50 years. 50 queers.

Andrea Zanin

Andrea Zanin

Jan 21, 2013

Name: Andrea Zanin
DOB: May 6, 1978
Occupation: Sex educator, writer, translator, PhD student
Favourite Book: I’m polyamorous… please don’t ask me to choose!
Favourite Movie: See above!
Favourite Music: Jazz
Favourite Person At/Over 50: My partner Bennett
One Word About 50: Hot

Andrea Zanin is a woman who definitely takes the road less travelled. At 34, she has made a name for herself in the queer/pervert/leather/polyamoury community as teacher and columnist in a variety of publications. She is the founder and main contributor to Sex Geek and is currently enrolled in York University pursuing a PhD in women’s studies, focusing on Canadian leatherdyke history.

Zanin has some interesting ideas when it comes to aging in the queer community. How it pertains to herself personally, to her community and to young and old alike. Being 34, she actually has spent time thinking about the spectre of 50, particularly in light of some recent personal events. “I don’t think about that specific number but yes, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about getting older and what that’s going to mean,” says Zanin when contemplating getting older. “I’ve had some major health challenges that have gotten me thinking about what it’s going to be like to age. My dating pool tends to be people who are 10-15, even older, 20-25 years older than me; I’ve often ended up with partners who are in that age range, so I’m accustomed to things like menopause, and all of the things that start to happen. So, it’s not been hard to think forward into that.”

“In the last year-and-a-half to two years I’ve started to be approached by younger people who see me as a sexy older lady…”

Living a nontraditional life has opened Zanin to a variety of ideas and concepts about aging and how that will affect her personally as well as her community. “I work within a community—I’m fairly heavily involved in the leather community—and there are a lot of really interesting traditions and ideas around mentorship and youth and age and how those things interact,” she says. “In the last year-and-a-half to two years I’ve started to be approached by younger people who see me as a sexy older lady [laughs] which I’m really, really not used to.

While some people would find it somewhat jarring to be called a ‘sexy older lady’ at the rather young age of 34, Zanin takes it in stride—and with a little amusement. “Funny enough, it’s less off-putting than I would have expected given that I’m usually drawn to people who are in the 20-year range older than me,” she explains. “The idea of fooling around with someone who is 10-15 years younger than me has never been high on my priority list. But a lot of them are cute I’ve got to say. I’ve surprised myself by actually being interested, which is kind of a nice thing to know that I have that range. But there is this question of generations and how they deal with each other, among queers and particularly among perverts. So yes, I’ve definitely thought about 50 and beyond and what that’s going to look like.”

“What’s interesting is that it’s not the people who are doing the aging who are doing the fetishizing.”

While much of the gay male community—like the general community—worships youth, in recent years, the queer community has really opened the floodgates to accepting older men as being sexual beings. We have communities of Leather Daddies, DILFs, Silver Daddies, Father/Son relationship dynamics, and so on. Older men are being somewhat fetishized. Can this be part of the acceptance and is fetishizing aging helping the community to better accept it? “I think it’s an idea and explanation. I don’t think it’s the only thing going on but I do think that’s one way,” Zanin ponders. “What’s interesting is that it’s not the people who are doing the aging who are doing the fetishizing. I think it’s interesting that among queers we have these established ideas of ways that age can be sexy. It’s not seen as weird or unusual.”

But what may seem a new trend in our culture actually has roots that can be traced back to the 1950s, 60s and 70s with queer pulp fiction where many of the stories were anchored in the ‘shocking’ dichotomy of youth/older man sex scenarios. “I used to volunteer on Gayline in Montreal for many years, and they had this extensive library of books that had been donated and most of it was sort of reference material that we could use to educate ourselves about the different demographics that our callers belonged to,” Zanin recalls. “Some of it was the old pulp novels that had been produced in the ‘60s and ‘70s and I remember flipping through some of those for amusement value and I remember there being a lot of age stuff even then. Some of it was vaguely incestuous, like Uncle fantasies, a lot of it had to do with age difference and how sexy that was.”

“I think we’re just finding fresh ways of talking about it as time goes on. In 1850 we weren’t having leather daddies with grey beards and potbellies…”

While many of us may be familiar with these pulp novels and the inherent kitsch value, the older man/younger man dynamic dates back much farther. “If I go back—and put on my scholar hat—as a PhD student I’ve done a lot of reading about gay history pretty extensively and there were a lot of dynamics in place that were very specifically age-based centuries ago; particularly between men,’ explains Zanin. “There isn’t as much a record of that between women. But with the men, they called them Wolves and Lambs, or Jockers and Punks (old-fashioned prison slang for bottom and top, respectively). There was this tradition of older men taking on younger men almost as little wives. It’s really not new. I think we’re just finding fresh ways of talking about it as time goes on. In 1850 we weren’t having leather daddies with grey beards and potbellies, that wasn’t the thing. We’re talking about guys in logging camps; we’re not talking about the same cultural traditions.”

While fetishizing may be one way of dealing with getting older as queers, there are more practical concerns as we take our first steps into mid-life and beyond. These can include relationships, how we live and how we are cared for, as we become a growing segment of senior citizens and what that means to our sanctity and sexuality. Researchers at McGill University have made some disturbing discoveries when looking at how queers are currently dealing with assisted living. As Zanin explains, “They’ve come up with data that suggest a lot of people have to go back in the closet when they go into a seniors’ home because they’re not designed as a place for anyone to have any kind of sexuality, let alone a same-sex one and there’s no kind of vetting of care staff for instance to make sure they’re not homophobic. There’s this idea you hear floating around about creating an older folks home specifically for LGBTQ seniors, which is great but that’s just one solution, and it’s a very localized one.”

“It will be very interesting to see as the population ages more generally what impact that has on those facilities. I think people are starting to do that work and I think it needs to be done. My questions are: do we want to keep that model at all? Or do we want to be creative and queer and come up with something else? Is there a way of taking this fetish for the older folks and turning it into a care network? Is there some way of approaching this where we have new ideas? Straight folks have come up with ‘The Cougar’, for instance. We have a longer tradition among queers of doing this openly and talking about it clearly and having it not be a shameful thing. How far can we push that? Do we need to think of something as sexy in order to do something about it? I hope not. I hope we can do that even if it isn’t sexy or your particular fetish.”

“I think there’s still a prevalence in the queer community for queer people to have a little bit more room to be creative.”

Amongst all of those questions and concepts, Zanin sees great opportunity to reignite the queer consciousness and start thinking a bit more radically and non-traditionally about how we age and about how we design our lives—as opposed to conforming to the existing structures. “We are less restrained by the strictures of how we’re supposed to do things in the first place,” she observes. “I know that lots of people have succeeded in creating a set of ways queer folks are supposed to do things. We do have ideas of how that’s supposed to go: how we’re supposed to partner, what age we’re supposed to have certain things done by. Even with the efforts of what I would call some more conservative-minded gay folks have come up with in that direction, I think there’s still prevalence in the queer community for queer people to have a little bit more room to be creative. I would see that as a resource to be drawn upon and applied to aging.”

Another concern for many queer people as we get older is loneliness. This can be through a lack of intimacy with a partner(s) or through not finding places within which to develop and nurture friendships and peer relationships. For many older queers, the community can shrink—particularly if you’re not living in a major city centre. Isolation is a fear that can become a reality. “I think sometimes people get caught in an idea of what a relationship is supposed to look like and therefore when they don’t get that, nothing else will do,” says Zanin. “There’s that, and there’s also the fact that if you haven’t dealt with your shit—I think most of the people in the world should spend most of their 20s and part of their 30s in therapy, frankly. Or at least doing something to sort out whatever it was that fucked them up to that point. The folks I know at any age who tend to end up alone are the ones who have avoided dealing with that stuff and so their relationships fail in the same predictable way. Then they start aging out of the fresh, new, shiny “everybody thinks you’re sexy because you’re young” bracket. Their pool gets smaller and they start to feel the loneliness more, whereas before there was enough traffic that it wasn’t showing.”

“…understand yourself through the lens of ‘most of this will change’.”

Zanin is a big proponent of care—both community-based and personal. Taking care of yourself, building a strong personal foundation, being emotionally stable, doing the things that will make you feel good about yourself as an individual, will carry you through life in a much more rewarding and reliable way. “All of a sudden, it doesn’t become about whether or not you have a partner, it becomes about how well you’re doing regardless of that,” she says. “And what do you know people who are interesting and healthy and happy are drawn to other people who are also interesting, healthy and happy all by themselves. A lot of loneliness at any age can be attributed to people having rigid ideas about what they want in the first place and not necessarily taking the greatest care of themselves.”

There is a lot of opportunity for queer people to continue to carve out a unique life as we age. After all, we have been doing that for generations and have become successful in overcoming challenges as we move through life. Even at 34, Zanin thinks about the long term and knows that one thing is certain, life is unpredictable and the pieces are always moving. And that’s a good thing to keep in mind, as we grow older. “Everything changes,” Zanin asserts. “If your idea of yourself is based on having a particular kind of body or having a particular kind of health, or energy level or range of interests or type of employment. I think there’s something to be said for having, not necessarily a vision of the way you expect the future to go, but to understand yourself through the lens of ‘most of this will change’.”

2 comments

  1. Barb C /

    Fabulous article! What you are saying about aging differently actually dovetails with a lot of what I’ve been writing about in the last year or so for work projects. The trend, of course, is toward community-based care, to keep people supported in their homes for as long as possible. I think, as you suggest, that queers are uniquely able to do that well, without the need for massive capital outlay for bricks & mortar.

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