This is my first blog post in far too long. In fact, I’ve been depressingly absent from NYRA for quite a while. Two things are bringing me back here. The first is that I suddenly find myself with a rare free few hours. The second is, oddly enough, my 21st birthday, which was almost two weeks ago now. Five years ago, days after my 16th birthday, I wrote a post on the NYRA Forums announcing that I had become disillusioned with NYRA upon gaining new freedoms and that I was leaving the movement. Of course, I posted this on April Fools Day.
Although I joked about it, I was very worried that this would happen to me when I turned 16, or 18, or 21, as it happens to so many people. I wondered how I could make sure that I wouldn’t forget what it was like to be affected by ageist laws, and how I would bring myself to be like those leaders of the YR movement who work so hard for a cause that can no longer directly benefit them.
Don’t get me wrong. I never expected an instant change to come over me on my 18th or 21st birthdays after which I felt more mature and responsible and realized that those younger than me couldn’t handle the same privileges I had just been granted. I expected the change to be more gradual, and the slow decline in my participation in NYRA worried me as I entered college.
Although I’ve only been 21 for 12 days, I think I can at least tentatively say I’m no longer worried. In fact, turning 21 has made me care more about lowering the drinking age. The reason for this is that while I didn’t notice a major change in my personality last Tuesday, I did notice a major change in the way other people treated me. This may all be just my perception, but I suddenly felt more respected and less marginalized. Two weeks earlier I had been separated from my friends, even those in my year, by a birthday that fell in the wrong part of the month. Less recently, I was thoroughly embarrassed at a restaurant when going to dinner with my parents when the waiter sheepishly said, “well, come back in three weeks and we can serve you.”
Suddenly, on March 29 and during the week following it, it felt like a weight was lifted from my shoulders. I don’t drink often, and the drinking age was never a major issue for me before for this reason. But this was about more than drinking. This was about personhood in a society that highly values drinking, and values 21-ness enough to provide separate drivers licenses to those who don’t possess it (moving to a state with vertical licenses for those under 21 was a low point in my life, and going home to renew my license last weekend provided unexpectedly little solace.) I always felt mildly offended as a YR activist when my friend would say to a new 21-year-old, “You’re a real person now!,” even though the statement was very tongue-in-cheek. Now I understand this statement, because this is how I’ve been made to feel since my birthday.
It seems strange to say this, but I never realized how marginalized I was until I was included, until I was “a real person.” I never realized how good it would feel to be a full part of social gatherings, or how strange it would seem in retrospect that I couldn’t order a drink at a restaurant just two weeks ago. And so, I’m writing this post to remind myself how little changed about me on March 29, 2011, and how much changed about my role in society, and to encourage others of all ages to keep fighting for this cause. Keep fighting, because it’s not stupid or immature or a waste of your time. And now I say this as a 21-year-old.
I’m guessing you’re one of those people fortunate enough to look their age. I’m nearly 30, and most people still think I’m too young to drink, sometimes even too young to be in college. Ageism doesn’t just affect those who are ACTUALLY underage – it marginalizes anyone who looks too young.
It’s been so many years since I made the transition to “adulthood.” The times have changed a great deal (I’m 60 this year). So I really appreciate your experience crossing the great divide in 2011. Growing up working class resulted, for me, in an expectation from my mom that I was ready to face the world alone, and I was on my own to do it. I think middle class youth might not get that until they finish college. I’ve noticed that certain people never forget how disempowered they were made to feel as young people, and seem to maintain consciousness about that; while others never examine their early experiences of disempowerment or their later ones as they wield their own power over young people. These are just a few of the thoughts that arose after reading your post. So much in our culture is illogical and counter-productive, and adultist laws are certainly among them.