The New 60: Why We Lie About Age
BY Robert Levithan
May 17 2010 8:55 PM ET
Why do most people lie about their age? Because they think they have to. Our culture at large — and our gay male culture specifically — embodies ageism. Young is good. Older is less good.
“If people knew my real age, I’d never work again.” I have heard this plaint more than once. The last time was the day before yesterday, when talking about age with a vivacious, successful Brazilian friend. She doesn’t dare tell the truth.
On Facebook, few people put their year of birth. For online dating sites, not to mention hookup sites, there is such pressure to lie that those of us who tell the truth are odd men out. When I post my age as 59, men think I’m somewhere between 64 and 75. Again: Why do we lie about our age?
Ageism, yes. Internalized ageism as well. Internalized prejudice is when we operate out of a learned prejudice about something we are: I have been exploring my own internalized homophobia, anti-Semitism, and AIDS-phobia, however subtle or overt, for years. I lead workshops where we have looked at our internalized racism, classism, genderism, etc.
How do we know when we are operating from internalized prejudice? When we try to “pass” without cause. When we are living in the belief that what we are is less than what other people are. When we have bought into other people’s prejudices (which do exist) and perceive danger even when it doesn’t exist.
There are situations where honesty about my sexual orientation, my HIV status, or my religious heritage could get me killed. I would lie or hide if my life were at stake. However, often I observe “passing” behavior when there is neither danger nor whisper nor threat of danger. Most of us will not suffer harm if we are honest about our sexuality or our age. We do, however, suffer psychically, from constant denial of the truth about who or what we.