Coming Out as Ageless.

October 23, 2022

Coming Out as Ageless.

May 29, 2023

I hear again and again that age is a mindset, that it doesn’t matter; age isn’t a number, that it is something to “get over” so you can live your life. It is only something to get over if you had it in the first place.

"How old are you?" for many, is a simple throw away response; one that they don’t have to think about because they have always known the answer to that question.

I was surrendered to an orphanage with my twin brother after we had learned to stumble and toddle a few steps and utter a few syllables that were appropriate. There was no paperwork with us. We were malnourished and very tall. It was anyone’s guess how old we were. We could have been a year, but we could have been two.

To be clear, we were not in a “please sir, can I have some more” situation. We were well cared for. We were given things that many kids weren’t because we were in the orphanage. We had swim and music and art lessons. There were toys and books and clothes that were sometimes new and sometimes not: no different than any other kid.

The difference was that we had a rotating roster of caretakers who did the best they could with the number of kids that were in their care.

By the time our relatives found us, we could have been five and we could have been eight. No one really knew. More paperwork had been lost and the priest had to send along a birth certificate – or something – for twins. And just any twins - boy/girl twins from a small orphanage on Skye. We were sent with a document that was clearly wrong by at least a decade wrong, if not more. My twin and I saw it as funny. I would say “hey. happy birthday!” on the day that the paper we brought with us said was our birthday. He would cock his head, look at me and quizzically ask “is it?” In college, he would show up with something wrapped in a different month on a different day and say “breithe shona duit.” (Happy Birthday in Gaelic)

Medicine tells me that I am somewhere in my fourth decade. I am fine with that. Other people aren’t. They want to impose their version of age and what numbers mean. They explain how old they think I am based on their life events and what they have learned and understood in their life and what they think I know and understand, and how I speak about things.

This seems to be a ruler by which many people need to define my age. It is often wrong. For instance, I was placed in the second grade because of my vocabulary and reading ability. But my twin wasn’t. He was initially placed a year behind me. I love language and how words feel on the tongue. My twin understood the tongue in a different way, through food, and how to grow things, and what tastes work together. I am sure his intelligence outstripped mine.

The point is that other people’s versions of age do not matter. And I am not the only person in the world who does not know their birthday. Many people don’t. Especially those of us from orphanages, or who have been through wars as children, those who lost their parents, or even cultures who identify age differently than the Gregorian calendar. It used to be that many rural places in China registered everyone who had been born in a year on one day. So, everyone had the same birthday according to the government. This says that age is only a way to count people. To measure empirically “how many…”

In American society, age seems to be something to negotiate (age gracefully) or commodify (buy this to fight aging), or to use as a weapon (you are older than me). We have a whole body of writings and research to argue against the idea of an elder as a bad thing (which frankly I agree with whole heartedly. Elders are to be celebrated, regardless of chronology).

The Great God Age is also a group identifier and a way to proclaim attitudes or behaviors. I find myself reverse identifying a lot out of curiosity. I must be a millennial because I like Lark Street Dive and played Oregon Trail. But I remember Dial Up. Hmmmm. Maybe I *am* Gen X. I check my credit score a lot and have a new found love of J. Crew (Gen Z), and I love Scooby Doo, so Baby Boomer. The liminality of transition from one age to another as an identity is tough for most people. It is uncomfortable to not know what the next identity is.

The thing is, I don’t really care most days that I don’t know, but then sometimes I do. I want to be a part of the game too. I want to talk about wisdom and wearing purple and proclaim my emerging self from the liminal stage. But really all I can do is talk about my process.

Others place their definitions of where I am in their version of age to help them understand where I might be. Living in the present is what I do, because age is the thing that defines the future and the past, yet it doesn’t define me. There has never been a way to do so. Not because I don’t let it, but because it never has.

I suspect I am better off.

An MEA alum, Mhaire Fraser has had more careers than Barbie, including professional athlete and college professor. Currently, she leads a research team investigating Entrepreneurs and Wealth for a large financial institution.

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