It’s no secret that in the gay community, there is a preoccupation with age. Much like the wider world, there is an obsession with remaining young, with youth itself being fetishized, prioritized, and in some cases coveted to an extreme.
However, a preoccupation with youth isn’t a modern phenomenon. Just think back to your childhood, watching films like ‘Snow White’ as she battled her evil Step Mother, who envied Snow for her youth, beauty, and appearance. So much so, that she went to the ultimate extreme of taking a bounty out on Snow’s life. It was the evil Queen’s preoccupation with youth that ultimately destroyed her, as despite her immense supernatural powers, there was no magic cure for that most natural of processes; ageing.
In more modern times, we have become a culture obsessed with drinking from the elixir of youth. Look at social media, where young stars are coveted and have become celebrities for their beauty, which is usually linked to the fact that they are young, energetic, and, of course, blessed with great genetics.
Within this modern youth culture, I can’t help but feel a little bored. I’m 25 and find that wherever I look, there are messages that my getting older is something I need to fear and more specifically that my youth is something that I need to hold on to. Have you ever been told – ‘these are the best years of your life?’ Well, I have and it’s a line that just doesn’t sit well with me. How can we quantify what the best years of our life will be? And, on what basis should we let others decide just when our life will reach its peak?
My queer icons growing up were nearly always older than me. These include Bette Midler, Cher, and the Willow Tree from ‘Pocahontas’, (ok, she isn’t ‘real’ per se, but you get my drift!). I valued the sagely wisdom of these individuals, and always knew, even from a young age, that their years gave them experience. Conversely, it was obvious that time had been extremely beneficial in their life. Bette Midler went from performing in New York bath-houses to selling out Carnegie Hall. Cher progressed from a rebellious youth, to an even more daring adult. And the Willow Tree, well she absorbed each year to add to her knowledge of life, becoming a moral compass for Pocahontas during turbulent times.
Considering this, I felt it was pertinent to look back at some famous queer icons, who prove that age is just a number, and we certainly aren’t bound by it.
Senator David Norris
A politician, activist, and one of the pioneers of the Irish gay rights movement, Senator David Norris is a tour de force in Irish political life.
Norris was one of the most vocal proponents of same-sex marriage in Ireland and has been an active member of Seanad Éireann since 1987. Now in his seventies, he is a former Professor, scholar, and one of the most instrumental voices in Irish politics.
She may go down as the most controversial performer in music history, but nobody can deny the legacy of Madonna. Since hitting the music scene in the 1980s Madonna has gone on to become a global superstar.
Now in her 50s, what’s most revolutionary about this artist is her staying power. Through bending with the times and finding new ways to stay relevant, Madonna has made her name known to each new generation. She still makes headlines, whether it’s showing her bare breast on stage or teaming up with young artists like Nicki Minaj, people know her name the world over (whether they want to or not).
Sir Elton John
He is flamboyant, eccentric and one of the greatest performers of his generation. Having sold over 300 million albums worldwide, he is also one of the most respected and influential musicians of all time.
Setting off on his last world tour in 2018, the 71 year-old refuses to let age be a limitation on his life or his worth. He is walking proof that individuals of an older age can captivate, engage and command an audience on a global scale.
Many will remember Bea Arthur as our favourite ‘Golden Girl’ from the hit 1985 television series. Arthur proved that women over 50 could be relevant, attractive, and become a ratings juggernaut.
Apart from her onscreen legacy, Arthur was also a staunch proponent of LGBTQ rights. Arthur worked for many LGBTQ youth services including the Ali Forney Center in her home state of New York.
Performing sell out comedy shows well into her 80s, Joan Rivers is a prime example of the falsity of youth. Ageism played a key role in her stand-up, with Joan choosing to use her age as a mechanism for advancing herself and her career.
Until her death in 2014, Rivers was the star of ‘Fashion Police’, one of E!’s highest rated shows and the owner of her own clothing brands sold exclusively on QVC. River’s was open about her plastic surgery, her insecurities about her looks, but never surrendered to the false ideal that her best years were behind her.
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