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Friday, 21 December 2012

What's the Matter with Old People?

For the record, I stole that headline from Salon editor-at-large, Joan Walsh, who released a book this year titled, What's the Matter with White People?.

Her title, in turn, mimics Thomas Frank's 2004 book, What's the Matter with Kansas?. It's what popped to mind when I started writing this story and I couldn't resist.

As did Maine, Maryland and Washington in November, an increasing number of states are passing legislation legalizing same-sex marriage. And now, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear two cases during this session that could go a long way toward legalizing marriage for gay and lesbian couples in all states.

There is a brief but good explanation of details of what's at stake in the two cases at PBS News Hour.

On this issue, it feels like the Supreme Court is following the public's amazingly swift change of mind. Since 1996, according to Pew Research, the number of Americans who approve same-sex marriage has climbed from 27 percent to 49 percent in October of this year.

But what is discouraging about this public change of mind is that old Americans are proving their reputation for being hidebound dinosaurs. From The New York Times [emphasis added]:

"In a Gallup Poll conducted last month, 73 percent of people between 18 and 29 years old said they favored it, while only 39 percent of people older than 65 did.

The Pew Research poll concurs. Since 2009, support [again, emphasis added]

”...among baby boomers (ages 48 to 66) has grown to 41 percent from 32 percent; among seniors (over age 67) to 33 percent from 23 percent; among Generation X (ages 32 to 47) to 51 percent from 41 percent; and among millennials (ages 18 to 31) to 64 percent from 51 percent.”

Well, at least elders have moved a few degrees forward but they are not keeping up with what is, in this case, as much a civil rights issue as anything we marched for in the 1960s.

And although I can't find a poll that would support me, I believe it is sensible to assume the 61 to 67 percent (depending on which survey) of elders who cling to outmoded attitudes and beliefs include the 53 percent who voted for Mitt Romney even though he promised to kill Social Security and Medicare.

As an advocate for elders, I am discouraged by this kind of information. Why should younger people take us seriously, respect us and, perhaps, see us as a source of some amount of wisdom that might be useful to them when a majority of our age group refuses to change with the times?

What is the matter with old people?


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Carol Skahen: Happy Birthday


Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

It would seem that many of these people have become Lemmings in that rush for the sea. It's as if they have given up their ability to think for themselves while still alive. But then, maybe they never did know how to think for themselves? I'm with you though ... I am constantly amazed at a lot of my peers - an ashamed!

Ronni:
We all remembere that not too many years ago, marriage between dark faces and pale faces was illegal in most states.
As a heterosexual, I never had any desire to cohabit with a man, but I have gay friends who do.
I think that's their right. End of story.

I am afraid that age does not always confer wisdom. Some people are literally 'stuck in their ways'. Like the old bumper sticker "Don't confuse me with the facts; my mind's made up." When they were young they were taught by the Church that homosexuality was a sin and they are not about to change their beliefs, no matter what facts you present them.

Many elders accepted that belief and that is at the root of much of their thinking. The Bible says homosexuality is a sin and that's that.

When someone has been taught to accept the most preposterous myths by faith alone it's hard to change their thinking. That also holds true for politics.

Interesting to find this here today. I'm sitting here trying to write a blog post about Joan Walsh's "What's the Matter with White People?" Maybe it will be up in a few hours.

Re gay marriage: the speed with which the culture has accepted us stuns most LGBT folks just as much as anyone else. We've had some agitators with good strategic sense and that helped, but really the change is a testament to how shallow previous attitudes were. Change has been slower among older people who had longer exposure to an anti-gay environment, but most everyone is gradually changing.

I'm much more worried by seeing older white people's anxieties used by the 1% to hang on to their riches. That's just crazy and I think we're headed toward a constitutional crisis with all this stonewalling by Republicans on taxing enough to perform the functions of government.

I truly believe that Christianity is at the heart of the older generations beliefs. They were told homosexuality was wrong, now suddenly it's right.

Me, I am the lucky gramma with a granddaughter being raised by two dads. :)

I think attitudes toward gays and lesbians change when people meet and get to know gays and lesbians. Then they see that the GBLT crowd isn't fundamentally different from other people: They have jobs, houses, often children. Their lives are pretty much the same as straight people's.

When I was growing up, I learned that gays and lesbians were weirdos with a perverted lifestyle. I began changing my mind when I got involved in (amateur) theater, where gay men are overrepresented. When I became friends with gay men, my opinion about them changed.

Now I live in liberal Seattle, where there is a fairly large GBLT community, and most folks in all age groups supported their right to marry. It was the populous Puget Sound region that made gay marriage a reality in Washington. People in conservative Eastern Washington--where fewer gays live--voted heavily against it.

So I say familiarity breeds tolerance, not contempt, in this case. If you know and like GBLT people, it's hard to stigmatize them. Older people, who grew up at time when most gays were closeted, have been less exposed to those who are "out" and thus can hang on to their fearful sterotypes.

According to a University of South Carolina Sumter publication of 2009, the percentage of married-couple households with children under 18 has declined to 23.5% of all households in 2000 from 25.6% in 1990, and from 45% in 1960. The so-called nuclear family is far from the norm for how the majority of us live. I personally think a family is defined by the people who live in it, including me. I am a household of one with an extended family that swells the number from 2 to many more any given week. If one comes to stay permanently we are a family. Most of the GBLT folks I know live in arrangements that cover the spectrum from nuclear families, married and not, couples and singles, and so on. I cheerfully voted for the marriage prop in WA and am delighted it passed. Only one of the four of us elder and aging sisters said "nay." Still I fear that sister typifies many older people who have lived a cocooned sort of life and are fearful of change, as though they could stop it. It might help if some of the younger of us spent some time with their elders and got them out and conversed with them.

I was stunned by the tenor of the talk about gay men when attending a gathering of friends from high school days. As I always do, I calmly mentioned that I have a gay brother. The "apology" offered to me was that due to the horrible things that gay men do to little boys . . . . Fortunately, another member of the group, a counselor, helped me refute the belief that gay men are any more likely to be pedophiles than heterosexual men, but this time I had tears in my eyes, knowing that's still the kind of stuff that my brother deals with daily. These are the people who are keeping him from being able to be on his partner's insurance plan, among other harms they do him.

I'm another Seattleite who also voted for the gay marriage bill. I agree with the comments about the myth of a link between gay men and pedophilia and also about religious teachings about gay people. Many older people do seem to cling to these beliefs.

I think that one of the reasons the bill passed in WA state was the brilliant pro-gay-marriage ad campaign.

It showed various heterosexual couples getting to know gay neighbors or co-workers or others and realizing that they weren't really different. The gay couples also loved and respected each other, worked hard, and took good care of their children.

Since man first walked the earth, elders have been criticized by their offspring for being "old-fashioned." It's inevitable. It's the natural result of the passage of time and societal change. Would you be critical of an 85-year-old for not using a smartphone? For not understanding "new math"? Why be critical of him or her for not being "LGBT literate"? Change is hard, Ronni. And hard things get harder with age. I've not forgotten how "old-fashioned" I sometimes thought my parents were, but I respected them nonetheless. And I'm confident that my son still respects me, even when my ideas or skills aren't quite up to date.

Personally, my acceptance of gay marriage is based on my staunch belief that what happens in my bedroom, or anyone else's, is nobody else's business. And gay marriage, like any other marriage is "no skin off my nose," as the saying goes. It has absolutely no bearing on my marriage. Besides, I'm a hopeless romantic. I can't imagine being in love and NOT being allowed to get married. Live and let live. The Golden Rule. Yada yada.

Nothing.

I truly do not think that the government has the right to be involved in marriage, at all. There should be no need for laws concerning what constitutes a married "couple" or "threesome" or whatever. If people wish to be differently treated on taxes and/or other laws and regulations, they should file papers of incorporation (or domestic partnership or whatever) that define each party's legal status and responsibilities. Laws should address the legal entities so formed.

As to oldsters: It is human to fear change or "otherness". As PiedType observes, each generation considers itself more "modern" than the previous generations. There is probably survival value in the tensions between the more conservative oldsters and the more progressive youngsters.

I'm not sure whether growing acceptance of LGBT arrangements is due to each generation's teaching the succeeding generation to be tolerant or whether there may be a higher preponderance of LGBT-living people within younger generations (providing more familiarity, with attendant reduced fear). Some years ago, I read a study on critters (rats? mice?) that showed that the higher the population density became, the greater the preponderance of homosexual actions became - this was before the rest of LGBT gained currency.

Agree with Pied's comments about bedroom privacy. Adding government agents to the boudoir occupants is undesirable.

Cop Car hints at one of the problems in all this. Perhaps we need to modify the tax laws to eliminate joint filings. Require every person to file individually. That would eliminate the possibility of phoney couples uniting solely for tax advantages.

There's nothing particularly the matter with old people. I'm 63, which isn't OLD old but I was born and raised in the middle of the Bible Belt and so, while I do not agree with those who oppose same-sex marriage I can understand where so many of those my age and older are coming from. Many of them grew up in small towns and they think the way their peer group from that town (and THEIR parents and grandparents as well, no doubt) think (and have thought).

Plus the older you get the more resistant you are to change. Selective memory (which all humans have) plays a part in this too. They yearn for what is generally termed "the good old days" forgetting that they were not, as it happens, all that good. What they are missing is being YOUNG and feeling like they've got the world by the tail (the way young people generally feel). That "I've got my whole life ahead of me" feeling.

(Confidentially, I miss that feeling too. What I, personally, have ahead of me in this new year of 2014 is heart by-pass surgery).

Most of them have arthritis, too, and they hurt ALL the time (I know I do) and that has a negative impact on the old joie de vivre too.

So, be a little patient with the old and look on the bright side. Some of them may never change their stance on this issue but they will die and change will come.

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