How Old Are You?

June 27, 2008

Published in the July 1, 2007 edition of QSaltLake: Utah’s Gay & Lesbian News & Entertainment Magazine.

Have you ever asked a gay man how old he is? I have: a coy look always comes across their face. They’re more comfortable telling you about that time they got crabs than revealing their age. But don’t worry, if someone doesn’t want to tell, just start guessing really high. I promise they’ll quickly feel obliged to correct you. 

Last Fall on the first day of my Gerontological Nursing class the professor asked each of us to draw ourselves as we imagine we’ll be when we’re 80 years-old. Some people drew themselves dead, most drew themselves enjoying a relaxed retirement. Then she instructed us to write the first three words that came to mind when we thought of the word “elderly.” I don’t remember all three of the words I wrote but the first one was “wrinkles.” The other two words were along that same line of thought. When my paper was returned to me my professor had written me a note expressing her hope that I would find more positive feelings towards getting older. I have a lot of positive words that I associate with aging, but she didn’t ask for the full list, just the first three!

That activity made me think about the inevitable process of being alive. I would encourage you to practice the same activity, if you like to draw. Otherwise, just imagine what you believe your life will be like when you’re 80, and then think of the words you associate with aging. It can tell you a lot about yourself. 

Our culture places so much emphasis on youth and beauty. Many people spend quite a bit of time trying to sculpt their bodies into what they see in magazines. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as expectations are realistic and balance is maintained. But I believe it’s very important to realize that ultimately, no matter how much you lunge and squat, your perky gay butt is going to turn more the consistency of cottage cheese and begin a slow decent down the back of your legs. Nature and gravity always win out in the end. 

Now, it’s absolutely true that we can do many things to slow the aging process and improve our quality of life, but we shouldn’t live in denial of the reality of our mortal existence: My body is going to get old and someday I will die. Acknowledging that fact has only strengthened my desire and motivation to take good care of myself today, to live my life in a way that will give me the best chance of aging gracefully. 

I don’t believe in all the anti-aging products that are marketed to us so aggressively. There are no magic creams, but I do believe in these basic “youth” preserving principles: 

-Move your body, as much and in as many different ways as possible, on a regular and consistent basis. 

-Eat healthful foods and don’t completely deny yourself the foods that make you happy. Your favorite foods are sort of like masturbation. You’re never going to give them up, even if threatened with blindness, so just keep it within reason. 

-Drink more water. 

-Protect yourself from the sun and moisturize your skin (hint: you can multitask and do both at the same time.) There is no such thing as a “healthy” tan. Any change in your skin color from its natural tone is damage. This damage causes premature aging, wrinkling and thickening of the skin. Not to mention it might give you skin cancer. But I know you’re more afraid of the wrinkles. 

-Wear age appropriate clothing. Dress the body you have right now, not the body you had 10 years ago or the body you’re working towards. Remember, just because we live in a free country where you can walk into an Abercrombie and Fitch store and buy clothing with their logo emblazoned across it, that doesn’t mean that you should! 

The only thing your age tells about you is the year you were born, no more. However, the way you respond when asked your age can tell much more. It is true that there are people who will reject you in any number of circumstances based on your age, and not just for being “too old.” In fact, I’ve been rejected in various situations for being “too young.” You don’t need people who do this in your life. The only worthwhile people are the ones who only hold you responsible for the things about yourself over which you have control over. So instead of worrying about your age, take control of your aging; otherwise, your age will take control of you much sooner than it has to.

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