Forever young and out

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What age do you think? Are you 60 but think 30? Or are you 60 and think 90? Age is, after all, part mindset, and you have control over what age you think you are. You can, in fact, choose to be forever young.

Bob Dylan’s 1974 release, “Forever Young,” provides some insight into how to find this particular fountain of youth. Dylan sings:

“May you grow up to be righteous.

May you grow up to be true.

May you always know the truth

And see the lights surrounding you.

May you always be courageous.

Stand upright and be strong.

May you stay forever young.”

People have been searching for the fountain of youth for a long time. Many seek it in a doctor’s office, where you can get all sorts of injections and implants. But all of that will eventually fade. A longer-lasting and less-expensive fountain of youth is already inside your head and heart.

Some describe people who exhibit the characteristics and traits that Dylan sings about as “authentic” or “real.” Whatever you call it, it means being open and self-accepting. It means standing up for yourself, your rights and your community. Staying forever young also requires a path that leads to living the best life you can live, no matter what your chronological age. It also means being out and open about your sexual orientation and gender identity, something that requires courage, truth and authenticity.

Just as being forever young is a mindset, so is being out. Harvey Milk famously encouraged us to all come out of the closet. His was a political statement. He knew that the more people who came out, the easier it would be for everyone else to do so. Living our best lives and aging well as LGBT older adults is so much easier in an environment that is safe, welcoming and supportive, an environment in which we can be free from fear and shame. And, we must all be working to create that environment, through political and social participation, through voting and volunteering, through advocacy and action.

Enjoy the journey

Learning to age well and to navigate the process is a life-long journey, one that may take a lifetime to get right. For LGBT older adults, that journey has included many struggles and upheavals, and many changes and triumphs that few could have predicted or imagined. Yet, there are more of both in our futures, so we might as well enjoy and celebrate the journey we will inevitably take.

To gain the most from that journey, we must be active participants: Practice “mindfulness.” Mindfulness refers to living in the moment, leaving second-guessing about the past and worrying about the future aside. Another description is “being present” or “engaged” in the here and now. Well, the here and now is here and now. It may be a cliché, but life is not a dress rehearsal; you only get to live it once. 

The burden of the closet limits our ability to celebrate the gifts we have and to share our experiences with others. There is great value in growing older, growing wiser and growing stronger. Being out and free of the closet only enhances that process.

Yes, age is a number and a mindset. And, while we do not control the number, we absolutely can control the mindset. The physical body will not stay forever young, but our mindset, our outlook on life, can. The reality is that the journey will continue. We will continue to learn, experience new wonders, be inspired by courageous people, rejoice at new victories and gain satisfaction as our LGBT and aging communities become stronger and more respected.

Being out of the closet throughout this journey enhances both the journey and the process of aging. It frees us to enjoy every opportunity to live well, age well and stay well. Sexual orientation, gender identity and age have no place in the closet. They are all to be celebrated and respected. That is the reason we celebrate National Coming Out Day each October. Celebrate your community, your sexual orientation, your gender identity and your age. And stay forever young, for as Dylan sings:

“May God bless and keep you always.

May your wishes all come true.

May you always do for others

And let others do for you.

May you build a ladder to the stars

And climb on every rung.

May you stay forever young.”