Going Gray with Grace

Caroline Werner reflects cheerfully on misperceptions about the aging process and stereotypes about people of a certain age.

If we have to talk about aging at all, say “growing old gracefully.” Our LGBTQAI community is not that different from larger society. None of us wants to face the fact that we begin aging on the day we’re born.

I was fortunate to have good genes. Beginning as a teenager, I was always told I looked about ten years younger than my real age. I suspect that’s been a plus as I job hunted when I got older—except for one incident. When I was about 40 I was not offered a job where I thought I had the appropriate qualifications. When I asked why I wasn’t hired I was directly told, “We hired someone younger.”

“Oh, faux pas,” I thought. Then I had to consider whether or not it was a job worth fighting for. I decided that, with that attitude, I wouldn’t be happy working there anyway.

I think we all contemplate aging and how to prevent it or at least hide it—until the time it starts happening to us and we want to remain in denial—but we know we can’t stop it any longer. The telltale sign is when you go to your high school reunion and you see all those grey or balding heads in the room!

We can dye our greying hair, but nowadays the “in” thing is to have grey hair, so why not flaunt it?

I’ve met some younger women who tell me “age doesn’t matter.” When I say I’m interested in dating them, though, I learn that my age IS held against me. So age DOES matter, let’s be honest. The assumption seems to be that an older age means compromised health, but that isn’t always the case and health problems can happen to anyone at any time.

I think most of us aspire to be healthy. We want to look tanned, or at least keep the color in our cheeks—some of us do that artificially, which old folks can do, too! We want to stay in shape, knowing firm bodies are more attractive than flabby ones. Flab happens, though, especially as we age. My upper arms look like I’ve got wings now—preparing for my flight to heaven, apparently.

Exercise is important to keep our blood moving and heart working, as well as to keep us trim. Lots of young people run and tear their Achilles tendon or sprain an ankle, so they’re hobbling around (maybe on crutches) until the thing heals. I told you health problems can happen to anyone at any time!  Hopefully they won’t re-injure it with their impatience to run more.

As we age, we keep exercising to the extent that we can—some of us can do more than others. Exercise bikes or bikes, in general, are a favorite unless you’ve got bad knees. Being overweight is not good at any age, but the pounds creep up on you once your body metabolism starts to slow down at menopause or about age 50. Then you may want to change your eating habits to keep the extra pounds off.

Wrinkles go with aging—so there are wrinkle creams on the market you can start using at age 30. Now you can not only use creams on your face and body, but there’s some stuff you can buy that fills in the cracks, I understand. At a fundraising event recently, I was sitting at a table with all men. I was asked what I do to look younger. My secret is from a naturopath I saw several years ago—I use sesame oil from the Community Pharmacy.

Growing old isn’t necessarily scary. It just happens and we all slowly adjust accordingly—even though we don’t want to admit it’s happening to us. When you’re young, it may be difficult to disassociate other older people from your grandparents.

We’re all different. A lot of us enjoy being active and like being around other people, even young children who are not our own. We’re not all grouchy; but we can be if we have to be to get our needs met. When people ask how I am, I generally say, “As feisty as ever.” I like feisty seniors because I know they’re going to take care of themselves just fine. Some of us appreciate all the help we can get but others don’t like to ask for help. If you notice I might need help with something, please don’t hesitate to step in and ask how you can help. I’ll do the same for you, if I can.

I also am a wealth of information. I don’t know everything; I’m still learning, of course. I’ll share what I know with you and you can share what you know that I don’t—like how to use a cell phone, a computer, or Facebook.


CAROLINE WERNER has a Master’s Degree in Social Work. She did case management with Dane County seniors before retiring. Now she is an LGBT Senior Advocate for the OutReach LGBT Community Center.