Today, I went to buy some cat food for my ever-absent roommate's cat, Cedric. The type of food he insists on eating is only available at pet stores, so I visited the closest one at hand.
This store is well known in the gay community of my hometown as being one of the most visible, not to mention successful gay owned and operated businesses in the area. I don't patronize it often myself, having no pets of my own, so this was the first visit I'd made to this particular establishment in probably four or more years. I was initially pleased to see that the store had taken over the shops adjacent to either side of it, torn down the walls, and made a much larger store for themselves, less cramped and better lit, with a wider range of products to purchase.
Pleased, that is, til I got in line to make my own purchase. In front of me were two elderly women, probably in their mid-60s to early-70s. They were purchasing a goodly amount of supplies of a feline nature. Apparently one of the couple had recently adopted a new kitten. Her purchases totalled to more than one hundred dollars and this took the lady making the purchases aback a little bit, so she meekly asked if the pet store offered a senior citizen's discount. This request, I'm sure, was based upon the fact that the store was offering 10% discounts to those people who provided proof that they'd participated either in a local AIDS walk or bike ride.
She was told, derisively it seemed, by the checkout lady, that they did not offer any kind of discounts to seniors, and further explained that senior shoppers of the store usually never asked for discounts, so no discount would be offered.
This, rightly I believe, upset the lady making purchases, who explained she had a gay son and a gay nephew, and was only trying to support them by spending her money at a gay-owned business. She then jokingly asked the clerk if they offered lesbian senior discounts.
This had no impact whatsoever on the impassive clerk, and so the purchase was made at full price, though I overheard the lady tell her friend that this would be the last time she supported this particular business.
Me, ever being the curmudgeonly consumer, though, couldn't let it pass. While I certainly didn't want to tell the clerk (who also was the owner) how to run her business, I did question her a bit as to why a senior's discount wasn't offered when a discount for people who more likely than not would be homosexual was being offered. The response I received, basically, was one of "My store, my rules" and the clerk/owner was so insistent in her stance against a senior citizen discount that I almost called her ageist, but I try to avoid such inflammatory labels, and it would have been mean besides. I did, though, walk out without making a purchase ... after looking pointedly around at the mighty pet empire the gay ... and (probably overwhelmingly) straight ... dollar had helped the owner to build. And bought the cat food at a straight-owned business, and one that does offer a senior citizen's discount.
The experience got me to thinking. Our elders are on the one hand revered and on the other reviled. And yet as a gay man, there's not too many gay men who are elder to me. AIDS did a good job at wiping out a frighteningly-appreciable percentage of gay men older than me. And I realized: I can't turn to them for advice, nor anecdotes of what it was like to grow up gay in an earlier time than I did. I'm bereft of their wisdom, their knowledge, and their experience ... things that would be of great use to many people, but specifically to other gay people. I was overwhelmed with a sense of loss. Valuable experience and knowledge is lost because there's no effective cultural means by which an elder in gay society can pass down their experiences to their juniors. Older gay men and women often do not even associate with their younger counterparts because of fear that one is giving the impression of robbing the cradle. Young people often think the only thing an older gay person wants is their young, nubile body. Intellectual discourse is thus lost, not to mention the ability to pass on cultural knowledge from one generation to the next. This problem will only get worse as I get older and lose even more of the people in generations prior to mine. Those that AIDS didn't wipe out, old age will.
It's a vicious cycle, one that needs to be broken. To that end, I'm going to try and find some gay people in their 60s and older. And just talk to them and appreciate their lives and experiences.