Thinking about aging in general and aging lesbians in particular, I am aware of an aspect of the theory of relativity: The description of an object under study changes with the position of the viewer, and changes especially if the viewer is in motion. What I write here is affected by my experience of aging and my slight knowledge of other lesbians. The stereotypes of age that I had when I was forty bear little resemblance to the way I see myself and other old women now. And what can be said about older lesbians now will change greatly in the coming years. This viewer is in motion; the object is not only changing, but it is also largely invisible.
In an article on “Older Women,” Matile Poor notes that “relatively few women over sixty-five identify themselves as lesbians.” She goes on to estimate from 1977 figures that there were at that time at least 834,000 old lesbians. It’s fair to assume that there are a lot more nearly a decade later. Where are they? Today, as younger lesbians are beginning to consolidate their strengths and influence, the presence of older lesbians is sorely needed for role models and mentors, for a source of wisdom and courage, and by their numbers to make all of us more visible, a force to be reckoned with. Many young lesbians need assurance that they can grow into a rich and creative old age not much affected by prejudice. An older lesbian’s obvious pride and pleasure in being who she is, politically active or not, can encourage younger ones to have confidence in their futures. A pair of assured, lively, contented old dykes can give the lie to much of the homophobic and ageist propaganda that young lesbians are subjected to.
The inevitability of death means that an old lesbian finds her circle of close friends is shrinking, and she has to deal with a lot of losses. Some of us have younger relatives and friends to help keep us in touch with life and our hopes for the future. It’s imperative that older lesbians find younger friends. They need us, too. The old crone, the wise woman, the witch have always been valued in many cultures. We can ensure that they are valued here, too.
Buffy Dunker, “Aging Lesbians: Observations and Speculations,” from Lesbian Psychologies: Explorations & Challenges (1987), edited by the Boston Lesbian Psychologies Collective.
Dunker’s author bio:
Buffy Dunker, B.A., taught at the Woodstock Country School for twenty-three years and trained at the Greenhouse Therapy Collective as a feminit therapist. She currently has a private therapy practice and has been the subject of numerous television shows and a film for her espousal of a lesbian identity at the age of seventy-two, and has published book reviews in Sojourner and Gay Community News.