By Guest Contributor Aimee Thorne-Thomsen
I turned forty earlier this year. Unlike some of my friends and colleagues, I looked forward to entering middle-age. In fact, to celebrate the big event, I went on a two-week vacation to Italy and Spain with my nearest and dearest. What an amazing affirmation of life and love! It was the perfect way to launch the next decade of my life.
All that’s to say that I am really comfortable with who I am at forty. I’ve worked hard on myself and continue to take the time to reflect on myself and identify areas that I want to address. I have earned every gray hair in my curly mop of hair, and I have also earned every extra pound. (That’s one of those things I’m working on, btw). And despite the fact that lots of people try to convince me that I am not middle-aged or console me about middle-aged, (which I’m okay with, really,) I’m in a good place in my life.
But I’m also in a weird place. Because in addition to being middle-aged in my personal life, I’m also middle-aged in my movement life.
That may seem painfully obvious, but it didn’t occur to me that such a thing existed until recently. I was participating in a meeting with about fifteen to twenty other social-justice activists from across the country, when I realized I was one of the oldest people in the room. I don’t mean just my chronological age, but also my movement age. I have been solidly out of the “youth” category for a while and am not yet senior enough to be considered an elder.
And that made me reflect on those of us who occupy that space in between. What is the appropriate role for me at this point in my movement life? At forty I feel like I’m finally hitting my stride. I know what my skills are and where my strengths lie, and have let go of some of things that got in my way of doing good work. I have found my voice and platform, and I have a reasonable expectation that I will be heard when I speak. That said, what does it mean for me, who has dedicated myself to creating space for younger people to be seen, to be heard and to lead, to still hold space for myself? Or is my best contribution to movement-work to step aside and make room for others?
I feel conflicted in wanting my own space because I know that there aren’t nearly enough opportunities for younger people, especially people of color and LGBTQ people to engage and lead. But I still have so much I want to contribute, work I want to do, change I want to affect. And I know many fellow middle-aged activists feel similarly. I don’t want to believe that this is a zero-sum game–that in order to make space for others, I must relinquish mine entirely. Nor do I ever want to fall into the trap of believing that there aren’t times when giving up my space is exactly the right thing to do. My struggle is to figure out ways to continue to make space for my younger colleagues, to elevate their voices and support their leadership, while still contributing to the realization of reproductive justice in the ways that I can. And I commit to use my space to make sure that we make more space not only for our young people or our elders, but for those of us in the space between.