Old and Queer

When did I know I was getting old? Hmmm.

Perhaps it was back in 2008 when I was selling stuff on facebook and kijiji. I posted a pic of my CD tower hoping it would get nabbed. Not knowing a new generation of downloaders had been born while I was still trying to figure out how to text, I was utterly surprised when it did not. A much more hip friend told me why. This friend winced the way a friend winces when they tell you your dollar store underwear is showing through your leggings. I was like a washed up pop star trying to do a concert at Casino Rama when I then made subsequent posts trying to rename my IKEA CD tower a “tchotchke shelf” or “toy display.” There was no coming back for this kid.

Or perhaps it was when I was at the 519 community centre. I had just wrapped up a theatre rehearsal in one of the rooms when I passed by the dance hall and heard bachata music blaring from the speakers (Preface: I love dancing the bachata and strongly suggest that in the off chance you see me and bachata is playing to take me in your arms and dance with me). Sure, I was dressed in sweats, but I happened to have a crisp ten-dollar bill in my pocket and just enough energy to dance for an hour or so. Some fancy queers with drinks in hand were dancing within trying to master the step-step-step-hip thrust that the bachata calls for. I approached a young person at the doorway checking their shiny phone.

“Hey what’s happening here?” I said, hopeful I could enter and join in.

This person turned to look at me, sized me up and said “It’s a youth party.” They said “youth” like it didn’t include me. Like, “Look, bitch. Let me draw you a picture. This is youth. It is a bright and exciting city with yellow cabs, Tony award-winning Broadway shows and gorgeous femmes doing the can-can on every corner. Now this is Olde Towne, population, you. It resides just on the outskirts of Mississauga near the garbage dump behind Square One Mall.”

Yeah. I think that was the moment.

So here I am in the year 2016 at the age of 38. While other writers may express to you a sort of “twilight” feeling while aging, I want to tell you that instead I feel like I am at the edge of some major discovery; partly about myself and partly about the world around me.

You can ask any artist what made them the person they are, and most of us would tell you it’s because for some reason – some tragic and some uneventful – we stood outside of the conversation and had our bodies open to listening and receiving art. We became conduits. The same is happening to me right now as I get older. Being young, you find yourself in this very ego-centric place where the conversation IS about YOU. Media tells you this, your job, your friends. You believe this is YOUR time. Even as a queer your narrative, your coming out, your coming of age, is the centre of most storytelling in the movies, in books, on television.

Here in this place of 38, I am recognizing a shift where I am being placed outside of this conversation. In some ways it is pretty darn shitty. Clothes are meant to hide me and my blossoming body. Media begins to silence my narrative as an aging person. Time begins to go faster than my feet will march. The conversation becomes so outside of myself that I am again at this place of listening and receiving, this time hearing what people have to say about aging. They say things like:

Did you see her?
She really let herself go.

And here in my place of being a conduit to truth as an artist, I want to say things like:

I really let myself go.
I really let myself eat.
I really let myself be full.
I really let myself rest.

Standing at the precipice of discovery and in the wake of being diagnosed with adrenal fatigue, I decided to use my end of year vacation time to observe a rigorous self-care regimen consisting of an energizing yoga practice in the morning, a midday hike, and a restorative yoga practice before bed. In between, I planned to do whatever the fuck I wanted as long as it wasn’t work (i.e. caring for children, writing or performing). Just after Christmas, I felt my lymph nodes swell until I could barely swallow without the help of a painkiller. It was a frustrating four days out of my eleven-day vacation, peppered of course, with the societal narrative of aging, of self-decay, of brokenness.

In the midst of sickness, I continued to practice gentle restorative yoga with a focus on strengthening the immune system. Third day into sickness, I was in my final savasana pose willing my body to get better. And that’s when the kindest shift happened in my body. Like the most loving hand guiding my shoulder left rather than right, away from a never-ending revolving door. I saw my body from outside of itself, just outside itself enough to thank it and to give it compassion.

Thank you, breasts/chest area, for feeding a child, for being the centre of my power. Hang low, be soft.

Thank you, belly, for housing my child, for giving me instincts to know what to do next. Be full, be satisfied.

Thank you, eyes, for envisioning art and observing stories. Crease as much as you want for smiling is a blessing.

Then, with the power of meditation, I saw time rewind, saw my body become younger, past wounds of rape and abuse, past harassment and aggressions to the body of an infant. I held that infant with silence and stillness. I watched that child sleep and loved it with all of my heart. And when I opened my eyes finally, I looked at my body, my aging body, my machine, and wondered at every wrinkle, every scar, every discolouration.

I let myself go.
I let myself trust that my body can heal.
I let myself give compassion to my body.
I let myself go further.
I let myself be still.

Catherine Hernandez

Catherine Hernandez is playwright, performer and award-winning author. She is the author of M is for Mustache: A Pride ABC Book (Flamingo Rampant) and Scarborough (Arsenal Pulp Press). She is the Artistic Director of b current performing arts.

Read all posts by Catherine Hernandez

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