Gero-Punk Praxis: Queering Gerontology

Part one in a series of essays

By guest Gero-Punk

Pascal Aziz

My Context

In the beginning of my educational career at Marylhurst University, I found my randomly picked gerontology electives to be irrelevant and burdensome. Even though I quickly fell in love with Jenny as an instructor I was not at all motivated to read the material she assigned or write essays around my embodiment and ageing experiences. To successfully finish the class, I read what I could with little interest and wrote my papers a term after the class ended with a vow to never take another gerontology course. At first, I was under the impression that I had no interest in understanding old age and that perhaps gerontology was a way of complicating what seemed to be a simple and inevitable aspect of our earthly existence that is old age and death. After all I was 19 when I took my first gerontology course and I was trying to understand the complex and dramatic experiences of becoming an adult, figuring my identities around faith, sexuality, and national identity, while being an international college student away from home and family, left to juggle life as best as I could with little direction. I also thought that I had nothing to plan for, secure in the knowledge that I will have a role to fulfill within some community and will have a younger cohort to reciprocate that role with care giving by virtue of filial piety and obligation.

Upon deeper reflection in more gerontology courses I registered for in order to learn from Jenny as a scholar and to solidify my relationship with her as a mentor, I found that I was wrong, and that contemplating old age and death would allow me to enter into some of the deepest chambers of my heart that were filled with inner confusion, suffering, and fear manufactured by my complex and oppositional identities. This inner chamber of despair motivated my emotions, behaviors, and worldview and impacted much of my identity and story throughout my life course thus far.

My Fears on the Surface

We always tend to avoid what we fear most. Through contemplation, I found that my resistance to any interest in gerontology was rooted in a deep fear of my own narrative and story provoked by my identity as a gay Christian Egyptian immigrant to America. This identity is a complex one that intersects contrasts, one that I can sometimes negotiate and play with, and at other times fail horribly to put in check with its extremes and polarized binaries. It has also created an equally complex and dramatic narrative that at times uplifts me with strength, resiliency and endurance, and at other times, imprisons me in a story of victimization and a desire to submit to my oppression. I did not construct these identities nor caused them to be in opposition, they are all very hereditary; I was born a gay male to a Coptic family in Egypt. Though I have at times denied and then once again claimed all these things as mine in my constantly assessed and renewed commitment to authenticity, they all seem very natural to me and essentially non-oppositional.

However, within my context (“time, place and space,” as Jenny would say), these identities are all contra-positioned to be at war with each other. The LGBTQ population was extremely wounded by those who claim to speak for Christianity and in its popular culture has deep contempt towards the Church. Most Christian churches look at the LGBTQ population with suspicion and condemnation, judge them as perverted or disordered, and interpret their reactionary anger as contempt to the person of Jesus Christ and his gospel. And beyond the external conflict between my identities and communities, they have internal problems and conflicts within themselves like racism and xenophobia, or very oppressive values of conformity. Moreover, Egypt is the country that persecuted me and the country in which I am rooted and dearly miss. America is the country in which I found liberty and dearly love and it is also where, as a Middle Eastern young male, I am racially profiled, othered, and perceived with suspicion as a potential threat to Homeland Security.  America is where I may continue to be a foreigner no matter what I do to belong. And in seeking to belong in America as a gay man, I have found that mainstream gay culture can be a very hostile and scary and, dare I say, a destructive environment for a gay man as it is a culture with its own set of conceptual boxes, social scripts, ideal body images, and tendency to condemn those who don’t fit or don’t agree with its standards.

I feel the same can be said for most religious communities, on which I will elaborate further in future posts. This civil war occurs in the personal lives of those who, like me, intersect these identities and communities. In the midst of the battling and peace processes that happen within us, we, voluntarily and/or involuntarily, live and age on the margin, a queer margin in which we, in the company of other queers, are alien to the mainstream, the dominant, the successful, and the normative. On this margin, I have found that I am able to embrace myself, the beautiful and the ugly, and to tell my story. I have also found that I have space to question, critique and deconstruct the unnatural normative, and to untie the knots of contradictions and unsolvable conflicts between identities, behaviors, and communities.

In other words, on the margin, I have found a place to age, and grow to my death, and that is the root of my praxis.

To Conclude (for now)

This is the first in a series of short essays I will be offering as part of the Gero-Punk Project. In these essays, I will synthesize the deep inner lessons I learned from gerontology and present them through a series of reflections on Gerontological theory, my narrative thus far, and opportunities for praxis and application. Throughout these reflections, I will attempt to bring two personal meta-lenses which I will explain further in future posts, “Queer Gerontology” and the “Aging Path.” By sharing these reflections, I hope to invite you to a marginal space of questions and possibilities in which we can engage in a critical and contemplative conversation on aging across the life course. I strongly believe that such a conversation has the potential to be an emancipatory spiritual and scholarly discourse that is transformative and meaningful to individuals of all ages, and identities.

Pascal Aziz was born and raised in Cairo, Egypt and currently lives in Portland, Oregon.  He has a BA in Psychology, a BA in Interdisciplinary studies and a Certificate in Gerontology from Marylhurst University.  His main interest is doing further research in gerontology, as well as participating in senior citizen advocacy. He is looking forward to attending graduate school in the fall of 2014.

About Jenny Sasser, Ph.D.

I am a freelance educational gerontologist, writer, community activist and facilitator. As of 12/21/15, I am former Chair of the Department of Human Sciences and Director of Gerontology at Marylhurst University. I joined the faculty as an adjunct member of the Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies program in 1997 and since that time, I've been involved in designing many on-campus and web-based courses and programs for adult learners, including in Gerontology. As an undergraduate I attended Willamette University, graduating Cum Laude in Psychology and Music; my interdisciplinary graduate studies at University of Oregon and Oregon State University focused on the Human Sciences, with specialization areas in adult development and aging, women’s studies, and critical social theory and alternative research methodologies. My dissertation became part of a book published in 1996 and co-authored with Dr. Janet Lee--Blood Stories: Menarche and the Politics of the Female Body in Contemporary US Society. Over the past fifteen years I have been involved in inquiry in the areas of creativity in later life; older women's embodiment; sexuality and aging; critical Gerontological theory; transformational adult learning practices; and cross-generational collaborative inquiry. I am co-author, with Dr. Harry R. Moody of Aging: Concepts and Controversies (8th edition). I live in Portland, Oregon with my dog Happy. My daughter Isobel is a Sophomore at Bard College in New York state. I have been on the planet 49 years.
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