As someone who has enjoyed a fair amount of privilege in his life I would say that maybe the best privilege of all is being able to grow old. There is virtually no way I would be alive today if I had been a gay Ugandan man infected with HIV in the early 1980’s.
It has helped immensely that I was born mid 20th century when many vaccines were available to prevent a whole host of humankind’s worse scourges. And of course countless millions of us benefited greatly when we learned not to shit in our drinking water. In the mid 1850’s a severe cholera epidemic was sweeping London. A local physician named John Snow felt drinking crap-contaminated well water was fueling the disease. A popular well was located on Broad Street and he had the pump handle removed keeping people from imbibing in water contaminated with human waste. Snow is often credited as being the father of public health to whom we today and the citizens of mid-19th century London owe a lot.
The current war in Yemen, supported in no small part by U.S. involvement, is responsible for one of the largest cholera epidemics in modern times. The relentless Saudi bombing has resulted in severe damage to the water infrastructure of the country. Cholera hits young children the hardest and many hundreds if not thousands of deaths can be attributed to it in that country today. Growing old in Yemen is no longer an option for many and calling it an inexcusable war crime seems to not even do it justice.
On a more personal note, that I admit certainly seems just a bit self-indulgent, growing older for me is a near daily reminder of the reality of my own impermanence. Many little, and some not so little, changes both physically and mentally are daily reminders that this whole Buddhist concept of impermanence is very real for me and not just everyone else. It is amazing to me that I can sometimes wake up so stiff and I find that I am sitting on the edge of the bed for longer periods of time before launching into the day. I don’t recall being particularly active in my dreams so why I need to shake it off after a nights sleep seems odd. My knees can be an actual symphony of cracks and pops first thing in the morning heading up my two short flights of stairs to the coffee pot.
One of the greatest struggles for me as I age is the issue of being alone. I have to work at avoiding further isolation and that is one reason I stay involved with this story telling group. Having never been heterosexually married or fathered children and having such a huge chunk of my gay network wiped out by AIDS it is imperative that I work hard to nurture and support my current and local friendship network. Oh I could move back to either Indiana or Illinois where I have many dozens of blood relatives but that is simply not an option for a whole host of reasons. Gay family is something I have very heavily invested in for the past 50 years and to abandon that now would be tragic for me.
One of the primary reasons Harry Hay among others launched the Radical Fairie movement in 1979 was to foster community. A part of that movement was to hopefully develop gay male communities of choice most often rural in nature where we would explore and develop our true queer natures and only then begin venturing out into the larger hetero-dominated world speaking “words of wisdom” I assume or at least helping like minded straight allies foment a much needed social revolution. Did I mention we were a bunch of dreamers? The best-laid dreams did not take off exactly as planned even though there are a few thriving Fairie Sanctuaries around the country today. I have often felt that the dramatic devastation and loss of life from AIDS kept the Fairie Movement from having more impact than it did. Certainly many Fairies from the early 1980’s here in Denver, who I would hope be part of my network today are dead, and not able to help me with my aloneness.
One other area certainly affected by my growing old is sexual. I did though have my day brightened a bit around this by a recent Facebook post by a person affiliated with an internet persona called “Totally ADD’:
The post was and I quote: “I am actually pretty good in bed. I hardly fall out anymore”.