Age ain’t nothing but a number, or so the saying goes. But I think it is a little more than that. It symbolizes the wisdom that one gains through accumulating years on the planet. That wisdom is more for some than for others. Age has a lot of sociocultural meanings. Like all the other categories, it is socially constructed. The actual number might be a hard fact, but the meanings associated with that number are social and cultural in nature.
I am currently 44 years old. That means I am thoroughly middle-aged. Like many people, I have mixed feelings about being middle-aged. When I turned 40, I was really happy. The reason was simple: I made it that far. As a trans person, I know that my life expectancy is significantly shorter than my cisgender peers. When I was 18, I never thought of even living to 40. I was so afraid of being bashed to death in a hate crime or of dying by suicide. I still worry about those things. Making it to 40 meant that I had survived longer than I had expected. I had officially made it to middle age. But middle-age is also difficult. It is that age when you look around and see what you have and have not accomplished. You realize the timer is ticking and you only have so much time left to do or finish the things you want.
It is hard for me not to look at others in my peer group and see what they have and what I don’t have. So much emphasis in this society is put upon having a car, owning a home, having a partner, having children, taking fancy vacations, getting a six-figure paycheck, etc. It’s easy to say those things don’t really matter but that ignores the pressure exerted by our society to have all of those things. We don’t live in a vacuum. We live in a society with very real expectations and norms.
I don’t fit the norms. In fact, I broke the mold. I try to be prideful in my difference, but it doesn’t mean I am not affected by the pressure to have a more conventional life. As we age, I wonder what questions we should ask. Here is what comes to mind:
What does it mean to live a meaningful life?
Am I using my time to do and accomplish the things I want?
Am I searching for greater meaning in my life and greater connection to other people?
Am I deepening my connection with God, the Universe, or something greater than myself?
Am I thinking about my legacy? What do I want my legacy to the world to be and why?
Am I using my life in service to others in some way?
Am I trying to leave the world in a better place when I leave it than when I entered it?
There are many more questions but you get the point. So often it is specific things [car, partner, kids, high salary, fancy house, vacations, etc.] that we are told to aspire to over the lifetime. But we have to ask what really, really matters. I have nothing against the previous things per se, but I do have a problem when they held up as a standard. Then, when people don’t live up to that standard they are seen as losers or pariahs. So much of these “normal” things seem deeply heteronormative to me. As this blog is Concepts Queered, I want to queer the process of aging by subverting what matters as we age. Nobody should be made to feel bad because they have “failed” to accomplish hegemonic societal norms. As I continue to age, I want to move beyond these norms of so-called success and find my own definitions of success, as exemplified by the questions above. It won’t be easy because the culture we live in doesn’t support it. But it can be done with concerted effort and creativity. Everyone should be proud of their age and proud of any and all accomplishments they have made that serve humanity in some way.