50 years. 50 queers.

Samantha Brennan

Samantha Brennan

Feb 16, 2013

Name: Samantha Brennan
DOB: August 31, 1964
Occupation: Professor
Favourite Book: Offences Against One’s Self by Jeremy Bentham
Favourite Movie: Triplets of Belleville
Favourite Music: Junip
Favourite Person At/Over 50: kd lang
One Word About 50: Fun

Most people don’t look at the approach of 50 as the time to leap headfirst into fitness and martial arts. Most people start to think about slowing down a little bit and perhaps shifting pursuits to the more social or cerebral. After all, riding your bike everywhere and hitting the gym seems the domain of the young and physically ambitious. Most people aren’t Samantha Brennan. With 50 approaching just over the horizon, Brennan, a professor and former Philosophy Department head at Western University, decided to hit the half-a-century mark at full steam. “A friend of mine and I both joked that we were ‘adult onset athletes,’” says Brennan with a chuckle. “We were nerds and not at all interested in sports as children. We have no trophies gathering dust in the closet, we’re just new to this. So we thought 50 was a good time to peak and if we were going to slide downhill from there, we wanted to slide downhill from a pretty high peak. So it’s having fun with the idea of being fit to spite 50.”

Instead of using fitness to ward off 50, Brennan is indulging her newfound need for physicality as a way of celebrating this milestone. “I’m kind of excited about turning 50,” she admits without hesitation. “I think of it as a halfway mark of sorts. I’m certainly at the halfway mark in terms of my academic career. I started as an academic at 28 and think of myself as retiring around 68, so I think of myself as at the halfway mark now. I feel like I’m all grown up,” she concludes with a laugh.

It was that attitude and inspiration that drove Brennan to start her own blog, Fit, Feminist and (Almost) Fifty! In it she discusses the many issues surrounding women, fitness, feminism, aging and body issues. As well as recognizing the importance of fitness and agility, as she gets older, Brennan embraces the inherent joy in athleticism. “I do it for fun,” she says matter-of-factly. “I don’t have any particular ego riding on any one particular activity—maybe cycling—but it’s what I do for fun. Most of my friends are people I have enjoyed doing active things with.” Among those activities are Aikido (“a beautiful martial art I’m not particularly naturally talented at,” she says. “But I really enjoy throwing large people around and being thrown.”), the aforementioned cycling as well as rowing.

“It’s made a possibility of conversations and making community and change that’s there now that wasn’t there ten years ago. It’s really exciting.”

Being a university professor gives Brennan a somewhat unique perspective on aging from a variety of vantage points—especially when observing queer youth. “I meet younger people who just aren’t as interested in figuring out who they are,” she says of adhering to labels and set-in-stone identities. “This is who they are now, they might be somebody else later. They don’t really have the same need that I felt to figure it out [sexual identity] and have an answer. I came out as a lesbian. This was a huge deal to me at the time. It doesn’t matter as much now. I’m bisexual. I think if I were coming out now, if I were 20 years younger, it wouldn’t matter so much. I don’t feel among the younger generation the need to have a label as much as I did.”

Another interesting vantage point Brennan has is to watch the arc of acceptance of queer culture and queer people in society and in academia. “One of the things I like as a university professor is seeing that some of the issues that I had coming out when I was younger are just not issues now,” she says. “You just can’t get undergraduates in a classroom to express homophobic views—they may hold them—but they’re certainly not going to express them in the classroom. Most of them probably don’t even hold them. It’s not that they’re being polite or think it’s not okay to say it. It’s made a possibility of conversations and making community and change that’s there now that wasn’t there ten years ago. It’s really exciting.”

However, leaving the classroom or lecture hall, Brennan sees challenges that still need to be addressed. One big one, as far as she is concerned, is creating intergenerational connections. Those can lie in the language we use and how that language is evolving generation to generation, depending on how our general society is evolving. “My language around queer politics tends to date me,” she says with a laugh. “I’m in an anthology around queer academics, writing, and identity politics before and after post-modernism and I’m ‘the before’, I’m the old person trying to talk to some of the younger queer scholars who have a different sense of categories than I do and a different sense of coming out than I do. I think that’s an interesting challenge to think about, how to talk across generations. The language and identities that we use and what matters and why it matters.”

“People don’t think of anyone as having a sexual orientation over a certain age. And that’s a mistake.”

While some things change and evolve, other issues remain the same. For example, Brennan belongs to a feminist book group that has been around for decades. She happens to be the youngest member and has noticed issues arising around the idea of aging into our 60s and 70s. “It’s terrifying,” she says. “I watch the group dealing with that issue and it’s very hard to think about. We all joke about sharing houses together or having some sort of seniors’ homes together. I don’t think anyone’s doing anything about that. It’s wishful thinking, but somebody needs to put in the effort.”

Residence and care being their own issues, another that continually crops up is the fear of aging and loneliness. This is a fear many people have regardless of what community they are a part of, but queer people can be extra vulnerable as there are fewer and fewer social networks aimed at an aging LGBTQ population. “Western University has a really wonderful, supportive queer faculty caucus that I’m a member of,” explains Brennan. “It would be losing the academic connection and losing that academic community that would be especially hard. I think it’s doubly hard for people who are very connected to their work; it’s central to their identity. That’s tied as well to the place where you find queer community. You can lose both of those things so that is a challenge.”

Another issue that can go hand-in-hand with isolation and loneliness is the repression of our sexuality, as we get older. And while the queer community tends to wear its sexuality on its collective sleeve, there are still challenges when it comes to aging. “I think the issue of bisexual invisibility gets harder,” Brennan observes. “I don’t know why as it’s seen so much more as a sexual identity and hyper-sexualized. Once people think of you as no longer interested in sex, or no longer sex being the main thing that people think of you then your sexual orientation sort of drops away as well. I think that’s a challenge. You’re kind of missed because people don’t think of anyone as having a sexual orientation over a certain age. And that’s a mistake.”

“A lot about who you are doesn’t necessarily change because of age. That box you put someone in may not fit at all.”

While gay men have created the ‘Daddy’, Brennan doesn’t see that type of general ‘older woman’ classification in the lesbian/bi women community. “I don’t think we have the equivalent for women,” she says. “I think we’re missing that on the spectrum.” But taking a moment to try to create that female equivalent inspires a laugh. “’Mommy’ just doesn’t work. But yea, there is the older, experienced woman thing. I know some younger women that think it’s totally hot, and they’re totally into that. But it doesn’t have the same play that the fetishization of older men has in the gay community.”

Again, looking at the generation coming up, Brennan sees changes in attitudes that she hopes will reshape the queer community in the decades to come. “They [the younger generation] seem much more open about gender identity, much more fluid about possibilities there, much more open about sexual orientation and possibilities there, about other kinds of identities one might have about monogamy and non-monogamy,” she explains. “When people say ‘out’ they ask ‘which aspect of my identity do you mean?’ There are four or five that are salient, and they may not be the most important one in a particular context.”

Even her own attitude towards aging has changed as Brennan has moved through life. As many people do when they are young, she perceived 50 as being the stake in the ground of being old. As she is coming upon that milestone, she sees things quite differently. “Now that I’m approaching 50 it doesn’t feel at all old,” she confesses. “I think that’s one of the things I’d want young people to know. I’d want them to understand that someone that they are viewing as an older person, that person may not see themselves that way at all. A lot about who you are doesn’t necessarily change because of age. That box you put someone in may not fit at all.”

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