My seven-year-old brother walked up to me the other day and asked me how old I was. I said I was 23, and he said, “Oh! I thought you were forty!” It makes sense. I’m sort of adult-looking, I help him with his homework, know absolutely every answer to his questions, and am about the same height as our mom. In his mind, I’m a person separated from him by decades, and apparently living in a different plane of existence.
It seems oddly reminiscent of how people interact with each other online.
I’m fairly new to fandoms, only partaking in them for a handful of years so far, and I didn’t even know that lesfic existed until a few months ago. My main mode of connecting with others with my interests is through Tumblr, and I believe there’s an easy explanation as to why there’s so much ageism. The conversations go one way. A person makes a post and whoever reblogs it can add their two cents but there’s rarely any chance for any discussion. It’s just not how the site was built. It’s one of the easiest places to create problems between age groups. There’s no profile on Tumblr, no friends list, a barely functioning message system, and a constant stream of impersonal interactions that often go one direction and not so much a back and forth. There’s also no way to tell age except through offhand comments and a string of clues that users might share about themselves.
When it comes to age, it often gets strangely hostile and personal and plain offensive. I’ve seen people get called pedophiles for talking to other members of fandoms that happen to be in their late teens. I’ve seen callout posts blowing up over something as silly as using the word “queer” to define oneself. I’ve seen people delete their pages and stop participating out of fear of “deceiving” or offending anyone with their very existence as “a person over the age of thirty”, as if their fandom memberships ran out and they must now forget their hobbies and likes and interests and live an adult life, whatever that means. The amount of arguments and heated debates I’ve witnessed about what older people should behave like, how they must alter their vocabulary, who they should and shouldn’t speak with, and what makes a person “older” in the first place, is a number I’ve lost track of almost as soon as I started to participate in queer online spaces.
Now, that’s not to say that all of these debates are a cesspool of garbage and sh*t flinging; I’ve learned most of what I know about the queer community and feminism through there (which shows just how little diversity schools actually teach these days). But there is a clear dislike of anyone “older”.
The question is, what is “older”, and why can’t we talk with each other. I’ve had the most difficult time trying to enter spaces with older women, mostly because there’s an invisible layer of defensiveness that I’m not sure many are even aware of, and also because it feels like I’m invading a community, as I imagine many on the other side of the equation also feel.
So few people are trying to close the gap that ageism creates. There’s no rapport, no sharing of experiences. People love their personal bubbles and hate anything that alters their fundamental understandings. At the same time, we “young ones” are starved for guidance and mentors and those who have figured out things we’re struggling with. I’d like to assume that those considered older feel that disconnect too. Because it that’s the case, then are we really that different?
If you want to chat, come hit me up on tumblr: korrasamishipper.tumblr.com
V.M. Agab writes the occasional fanfic on her free days when she’s not reading 4-6 books and writing weekly papers simultaneously for her undergraduate studies. She lives in Brooklyn and is currently working on original fiction. Stay tuned for her upcoming story “Inscribed” on the Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast.