Wednesday, 26 March 2008
Aging Together: So Like Their Peers, But Different Too
[EDITORIAL NOTE: Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams in which she reports on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here.
Nine years ago two single people met. They were both in their fifties and without partners after long previous relationships ended by illness and separation. Their friendship grew. Like many elders, they realized that continuing to live in San Francisco would not be affordable or even pleasant when they retired. They visited central Ohio where one had grown up and the other had had relatives living in the past, and decided to buy a house in a small town. Shortly thereafter, they decided it was time to tie the knot. Their relationship was blessed by their church on December 30, 2007. This summer, they'll move to Ohio for good.
This happy story would be quite unremarkable, except that Gary and Stuart are gay men. They were kind enough to talk with me about their partnership and their planned move.
On retirement: Gary was almost thrust into involuntary retirement a couple of years ago when the family-owned wholesale supply company for which he had worked for 32 years ("minus two weeks," he emphasizes) was bought out. The new corporate owners wanted younger workers. He was lucky enough to catch on at a similar job running data systems for a storage company. But the abrupt lay off turned his attention to making a future without employment.
Stuart's work, on the other hand, will remain similar as long as he is with us; he's a Vietnam vet on long-term disability whose "work" has been getting the Veterans' Administration to care for his needs. He was part of a groundbreaking study of PTSD in the 90s that set the pattern for care of his generation of vets and he generally applauds the system.
On choosing to move: there's more to this move than economic necessity. The city they've enjoyed for decades has begun to feel inhospitable. Gary says that these days San Francisco seems to him "crowded, congested, uncivil, thoughtless." And so they looked to the country, choosing a town in Gary's state of origin that has a nearby VA hospital. And they were able to find a big house they could buy outright. Both have family back East. And there's an historic Episcopal church to consider joining.
On family: Gary and Stuart are of a gay generation in which relationships to our families of birth are often conflicted. Gay people a little older than these two usually had clearer, if unsatisfactory, paths: they were either thrown out by family for perversity or their "peculiar" relationships simply went unacknowledged. Young gay people today, though their orientation may cause their families great distress, nonetheless belong to a recognized type. But gay people currently becoming elders live in an in-between world.
So when the guys went east to look for a retirement location, the visit involved introducing their new partners to their surviving parents and siblings. There was nothing easy about this. Both of them express a shy wonder that they received what younger people might consider a tiny measure of acceptance.
Stuart's brother and sister-in-law are Pentecostal Christians and Republicans. Gary's father is an Ohio Republican bigwig and a "rock-ribbed Presbyterian."
Gary and his father had had always had an unspoken "don't ask, don't tell" agreement about his orientation, even all the way through his losing his previous partner of 22 years to cancer. But Gary took Stuart "home" to meet his father. As they were leaving, he was overjoyed to hear his father say to Stuart, "welcome to the family."
When they decided to have a church commitment ceremony, they felt they were being a little bold because they invited their families. They were delighted when a nephew wrote, asking for a picture -- "we want to see him." And Gary's sister even traveled to San Francisco to be part of their big day.
Stuart and Gary’s story is so like that of many of their heterosexual age peers. But being gay men of their generation carries additional worries – and occasional surprising joys.
Stuart, Gary's sister Jeney and Gary at the ceremony blessing their union. Photos thanks to Patrick Lane and Michael Reardon.
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Sharon McKinney ponders the question of elder wisdom in Graceful Aging.]