreds of years out of conversation range to begin with. I’m not an idiot, so ticking off current names on your fingers in response is for your own benefit or clout. I am well aware that there are Queers Over 40 out there, and plenty of them. I’m not so arrogant to assume that there is no one out there to lead the way, but they (mostly) don’t speak to me.

So, I joke about slowly calcifying and turning to dust on Twitter because there’s a question buried in there about how I can do anything other than that. I don’t have an answer to it, and I don’t expect anyone else to, either. I feel this well of grief that I also feel like I have no right to feel at all. I don’t have the certainty or foundation others have in their queer families, their queer spaces, their sameness and mirrors, so I keep asking something.

How do I do this? Where do I go? I’m not sure. I guess I’ll report back.

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