A Gero-punk Manifesto

I am Jenny Sasser, a gero-punk (and a practitioner of Gerontological Anarchy).  What is a “gero-punk,” you ask?  Well, far be it from me to claim to have a definitive answer, but I will say this: to be a true punk of any sort is to live experimentally, to live in love with emergence, with the unexpected, the chaotic, the improvisatory, to live with your arms wide open to complexity, guided by your own star, fuelled by a good measure of playfulness and well-intentioned rebellion.

To be a gero-punk is to bravely and critically reflect upon, interrogate, and create new ways of thinking about and experiencing the aging journey.  A gero-punk resists normative aging ideology, and challenges others to do so as well, or at least to better understand the implications of normative aging ideology before they live by its rules. And as British gerontologist Simon Biggs entreats us, we resist “simple states of consciousness” about aging and later life, and choose, instead, to dwell in the messiness, the undeniable complexity, of deep human development and aging.

To be a gero-punk is to explore the art of time-travel, to learn how to be grounded simultaneously in the present while respecting (and learning from) the past and dreaming the future.

To be a gero-punk is to find one’s tribe – human and non-human members included– and to gather the tribe close so as to travel together through the life course, “with my will intact to go wherever I need to go, and every stone on the road precious to me” (to echo poet Stanley Kunitz).

To be a gero-punk is to possess the audacious belief that we are, all of us, legitimate makers of meaning, and so too are all other creatures. That our own precious lives provide the grounds from which understandings emerge. What this also means is that we acknowledge what we can’t possibly know prior to lived experience – For example, I may have been a gerontologist for more than half my life, but I’m yet to be an old gerontologist. I have no expertise on old age, so I best rely on the old experts themselves. But as a gero-punk, I can choose to try on different ways of moving through the world so as to develop empathy for and imagination about aging experiences I’ve yet to (or may never) experience.

As gero-punks, we place our attention and awareness upon odd, unexpected, flummoxing, and contradictory aging experiences; we accept our own experiences and those of others as sacred and real, if yet (or perhaps always) unexplainable. We celebrate the way human life always finds a way to spill over the edges of our attempts to simplify, categorize, and contain its wildness.

And, as gero-punks, we practice the seemingly contradictory spiritual discipline of asking questions about the meanings of all of this, of this wild and fantastic and unfolding aging journey, without always giving into the overwhelming need to engage in analysis, nor with attachment to finding answers to even our most pressing, persistent questions.  Rather, we rejoice in the spilling-forth of yet more questions, we let the questions carry us away.

Finally (well, at least for now), let me assert that gero-punks are committed to taking Gerontological anarchy out to the streets, to engaging in meaningful, transformative learning for all humans, of all ages, outside of the academy, not only inside of it.


28 Responses to A Gero-punk Manifesto

  1. Libby says:

    The Gero-punk creed…inspiring, let me think on it. I have more, much more. Thank you for inviting me to go deeper this morning. The hummingbirds thank you too!

  2. Jenny,
    Roger Anunsen forwarded your Gero-punk Manifesto to me, and I am grateful he did. I like the sassy (or is that Sasser) attitude. Do not go gently into that good night! Better yet, let’s not even equate advancing age with the close of day and the advent of darkness. Let us go boldly towards an enduring dawn with the expectation of exploring new lands, making new discoveries, learning more about ourselves and our tribe. I look forward to further wisdom from the head Gero-punk.

  3. Mary Ruhl says:

    Jenny – Thank you for this manifesto. Keeps me on track… though I am not much of a “punk” more of a “scout.” (as in girl scout) Is there room for both in the brave new world of life course travel?

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  5. hi, Jenny,
    I’m not a gerontologist, but I love your manifesto and think I have the makings of a geropunk. I’ve been writing about aging and ageism for a while now, at This Chair Rocks (link below is to the old name, Staying Vertical, and is about to be upgraded) and also at Yo Is This Ageist.com, and have developed a talk about how ageism warps our view of the life course that’s getting a nice response. Let’s hope we can make trouble together sooner or later.

    • jennysasser says:

      Hey, Ashton,
      Thank you for checking out my blog and for letting me know about your own adventures! I look forward to seeing what you are up to.Maybe we can collaborate in the near future.

      • Your manifesto was just brought to my attention again, by someone who used it at an anti-ageism workshop for the queer community – and I think I’ll read it aloud at the kick-off meeting of my consciousness-raising group tonight. My anti-ageism manifesto will be published this fall. blah blah. I’d love to talk briefly. Pls email me – ashton [at] thischairrocks.com if you’re interested.

  6. Saw your comment on changingaging, concerning taco bell commercial. I have been writing on changing aging and nursing home change for a while also. I am at the age of in between, my mother is 76 still goes to dances, social etc. I have friends and co workers that I hang out with, dance, sing etc. whatever some are young, middle. etc. I hang out with my mom’s friends, ranging from my age 55, to the top age 89. I do not see difference in wanting to enjoy life, just difference in likes, music food, knee hurts hip hurts, etc. I think we are all gero punks in the making!

  7. kirksey13 says:

    Saw your comment on changing aging. I write about changing aging in nursing homes, etc. I am often hanging out with my mom’s friends who range in age, between 77-89, she goes to dances, etc. Oh yeah, there is a man who is older, at the dance. I also hang out dance\sing\have fun with my age 55, and co workers (same age as children). I think people just want to enjoy life. I think gero-punk is a good term to describe the up coming and already there group! The only difference I see in the different age groups is individual likes, music, food, hip vs knee pain vs shoulder pain etc. ( Pain is not just older adults!)

  8. S.G. says:

    Wow! I want to be a gero-punk! I’m on my way. Thanks for the inspiration and motivation. Woo-hoo.

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  10. Admittedly, I’m new to this concept, but I find it fascinating that we tend to prescribe to the societal “timeline” of when to do what. Thanks for your insights on this. I look forward to learning more!

  11. Ms. Jen this is the first blog ever read in your topic ongoing older resonates deep within my heart with hair turning gray and little or no knowledge of the appropriate wardrobe choices as I become older. Thank you for acknowledging some of my own fears.

  12. you asked for people to join. is this the first step? i had a recent brush with death and live in ‘senior’ cohousing. gero punk is right up my alley!

  13. Jenny, I came upon your manifesto while perusing the MU website. Why am I not surprised? You have always been a rebel heroine in my heart. The notion of the thesis process as a transformational journey has been shared with many a student. I hope to see you on the 12th.

  14. Annie Heron says:

    My friend Annie Popkin turned me on to your website – I love it! Just turned 66 and I feel that as I age I contain all the other ages I’ve been – sometimes the 16 year old wants to come out and play, sometimes the 40 year old is being highly responsible, sometimes I just want to sit and watch the twilight creep into the yard.

  15. Pingback: A Relentless Sense of Generational Identification Inspires Boomers to Change Aging -

  16. Pingback: Can age be “just a number?” I’d say no. – This Chair Rocks

  17. Pingback: Conversation about aging with Dr. Jenny Sasser - Shambhala Meditation Center of Portland

  18. Richard says:

    Hi Jenny, could you possibly reach out to me offline at my direct email? I am Diana Rummel-High’s husband. This was the only way I could find to reach out to you.

    Thank you,


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