Somewhere between the ages of 40 and 50, I seem to have grown invisible.
People increasingly bump into me on my commute. Bar hostesses look right past me. I am met with blank stares and silence at a community Oneg Shabbat.
The people who seem unable to see me have one thing in common: they are young. When they look at me, I just don't seem to register with them. Or perhaps they look away because they don't know what to say to me.
They view me as "other" rather than a person perhaps worth getting to know.
I suspect that when some of my younger acquaintances and colleagues do see me, what they identify is a hetero-normative, cisgender, middle-aged businesswoman in a suit and sensible shoes. Many assume I am corporate, conservative and conventional.
In reality, I am none of those things.
It is disappointing to me that the same people who demand that their differences be acknowledged seem to view acceptance as a one-way street. They (rightly) resent being discounted because of their gender identity or political views, overlooked because of their tattoos or unconventional clothing. They ask not to be disregarded, challenging those of us who are older to see their creativity and brilliance and humanity as well as their youth.
They are right. When I spend time with women and men who are younger, and especially those who are "counter-culture," I learn that many of them are very much worth getting to know.
I discover that the young woman who is a fierce advocate for transgendered individuals happens to be an accomplished opera singer and a ferociously patriotic American. I find that my colleague with spiky hair and a nose ring is utterly passionate about providing health care to the disenfranchised, and happens to be a world-class cook. I realize that my friend's vegan child who identifies an anarchist is a frustrated idealist bursting to make a difference in the world. I understand that my child's friend who has rainbow-colored hair is a brilliant scientist with questions about the universe that could rock it.
My viewpoint expands, and my world right along with it.
I'd like to suggest that some of us who are older also are more complex than we seem. One of my closest friends is a pleasant, suburban Jewish mother of two, who happens to have amassed a world-class collection of antique Japanese kimonos and books. Another is a no-nonsense businesswoman who writes fantasy fiction for young adults in her free time.
I have coworkers who are deadheads, triathletes and marched for Civil Rights in the 1960s; one colleague had a successful career as a singer songwriter. My sister-in-law has studied with Second City. I have helped teach HIV/AIDs prevention and worked for LGBTQ rights since the mid-1980s.
So, here's an invitation to anyone who can look beyond the bifocals: Want to grab a beer?