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Editorial: Ageing and Sexuality

A photograph of a lush oak tree, its branches sprawling across a field of green.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,

Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;

Conspiring with him how to load and bless…

Two hundred years ago, with these beautiful lines, John Keats celebrated the abundance, ripeness and maturity that autumn brings. It’s the same with the seasons of life. As the decades roll, we gather gifts, and we slough off what’s no longer needed. But ageing is often associated with a loss, a lack of ability and strength. When combined with sexuality, in the popular imagination, fed especially by market forces, youth is to be lauded and ageing regarded as the impending horror that must be evaded for as long as possible.

Ageing is a function of time, nothing more, nothing less. It is a season in our lives, and quite like any other, has its own unique characteristics. Keats begins the last stanza of ‘To Autumn’ with,

Where are the songs of spring? Ay, where are they?

Think not of them – thou hast thy music too…

And so, this time, instead of a regular interview, Shikha Aleya reached out to a group of respondents to individually reflect on and share what came to mind and heart when they thought of ageing and sexuality. The result, delightfully, is less like disparate reflections, and their voices, even though they don’t know each other, speak unsparingly of their unique experiences and insights and meld into an intimate conversation amongst old friends looking back and forwards.

In the sixth decade of her life, Nighat Gandhi, makes marmalade from sour oranges, both literally and metaphorically as she examines the consequences of being born female in a patriarchal world. “What makes a woman?” she asks. And with age, and assiduously scraping away the accumulated debris of patriarchy, she spins gold from straw, reclaiming her sexuality and spirituality.

With customary openness, Asmi recounts being twenty-two when she first arrived in the city of Delhi. Now fifteen years later, she has traversed the variegated landscape of sexuality. Building on her experiences, she asks what age really is. Is it just a number? Is it stepping into our power and fighting back? Is it truly measurable in the years we have lived or is it an ongoing journey?

Aamena Natalwala draws from mainstream Bollywood representation of sexuality in older adulthood to unpack the taboo it carries in an Indian context. Older adults, she finds, are locked into distinct categories, warm and nurturing or crotchety and jaded, chipping away at the agency and acceptability they could enjoy in expressing their sexuality. It’s not just in Bollywood but in real life too. In our Hindi section, we have a translation of Pawan Dhall’s article on the ageism older gay men have experienced in the past and continue to experience within queer social spaces and support forums and emphasises the need to offer greater psychological and social support to older individuals across different communities and identities.

Characteristically frank, Elsa Marie D’Silva reviews Netflix’s Our Souls at Night, a film featuring two widowed older adults who enter into an unusual arrangement: sleeping in one bed. As love blooms between the protagonists, Addie and Louis, Elsa wonders if, by taking risks, we can choose our own path, one that may not be socio-culturally offered to us, but which leads us to fulfillment.

In our Video Section, watch The Vacation, a short film on time – how fleet it is on its feet, how there is always more ahead of us, and how we can make time for play, for love, for ourselves.

In our FAQ Corner, we bring you ticklingly candid Joan Price answering commonly-asked questions around older adulthood and sexuality, and an advice column from The Guardian gently untangling “fiery love” and sustainable adult connection by juxtaposing Keeping Up With the Kardashians and Monet (yes, we’re as surprised as you)!

Indeed, thou hast thy music too…

In our mid-month issue, Roshan Roy, in a thought-provoking article, explores ageing and what marks the passage from childhood to adulthood for queer people. Given that every society seems to have certain markers of adulthood, is traditional adulthood accessible or even desirable for queer people, he asks.

We also bring you a Hindi translation of Ramya Anand’s article on exercising sexual agency as an older, heterosexual married woman. The institution of marriage, Ramya tells us, has given her room to freely and uninhibitedly explore and express her desires.

In Brushstrokes, we feature two series of photographs. One by Sujata Setia radiant with warmth  and tenderness between older adults, giving us a glimpse into the ways in which they express love for each other. The second, an effervescently sensuous series by Arianne Clément which shines with raw and unique beauty in its models, aged between 70 to 102 years.

In our Blog Rolls section, we have curated two quirky and frank accounts around the place sexuality occupies, or is supposed to occupy, in our life as we grow older. The first article is a thoughtfully fierce reclamation of the term ‘Aunty’ and the second one upends socio-culturally reinforced ideas that older adults’ lives revolve around flocking to places of worship and doting over their grandchildren. They can, and do, keep laughing, keep loving, and keep dancing.

Stay well, stay safe, keep dancing!

Cover Image: Pixabay

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