I’ve been focussing on this project over the last few weeks, first chancing on the concept in Ashton Applewhite’s This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism (2019):-
“I want to be age queer by rejecting not my age but the fixed meanings that people assign to it, the roles and stereotypes that (I) decline to abide by. I claim my age at the same time that I challenge its primacy and its value as a signifier.” (Applewhite, A. 2019:43)
I introduced age queer into my June workshop, and since then, when time has permitted, I’ve been advancing it in tandem with Scottee’s Notepad Warrior scheme. Of this I have to say that Scottee has been of delightful but limited value. But he is subversive and provocative and I needed that dynamic to bolster the critical gerontologist in me. Also there is a strong causal link with his ‘Fat Blokes Show’. Here Scottee jolted us out of our complacency, rattled our pathetic assumptions, and certainly made me think differently. This is at the heart of what I think theatre should do.
The link between Scottee’s work and the potential of Age Queer as a preferred identity materialises for me through Queer theory in the Social Sciences. In particular its relevance to time, the life course and the ageing process. Linn Sandberg underscores its critical edge:
‘Queer temporality may thus challenge what is considered normal and good ageing but also reveal the taken for grantedness of normative time.’ (Sandberg, 2008)
For me, this then takes a scalpel (rather than a sledge hammer) to the practice of age ordering or the use of chronological age categories to circumscribe the ageing demographic. A practice that I am so glad that Dr. Francesca Ghillani of the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing called out last year. As she argued, our ongoing compulsion to classify age is, ‘culturally, politically and ethically charged.’
So in researching this problem for a piece of theatre – a power-play between convention and subversion - I would be asking of anyone and everyone the following questions:-
Why do people use chronological age as a marker of difference across the life course?
When does it shift from being a handy organising principle towards a means of segregation and the exercise of institutional power?
How do we perform and celebrate our individuality - or queerness -in everyday life?
Applewhite, A. (2019) This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism. London. Melville House.
Sandberg, L. (2008) [PDF] The old, the ugly and the queer: Thinking old age in relation to queer theory Graduate Journal of Social Science, 2008 – gjiss.org
Ghillani, F. (2018) https://www.ageing.ox.ac.uk/blog/age-not-just-a-number