42 posts categorized "Gay and Gray"

GAY AND GRAY: Gay Elder Takes Up a Cause

JanAdams75x75Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams (bio) in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here, and you will find her past Gay and Gray columns here.]


San Francisco is one of the few U.S. cities that retains some rent control protections for tenants. It is situated on a peninsula so sprawl is impossible and the beneficiary of what seems a permanent tech boom and subsequent real estate boom, rent controls are what keeps the city somewhat affordable for ordinary working people.

Two-thirds of San Franciscans are still renters making this expensive place very unlike most U.S. cities.

Naturally, real estate speculators have long sought to find ways around our rent control provisions. They usually lose politically in the local arena so they went to the state legislature and won something called the "Ellis Act" which allows them to evict all tenants - even long-standing, older/disabled, legally "protected" tenants - if they will swear up and down that they are taking the building out of the rental market for at least five years.

We don't let them sell it off as condos but they can create "Tenancies in Common" in which multiple owners hold a multi-unit property together. (Full disclosure: I've been part owner and occupant of such a property - just two units - for more than 20 years.)

Jeremy Mykaels Recently Jeremy Mykaels found himself on the wrong end of such an Ellis Act eviction and he is fighting back. He has been speaking at community events and has created EllisHurtsSeniors.org which includes a boycott list of 31 San Francisco properties not to buy because the owners recently used the Ellis Act to evict one or more senior or disabled tenants.

Since he is gay himself, he's particularly conscious of the danger to older gay men living with HIV on fixed incomes. They have spent a lifetime creating a network of social connections and medical services they will never be able to duplicate in a new locality.

Here's some of Mykaels' story:

”We just had a big election in this country choosing between two distinct views of government - the 'we're all in this together' view where we don't abandon the vulnerable among us and the 'you're totally on your own' limited government approach.

“California, and San Francisco especially, voted for, and for the most part agree with, President Obama's 'we're all in this together' view of government which is why years ago we put in place rent control laws to begin with.

“Shouldn't we act accordingly and do our best to protect our senior and disabled long-time residents and keep them from losing their homes just because someone else wants to make a windfall profit?

“...I think using the Ellis Act to evict seniors and/or disabled tenants who have lived in their apartments for 10, 15, 20, 25 years or more, most times just subsisting on fixed incomes and who may be forced to move out of San Francisco altogether because they won’t be able to afford a new apartment here with rents at least 2-3 times higher than they have been paying under rent control, is simply WRONG!

“This is not how a compassionate community or city should treat its seniors and disabled residents and it is my goal to outlaw using the Ellis Act by owners and real estate speculators to evict senior and disabled tenants from their rent-controlled apartments.

“On a personal note, I have always been a very private person not prone to sharing information regarding my problems publicly with people outside of my small circle of friends and family and I have always tried my best to handle these problems on my own.

“But now, faced with the loss of my home and the real possibility that I will be forced to leave my beloved city of San Francisco forever, I have decided to publicize my eviction - even if that includes having to make my health problems and financial limitations public as a result of this effort.

“I am not looking for pity. I just want to shed a light on a growing problem in this city for many senior and disabled tenants like myself and hoping for a little justice. I may eventually lose this fight, but at least I will know that I took a stand and didn't fall prey to the intimidating tactics of real estate speculators and their lawyer to get me to vacate my home.

In December, Tommi Avicoli Mecca from the Housing Rights Committee told the Chronicle about the rising epidemic of evictions:

"'They are motivated by greedy landlords and speculators who want to make a ton of dough selling' the buildings. His group has tracked at least 26 buildings where Ellis Act evictions have been filed this year…”

Median rents these days in San Francisco are $3000/month. According to federal government suggestions, your housing costs should be one-third of your income. At the current rent level, that means San Francisco renters would need to make $108,000 annually to live here. Many don't, of course. And the city is not (yet) willing to become nothing more than a boutique playground for the extremely rich.

Along with Mr. Mykaels, I find myself asking: can't we capture some of this wealth coming into our community to preserve the life styles and lives of our long-time residents?


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Jacqueline Herships: Forced to Sell Your Home? Relax


GAY AND GRAY: Applying for Medicare While Gay

JanAdams75x75Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams (bio) in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here, and you will find her past Gay and Gray columns here.]


This is the tale of how I enrolled in Medicare while lying to the government. They made me do it. Really. Here's the story:

One of the nicer byproducts of our becoming an internet society is that when you reach three months before your 65th birthday, you can fill out an online form to sign up for Medicare. No making an appointment at the Social Security office, no finding postage stamps. Just sit down at the computer and fill out a simple form.

The Social Security Administration even knows how to welcome my age group. The page leads with the headline. Boldly Go Online To Apply For Medicare and includes a video starring Patty Duke and George Takei in Star Trek uniforms.

So I tackled the form. And the process really is easy. Just five screens to fill out asking simple stuff like Name, Date of Birth, SS number, citizenship, enrolling in Medicare Part B only? (yes, I'm still working), etc.

Until I got to Group Health Plan Information. That's where it gets tricky.

Fortunately, I'd done my homework and knew the right answer. The right answer - the only answer I'm allowed to make - is "No."

Considering that I've been enrolled on my domestic partner's excellent group health plan for years, this is counterintuitive. I mean, who do they think has been paying for the dermatologist who removes my benign skin cancers and for my occasional pneumonia meds?

You see, under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the Social Security Administration is not allowed to recognize that I belong to a group health plan because they are not allowed to recognize that I am in a spousal relationship. And that matters: if I entered what a married heterosexual would in answer to this question, I'd end up paying extra for Medicare for the rest of my life.

Here's how Gay and Lesbian Legal Defenders, a New England rights advocacy organization, explains the sort of situation in which I find myself:

”When you turn 65 you must enroll in Medicare Part B or face a 10% lifetime penalty for every year you fail to enroll. So if you wait until age 70, you will be paying an additional 50% premium in addition to the regular Part B premium for the rest of your life. However, Medicare does allow two exceptions to this rule.

“First, if you are still working and are covered by either your employer’s or union’s group health plan, you can opt to enroll in Medicare Part B anytime while you are still working or during the 8 months after either your employer’s insurance or your employment ends WITHOUT incurring any penalty.

“There is a second exception that involves being on a spouse’s health plan, but because of the discrimination that same-sex married couples face because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), this benefit will not apply to same-sex married couples until either GLAD wins one of its lawsuits against DOMA (more information on GLAD’s cases here) or Congress repeals DOMA.”

So the only right answer to the "Covered under a Group Health Plan?" question on the Social Security form is "No."

I found this upsetting - so upsetting that I got on the phone and worked my way through a series of automated choices until I managed to reach a person. She actually was nice enough, willing to be helpful.

After explaining my situation and existing coverage, I asked: "Am I really supposed to lie on your form?" She said I must enter "No," even though the true answer is "Yes."

So I did just that. This made me nervous - we've all heard horror stories about insurance companies denying claims because of minor discrepancies on applications. Could I get in trouble for entering something that was manifestly untrue?

Besides, I believe in Medicare. I'm ready to lobby and struggle to keep it for all of us. I don't want to start my relationship with this vital program by telling an untruth. So I didn't completely restrain myself.

The last screen of Social Security's online form has a section for "remarks." Here's what I wrote:

”I have entered incorrect information under the previous screen because I HAVE BEEN covered under my partner's group health plan, but because my coverage is as a domestic partner, not a "married" spouse, the SS Administration apparently cannot recognize my existing coverage.

“This required me to enter information that is factually incorrect - after all, my partner's group health plan has been paying my health bills…But I was so instructed by your agent.”

Apparently this didn't have any effect on my paperwork. Does anyone even read “remarks" I wonder? Yesterday, a letter announcing that I am eligible turned up in the mail.

Look out Mitt! Look out Barack! You've got another elder chafing to hold your feet to the fire to preserve our Medicare.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mary B Summerlin: Ordinary Day


GAY AND GRAY: One Vision for Gay Elder Care

JanAdams75x75Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams (bio) in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here, and you will find her past Gay and Gray columns here.]


TGB readers will have figured out that I've been an "out" lesbian activist for decades. Much of that time, the long slog toward full gay inclusion in U.S. society has not been my main political focus, but I've always kept track of our uneven progress.

I'm from the gay generation for whom "coming out" - insistently announcing our presence in the world - was a crucial step toward winning general acceptance.

As folks will also know if they saw the recent Harvey Milk movie, one of the milestones on the path toward mass coming out and gay rights was the defeat of a ballot measure called the Briggs Initiative in California in 1978. This would have made it illegal for gays to teach in the public schools.

The movie makes it look as if it was all Harvey's charisma that won that election, but there was also a huge grassroots movement that canvassed door-to-door to reach voters who didn't know they'd ever met a gay person.

Back in those days, many peoples' ideas about homosexuals were pretty one-dimensional; we were emblematic of one thing - perverted sex.

We, gay people and our many allies, defeated the Briggs Initiative. I remember attending a post-mortem meeting where activists chewed over what had worked and hearing a woman talk about how she knew her canvassing was effective when the voters she met started sharing with her their anxieties about their own marriages and sex lives.

Helping people become more comfortable about talking about their own sexuality was just part of what our strategy of coming out meant we had to do. I knew she had expressed something very true: at that time and place, gay people's social function was to catalyze everyone to become a little more open and honest about sex.

Maybe it still is, although we've acquired a more rounded profile in subsequent decades.

Amber hollibaugh That brave speaker I remember from 1978 was Amber Hollibaugh who moved to the east and went on to take part in the numerous LGBT struggles and organizations since. These days, she is executive director of Queers for Economic Justice in New York. When I heard she would be giving the keynote speech at a recent Berkeley conference on "Faith and LGBTQI Aging," I had to go. Here's a report:

Hollibaugh laid out some pretty dire facts about what aging is likely to look like for most gay folks now over 65. Today there are some three million of us; by 2030, there will be six million.

Seventy to 80 percent of gay elders do not have children. Many have been estranged from their relatives and have located themselves far from kin. These realities lead to big problems says Hollibaugh because "access to unpaid family labor provides what we have for a structure for getting old in America."

The gay movement, like so much of U.S. society, is youth-centric. Like many young people, young LGBT folks can't form a picture of what aging will mean for themselves because their lives don't include elders. So gay institutions are only slowly developing to assist our elders.

Working in New York City, Hollibaugh has observed a frightening trend. We know that older workers laid off in the Great Recession have a hard time getting new jobs and are seeing their savings dwindle. But for some isolated, working-class, older gays, the downturn has pushed precarious lives over the brink. She is seeing a wave of newly unemployed LGBT people ages 47 to 55 turning up at New York City homeless shelters.

As low income urban gays age without children, they are very likely to end up in what she calls "nursing home dump sites," the least desirable institutional arrangements where they have no advocates to fight for them. The "families of choice" they've built up over the years tend to be of the same aging generation; these networks will no longer be able to care for each other. And the institutions often don't recognize or honor such relationships.

Playing the role of the organizer as she always has, Hollibaugh offered a vision for how we create better possibilities for gay elders. Her premise is that "we will all be more and more dependent eventually - we need community."

And there are still places in our society whose mission is to foster community, even if they have not always been friendly to gays: these are the various faith institutions. Churches and other religious bodies make counter-cultural affirmations that dovetail with the needs of aging gays:

  • They affirm openness to people throughout their entire lifespan, young and old
  • Instead of sweeping reality under a rug, they assert that we live through a lifespan and they recognize the inevitability of dying
  • They usually claim to be communities of welcome and compassion.

Sure, religious congregations present problems for gay elders (and many others). They are often divided by class and race. They frequently are better at "loving" the other than sitting next to her/him at a table. Gay people still remind them of sexuality and that seems to make many religious folks queasy.

But the ostensible values of faith institutions - what they say they stand for - push them toward creating broad community when the chips are down.

LGBT elders need to access what churches have to offer and, while we have the energy, to use our lifelong movement experience to urge them to create "best practices" that meet the needs of our elders.

Working with churches on creating models of good elder care makes sense to Hollibaugh. Maybe those models can even spread beyond church institutions.

She's not pushing God (I have no clue from her speech how she does or doesn't relate to a deity.) She points out that in getting the needs of gay elders on the table, we don't have create institutions from scratch. "Remember - churches already have nursing homes! We need to work with them."

***

Do I buy Hollibaugh's vision? Not completely, but as usual, she's on to something.

This is made easier for me because I have already found connection within a little Episcopal Church congregation that provides a vital, if fractious, multi-generational, multi-class and sexually diverse community. And I've worked for inclusion in the national religious institution, getting to see how holding people to their values can effect amazing changes.

But I also know that many LGBT people and others have been hurt horribly by judgmental religion and would hate the idea of aging in a setting colored by religion. Still, there are possibilities in that arena and poor elders are going to need help wherever they can find it.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Herchel Newman: Forever Glow


GAY AND GRAY: Gay Marriage Comes to the Niagara Frontier

JanAdams75x75Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams (bio) in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here, and you will find her past Gay and Gray columns here.]


Rainbow falls

The beginning of legal same-sex marriages in New York State draws me back to my roots. Nearly 50 years ago, as soon as I was able to get away, I high-tailed it out of western New York state for more accommodating parts of the country.

Buffalo was no place for a lesbian to grow up in the 50s and early 60s. My high school mates intuited that I was different, very likely "queer," as well as socially awkward. A few tolerated me, but some were downright cruel to the lanky misfit I was in those days.

With this background, I'm following with interest gay developments in the far western part of the Empire State. We all know that New York City will be fine, but what about the boondocks by the lake?

Very well, thank you! Here are a few items from that often neglected part of the country.

• Western New York Republican State Senator Mark Grisanti bucked his own previous position and his party to cast one of the deciding votes for legalization. My former neighbor, Jeff Simon, long time Arts Editor for the Buffalo News thinks Grisanti's vote and gay marriage signal a huge boost for the long suffering region:

“I just committed political suicide,” Grisanti is quoted as saying after his “yes” was one of the two crucial votes that gave New York State back its reputation for progressivism and a passion for human rights and made this the largest state to have a same-sex marriage law...

“Mark Grisanti clearly agonized over his vote. He told reporters that his own wife had doubts. What he wound up doing, despite his reservations, was becoming one of two Republicans in the New York State Senate to make New York State the biggest weapon, thus far, in the fight to universalize same-sex marriage.

“It is inconceivable to me that in the events of last weekend, Grisanti didn’t make some of the most important friends a New York State politician can make. He might have thought it looked like an open grave.

“Unless my sense of the political world is completely absurd (always possible), I’d bet anything it was just the foundation people have to dig before they put up a sign for a skyscraper that reads “watch this space for further developments.

“For those given to hand-wringing over [Buffalo's] reputation, it’s hard not to think that he, like Kathy Hochul, [a Democrat unexpectedly elected to the Congress recently in a special election in a Republican area] did quite a lot more: they have completely re-identified upstate New York, and especially Western New York, from the area that gave the state the gubernatorial campaign of Carl Paladino [an embarrassing knuckle-dragging right winger] to the area that put Hochul into Congress and proved decisive in legalizing same-sex marriage in New York State.

• New York State has six separate Episcopal Church dioceses and therefore six Episcopal bishops. I knew the one we had when I was young as I went to school with a daughter. I thought he was a pompous stuffed shirt.

The current one, the Rt. Rev. R. William Franklin, is one of three in the state who is allowing priests to officiate immediately (before the church rewrites its services) at same-sex weddings. Even the Episcopal bishop in New York City isn't doing that. Who'd have thought it?

• Most amusingly of all, the community of Niagara Falls, long a sad locus of tourism gone completely tacky, hopes to boost its fortunes as a magnet for gay marriages. The tourist bureau has gone all in.

In an effort to partner tourism related opportunities with the passage of the Marriage Equality Act in New York State, the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp. (NTCC), unveiled plans Friday to hold a group wedding ceremony on July 25 in Niagara Falls, N.Y., as well as a new ‘Rainbow Romance’ package on the agency's Niagara-USA.com reservation system.

USAToday caught the flavor of the region's excitement:

”NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. — New York legislators had voted just hours before to legalize same-sex marriage, and already the phone was ringing at the Falls Wedding Chapel. It was a lesbian couple in central New York, looking forward to an August wedding after 28 years together...

“Richard Crogan sees the new law from two perspectives: He's president of the Main Street Business and Professional Association in Niagara Falls -- and he and his partner, Michael Murphy, are thrilled to finally be able to marry at the falls.

“He's envisioning a homecoming for gay people who left to marry elsewhere, including across the river in Canada.

"Those gay kids that moved out to be accepted can come back," he said. "New York state is their state. They can come home and be themselves."

My delight at all this doesn't go nearly far enough to lure me back to the region. But how can I not rejoice as a tolerant and creative wind blows away some cobwebs in the old home place?

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Richard J. Klade: Dumb and Dumber


GAY AND GRAY: When It's the Parents Who Grow Up and Come Out

JanAdams75x75Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams (bio) in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here, and you will find her past Gay and Gray columns here.]


When I heard an interview by NPR's Terry Gross with filmmaker Mike Mills about his new film Beginners, I knew I'd run across a topic for this month's column.

This movie - still in quite wide theatrical distribution - is the charming story of an early middle-aged man (Oliver) whose 75 year old father (Hal) bursts out of the closet after the death of Oliver's mother.

The son always knew there was something a little off about his parents' 44 year marriage. Now he watches Hal, played by Christopher Plummer, blossom within a new circle of gay friends. Getting to know each other anew is not always a smooth process and Oliver has plenty of his own difficulties achieving an intimate relationship - hence the film's name.

The father soon develops cancer and eventually succumbs surrounded by his gay buddies. Viewers are left to wonder whether the son can engage in more complete relationships than the father achieved during most of his life.

Apparently the story of Hal closely parallels Mike Mill's actual experience. He told Terry Gross both how truthful that aspect of the script is and how challenging it was to live through.

”... the dad's part, I do like to call it a portrait because I feel like the word 'portrait' sort of implies this subjective nature of it, you know, and it's sort of my version of my dad.

“...so when he came out, it wasn't totally a surprise to me and you know, he was an art historian who wore cravats and bought all my mother's clothes. So on some levels, you know, it's not totally shocking.

“But yeah, wanting to have sex. It's just weird to think of your parent that way...You know, this is a man who sort of defused himself, who tamped down his desires and was very sweet, very kind, very conscientious father but kind of vague and distant.

“And when he came out, it was the beginning of his becoming so much more vivid and hot and like really present, which was all quite often messy but always wonderful.

I found the portrayal of Hal bursting out of the closet extremely believable. The raw joy with which the Plummer character leaps into gay culture is very much how coming out often looks. Within a short time, he is dancing the night away when not earnestly promoting a gay candidate for office and insisting that his son appreciate gay culture.

All that is very sweet. Also all too believable are the scenes in which his gay friends support Hal as he is dying. That generation of gay men has seen a lot of death; they were winnowed by AIDS. They often know how to nurse the sick and how to keep laughing in the midst of pain and inevitable decline.

Developments like New York State's recent legalization of gay marriage probably mean that we're in the last generation in which stories like this - stories of gay parents of either gender coming out to their children - will continue to be lived. As stigma and practical obstacles to our relationships are overcome, there will be fewer heterosexual marriages undertaken by people whose core orientation is to their own sex.

We live today in a moment when such stories are quite commonplace. I've known people in the midst of at least half a dozen of these jarring changes. Sometimes the younger generation takes the gay eruption well, but sometimes it can be terribly painful to envision their parents in such a different way.

What seems to make all the difference is whether the parents are able to reach an amicable, respectful parting and re-orientation. If one of them feels deceived or wronged, it can be awfully hard for their (usually adult) children. If, on the other hand, when there had been honesty throughout the relationship (and I've known a couple of those), the younger generation may be less surprised and more able to welcome the sight of their parents maturing in their full selves.

It's not just kids who "grow up." I believe we're all still at it until the day we die! At least that's how I want to live.

Here's the trailer for Beginners. If you don't enjoy anything else about the movie, I'll wager you like the dog!


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Joanne Zimmerman: Tissue Issue


GAY AND GRAY: "Salvaging the Old"

JanAdams75x75Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams (bio) in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here, and you will find her past Gay and Gray columns here.]


While chasing an elusive great blue heron around a small lake in Golden Gate Park, I came across a long granite bench. Close up, I could (barely) read the inscription on the seat.

Fidelia-inscription

To Honor:
FIDELIA JEWETT
A Public School Teacher in San Francisco
For Almost Fifty Years
A Founder in Salvaging Old Age

On the base at the rear, barely visible above the grass, there was more lettering:

Lillien-J-Martin

LILLIEN J. MARTIN
1851-1943
"Guide the Child"
"Salvage the Old"

Who were these women? What's this "salvaging the old" stuff? What is this long stone bench doing in an obscure corner of the park?

These questions sent me to Google. Here's what I could discover of these two women's story.

Though enjoying pride of place on the stone bench, Fidelia Jewett has left little online record. I found an unsourced reference claiming she was born in Vermont, another to her serving as a teacher in San Francisco as early as 1870, and a few newspaper mentions.

The most interesting described an attempt by teachers at the city's Girls' High School to win what we'd call "equal pay for equal work."

”The Daily Alta California, San Francisco, Sept. 14, 1886 - The Committee of the Board of Education on the Adjustment of Salaries met last evening to hear teachers of the Girls' High School on their application for an increase in salaries to a par with the salaries paid to teachers of the same grade in the Boys' High School...

“Mr. Swett said the work of teaching in the Girls' High Schools was somewhat different from the labor in the Boys' schools, but it was fully equivalent...He was of opinion that discrimination in the two high schools should not exist...

“Miss Fidelia Jewett, one of the petitioners, said that the textbooks used in the two high schools were nearly the same and there was very little difference in the work...

“The Chair thanked the ladies and gentlemen for their attendance and promised that the committee would take the petition under consideration.”

I could not find out whether the women got their raise.

Lillien Jane Martin was a more documented public figure. She was born in Olean, New York into a family that lost its money and gave up on educating a girl in favor of her brothers. So at 16, by then moved to Racine, Wisconsin, she began teaching, aiming to save enough for a college education.

She soon won a scholarship to Vassar College and then taught science in Indianapolis, breaking ground as a woman was considered unfit to teach physics. In 1889, she attended a teachers convention in San Francisco and landed a job as vice principal and head of the science department at the Girls High School.

There she met Miss Jewett. And here their story runs into the conundrum of all gay history.

If we think about it, we know that we can't simply read backwards the understanding of same sex relationships that gay people have forged over the last 50 years. We've invented our present self-definitions and they seem to fit our lives.

But people in the past who lived in ways that would now be described as "lesbian" or "gay" didn't - couldn't - think of themselves quite as we do even though homosexual sexuality and same-sex affection seem to be universal elements in human society.

So, with that caveat, I'll share an account I was able to find of the relationship between Miss Jewett and Miss Martin.

”... Jewett taught mathematics and botany without a college degree [in] the 1880s at a San Francisco girls' high school. [Lillien Jane Martin] and [Fidelia] Jewett had been intimate friends almost from the moment their paths crossed in San Francisco in 1889, and they remained friends until Jewett's death in 1933.

“In 1894, Martin resigned from the girls high school to earn a doctoral degree in psychology in Gottingen. Apparently Jewett joined her there the following year.

“Back in San Francisco, Jewett resumed her teaching at the same high school. When Martin returned to the United States in 1898, she was immediately offered a position teaching psychology at Stanford. But between the time she returned from Germany and her job began at Stanford, Martin had no source of income.

“Jewett gave Martin half her salary until Stanford paid Martin. Martin, an equally supportive friend, encouraged Jewett to earn a college degree.”

That's all we know about the connection between these two forceful, unmarried women but on the basis of it, I'm willing to appropriate them for lesbian history, knowing I may be indulging my imagination.

Martin taught psychology at Stanford where a woman professor in a science was still a figure of wonderment. In 1916 she was forced into retirement at age 65 and didn't like it one bit.

At first she felt "old, lost, and lonely and discouraged." Drawing on her own distress at being cast aside as she aged, she opened a private practice to help "salvage the old." In this context, she formulated a set of ideas about aging later published as a book that comes across today as both observant and a little brutal.

It helped me to remember she was describing a world without pensions or Social Security, where old people depended on the charity of relatives and needed to make themselves agreeable and helpful simply to survive.

She divided elders into types:

”Broadly speaking, one comes to see that old people fall into three groups. The first, and by far the largest·group is made up of individuals who have not only peculiarly disagreeable physical characteristics but even more unpleasant mental peculiarities. They have either the expression of forced resignation or the more alert one due to finding new reasons to substantiate their belief that the world is going to the dogs...

“The second group, far smaller than the first in number, is made up of those who rebel against the onset of old age and try to overthrow the traditional opinions on the subject, to substitute a self deception that will give the world the impression that they are post-adolescent...

“The third group of old people, and this is so small in numbers that one thinks of it in terms of individuals rather than as a group, is composed of those old people who are not body-worshippers but are putting their best efforts into living.

“Some of them are thanking God that they are rid of the emotional tyranny of youth and look upon the joy of old age as a compensation for the storm and stress of the life through they have lived.”

Martin's practice aimed at helping elders join the last group. She believed we all need to figure out what we love and work at this, even if others think our pre-occupations are trivial or foolish.

”Our newspapers have a great habit of interviewing happy septuagenarians and octogenarians and those of even more advanced years on their birthdays, endeavoring to learn by this means to what the individual attributes his long life.

“For years I have been carefully reading these interviews and if they are faithfully presented one sees that there is seldom anything of value to be gained from them. The reason for this is that the really happy old are too concentrated on their life work to be aware of what makes them happy. They are going from level to level of achievement in that which gives them joy, mastering life with enthusiasm, and so life seems good and zestful to them until the end...

“Generally considered, the individual with marked preferential interests is apt to be happy and successful all his life, while he who lacks a strong urge within himself will happen along the road of life, half alive in his mental activity, substituting physical excitement for intellectual growth, "getting by" in the business of living and killing time remorselessly.

“Is it any wonder that such a one evolves into the dissatisfied, grumbling, demanding, tyrannical old person from whom all who are able will flee? These are the ones who stand in dire need of help, help that will give them courage and faith to live the latter part of life more worthily than they have ever lived before.

I'm not sure I would have enjoyed the company of this somewhat puritanical old fury, but I'm glad to have recovered her explorations of aging. Martin followed her own advice in old age, learning to drive at the age of 76, visiting her New York State birthplace to considerable acclaim, and venturing on to Russia to investigate further "Salvaging the Old."

***

Oh yes, what about the stone bench?

Apparently the bench was originally a monument to Jewett in downtown San Francisco's posh Union Square where it was placed in 1933 for $2000. It was considered no longer in accord with the Square's decor in 1946 and moved to the park, presumably acquiring its inscription about Martin during that decade.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Nancy Leitz: Charlie Solves a Grave Problem


Gay Marriage Complexities

JanAdams75x75Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams (bio) in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here, and you will find her past Gay and Gray columns here.]


We are living a strange moment in the ongoing struggle to win full marriage rights for same-sex couples. We're clearly making progress.

Full marriage, with the same rights and obligations as heterosexual couples, is currently available in five states and the District of Columbia. Some ten or so other states maintain registries of domestic partnerships which give partners various legal rights depending on local laws.

The federal government is barred by the Defense of Marriage Act (1996) from recognizing any of these couples, but President Obama has said the Department of Justice should cease defending DOMA in court. However the Republican House of Representatives has hired its own law firm to defend the law.

Meanwhile, several national polls including one just this week from CNN say majorities now approve of gay marriage. This is a stunning, happy turnabout in the last few years.

What I want to share here are a couple of stories about some of the strange anomalies gay couples encounter because of the legal flux we are living in. Here's a bit of what it is really like to get older as part of an LGBT couple in this betwixt and between time.

A lesbian friend of mine recently reached the magic age of 65 - the moment so many of us anticipate with anxious hope - when Medicare eligibility kicks in. Her partner (they are registered with their city) has good health insurance from an employer so they have both been on that.

Mary visited the Social Security office and was told that yes, she would be put on Medicare Part A, but she didn't need to sign up for Medicare Part B because she could stay on her existing group plan without penalty as long as her younger partner was able to qualify them both. Great - that's settled.

Except then she got a letter saying that she would be penalized for failing to sign up for Medicare Part B. Huh? The clerk had made a mistake, a natural one.

It turns out that because of DOMA, the federal government can't recognize the health insurance she was already getting through a partner whose existence the Feds aren't allowed to notice. It took some work and several months delay to get that fixed and Mary onto Medicare Part B.

Interestingly, AARP has the best explanation I've seen of this wrinkle in the Medicare rules:

A domestic partner - someone who is not formally married to the employee but covered under his or her insurance as a family member — is also entitled to a special enrollment period. But this applies only to domestic partners of the opposite sex, according to the Social Security Administration.

Under the Defense of Marriage Act, same-sex partners — even those who are legally married under the laws of their state or country — do not get the same consideration.

The covered employee can delay Part B and later qualify for a special enrollment period in his or her own right. But his or her partner, though covered as a dependent by the same insurance, is not entitled to a special enrollment period and must therefore sign up for Part B at age 65 to avoid late penalties.

This Medicare wrinkle has nothing on the conundrums related to filing taxes.

Last December, after 32 years together, my partner and I decided we had better get registered with the state of California. Having grown up and grown older without any expectation that the state should be involved in our relationship, we'd never gotten around to this. But the experience of her lying in a trauma center waiting to see if she needed emergency brain surgery after a bicycle accident convinced us that we should reinforce our existing powers of attorney with everything we could find to assure we were treated as connected in any emergency.

So, without any particular romance, we trotted off to a notary public to fill in domestic partnership forms. Yhen we learned that the IRS had made a rule change last year that threw our tax preparations into complete confusion.

We had each always simply filed separate returns, paid up or gotten our refunds and that was that. But the IRS has decided it must take into consideration domestic partnerships in the community property states of California, Washington and Nevada even though domestic partners are still required under DOMA to file individual returns!

So domestic partners must also file joint returns as well even though those joint returns don't count. Or, at least, that's the best I could make of this rule. And better financial and legal minds than I didn't do much better.

I can convey the level of confusion this development caused gay couples by sharing what TurboTax, the tax prep software, advised.

Accurate tax return preparation for couples in this situation relies on the review and analysis of each couple’s individual agreements and related state law, within these new guidelines. Decisions on how to split income and expenses are based on a state’s community property law and the individual legal agreements made between couples at the time of their registered domestic partnership or same sex marriage. Given this, we can’t provide a fully guided federal experience in TurboTax at this time.

At this time, you have 3 options:

Option 1 – Manually prepare your individual federal tax returns in TurboTax by reporting your community income. We recommend this only if you are a couple with income just on W-2s, you don’t itemize deductions, and you are 50/50 partners. You will need to file these individual returns by mail.

Option 2 – Get help preparing your tax returns from a tax professional, especially if you have investments, rentals pensions or a business.

Option 3 – File an extension before April 19, 2011 and deal with this after that date when we expect to have more functionality and guidance built into the TurboTax experience.

That is, even the tax professionals are punting on the complications introduced by this federal decision. A New York Times blog had a good post on the various complications, some of which may end up beneficial to some gay couples, as well as unquestionably to tax preparers.

It turned out we didn't have to figure it out, for this year. In mid-March, while we were researching the rules, we received a notice from the California Secretary of State indicating that though we had submitted the papers in December 2010, they hadn't gotten around to filing our domestic partnership until 2011.

Rescued by official negligence! Our accountant friends assure us that by next year the Feds will have made some sense of the rules. We hope so.

Meanwhile we do get one tax benefit from having made our relationship legal. My health benefits used to be taxed by the state of California as income to her. Now she can deduct them on her California taxes. It's not a huge amount but every little bit helps.

Understand, I'm not really complaining. When gay couples finally do share in the legal structures that govern marriage, our lives will be more secure, just a little bit safer. In the long run. And we want, like most people, to be able to stand before the world and say, "This is the person who I love and we are making our lives together."

And I sure hope we get through this transition period on the way to legal marriage as soon as possible so we can stop dealing with the strange set of extra hoops that gay folks now have to jump through.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marcia May: Felicity and the Birthday Cheese


GAY AND GRAY: Meet David

JanAdams75x75Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams (bio) in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here, and you will find her past Gay and Gray columns here.]


category_bug_gayandgray.gif When I think about topics for these Gay and Gray columns, I always worry a little about whether I'm failing to look adequately for material about or of relevance to gay male elders.

In my generation of LGBT people - a generation in which most of us began our lives in the closet and many of us emerged in public only in mid-life - there's often a pronounced cultural separation between the genders, perhaps especially in larger cities.

Many old lesbians know mostly other old lesbians; they have made intentional families with other lesbians and evolved a woman-centered culture. Old gay men have their own sub-culture; many saw their friendship networks devastated by the AIDS epidemic; they spent a life in peril and sometimes hiding and tend to stick with their own.

I feel very lucky that I happen to belong to a church community where we have quite a few of both genders of gay people - and lots of straight people too. Truly mixed communities are somewhat rare in our age group. That's too bad. We can enjoy each other.

So thinking about this month's column, I went looking for something from a gay male elder to share. I think you'll enjoy David. At 70, this expressive, British, working-class man decided his life story might be something younger people, especially gay men, could appreciate.

He got a lot of positive responses to this introductory piece, so he made four more video clips, carrying forward the story of how he grew up, joined the Royal Air Force (RAF), voluntarily left the service so he could be more open about his sexuality and in retirement has apparently taken full advantage of the protected legal status gays now enjoy in the United Kingdom.

They are way ahead of the United States. Britain long ago allowed gays to serve openly in the military, protected us from employment discrimination and the police campaigned against gay bashing.

In Part 2 of David's story, available here, he talks about his early youth, about realizing at age 12 that he was different. By 15, he was out of school and working.

He had some encounters including in movie theaters and "people [men] took an interest in me; I was always particular and very careful."

David

Yes, the young David was a looker. In Part 3 (here), he describes joining the Royal Air Force and realizing for the first time that he was not alone.

"There were thousands of airmen and among them, there were 100s and 100s and 100s of gay men, like me...it was instant dismissal if you were caught...but we lived in huts, sometimes there was movement between beds at 2 and 3 in the morning...it happened."

David loved the RAF. He served in various isolated Middle Eastern posts in an all male environment. He thrived. No one asked any questions because there were no women on the posts. He had one or two serious affairs, but the guys were always posted away and the romances died.

In Part 4 (here), David follows up with the story of his civilian life - the United Kingdom had decriminalized homosexuality and he was able to do the same job he'd done for the RAF as a civilian! He urges gay men to come out.

"If you are wondering how to approach your friends -- if someone asks you if you are gay, just tell them...I say that because, once you come out, you will then find out who your friends are!"

He discovered he had a lot of good friends.

Finally David recorded what he calls a Postscript. He thanks all the people who have thanked him - and speaks directly to young people who have been sending comments. "You'll be okay...you will start to believe in yourself..."

This wonderful sequence of videos makes me wish that more elders of all sexual orientations would record their stories. David is saying very much the same sort of thing as the folks who recently responded to bullying of gay teens by recording "it gets better" messages.

Even though these times are hard and sometimes frightening, I suspect that most readers here can agree that we've more and more lived into the solid essence of ourselves as we age. We've got life wisdom to share with younger folks. Maybe we should record more of it.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, William Weatherstone: Alzheimer's - Our Final Chapter?


GAY AND GRAY: BlackedOUT History

JanAdams75x75Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams (bio) in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here, and you will find her past Gay and Gray columns here.]


category_bug_gayandgray.gif For this month's Gay and Gray post, I want share some writing from a young friend of mine. Renee currently has an internship through Americorps with the Gay-Straight Alliance Network.

According to their website:

”Gay-Straight Alliance Network is a youth leadership organization that works to empower youth activists to end harassment and discrimination in schools based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”

A few weeks ago, Renee sent her friends a happy email - she was learning a lot while working in this volunteer service program and she wanted to tell us about it.

Along with other young staff, she'd noticed how few resources existed for students that highlighted LGBTQ (lesbian-gay-bi-trans-questioning) heroes during Black History Month and she set out to remedy the omissions. Here's what she posted at the organization's blog:

* * *

BlackedOUT History
Like many people, I thought I knew all that happened during the Civil Rights Movement. I mean, I went to a school named Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Experimental Laboratory School from kindergarten through eighth grade! I was taught about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and a tiny bit about Malcolm X. I thought I knew it all!

“When I went to college, I started learning about Bayard Rustin, Angela Davis, Audre Lorde and countless others who made huge contributions to the movement. Who were these people? Why were they not mentioned in my grade school classes? Is it because they were gay and lesbian? Why, as a black student, am I not learning my own history?

“To learn more, I watched Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin. I was very inspired by his life and the film, so I started researching more of his story.

“He was a non-violent activist who worked behind the scenes to create the non-violent Civil Rights Movement through the mentorship of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In 1963, Bayard Rustin, along with A. Philip Randolph, organized the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which was where Dr. King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

“Due to Rustin being openly gay, the NAACP chairman did not want Rustin to be credited for organizing the march. After the success of the March on Washington, Rustin went on to organize The New York City School Boycott, write as a columnist for the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) newspaper, and create change for many other Civil Rights and LGBTQ issues.

“After learning so much about Bayard Rustin, I was still eager to learn more. I, along with Geoffrey (GSA Network staff), began to compile information about Black LGBTQ figures in history so that the students of today don’t have to read the watered down version of their history. We encourage you to stand up, TAKE ACTION and partner with other school clubs and organizations, such as Black Student Clubs...

”As Bayard Rustin said, “We are all one. And if we don't know it, we will learn it the hard way."

* * *

GSANetwork posted more resources for students here.

Sometimes we elders encounter young people who think they know it all and nothing we bring to them could possibly teach them something. It's always heartening to meet a young person like Renee who wants to retrieve what history can teach - and find a way to use history as a springboard toward contemporary action.

This week I got another email from Renee. Apparently our new Republican Congress wants to eliminate funds for her program.

”I have had the most amazing experience here in San Francisco and I have learned so much over the past six months. Without AmeriCorps and Public Allies (the direct program I am with), I would not be able to serve all of the amazing middle and high school youth that I work with and I would not have had the opportunity to clean up parks and rehab schools with the 40 other Allies in Public Allies with me.

“I truly treasure the experiences that I have had so far and I hope that others are able to have the same experiences in the years to come. Please help us keep this amazing opportunity alive.

“I really hope/urge you to call your Congressperson to tell them not to cut AmeriCorps funding. Please take a couple minutes and call (202) 224-3121 and ask for your Representative's office or send them a quick email.”

There's something elders can do for the young.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Joyce French: Alzheimer's Disease


GAY AND GRAY: Assassination Scars

JanAdams75x75Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams (bio) in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here, and you will find her past Gay and Gray columns here.]


category_bug_gayandgray.gif The first sentence of James Carroll's January 17 Boston Globe column almost leaped off the screen at me:

All citizens share the shock of violence aimed at public figures, but Americans of a certain age hear such news with a particular shudder, having youthful experience of assassination as nothing less than the interruption of history.

I suspect that sentiment might be widely shared here. Those of us for whom the murders of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy are not historical events but part of our lives, are likely to have felt the news of the Tucson shootings differently from our younger friends. (And that even before we knew that one of this blog's community was among the injured.)

Carroll goes on to point to what he says is a common pattern in the wake of such political violence. First people pull together in solidarity against the wound to the body politic but then, often soon, societies experience a "destruction of solidarity."

”A shocking public discord can quickly follow after the first rush of collective feeling fades, and that, too, has been seen in America these days. The broader history of assassinations is a terrible warning of what can follow in their wake, as societies have again and again been thrust into new levels of conflict with themselves.

“That, more than anything, may explain the shudder of those who came of age in 1960s America when political murder plunged the country into a self-contradiction that still poisons politics.”

He insists that we must remember that some political killings "succeed" in derailing hopeful possibilities, instancing how post-Civil War Reconstruction carried out without Lincoln's wisdom left white Southerners embittered and blacks re-subjugated. He believes the assassination of Israeli prime minster Yitzhak Rabin was destructive of that country's good hopes.

I feel for the citizens of Tucson. Yes, the rest of us are going to be suspicious of your city for a long time. Been there; seen that. Political murder scarred my city in the 1970s.

I've written, probably too lightly, about free-floating madness and political violence in San Francisco in mid-decade. Then, in 1978, our mayor and a member of the board of supervisors (city council) were shot in their city offices by another office holder. The murderer could be thought of as just a lone, disturbed Vietnam vet - except that he was at political odds with the men he killed.

Mayor George Moscone was a progressive in the Roman Catholic social justice tradition who had worked in the state senate for legislation benefiting poor and working people. (Yes, there is a progressive Roman Catholic social justice tradition; California's excellent Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi comes out of the same intellectual stream.)

I think it fair to say, following Carroll, that the mayor's murder derailed the trajectory of politics in San Francisco. We've had only one genuinely progressive mayor since and he lasted only one term amidst our contentious politics.

(By progressive I mean a mayor who prioritized the concerns of workers and renters who are two-thirds of the population, and transit users over those of the downtown financial powers. These mayors were all Democrats - we don't do Republicans here.)

The other San Francisco office holder murdered in 1978 was Supervisor Harvey Milk, at that time probably the most visible gay politician in the country. He was a hopeful visionary among a population who were accustomed to hiding their lives from their fellow citizens, to feeling themselves permanent outsiders. The 2008 film about his life, Milk is worth renting; it rang true to this gay San Franciscan.

Thinking about this history, I am left to wonder why Milk's assassination had so little effect on the trajectory of the gay movement. In my lifetime, despite setbacks and injustices, we've made steady progress toward full equality without regard to sexual orientation.

While other political killings too often seem to have derailed history, this one did not. I guess the answer is that Harvey was more a symbol of a rising wave of social changes than a practical leader. He wasn't going to write the legislation or even conceive of the strategies that would win gay liberation. He was, as he said himself, about giving people hope.

Effectual assassinations remove from the scene people who carry both the dream and the practical instruments of power.

In the wake of the Giffords shooting, I hope we don't see real damage to our democracy. Political violence is an attack on democracy itself. It creates fear among office holders of putting themselves in the open, of meeting constituents.

I hope people interested in running for office won't take the lesson that they are endangering themselves and their families. It's hard to believe that the massacre will not have those consequences.

I hope Congresswoman Giffords, and the elder blogosphere's own "Ashleigh Burrows" and all the other survivors of the Tucson shootings recover well. And I hope we all recover well, refusing, in whatever ways we can imagine, to let violence win.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Nancy Leitz: Where's Harry?


GAY AND GRAY: DADT Repealed

JanAdams75x75Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams (bio) in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here, and you will find her past Gay and Gray columns here.]


category_bug_gayandgray.gif This morning President Obama is signing the repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) policy that has forced gay and lesbian U.S. soldiers to hide their private orientation if they wished to stay in the military.

In force since 1993 and considered a moderate compromise when first enacted, the gay ban made honest troops to live a lie and caused horrible anguish to gay families, especially as war deployments became long and frequent.

Good riddance to a stupid and cruel policy - defended by Republicans to the end, I might add.

Pentagon protest Saturday July 31 1965

The struggle to serve openly in the military is not some new-fangled innovation. Gay people and friends have been working for this day for a very long time. The photo above shows a 1965 protest at the Pentagon asking for the right to serve. My, weren't we careful to try to look conventional in those days!

Matlovich Time Cover

Technical Sergeant Leonard Matlovich carried on a long legal battle in the 1970s to stay in the Air Force after coming out. Though his exemplary record stirred much support, he eventually lost his case. He ended up running a restaurant in the resort town of Guerneville north of San Francisco. (We often ate there when passing through.)

Sgt. Leonard_Matlovich gravestone)

Like many gay men of his generation, HIV/AIDS killed Matlovich. His tombstone in a Washington D.C. cemetery reads "When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one."

ROTC 1990 University of Wisconsin

One of the collateral effects of the ban on gays in the military was to make the ROTC program in which the military trains officer candidates while they are still in civilian colleges seem deeply illegitimate to more progressive academic institutions. The students above were protesting in 1990 at the University of Wisconsin.

Though in recent years many institutions that once excluded ROTC have allowed it to return, repeal of the ban almost certainly will lead to restoration of ROTC at any institution so inclined - though the program will continue to face protests that it is feeding illegitimate, ill-defined wars.

Get Equal White House

Like many (most?) groups that supported President Obama's election, LGBT activists have often questioned his commitment to advancing our concerns without compromising them fatally. Members of the advocacy group GETEqual organized veterans to handcuff themselves to the White House fence to push for repeal last April.

There was little trust that the President would get this done if gay people and friends let up for a minute. So they didn't.

Today we thank the president, Senator Harry Reid who worked all the ins and outs of the Senate for this, Speaker Nanct Pelosi who has been right about this for a long time and above all, the activists who insisted that the ban on gays in the military undermined our full citizenship in the country of our birth and affection.

This change had to come; brave people made it so and our leaders have followed.

***

This is never been my highest priority issue, Though I understand why winning equal treatment for gay people in the military is a necessary part of my full citizenship, I worry more about the uses that irresponsible (and sometimes stupid) political leaders make of our military, invading other people's countries without cause or rational plan and failing to disentangle when the going would be good. But that's about the politicians.

I also worry more about all veterans - the least we could do as a country after we use them up is take care of them when they come home.

It has just been revealed that the Pentagon Health Plan is balking at providing brain damage therapy to returning troops. It costs too much, they fear.

Vets I know say just about everyone who saw combat comes back with some brain impairment these days - human beings aren't wired to endure ongoing, massive explosions even if their limbs come out intact.

But today, let's celebrate one small victory for full inclusion that brings our country more in accord with its ideals - and then we can regroup to pursue other causes!


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: Christmases Past


GAY AND GRAY: Elders Speak Out: "It gets better!"

JanAdams75x75Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams (bio) in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here, and you will find her past Gay and Gray columns here.]


category_bug_gayandgray.gif The horror of the bullying some gay youth experience busted out of the closet for many folks in the past month with the story of Tyler Clementi's suicide. When fellow students covertly broadcast the young man's make-out session with another boy over the internet, the Rutgers student concluded it was better to be dead than gay and jumped off the George Washington Bridge.

Suicide claims entirely too many gay teenagers, especially young boys. Clementi's death made The New York Times, but these unhappy events happen without much more than local notice much far too often.

In response, Seattle gay advice columnist Dan Savage launched the It Gets Better YouTube project, asking older folks to record messages to young people encouraging them to hold on through the difficult teenage years and to hang on to hope of a safe and free future as open gay people.

Savage challenged his readers:

“... gay adults aren't allowed to talk to these kids. Schools and churches don't bring us in to talk to teenagers who are being bullied. Many of these kids have homophobic parents who believe that they can prevent their gay children from growing up to be gay - or from ever coming out - by depriving them of information, resources, and positive role models.

“Why are we waiting for permission to talk to these kids? We have the ability to talk directly to them right now. We don't have to wait for permission to let them know that it gets better. We can reach these kids. So here's what you can do...Make a video. Tell them it gets better.”

The response has been huge; the site now includes more than 2000 clips.

Most of the videos, naturally, are from folks not so far in age from gay teenagers; many are from college students who are reveling in new freedoms, in meeting more diverse people, in living away from home.

But I thought it would be interesting to see if I could find a few by people we'd consider elders and near-elders to share. Here are some that I think you'll find interesting and moving.

Fashion designer Tim Gunn talks about his teenage attempt to kill himself and promotes a resource for kids who are thinking about suicide:

"Please don't leave...it's worth it. Stick around."

Deb Adler says, "You don't have to put up with someone else's crap." I can relate to that. This is a little longer than most of these, but adds a different dimension about some ways young people can push back.

Grace Rogers spoke out as a parent supporting gay children:

"Things happen to us all...it's not always easy...talk to us...we're all in this together."

The fellow from Lubbock who made the video above speaks about being abused by a priest as a boy and, later, finally finding a church he could be fully himself in.

Looking through these videos with older speakers, I was surprised by how many were made by religious people who had struggled through being raised to believe that God hated them and much later found peace in a church or belief system that reassured them that they were lovable and could be loved. It was a rejecting faith system that made them so desperate as young people - and often, it was an inclusive, affirming religious community that helped them become more whole.

For example, gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson made one such a video.

It was a nice surprise when working my way through hundreds of these to discover two acquaintances had filmed one that I think can best be described as utterly charming. They explain:

"Harry, a composer, and Wayne, an Episcopal priest, live a cholesterol-lowering life-style in mid-Michigan. Even as some of the body stuff does get a little harder to put up with, it still is getting better."

Enjoy - and remember there are still confused gay kids who need to be reminded, "it gets better!"


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mary B Summerlin: The Squirrel's Nest


GAY AND GRAY: Notes From a Political Punching Bag

JanAdams75x75Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams (bio) in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here, and you will find her past Gay and Gray columns here.]


category_bug_gayandgray.gif I'm sick of having my rights treated as something to kick around for political gain. It just keeps happening.

Last week, a Republican filibuster, supported and initiated by such "moderates" as John McCain and the two Republican senators from Maine, prevented addition of language to the defense appropriation bill that would have ended the military's ban on gay soldiers 60 days after a study of troop attitudes was concluded and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretary of Defense, and the President approved the change.

This is not a hasty or ill-considered process! There are easily more than 50 votes in the Senate for the provision (already passed by the House), but not the 60 needed to get things moving.

In February, polls showed that 75 percent of the country want to end the ban -- but Republicans think they get an advantage by gumming up the Senate so nothing gets done. The issue of gays serving openly in the military provided a pretext. I've never had any desire to join the army; I have opposed most of our wars. But this is just cheap political grandstanding and I am sick of it.

Meanwhile, a federal judge has ruled the "Don't Ask; Don't Tell" (Do Persecute) policy unconstitutional. There will be years of appeals unless the Senate somehow manages to act.

In August, a different federal judge ruled that California's Prop. 8, a state constitutional amendment that bars gay marriage, is unconstitutional because it denies gays equal protection of the law for no compelling reason.

That decision is awaiting appeal, a tortuous process since neither California's Democratic Attorney General Jerry Brown, who is running for governor, nor termed-out Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will file the papers.

Republican candidate for governor Meg Whitman has no such scruples. To prove her allegiance to right wing prejudices, she promises to stick up for Prop. 8 in the courts if her megabuck campaign succeeds in November.

Away from the political heat, opposition to same sex marriage seems to be dying down. There have even been national polls that showed majority support for gay marriage.

Though the Tea Baggers don't usually focus their wacky wrath on gays, getting a hate on about us is often just under the surface. For example, on learning of an ACLU lawsuit to try to win some domestic partnership benefits for gays, Montana Tea Party leader Tim Ravndal wrote on FaceBook:

"Marriage is between a man and a woman period! By giving rights to those otherwise would be a violation of the constitution and my rights."

A commenter thought this confused thought hadn't gone far enough. Someone named Dennis Scranton responded:

"I think fruits are decorative. Hang up where they can be seen and appreciated. Call Wyoming for display instructions."

The comment recalls exactly what happened to Matthew Shepard, left to die strung up on a barbed wire fence outside Laramie, Wyoming in 1998. Scranton could have been dismissed as a loony commenter if Ravndal hadn't replied, "Where can I get that Wyoming printed instruction manual?"

Perhaps no one should be too surprised that the news media have recently noticed that the Montana Republican Party platform calls for making homosexuality "illegal." Some Montana Republicans seem a little embarrassed by the discovery. Good, they should be.

I feel relatively safe as an old, comfortably off, white woman - but this sort of vicious bigotry is still dangerous to young gays who don't conform to conventional stereotypes.

It's a strange time to be gay - on the one hand, there's a lot of both real hate and politically motivated bigotry that can slap one in the face when least expected. On the other hand, positive changes are coming faster than I ever imagined possible. I am reminded of this saying, attributed (possibly erroneously) to Gandhi:

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, D. Sugar: Revivalist Rant


GAY AND GRAY: Involuntary Retirement

JanAdams75x75Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams (bio) in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here, and you will find her past Gay and Gray columns here.]


category_bug_gayandgray.gif There's a lot of involuntary retirement happening in this awful economy. I'm sure some readers here are finding themselves out of work sooner than they anticipated or hoped. Ageism has always pushed older people out of work before we wished. Long time readers know Ronni started this blog when staring at this reality.

What I want to offer here is the story of a different kind of involuntary retirement that sometimes happens to gays and lesbians, in particular those trying to serve their country. The Service Members Legal Defense Network has published this letter from the spouse of a retired U.S. Navy officer as her contribution to the ongoing discussion of repeal of the Pentagon's "Don't Ask; Don't Tell" policy (DADT) which effectively prevents open and honest service by LGBT people in the military.

The author wants it publicized, so I am simply sharing Lynne Kennedy's letter to military authorities who are currently assessing the potential impact of repeal. [Emphasis is mine.] - Jan Adams


In 1990 - while working as a reference librarian at the Library of Congress - I met Joan Darrah, an active duty naval officer. I already knew about the ban on open service, but I soon woke up to the harsh reality that loved ones of gay and lesbian family members are forced to serve in silence, too.

Over the years, Joan had adjusted to living two lives - in the closet at work and out after hours. For me, it was a bit of an adjustment as I had been fortunate to work for an employer who valued my skills and expertise and realized that my being a lesbian in no way detracted from my ability to do a great job.

I knew that Joan could be deployed at any moment. She may be away from home for two or three years. I realized that being with an active duty military officer was even more constricting than I could have possibly imagined and I worried constantly about Joan’s well being. Yet, through it all, I knew our relationship was worth the compromises. I knew we had to make it work for Joan to continue to serve our country.

Joan and Lynne

There were so many things that we had to be careful about. For example, Joan had asked that I not call her at work unless it was truly an emergency. When we were out in public, if Joan saw someone from work, I learned to “disappear” until Joan’s co-worker moved on. We didn’t dare go to nice restaurants on Valentine’s Day or even Saturday nights. We could not show any familiarity while out in public. I went to parties at colleagues' homes alone lest a guest I didn't know learn that Joan was in the Navy.

The events of September 11, 2001, caused us both to appreciate more fully the true impact of DADT on our lives and the reality of our mutual sacrifices. At 8:30AM that morning, Joan went to a meeting in the Pentagon. At 9:30AM she left that meeting. At 9:37AM, the plane flew into the Pentagon and destroyed the exact space that Joan had left less than eight minutes earlier, killing seven of her colleagues.

In the days and weeks that followed, Joan went to several funerals and memorial services for her co-workers who had been killed. Most people attended these services with their spouses whose support was critical at this difficult time, yet Joan was forced to go alone, even though I really wanted to be with her to provide support.

"As the numbness began to wear off, it hit me how incredibly alone I would have been had Joan been killed. The military is known for how it pulls together and helps people; we talk of the "military family," which is a way of saying we always look after each other, especially in times of need. But, none of that support would have been available for me, because under DADT, I didn’t exist.

In fact, I would have been one of the last people to know had Joan been killed because nowhere in her paperwork or emergency contact information had Joan dared to list my name.

Whenever I hear Joan recount the events of that day, I relive it and realize all over again how devastated I would have been had she been killed. I also think of the partners of service members injured or killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are unable to get any support from the military and they must be careful about the amount of support they offer to their closeted service member loved ones.

The events of September 11th caused us to stop and reassess exactly what was most important in our lives. During that process, we realized that this discriminatory law was causing us to make a much bigger sacrifice than either of us had ever admitted.

Eight months later, in June 2002, Joan retired from the U.S. Navy, and I retired from the Library of Congress. If it wasn’t for DADT, we might both still be serving in our respective positions.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: Sensory Summers


GAY AND GRAY: A Movie Not to be Missed

The documentary film, Stonewall Uprising, is currently showing in many places around the country. I think many elders, especially those of us with vivid memories of the 60s and early 70s, might very much enjoy it.

Why? Because filmmakers Kate Davis and David Heilbroner have framed the story of the gay riot in 1969 in Greenwich Village during which sexual outcasts fought police repression in a way that catches the spirit of those exciting times.

The Stonewall eruption was about the crazy-making dissonance between a youth culture that was exploding with exuberant sexual liberation (and some commitment to peace and racial justice) and the still repressed condition of gay, lesbian and transgendered people.

In enclaves around the country, young heterosexuals were breaking all the old rules, living together other without marriage, taking advantage of readily available contraception, scandalizing their parents. Not surprisingly, homosexual people of the same age wanted the same freedoms. The moment was ripe for rebellion and the fags, drag queens, trannies and other riffraff at the Stonewall Inn acted it out in a two day riot.

All of this is not the message we emphasize through our contemporary, and necessary, gay civil rights movement. These days, we usually seek respectability, not exuberant freedom. And we should be able to join the military and get married if we wish. But first we had to just BE in all our raunchy excitement! The film, Stonewall Uprising, tells that tale.

Full disclosure: Kate and David - straight folks, by the way - are (comparatively young) friends of mine. We've been hearing about the making of the film for a couple of years.

This movie carries me back into my young self. I wasn't in New York then, but I was living that cultural explosion. I wouldn't want to live in that time again; but it sure is fun to visit.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, D. Sugar: Sell the Condo! The Grandchildren are Coming!


GAY AND GRAY: An Elder Hero for Gay Humanity

JanAdams75x75Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams (bio) in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here, and you will find her past Gay and Gray columns here.]


In this month of Gay Pride celebrations, it seems good to raise up the story of a valued acquaintance, an unlikely hero in the international struggle for LGBT human rights who happens to be an elder.

Retired Ugandan Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, 78, is a married, straight man. For 34 years he served the Anglican Church in West Buganda diligently, but without attracting particular attention. In 1998, he left office, but stayed active, starting a family counseling center in Kampala, the capital. He anticipated a quiet life.

Bishop Christopher Senyonjo

Recently he visited the United States and explained what actually ensued to a reporter who wrote:

”In 2001, his life changed forever when he met several gay and lesbian young people who had been rejected by their churches. 'They had lost jobs and been expelled from school. Some of them were on the verge of committing suicide.'

“Senyonjo gave them a radical message for their time and place: 'If you are gay or lesbian, God made you and loves you that way, and you should accept yourselves.'

“Once word of his compassionate advice reached his successors in the Anglican hierarchy in Uganda, there was a firestorm. Senyonjo was asked to 'condemn' the people under his care 'and convert them to something else.' Senyonjo said he would not. 'I cannot see God where there is no love,' he said, 'I would rather go with the truth.'

“In reaction, he was expelled from the church he had served for 34 years. More significantly for his own survival, the church stripped him of his pension. 'The cost has been great,' Senyonjo said of his post-retirement ministry. 'It is by the grace of God that I have been able to survive. By the strength of God I have been able to stand.'"

The virulent panic about homosexuality currently raging in Uganda is largely imported from U.S. Religion writer Diana Butler Bass explains:

”Africa is becoming Stage Two of the American political and religious culture wars, a theater for religious imperialists to accomplish overseas what cannot be accomplished at home - like denying women ordination to ministry and putting LGBT people back in closets.

For the last two decades, right-wing Christians have been tromping all over Africa trying to appropriate native African experiential faith for their western theological agenda - making Africa a wedge issue - and African Christians spiritual pawns - in their seemingly endless quest to grasp theological power.

So today, gay Ugandans are denounced as Western decadents by their President. They are threatened with a new law that would, under some circumstances, call for the death penalty for homosexual conduct or rights advocacy.

LGBT people world wide have called on their governments to speak out against the planned legislation. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama have both joined the chorus of protest.

Several times over the last few years, I've had the opportunity to spend time with Bishop Christopher, most recently in May when I volunteered to drive him to some of his appointments in my city. A more gentle, unassuming man of the cloth would be hard to imagine.

This is a person who saw an injustice and felt called to speak out against it, accepting with equanimity and humor the rejection and privation he has suffered in consequence.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Richard J. Klade: The Penguins are Gone


GAY AND GRAY: Pat's Story

JanAdams75x75Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams (bio) in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here, and you will find her past Gay and Gray columns here.]


category_bug_gayandgray.gif Last summer, my friend Pat turned 80. At her party she made available a memoir of her life compiled with the help of her friend Laura. It's a fascinating tale. It also reminds me, a lesbian now 62, just how much had changed by the time I came along, in part through the bravery of women like Pat.

For this column, Pat has given me permission to share some of her story (in italic type) and I'll counterpose to some observations about my age group to bring out the contrasts. The 18 years between us made for many differences. Pat begins:

I was born at home, with the help of a midwife, near Hayward, California, on July 12, 1929. That's exactly what my birth certificate says, "near Hayward...”

“I would call the neighborhood 'city lots' but in those days, that meant quarter acre lots...and everyone had vegetable gardens, chickens, rabbits...everyone. It was the depression!

“...We were low class. Now I guess the word is working class. Everyone was poor, but everyone got by. Like many others in the neighborhood, my mother and her sisters worked at Hunt Brothers Cannery, which was only a block away.”

During Pat's childhood, the Depression and a semi-rural, neighborhood-centered life was the reference norm for many Americans. I grew up in a big city in the prosperous 50s - my reality included a strong sense that national well-being derived from industrial production. We would drive by the Niagara Falls chemical factories (think Love Canal) and the refinery by the river, burning off oil day and night. My parents looked at them proudly. Delight in sheer productive capacity was what World War II had taught my parents and their friends.

”I never did very well at school. I had a very hard time with learning to read. Looking back, I wonder if I had some hearing loss even then, or some kind of learning disability. Who knows? But I really struggled. By the time I was 16, just starting 10th grade, I was impatient to go to work, earn a living, have some money in my pocket. So that's what I did, I quit school and went to work in the canneries. Within a year, I'd settled into line work at Owens Illinois glass factory, although I'd had to fudge my age a little in order to get hired...

“No one would believe me if I told you how shy and quiet and serious I was when I started at Owens. I was a 'mind your own business' kind of person. It took quite a few years before I began to speak out and express myself...it was a slow process. But gradually I got more confident. I became active in the union, I was a shop steward, and even union president. Part of that 'growing up' included going back and earning my GED. Owens encouraged people to be educated and was very supportive about that.”

By the time I came along, anyone with the slightest aspirations had been convinced they had to finish high school. And the post-World War II G.I. bill had even made college imaginable for wide swathes of the population. Apparently the Owens Illinois company shared in the national push for more education in the 1950s.

”Owens was a community in itself - there were almost 2000 employees altogether and we did shift work, one week on days, one week on swing, then a week working graveyard; that's how they did it in those days, and that was my life for the next 30+ years. Owens had a women's softball team, and Owens had women like me! I made friends, buddies; I didn't feel so alone...

“In those early days at Owens my hair was short - they all knew...but the word "lesbian" was never used. You were 'butch.'

“I remember reading The Well of Loneliness...I thought, 'wow, they write books about it!' There was so much I was in the dark about...

“My social life centered at Owens. There were gay bars that you could go to, Last Chance, Pearl's, but I was cautious, not wanting to get caught in a pick-up, a raid, which were frequent particularly in the 40s and 50s. Owens had a policy that what you did away from work was a reflection on your work...so if you weren't 'a good citizen' you could get yourself fired.

“My buddies and I were attracted to straight women. That's all that we knew; that's just how it was. We always hoped they would stay with us 'forever,' and some were lucky; my buddy Mick and her partner Erla were together about 30 years until Erla's death. Most of us, though, would end up with broken hearts. We all did the best we could.”

It wasn't much easier to be a lesbian teenager in the early 60s, at least as I experienced that time. The difference was that a kind of snickering prurience that characterized the 1950s had taught women who were striving uncomfortably to fulfill the feminine mystique that one of the ways they could flunk their female role was to be a homosexual.

Mary McCarthy's novel, The Group, was an artifact of that consciousness. There was a sort of dirty awareness that some people were homosexual - that those unfortunates would probably live a sad, lonely life and die a miserable death. No one wanted to be one of those people, even those of us who were gay.

Yet by the 1970s, there began to be visible gay people who were saying, “no! there's nothing wrong we me!" Gay visibility, "coming out," began to change attitudes, to make being gay just part of life, not a dirty secret.

Moreover, change was coming for women...

”I knew from my experiences at Owens that there was no reason a woman could not be a crew leader or even a manager. We were training the men, and they got the promotions. There had never been a woman in management at the Owens Oakland plant.

“In the early 70s, with Equal Opportunity, I filed a grievance to become crew leader. There was a lot of haggling back and forth, management would come up with reasons against, and I'd respond; it kept on and on and finally they said, 'OK, Pat, we give up,' and I became the first woman crew leader at that Oakland plant.

“A few years later I was finally promoted to management - no more shift work, no more hourly pay! My final position at Owens before retirement in 1984, was as a 'service engineer,' visiting our customers' facilities, mostly at that time wineries all over northern California, and trouble shooting whatever problems they might be having with the manufacture of our various commercial containers.”

My generation really got the benefit of women like Pat standing up for themselves. I can remember when the newspaper classified ads were divided into "help wanted: male" and "help wanted: female." But by the time I landed in San Francisco in the 1970s, it was possible - though sometimes difficult - for me to make a living in construction.

Sure, there were lots of guys who didn't think I could do it. Some women I knew were harassed on the job. But those guys could not stop me as long as I could do the work. And in less stereotypically male jobs, women were getting into everything. Times had changed.

Pat closes her memoir: ”I was almost 60 before I traveled anywhere outside the U.S. but since then, I've been lucky enough to see Australia including Darwin and Kakadu National Park, also Singapore, Hong Kong, also Paris, London, Portugal and Madera lsland where my family was from - and New York City, the Southwest and even Las Vegas.

“I'm glad to have seen all those places, but now I'm glad to stay home; I'm happy with my dog Pebbles, my garden, all the projects around my house that never seem to get finished, you know? There's never enough time for all I want to do.

“And every day I give thanks to the Creator; I give thanks for everything. I walk in my garden and every little growing thing is a miracle. There has to be something larger than a man or a woman, larger than 'God' to create all this! It's a shame we don't spend more time in awe about what's all around us, and appreciating it rather than destroying it. So I give thanks for life, for the life of every one and everything around me.”

I want to feel that kind of delight and gratitude for living when I'm 80!


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Claire Jean: ID Bracelet


GAY AND GRAY: Obama Orders Hospital Visitation Rights For "Unrelated" Partners

JanAdams75x75Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams (bio) in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here, and you will find her past Gay and Gray columns here.]


category_bug_gayandgray.gif Lots of people in the gay community find President Obama a frustrating figure. Most of us voted for him in 2008 (or at least his percentages of the vote in heavily gay urban enclaves topped 80 percent.) Yet, as in most other controversial areas, he sometime seems to talk a better game about supporting our rights than he delivers.

For example, he promised in this year's State of the Union speech that his administration would move to repeal the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy under which gay service people can be interrogated about their orientation and discharged if they won't lie.

Seventy-five percent of citizens think this law should go. But nothing much has happened and military gays are still being kicked out.

Democratic leaders are now saying this issue will have to wait until next year. Just today, several gay veterans chained themselves to the fence outside the White House to protest the DADT policy and administration inaction on its pledge.

With this background, it was extremely heartening to see the president move on an issue that is probably one of the most important to aging gays. On April 15, he ordered that nearly all hospitals must extend visitation rights to the partners of gay men and lesbians and respect patients' choices about who may make critical health-care decisions for them.

According to the Washington Post, this was "perhaps the most significant step so far in his efforts to expand the rights of gay Americans."

The Secretary of Health and Human Services has been ordered to write regulations to enforce this policy at any hospital that gets federal money (most all hospitals get some federal money.)

The new rules will not apply only to gays. They also will affect widows and widowers who have been unable to receive visits from a friend or companion. And they would allow members of some religious orders to designate someone other than a family member to make medical decisions.

This new policy really matters. Gay and lesbian people, especially older ones, often have formed alternative family networks not based on blood relationships. And, although gay couples can make legal arrangements in some states that create some recognition for their relationships, they never know if in a crisis a strange hospital or bureaucracy will honor their connections. (For many of us, this is why we want access to legal marriage in the vast majority of locales where this is not currently possible.)

Lately a rash of horror stories have come out about couples being separated when one got sick. We think these things don't happen anymore, but they do.

ITEM: Lisa Pond collapsed on a cruise ship and was taken to the ER in Florida. Her partner and their three adopted kids followed the ambulance. They were denied access to see Lisa for hours in spite of the fact that all the appropriate medical and legal forms were faxed to the hospital within 30 minutes. Lisa Pond died alone. President Obama was said to be moved by this case.

ITEM: Sharon Reed says she was denied access to her dying partner of 17 years, Jo Ann Ritchie, in Washington state in 2005. A "temporary night nurse" screamed at her, "you don't belong here," despite Reed and Ritchie having been previously recognized as a couple by the hospital and having the proper legal papers. The Pond and Ritchie cases were both widely reported including in The New York Times.

ITEM: Here in California, according to the National Center for Lesbian Rights a legal outfit that has filed a lawsuit for these men:

"Clay and Harold made diligent efforts to protect their legal rights, and had their legal paperwork in place--wills, powers of attorney, and medical directives, all naming each other. Harold was 88 years old and in frail medical condition, but still living at home with Clay, 77, who was in good health.

"One evening, Harold fell down the front steps of their home and was taken to the hospital. Based on their medical directives alone, Clay should have been consulted in Harold’s care from the first moment. Tragically, county and health care workers instead refused to allow Clay to see Harold in the hospital. The county then ultimately went one step further by isolating the couple from each other, placing the men in separate nursing homes.

"...without authority, without determining the value of Clay and Harold’s possessions accumulated over the course of their 20 years together or making any effort to determine which items belonged to whom, the county took everything Harold and Clay owned and auctioned off all of their belongings. Adding further insult to grave injury, the county removed Clay from his home and confined him to a nursing home against his will. The county workers then terminated Clay and Harold's lease and surrendered the home they had shared for many years to the landlord.

"Three months after he was hospitalized, Harold died in the nursing home. Because of the county’s actions, Clay missed the final months he should have had with his partner of 20 years. Compounding this tragedy, Clay has literally nothing left of the home he had shared with Harold or the life he was living up until the day that Harold fell, because he has been unable to recover any of his property. The only memento Clay has is a photo album that Harold painstakingly put together for Clay during the last three months of his life."

So cheers for President Obama for ordering hospital visitation rights for "unrelated" people - and gay people will keep on demanding that he come through on all his other promises!


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Dani Ferguson: Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep


GAY AND GRAY: A Tangled Web of Gender

JanAdams75x75Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams (bio) in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here, and you will find her past Gay and Gray columns here.]


category_bug_gayandgray.gif I enjoy being around mature transgendered people. When someone has fought their way through identity confusions, their own and other people's ignorance about and consternation in the face of gender elasticity, and the sometimes hostile or silly reactions they receive from others, the adult individual has usually acquired a rare self-understanding that is pleasant to encounter.

This isn't about chronological age, though arrival at this happy state of self-knowledge and acceptance sometimes accompanies getting older.

In light of this, I found it interesting to read, "Is Your 'T' Written in Disappearing Ink? A Checklist for Transgender Inclusion" distributed by the Transgender Aging Network (TAN).

This is a self-evaluation form for agencies that aim to serve L[esbian] G[ay] [Bi-] T[rans] people. Too often, this sort of resource bombards "helping professionals" with what come off as demands for a mechanical correctness. This particular specimen of the genre seeks earnestly to explain. For example, do you really mean to be available to the needs of the trans community?

If you only discuss "sexual orientation," you send a message to transgender persons and their partners that they are only welcome if they are perceived as lesbian or gay male, that you only serve transgender persons on issues related to their perceived sexual orientation, and/or that your program does not address the unique prejudices and issues faced by trans/SOFFA [Significant Others, Friends, Families and Allies] of elders.

If it is, in fact, the case that your program, publication, or policy is designed only for lesbian-identified or gay male-identified transgender persons, perhaps you should consider dropping the "T" from your materials and instead explicitly state that you welcome transgender persons who are lesbian- (and/or gay- ) identified. That way confusion is lessened and people are better enabled to find services and supports that fit their needs.

Or are you ready to deal with the complexities that arise among transgender persons and their families?

In contrast to lesbian and gay male couples, many transgender persons are coupled with someone who may not feel she or he is included under the LGBT umbrella. Such partners may be women who identify as heterosexual but who are partnered with an MTF [Male to Females], men who identify as heterosexual but who are partnered with an FTM [Female to Male], lesbians and gay men whose partner has transitioned (resulting in a couple that now looks like it's an "opposite"-sex couple), and others.

If your program strives to support, accommodate or address the needs of LGB couples and families, it needs to carefully and explicitly address how partners and families of transgender persons who are (or are perceived to be) heterosexual will be welcomed.

The life stages of trans elders can be a little different that those of lesbians, gays and bi-sexual folks. The handout continues:

It appears that a much higher proportion of transgender persons (particularly MTFs) than lesbians and gay men "come out" in later life. That means that older transgender persons may not only be dealing with all of the issues older lesbians and gay men deal with, but also with coming out at work, to the kids and grandkids, to the neighbors, to service providers, etc. If your program offers coming-out supports, make sure it has transgender- and SOFFA-specific materials on coming out, as some of the issues are different and some transgender persons and SOFFAs may not feel that LG-oriented materials adequately reflect their issues and needs.

Particularly look at whether you can support the partners of newly-out transgender persons. These couples, some of who have been together 30 or 40 years or more, may have no idea that other long-term marriages and partnerships have survived one partner's gender transition. Even if they do realize staying together is theoretically possible, they may be unable to conceive of how they, personally, will cope with the myriad social, professional, and internal changes involved.

There are a myriad of issues in people's lives that we don't automatically take into account unless they are our own issues.

None of this stuff is easy for any of us. We really want the genders to be clear cut, binary and obvious. Have you ever walked across a street, seen someone coming the other way whose gender you couldn't immediately place? Did you feel a little unease until you felt able to mentally assign a gender to the the person? I've had that experience as recently as yesterday.

I think we do this far more of than we are quite aware of, especially in big cities. Those of us who seldom or never have the experience of being the cause of others' gender unease do need to be aware that whatever momentary distress we feel is something the other people have to learn to live with. That's all just part of being human.

If interested further in this topic, here are links to a couple of recent posts I've done about trans people in my life: A Trans-Gender Eucharist and Switch: A Community in Transition.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ernest Leichter: My Love Affaie with European Trains


GAY AND GRAY: Gay in South Africa 20 Years Ago

JanAdams75x75Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams (bio) in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here, and you will find her past Gay and Gray columns here.]


category_bug_gayandgray.gif One of the odd sensations I've gotten used to while growing older is the shock of realizing that the world is marking the 20th or 30th or 40th anniversary of events that were part of my life. I want to react - hey, wait a minute, that was just yesterday! I'm sure most elders feel that.

This past month, one such event was the 20th anniversary of the release of African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela by South Africa's white-ruled apartheid regime. This momentous step portended the transition to majority rule in Africa's most developed nation and the fall of a system of racial domination unrivaled elsewhere in the modern world.

The dignified Mandela had been imprisoned for 26 years by the racist regime, yet when he stepped out of prison, he seemed the model of the free man, a head of state in waiting, while his jailers looked puny.

The release was televised live. My partner and I watched in California and marveled - something so long wished for was taking place before our eyes. Within the next few days we got an email from a technical assistance non-profit group seeking volunteers to work with a Cape Town anti-apartheid newspaper on its computer technology.

This was 1990 - "desktop publishing" was still something of a novelty then. We were only reasonably accomplished amateurs - but we were that. And we had numerous progressive friends who generously raised the funds to send the two of us for three months to support the South Africans. Within six weeks of Mandela's release, we were on a plane to Cape Town - to a country emerging from its global isolation and beginning together to imagine a non-racial, democratic future.

I have lots of South Africa and technical assistance stories, many funny, a few harrowing. But in my Gay and Gray mode, I want to share a bit about being gay in that time and place. You see, the American outfit that sent us, in a fit of political correctness, decided it had to tell our South African hosts that they were sending a lesbian couple. They thought they were being very progressive by sharing.

We two probably would have skipped this advance revelation; our South African friends would have figured things out pretty quickly. As it was, we arrived with the extra burden of being not only "girls" in a techie role in an unfamiliar country, but also a gay couple.

As it turned out, it didn't take that long for folks to decide we didn't have horns. Cape Town in 1990 reminded us of San Francisco in the 60s where every free spirit and weirdo in the country chose to congregate. It was imaginative and fun. There was no visible gay culture (as there had not been in 60s San Francisco either) but there was a great sense of openness to experiments with freedoms of all kinds. There was great snickering over anything that could suggest sexuality, but also toleration and, I suspect, experimentation all around us.

And so from this exciting perch, we had the privilege to observe something of how the African National Congress (ANC) - the political party that had led the freedom struggle and would easily win the eventual democratic election in 1994 - would deal with gay issues.

One of the first leaders of the ANC to return to South Africa from enforced exile abroad was the lawyer Albie Sachs. His assignment was to meet with groups that had worked for liberation throughout the country getting their views on what should be in a new constitution for a free South Africa. One of the groups he met with was the Organization of Lesbian and Gay Activists (OLGA).

The meeting was possible because OLGA campaigned not only for gay rights, but also was a recognized "nonracial," anti-apartheid group. Nonetheless, the quite open-minded journalists at the paper where we worked were surprised by this overture from the revered ANC to the gay community.

The newspaper we worked for got an invitation to a press conference held by Sachs and OLGA; our co-workers insisted we come along. We jumped at the chance, and were bewildered by the dirty looks we got from some of the OLGA people. Much later we understood. Every gay and lesbian in Cape Town had wanted to attend the event. OLGA members had to limit attendance; they thought we were some local lesbians crashing the party until informed that we were "press."

The statement Sachs issued that day still amazes me. Here's some of it as we recorded it at that time:

"The question of homosexuality has never been treated in an open and honest way in South Africa. The first thing that has to be done is get the question out in the open and for persons who stand to be most affected by any future dispensation to say themselves what they would like to see. This is part of a very extensive process of consultation and debate, based on the principle that people must write their own constitution...

"In the case of homosexuality in South Africa, there is a special pertinence in this phase where we are overcoming apartheid. The essence of apartheid was that it tried to tell people who they were, how they should behave, what their rights were. The essence of democracy is that people should be free to be who they are. Any full democracy in South Africa, in my view, should be such as to encourage everybody to be who they are...

"There is too much fear in South Africa in general. We want people to be free, to feel free. This is one more area, in my own view, where there appears to be oppression. We are against oppression and we want everybody to feel they are part of the nation, they are part of the new South Africa, as part of a general program against discrimination, against marginalizing people, against this idea of telling people who they are and what they are..."

Sachs and ANC were true to their principles. The new Constitution that came into effect in 1997, included equal rights for gays and lesbians. In 2006, Justice Albie Sachs wrote the legal opinion that required the country to recognize same gender marriage.

None of this is to say that today South Africa is a great place for its gay citizens. Lesbians are at risk for "curative rape" by men who think they know how to fix them; gay men are deeply stigmatized and sometimes beaten up. But the basic law stands for equality of rights.

This makes South Africa by far the most friendly place for LGBT people on its continent. An outburst of freedom was turned in that time and place toward freedom for all, not just some.

I've also written this story with a little more detail here.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Jan Adams: Bethany Center Senor Housing Murals


GAY AND GRAY: Traveling While Gay

JanAdams75x75Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams (bio) in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here, and you will find her past Gay and Gray columns here.]


category_bug_gayandgray.gif One of the things I like about aging is that it makes "traveling while gay" more comfortable. What's that mean? Happily, after a certain point in life, the fact that two women might prefer each other's company to that of men they encounter ceases to act as a slightly dangerous affront. Some of us may regret that gray hair can make us apparently invisible to young things, but I'm sure lesbians are not the only women who rather like not receiving unwanted attention.

No, I don't think this works quite the same way for gay men: perhaps more of them might like to be noticed by younger men. Certainly I know older gay men who bemoan their age-acquired invisibility.

In the present United States, it is somewhat unusual for more or less visible LGBT people to encounter trouble when we leave our usual haunts, but this has not always been true. All of us over a certain age instinctively watch our backs in new settings.

Nonetheless we've often wanted to travel; in consequence since the 1960s, there have been many gay travel guides that pointed to bars and other public venues where being gay was okay. In the early 1990s, I remember one aimed at lesbians called Are You Two Together? That title catches the flavor of the mild caution that still goes with traveling.

Since some gay travelers feel safer with their own kind, there is a good-sized market niche for gay travel agents, package tour providers, even a lesbian cruise line. These trips aren't my idea of a good time, but I have known people who loved them.

I've enjoyed some wonderful benefits of "traveling while gay." When you go someplace where being gay is harder, if you do manage to make contact with the local LGBT community, you can find yourself quickly admitted to aspects of the local life you would not have seen otherwise.

Sometimes people don't announce that they also are gay, but they take you under their wings. I've experienced this in South Africa, Lebanon, and Mexico among other places. Sometimes your welcome is very explicit.

In Cuba in 1988, when gays were just beginning to get out from under serious state repression, we spent a lovely afternoon hearing tales from two gay Havanans. Some years later we saw the Cuban film Strawberry and Chocolate and realized the central gay character might well have been modeled on one of our Cuban acquaintances.

Traveling while gay leads to "the bed question." It's pretty normal in U.S. hotels for a single room to include two double beds but most of the world gets by with less excess. Recently in Patagonian Chile, my partner and I were asked, in a rural hosteria, did we want (single) beds or a "cama de matrimonio" (double bed)? The innkeeper didn't blink when we chose the latter.

One feature of traveling while gay that our straight friends might not be aware of is the high proportion of LGBT people who seem to work in the "hospitality industry" all over the world. I don't know why this is - maybe dealing with tourists is considered a little adventurous or perhaps sleazy in traditional societies, just the spot to park a weird uncle or aunt.

Anyway, the result is that occasionally, gay travelers get what we think of as "family" benefits. Last summer I was part of a gay group who enjoyed this kind of special welcome in Anaheim. But my partner and I have also encounter this in places as different from each other as El Calafate, Argentina and Amman, Jordan.

In the latter location, the sprightly young male hotel staff took one look at us, explained they wanted to offer us a choice of two different rooms, and successively showed us a dark one with single beds and a large, well-lighted one with a double bed. They also gave us exceptional service when we later herded a group of Americans around in that unfamiliar place, all with big, knowing smiles.

Historically, one of the more painful features of traveling while gay has been crossing borders. After all, my partner of thirty years and I are just "unrelated adults" when it comes to dealing with immigration and customs authorities. Sometimes, signs at borders advise us that "individuals" and "families" must present themselves separately. This seems to be easing. On a recent trip, we had no trouble approaching authorities together in either Chile or Argentina and were stunned to be told at U.S. Customs: "Same address? -- you only need one form."

This was new to us, and sensible, and the kind of thing that feels huge if you've never had it. I don't know if this is a policy change or just an individual agent's adaptation, but I expect it is policy. Bravo.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: A Priceless Gift


GAY AND GRAY: Gay and Blessed with Holidays

JanAdams75x75Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams (bio) in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here, and you will find her past Gay and Gray columns here.]


category_bug_gayandgray.gif Ah - the holidays! That season that begins with Thanksgiving and ends with New Years (or for some, the college football "national championship" game a week later) is a time when it is almost mandatory for us to be enjoying fun and family. When this ideal crashes into our real lives, it can be painful. Holiday induced stress and depression is so common that the Mayo Clinic posts 10 tips for coping.

For people who find the holidays hard, being gay can make it harder. Most obviously, if we don't have children (and many of us do), it can be difficult to fit into family-centered celebrations. But holiday depression can have a lot of other features. Consider this story from an advice site called The Body:

”I'm a 55-year-old, recovering alcoholic, HIV-positive, single gay male. Over the last 20 years I've lost many close friends due to AIDS and I have not been able to regain the kind of social life I once had. I have no family; they rejected me due to my homosexual orientation. My romantic involvement with men has always been very limited and now, with my HIV status and my age, it is non-existent.

“In addition, I'm not a religious man; I have never found any comfort from or motivation to seek out religion due to punitive religious views on homosexuality. My point is that during the holiday season this all seems to hit me harder and I become seriously depressed.”

Summing up his story, if your circumstances leave you already lonely and outside the comforts that many of us find in our various communities, the holidays can be especially tough for gay folks.

***

On the other hand, as all online helping tip sheets will tell us, the holidays are what we make of them. Here's the story of how my partner of 30 years and I have learned to cope.

When we were first together, though none of our parents were outright rejecting of our homosexuality and our relationship, they also didn't take us seriously as an established couple. As women in our late 20s and early 30s, considered unmarried (as much by ourselves as everyone else), we were each expected to spend at least part of each holiday season with our families of origin.

This was complicated in the contemporary way as one set of parents had bifurcated. So for the first ten years or so, each of us would spend large parts of the holiday season traveling, separately, to be with family; we each sometimes felt deprived by not being able to be with each other on these festivals that epitomize "family.”

In the second decade of our relationship, parents and family had more or less gotten used to our being a couple. Now, when we did the holiday travel, we often did it together, visiting families in turn. Since our parents were aging and slowing down themselves, being together with them came to feel that much more urgent.

In the same time period, our women's support group - ten or so middle-class lesbians without children - became self-consciously aware of itself as an alternative family. Gathering every six weeks, we have stuck by each other through break-ups and recouplings, through physical and mental health traumas, through the deaths of parents and difficult job transitions.

Gradually we began to celebrate some holidays. The group had started out evenly divided between mostly secular persons of Jewish and Christian origin. As we aged, we adopted two Jewish celebrations, the Passover seder and Hanukkah, as our annual feasts.

In 1991, my father died. In the same year, my partner's increasingly less independent mother had moved near us to have more support. My mother became the one who traveled; she'd join us all in San Francisco for Christmas. Our holiday pattern was then that of a more conventional family, though one without young children.

This had its difficulties; the two mothers disliked each other on sight and didn't often make for good company; were we losing the great benefit of "chosen" alternative families which is that if you don't want to be with particular individuals, you have no obligation to them? Yes.

About ten years ago, as a couple, we also joined a friendly little Episcopal Church, a return to parts of our childhood spiritual roots for both of us, though my partner is also Jewish (she can explain; I'm not going to speak for her). That gay-friendly environment gave us yet another community in which to celebrate another set of religious holidays.

Though running back and forth between the secular, familial, Jewish and Christian observances can be strenuous, all of them involve loved communities that enrich our lives.

The last of our four parents, my partner's father, died two years ago and since then, we've realized we've acquired yet another set of family that draws us for holidays. My partner's father's unmarried (woman) partner of 43 years (can you untangle that? - you can do it) comes with five children and various younger relatives. We're now part of the core of this group that celebrates Thanksgiving with her. This is new. It's slightly astonishing this late in life to realize we're part of yet another family grouping - delightfully astonishing.

Is it perhaps the experience, as gay outsiders, of needing to choose affirmatively to nurture "family" and community that has enabled us find such a richness of connections? Or just luck?

And sometimes it is all too much. We have to get away with each other. This year, as you read this, we're spending Christmas literally at the end of the earth trekking in Patagonia. Greetings from the summer solstice!


[Editorial Note: While she is away in Patagonia, Jan prepared posts for her blog, Happening Here, so there is a new story every day.]


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ellen Younkins: Santa Baby - 2009


GAY AND GRAY: Middlesex

[EDITORIAL NOTE: At 3PM today, eastern U.S. time, Senator Herb Kohl, who is the chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, will hold a live panel discussion and briefing about how the Senate Health Care Reform bill will benefit elders.

Panelists will include representatives from Consumers Union, AARP, The Medicare Rights Center and The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long Term Care. You can watch live at http://www.aging.senate.gov. A checklist of elder benefits in the Senate bill, compiled by the Alliance for Retired Americans, is here (pdf).]


JanAdams75x75Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams (bio) in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here, and you will find her past Gay and Gray columns here.]

This month for a Gay and Gray column, I thought I'd share my reactions to an enormous (529 pages) novel that I think might be especially interesting to folks at this blog. The book is Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. It explores two themes - gender-identity fluidity and immigrant family history in our cities - both of great interest to me and perhaps to you.

The narrator and central character, "Cal" Stephanides, nee Calliope, was born a pseudo-hermaphrodite. At birth, his genitals approximated female appearance but at puberty, his underlying male hormonal balance took over.

Though the particular form of intersexual genetic variation Eugenides works with here is extremely rare, various forms of intersexuality are not nearly so uncommon as we have been led to think. More here if you are interested.

Most intersexual persons have been "corrected" surgically soon after birth and then live out whatever complications of social and hormonal gender identity that leaves them with. They aren't "gay" but occupy a similar "outsider" social space.

In the novel, Cal/Calliope's predicament is that she was a contented "girl" until she turned out to be a boy! Her father desperately wanted a girl and for 12 years he pretty much got one. Then Calliope understands that her body is not developing like those of her classmates and she develops an intense crush on one of her female classmates.

Having myself endured that phase of life in a girls' school not so different from Calliope's, I found her account of her relationship with the object of her desire both plausible - and a little over-gentle. I am certain that other girls would have tormented the pair as "queers." Girls knew that insult in my high school years and certainly would have been even more aware of that possibility ten years later in Cal/Calliope's time, the mid-1970s.

I found one other false note in the coming of age segment of Cal/Calliope's story: Cal speculates that Calliope knew her girl friend's brother was attempting a clumsy seduction (verging on forced sex) because in truth she (Calliope) was a "he." Come on, Eugenides -- sexual pressure is not something only men understand or practice.

There's sometimes an essentialism in the author's approach to gender identities that doesn't ring quite true to me. He makes up for his lapses with his very funny takedown of a fatuous medical sexologist more interested in his professional standing than his patient Cal's emotional needs.

As a San Franciscan, I enjoyed the picture of the commercial sex scene in this city in 1970s, a gender-bending freak show where Cal finds the space to explore his identity.

But what really gripped me in this novel was not the gender theme, but the sprawling family epic. This story begins with the narrator's grandparents' early life in an isolated Greek village in Asia Minor, moves on to their escape from Mustafa Kemal Ataturk's fiery massacre of Armenians and Greeks at Smyrna in 1922, and on to the white-immigrant Detroit of the 1920s and 30s. Cal's grandfather works a stint at the Ford Motor Company River Rouge assembly plant; Eugenides captures the sound and feel of the unceasing production line in several riveting pages punctuated with the Whitman-esque repeating refrain:

Wierzbicki reams a bearing and Stephanides grinds a bearing and O'Malley attaches a bearing to a camshaft. Wierzbicki reams a bearing and Stephanides grinds a bearing and O'Malley attaches a bearing to a camshaft.

The story moves on through the Greek immigrants' confrontation with Prohibition, with Detroit's black ghetto, through the melting pot experience of immigrant men serving in World War II and their move to the suburbs to escape the racially-divided city while Cal's father is becoming a hot dog stand magnate.

Having grown up in Buffalo, another energetic immigrant industrial city become a rustbelt shell in the same time frame, I easily recognized all scenes and loved the descriptions. Eugenides is a brilliant, informed narrator of the texture of his characters' lives. I think many of us who lived much of this time period and had parents who lived even more might enjoy immersing themselves in this complex, very American novel.

***

I "read" Eugenides' novel in an audiobook edition from audible.com and strongly recommend this. There's much poetry in this that comes across well in spoken form. Sometimes audio editions are available from public libraries. I find this a great way to read long books.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Jeanne Waite Follett: Flying with Egrets


GAY AND GRAY: Dick Gephardt's Second Career

JanAdams75x75Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams (bio) in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here, and you will find her past Gay and Gray columns here.]


Recently The Nation magazine published a long exposé of what former Democratic Congressional leader Dick Gephardt is doing in his second career. In a nutshell, he is making bundles of "money representing every anti-labor, anti-environmental, anti-universal healthcare client he can find..."

During his long career representing a Missouri district, he was best known as a pro-labor populist who worked to achieve health care reform. In 2003 during a short run for the Democratic nomination for president, he proclaimed:

"I'm running for president because I've had enough of the oil barons, the status-quo apologists, the special-interest lobbyists running amok.”

It is disconcerting to say the least that Gephardt now lobbies for drug companies and Goldman Sachs. For The Nation, the Gephardt saga is a cautionary tale of how Democrats who now control Washington are on their way are becoming as corrupt as the Republicans were when they were in charge.

For me, this Gephardt story sets off some cognitive dissonance. You see, for a job I had a couple of years ago, I toured the country showing a film, For the Bible Tells Me So that makes the case for the full humanity of LGBT people.

It's an excellent presentation aimed at mainstream religious people introducing them to nonthreatening, warm, attractive people who are gay or related to gay people.

My colleagues and I agreed that every time we saw it, we perceived new depths in it. Many times audiences cried. And Gephardt, a Roman Catholic who clearly loves his lesbian daughter, is one of the heroic figures in that film.

Being an advocate for gay rights frequently embroils one in contradictions. After all, Gephardt isn't alone as an unlikely advocate for my well being - Dick Cheney has a lesbian daughter who recently gave birth to his granddaughter and that seems to have touched even that flinty heart. Can it really be true that there is something about which I agree with Dick Cheney?

Unlike most issues in our society, gay acceptance can, sometimes, cut across left-right ideological boundaries. In general, Democrats are more friendly to us than Republicans - but even Republicans can have gay relatives and friends and learn from their own families about tolerance that can lead to inclusion. And some do. Apparently lobbyists who use their past reputations on behalf of sleazy causes can too.

As I get older, contradictions like this remind me that right and wrong are not simple categories for any of us to navigate. The ways we live our lives are inevitably complicated and compromised. I'm glad that working for gay rights reminds me of this.

And I'm also glad that I remain a fierce advocate, from the left side, for peace, economic and racial justice, and environmental sustainability. That's not going to change with age, but maybe I'll get wiser and kinder as I go along.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lois Cochran: How Big is Your World?


GAY AND GRAY: Caster and Me - Musings About Gender

WIN A FREE ELDERBLOG: If you don't have a blog and wish you did, see Monday's post on how to win a free Typepad account for a year. The deadline for the contest is Friday 25 September.


JanAdams75x75Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams (bio) in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here, and you will find her past Gay and Gray columns here.]


Last month, after a summer out of town, I visited the gym where I've been a member for a couple of years. I pulled out my bar-coded membership card and ran it under the reader at the front desk. "Beep-beep" went the reader.

A new employee was looking at the computer screen from her perch at the desk; she looked up at me and blurted: "But you can't be Ja..."

Then she stopped abruptly. And looked embarrassed. I get this all the time. I smiled at her. "But I am."

Janinsanfran_today Years of this have taught me that, to a casual glance, I don't always "read" female. The most common occasion when I get this response is on entering a public "Ladies Room." Women have been known to gasp at my entrance. I just smile these days; when I was younger, I sometimes got angry.

But I'm lucky; I had parents who always told me I was a "handsome girl" and I believed them. I am loved by a wonderful, discerning woman - she knows I'm a woman. Mostly I'm comfortable with the confidence that it is the folks who can't see my gender who have the problem.

Sometimes it's the clothes that mislead, I think. In this instance, I had on baggy, knee length shorts, like those basketball players of both genders wear. Good for the gym.

Sometime I think it's about size. I'm 5 foot 10 inches and I have broad shoulders, like a construction worker. (I was a construction worker for some years, 20 years ago.) At one campaign where I was coaching young organizers, they gave me the nickname "LumberJan,” I didn't mind.

At the moment I'm a pretty reasonable weight for my height and looking pretty fit; sometimes I'm larger and not so fit. These variables don't seem to make much difference to these encounters. Nor does hair length, which nowadays varies from frumpy short to really short.

But for goodness sake, I'm a 62-year-old with wrinkles and white hair and more or less the ordinary shape of a woman. When I was younger, I thought I'd probably leave these encounters behind with age. There is some cultural expectation that our superficial gender appearance - the gender people assign us at a glance - becomes less definite as we age. That has not yet been the case with me. I still cause mild (harmless) confusion.

I know I'm a woman. I think (and have always thought) I look like a woman - what's wrong with how people see?

***

Caster A young rural South African, Caster Semenya, is currently having to live out having her "sex" questioned with the whole world watching. She unexpectedly ran the fastest 800 meter race of this season - athletic authorities have made her submit to "gender testing."

Her father - and much of the media in her country - reacted with incredulity and more than a little rage.

”The 18-year-old runner's father, Jacob, told the Sowetan newspaper: 'She is my little girl. ... I raised her and I have never doubted her gender. She is a woman and I can repeat that a million times.'"
- Associated Press, 20 August 2009

Caster herself is saying all the right things:

"'I see it all as a joke, it doesn't upset me. God made me the way I am and I accept myself,' she told You magazine, South Africa's biggest-selling English-language magazine. 'I am who I am and I'm proud of myself.'"
- Agence France Press, 9 September 2009

As it happens, the one of world's foremost students of the physiology of running performance is a South African, Dr. Timothy Noakes of the University of Cape Town. He points out what actually matters in deciding whether Semenya should be allowed to run in women's races:

”... the issue of 'unfair advantage' which is the only thing that should be at play here, as it is in the case of drug use, is simple to establish...the issue that needs to be clarified here is whether the person concerned is a man masquerading as a woman or not. This could be established by a simple physical examination 'handled within the usual constraints of the doctor/patient domain -- not in the public domain."
- Black Looks

Dr. Myron Genel, an endocrinologist at Yale University, explains further:

"The current clothing used in athletic competition, as well as the requirement that urine for doping control is voided under direct supervision, [have] made it virtually certain that male imposters could not escape detection."
- The New Scientist, 21 August 2009

Sensationalist tabloids are leaking that the "tests" will show her to be intersex. They may be right. Something like one in 1500 people is born with a more complex chromosomal configuration than the orthodox XX or XY. Most of these people present normal looking bodies - but some don't. And even people with the usual complement of sex chromosomes don’t always have the corresponding genital plumbing.

All women normally produce some amount of testosterone, the characteristic "male hormone"; there is no hard and fast standard level. And on top of these physiological realities are layered social expectations about what women look like and how we present ourselves. (And none of these variables dictate the perceived gender that individuals may be sexually attracted to.)

What looks so simple turns out to be a muddle. Good discussion here.

Women especially get chewed up in these gender conundrums. One of my local sports columnists expressed his amazement at the bodies of women athletes - women whom no one is questioning about their sex or gender:

In women's tennis, we've got Venus Williams, listed 6-1 and 160, but maybe bigger; Serena Williams, 5-9 and listed at 150, but maybe closer to 185; Maria Sharapova, 6-2 or taller. Those three would overpower the biggest men from 20 years ago. John McEnroe, built like a poet, couldn't string their racquets.

What's broken in the case of Caster (and me to a much lesser extent) are the social norms that don't expect a woman to be a non-standard size (though Semenya is only 5'7"), or have unusual speed and strength (she proved it), or have the focus and discipline of an extraordinary athlete (darned few of any gender have that).

I think Semenya is beautiful - I think the folks who can't see her as a woman are the ones with the problem. But I'm not some teen at the vortex of an international hullabaloo. That kid deserves congratulations for her accomplishments, not poking and prodding.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: Beauty


GAY AND GRAY: Fun in the Sun

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams (bio) in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here.]

Not everyone at the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade and Celebration this year presented a picture of glowing youth. In fact, quite a few of us were quite mature. Here are some pictures from the day that I thought folks here might enjoy.

I asked Jo from St. Paulus Lutheran Church how many of these events she'd been part of. "About 30," she thought.

GayPride1

This woman thought she'd attended maybe five parades. When I encountered her, she was looking for her young cousins, visiting from Sweden, who she'd lost somewhere.

GayPride2

These fellows were squinting in the sun...

GayPride3

...while this gentleman had taken a seat.

GayPride4

Lots of spectators flock to enjoy the sights. "We come every year!"

GayPride5

These women were staffing a booth for a scuba club.

GayPride6

I expect that The Sequoias, a "life care" community, got a lot of attention when this man was in their booth.

GayPride7

A determined marcher.

GayPride8

And here a multi-generational family group.

GayPride9

A grand time was had by some 500,000 folks - and we, LGBT elders and friends, were very much among the crowd.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Celia Jones: Elinor and Her Dog Stud.


GAY AND GRAY: Brinkers Face Retirement

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams (bio) in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here.]

Ronni describes "elders" as the age group that begins at 55 and goes on up as long as we last. Sometimes I wonder about that; I'm pretty sure the experiences and concerns of folks at the young end of the spectrum are quite different than those of some older folks.

I'm at the younger end myself, 62 next month. And lately I've come to think my set ought to be called "Brinkers." Why? Because so many of us are at the brink of the change usually called "retirement," voluntary or involuntary, desired or feared. For this month's column, I thought I'd share some of the conversations I've found myself in about these changes over the last few months.

* * *

I have a friend whose partner and soul mate of the last 40 years recently died. I try to walk for exercise with her as often as we can find time.

She's lucky: though not quite 65, she left an intense job with a pension and a severance deal that gives her excellent health insurance until she gets to Medicare eligibility. Almost every time she sees me, she asks anxiously, "You do own your house, don't you?" "Does your job give you health coverage?"

Reliable shelter and health insurance, that's what she thinks life boils down to these days.

* * *

My women's group has been meeting every six weeks for almost 30 years. We've seen each other through romantic ups and down, separations and re-couplings, moves, job changes, some lif- threatening illnesses, parents dying with and without our help - and now we're all in the Brinker age group, thinking about retirement.

At a recent gathering, we shared our thoughts:

• "I've always defined myself by my work. When I quit next year, who will I be?"

• "I just can't imagine not going to work every day. The idea scares me. But I am so ready..."

• "We've got gardens and animals. Farmers don't get to retire ..."

• "As you know, I've been on disability since my illness. I've always worked to rise in my profession, but I just don't care anymore. I don't ever want to go back to work. I have no trouble filling my days."

• "I think I've begun to retire and not quite admitted it. After this spring I won't teach anymore, though I've started a small business and I'm excited about that. Lately I've been learning new computer skills and I want to share them..."

• "I don't want to retire. I've got work to do. I think they'll let me stay on."

The range is wide, but we all feel we are teetering on the brink of something big.

* * *

A recently retired friend took me to dinner. He's a Brinker too. For almost 30 years he worked for the Sierra Club, first arranging outdoor experiences for inner city kids, later in the fundraising department.

Early on, he helped launch Gay and Lesbian Sierrans as a sub group within the Club. There was some opposition at first - why should the gays have their own affinity group? My friend pointed out that straight singles had a group, so why not gays who wanted to be in the wilds together? GLS became one of the Club's more active components.

He had thought he'd have to hang on until eligible for full Social Security (that's 66 or later from most Brinkers.) But the Club offered a buyout, including health coverage until Medicare clicks in, so he's happily out of there.

He's considering moving to a remote area. After all he's an outdoor guy. I wondered, did moving to the country worry him?

"Well, I knew I needed a new stove in the cabin. I went to one store and they told me all about ignition systems and pressure valves and so on. I went to another and the first thing the salesman said was, 'We have a choice of this shade or that color...' So I guess I found my store."

No, he's not worried.

* * *

Hey, isn't this supposed to be a Gay and Gray column? What's the gay content besides the anecdote about the last guy? There isn't much - or nearly all of it is about being gay, depending on how you choose to read it.

All the individuals quoted except the first one are gay. But our anxieties as Brinkers reflect more about our economic and health status than our sexuality. Perhaps it is distinctive that all these people never expected to retire based on the shared resources of a partner; they knew from early on that they'd never inherit anyone else's Social Security or pension because the world would not recognize their partnerships (and that is mostly still true), that they had to built what security they could through their own careers.

And they've mostly been lucky -- they've lived in times and places where they could succeed. It is not at all clear that future generations of Americans will enjoy such opportunities.

* * *

So you've talked about your friends - what kind of Brinker are you?

Me? I'm a Brinker with "retirement lust"! Actually I've been in that condition for years. The work I do, episodic advocacy and political campaigns, is periodically very intense - and then there is down time. I call the down time (with a label stolen from that misogynist thriller writer John MacDonald) "taking my retirement on the installment plan."

This is not a rhythm that works for everyone, but I'm currently very ready for one of the installments - and not quite ready to fall over into the real thing. We'll see...

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Frank M. Calabria: Sunday Dinner with My Aunt Bessie and Her Flatulence Machine.


GAY AND GRAY: Outreach to Elders

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams (bio) in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here.]

Jan couvillon offers water When I approached the table at the demonstraton to preserve services for elders, Jan Couvillon instantly sized me up as one of the people she works with and handed me a bottle of water. Couvillon is the actvities manager for New Leaf Outreach to Elders.

"I manage 24 social activities, put on five of them myself, and get out the newsletter too," she explained.

She stepped away from the table long enough to give me a quick overview of New Leaf programs. The gay friendly agency makes social service referrals, trains "friendly visitors” to buddy with lonely elders, conducts in-home assessments and keeps up a busy calendar of community building offerings.

Since this is famously expensive San Francisco, Couvillon told me much of New Leaf's work concerns affordable housing: keeping elders in affordable rentals they've long occupied; explaining the few protections that people have against owners seeking to turn their buildings into condos; and helping elders find alternative spaces if they lose the ones they have. Many poorer LGBT elders live alone in rooms in the Tenderloin, a densely-packed, low-income, center city district.

Couvillon's social activities programs seek to break the isolation that can lock LGBT elders off from community. She says many of her folks say they "don't know anyone like me." Once they find out they can meet others "like them," many will come to hear speakers, take gentle yoga classes, join writing groups and attend potlucks. She annually runs a series on sexuality in older women for older women.

Most of these groups are single gender. Couvillon explained: "Well, the men and the women don't want to be together. They say 'we're gay or lesbian after all.' I finally got the social groups to come together for Thanksgiving by cooking for them."

Couvillon explained that almost all the elders she works with are afraid - afraid for their safety as lesbians or gays. Many have been in the closet most of their lives. They fear that as they age, they might end up in a "senior living facility" or a nursing home. If other people were to know they are gay, they might be abused by other residents or staff. Or, perhaps worse, they might just be left alone, "stuck off in a room somewhere and no one would ever touch them."

"Does this happen?" I asked Couvillon.

She looked worried: "I think it happens more than New Leaf is aware of. Because so many of our elders are in the closet, they don't have anyone to tell."

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Nancy Leitz: A Little Boy's Worry.

GAY AND GRAY: How It Was Then...

category_bug_gayandgray.gif [EDITORIAL NOTE: Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams (bio) in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here.]

A wise lesbian named Nancy Flaxman, who consults with helping agencies for elders in the San Francisco Bay Area, cut through a lot of social service verbiage on a recent KQED radio forum:

”What I want to bring out for LGBT seniors - those people who are probably in the closet who are listening today - please know that you do not have to be alone...All of us as LGBT people, no matter what age, are isolated unless we gather together with each other...We've seen alcohol and drug addiction, depression, suicide.

“Those who are homophobic and transphobic will attribute these things to some perversity in our so-called lifestyle. But depression and other health issues are not from who we are, but rather from society's homophobia.

“You take a person like me. I'm 62 years old, this is my job, I'm out there all the time, I'm out, out, out, but everyday I can open the newspaper, turn on the radio, watch TV and hear who I am and my relationship with my partner being debated.

“I think those of us who are out don't even know, don't realize consciously how this effects us - every day to be told you are not good enough. When we can gather with each other in community, that leads to our own health and wellbeing. It's not that we are different from other people, it is what everybody needs.”

I think Nancy is all too right. But like Nancy, I'm a "young elder" (we're the same age). Since I was about 30, I've lived in a world where being gay was at least imaginable, if not commonplace. LGBT folks who are older than Nancy and I lived through experiences that chill my soul. No wonder that, if they find themselves late in life isolated and possibly dependent on professional service providers, they sometimes retreat into a closet they thought they'd escaped years ago.

The story of "Lee" from Nurse magazine is representative for too many.

”As a young nurse, Lee, who has asked that her last name not be used, worked in an electroshock unit in New York in 1950. She watched other lesbian women her age receive electroshock therapy to cure them of their 'deviation.'

"'It pushed me into the closet so far that I didn't come out until I was 58,' she says. She married and had two daughters. After her husband died, she came out and felt relieved at no longer having to hide who she was.

“But in recent years, Lee, now in her 70s, says she has retreated somewhat into the closet. None of her neighbors at the low-income senior complex where she lives know she is a lesbian. She has no idea how they might treat her if they knew.

“They are very nice people, she says, but some are very conservative. 'They come from a different era...It's a big drain of energy when you have to hide something,' she says.”

And it wasn't just the lesbian women. Gay men grew up with warnings like this video: [1:23 minutes]

I gave you the short version. YouTube has a 10 minute long version that proclaims "Produced in cooperation with the Inglewood Police Department and the Inglewood Unified School District." Like the 1930s movie Reefer Madness, this clip seems pretty funny now - but I bet it was no fun if you were a gay kid and it was shown at your school.

I'll close this with a clip from Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi's 1963 "documentary," Women of the World, narrated by Peter Ustinov.

Again, this is amusing now, but it's not surprising there are LGBT elders who never were able to completely move beyond what growing up with this stuff did to them.

I'm so glad I am fortunate enough to live in a time when we've moved beyond the ignorance (and the gender stereotyping!) that were the rule not so long ago.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Brenda Verbeck recalls her 1950s Childbirth Without Fear.]

PLEASE NOTE: A new, little feature in the upper left sidebar is a list under the header, "At The Elder Storytelling Place" where henceforth there will be links to the five most recent stories at that blog. Let me know if you like this feature or think it is useful.


GAY AND GRAY: Film Festival on Aging

category_bug_gayandgray.gif [EDITORIAL NOTE: Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams (bio) in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here.]

Last month I had the chance to see two programs that were part of the First Annual International Film Festival on Aging staged in San Francisco and Berkeley. I didn't know what to expect - I'm not much of a moviegoer, but how could I not be curious?

In the city, the festival had taken over the seventh floor (top) of a multiplex; going up all those escalators really felt like leaving everyday reality for some hidden attic. Each program was preceded by a promotional clip from one of the sponsors, an expensive looking assisted living community. I found their video cloyingly sugary. If you are strong of stomach, you can watch it here.

Obviously film festival organizers had to find sponsors somewhere. Not having had the job of raising the money, I probably shouldn't knock their accomplishments.

That said, I greatly enjoyed the Saturday program. A short celebrated 85-year-old Margaret Hagerty of Concord, North Carolina who had run her 80th marathon at the time of the filming. It's available on YouTube [4:02 minutes]:

The Canadian Film Board contributed Mabel's Saga, a cartoon about a woman at menopause deciding to make the most of being "over the hill." Not for the first time, I reflected on how creative, simply antic, Canadian filmmakers are able to be with the government support the arts enjoy up north.

The program's feature film was Hats Off, a profile of 93–year–old New York City actress Mimi Weddell. My goodness, that woman works at her craft! I guarantee if you get the chance to see this, you'll be tired just contemplating Mimi's schedule.

Filmmaker Jyll Johnstone has made available many clips from the full length movie online. Here's the trailer: [1:56 minutes]

Naturally, as TGB's gay and gray columnist, I had to see the festival's gay program. Unfortunately, I found it disappointing. The headline feature was a quite interesting documentary about a young transgendered Canadian, Madison, going through transition from male to female. The only aging element to it was that her grandmother was the person in her family most emotionally able to support her through her changes. That didn't seem to me quite enough aging content to warrant placing it in this film festival.

The other gay-themed film followed 88-year-old Lorraine Barr as she goes on a lesbian-oriented cruise. Here's the trailer for that one.

Barr, like many lesbians in her generation, lived a quiet, hidden life with a long-term female partner, never able to publicly acknowledge their sexual orientation. Late in life she dared to share her story in a letter to Newsweek:

”...Now I write this after living for 44 years with the most loved and loving, giving, understanding and delightful partner imaginable. For all our time together, we were 'in the closet.'

“For so long, if you were a known homosexual you could lose your job. We kept our relationship from our families - or at least we thought we did. After my partner died, her son told me that her family knew about us, but kept our secret because they believed our relationship was our own business.

“But our silence for all those years was also partially a self-induced caution. Looking back, I think it's possible that as the world changed, we didn't change fast enough...”

Certainly we all feel ourselves caught up in fast changes.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Brenton "Sandy" Dickson has a few things to say about Juxtaposition.]


GAY AND GRAY: Outing Age

category_bug_gayandgray.gif [EDITORIAL NOTE: Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here.]

Last month, I attended the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's Creating Change conference. This huge annual event brought together some 2500 gay activists of all ages, races and persuasions in downtown Denver for four days of meetings, workshops and communal celebration.

Yes, it was a little overwhelming. I was sent by an employer; such a circus is probably not something I'd jump into on my own. But once there, I could hardly pass up several workshops on aging. Here's a report on one:

Laurie-Young-NGLTF-web In a workshop called "Outing Age," Laurie Young, a Task Force researcher, and Karen Taylor of Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE) described their forthcoming update of the 2000 report of the same name. (The old edition is still available for download here.)

They reported that when they approached senior centers and other places where many elders come together to ask about gay and lesbian elders' concerns, they heard the same responses they had gotten years ago: "We don't have any of them here" and "We treat everyone the same."

But they document that gay people do face somewhat different experiences from our heterosexual age peers as we age.

  • Most U.S. elders rely on their children for some forms of assistance as we age. Gay people are twice as likely not to have children as heterosexual elders.

  • Gay and lesbian elders are more likely to retreat into isolation than heterosexual elders. In part, this is in response to ageism in the LGBT community. But also, getting older pushes LGBT elders into a world of social services which they may have avoided for fear of rejection when they were younger.

    These researchers identified with the story of the 93-year-old man who froze to death in his home during the week of the conference. His disconnection from his community recalled for them the social isolation they see too often among LGBT elders.

  • Above all, the unavailability of legal marriage, combined with the federal "Defense of Marriage Act”, penalizes gay elders. These legal barriers mean they cannot receive Social Security survivor benefits. They are not protected by a spousal exemption from having to sell a residence in which their partner has half ownership if they need to "spend down" to be eligible for long-term care under Medicare. President Obama says he want to repeal DOMA; we can hope.

I can't say I enjoyed feeling the subject of social science research in this workshop. I might have been a lot more comfortable if the researchers had been older gay people -- but they weren't, yet. They certainly had the interests of elders at heart, but as so often the case, I think we need as much as possible to speak for ourselves.

Just for the heck of it, here's a short video about how one man is making provision for gay elders in Gujarat, India. The question of where gay elders go is not just an American one. [1:50 minutes]

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Chester Baldwin recalls a Long Ago Summer.]


New Laws Help LGBT Elders

category_bug_gayandgray.gif [EDITORIAL NOTE: Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here.]

The first week of a new year usually brings a spate of newspaper articles about new laws that that have gone into effect. Imagine my surprise at learning about a couple of good ones for lesbian and gay elders.

In California, the state will now require "licensed health care professionals" to undergo "diversity training" meant to "prevent bias in senior care facilities and nursing homes."

I guess that means they are going to expose doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists and the like to the idea that same sex partners might expect to live in the same senior facilities together and have the right to visit each other.

Nationally, President Bush has signed the Worker, Retiree and Employer Recovery Act of 2008 (WRERA) which will protect domestic partners who inherit retirement savings.

Previous pension legislation made it optional for employers to write their plans so that "non-spousal" beneficiaries could roll inherited retirement benefits directly to an individual retirement account and avoid immediate taxation. WRERA means that if employers have any such pension plan, they must provide the rollover without penalty.

Small potatoes you may be thinking. How many elders are lucky enough to have a pension these days - or able to afford choices about "senior care facilities"?

And you are right. What these laws illustrate for me is why so much of the LGBT community is agitated about winning full, legal marriage rights.

Marriage is a relationship between people, but it is also a status that comes with a huge body of law. Because we have a precedent-based legal system, just about any human interaction under the sun has been litigated at some time. Laws and precedents have been created that make marriage's implications at least somewhat predictable.

When same sex couples can't marry, all those precedents either don't fit or are up for grabs. Literally thousands of minor legal corrections, like those explained above, have to be made to approximate equal status. And civil unions haven't proved very good at doing the same job.

A New Jersey state review commission concluded in December that

"After eighteen public meetings, 26 hours of oral testimony and hundreds of pages of written submission from more than 150 witnesses, this Commission finds that the separate categorization established by the Civil Union Act invites and encourages unequal treatment of same-sex couples and their children," read the first paragraph of its report.

I'll be honest here - I never thought I'd be putting energy in to campaigning for gay marriage. But it really does look as if winning the option for all would be the simplest way to ensure equality for all - and good for children, young people, and elders.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Brenton Sandy Davis gives us a strong example of Perseverence.]


Markers in the Lives of Aging Gays

[Darlene Costner of Darlene's Hodgepodge took a fall last week and as she will be in rehab for awhile, will not be posting to her blog. Her daughter, Gail, has left a message at the bottom of Darlene's most recently post. You can add your messages for Darlene there.]

category_bug_gayandgray.gif [EDITORIAL NOTE: Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here.

Thirty years ago, on November 27, 1978, San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk were shot at City Hall by a disgruntled ex-supervisor, a kind of premature Rush Limbaugh fan who hated liberals and fags.

I remember vividly where I was when I heard the news of the murders: I was in a Mission District thrift store looking for potential Christmas presents (tells you how poor I was).

Who we become as we age is made up, at least in part, of the memories we carry with us of events that took place around us or that we participated in. Many of these are private - anniversaries, births and deaths of family and close friends. And many are part of the national shared history - for my generation, probably one of the most vivid in that category was the Kennedy assassination.

Then there are those public events that, though not universally experienced, nonetheless were terribly important in the lives of some members of each age cohort, markers that they do not universally share with others. Gay and lesbian people have lived through a kaleidoscope of public events and attitudes toward our very being that inevitably inform our old age.

A woman named Loree Daniels Cook, who writes at the Transgender Aging Network, has performed an interesting public service. She points out that aging gay people may remember a different set of salient life markers than their heterosexual age peers in addition to the more universal ones.

So she has made up a timeline that lists what may have been felt to be important events in the lives of older gays. Here are a few such points:

Elders in their 90s may remember:
  • 1933 - Hitler bans gay and lesbian groups, burns the Institute of Sexual Science library
  • 1934 - Lillian Hellman's The Children's Hour opens on Broadway to rave reviews
  • 1939 – New York City "cleans up" in preparation for the World's Fair, closing most of the city's best-known gay bars
Elders in their 80s and older may remember:
  • 1943 – U.S. military bars gays and lesbians from serving in the Armed Forces
  • 1948 – The Kinsey Report says homosexual behavior among men is widespread
Elders in their 70s and older may remember:
  • 1950 – A Senate hearing reveals the majority of State Department dismissals are based on accusations of homosexuality; Senate approves wide-ranging investigation of homosexuals "and other moral perverts" in national government
  • 1951 – The Mattachine Society founded
  • 1953 – President Dwight D. Eisenhower orders dismissal of all federal employees guilty of "sexual perversion”
  • 1954 – Dr. Evelyn Hooker presents a study showing gay men are as well-adjusted as straight men at an American Psychological Association meeting
  • 1956 – James Baldwin publishes Giovanni's Room
  • 1957 – "Transsexual" coined by Harry Benjamin
Elders in their 60s and older may remember:
  • 1960 – First U.S. public gathering of lesbians, at San Francisco's Daughters of Bilitis national convention
  • 1964 – The first openly gay person appears on national television (Randy Wicker, on The Les Crane Show)
  • 1967 – England and Wales legalize male homosexuality
  • 1967 – First gay bookstore in the U.S. opens: Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop in New York City
  • 1968 – Metropolitan Community Church formed
  • 1969 – Stonewall Riots
Some more recent events that loom large in the lives of many living gay people:
  • 1970 – The Vatican issues a statement reiterating that homosexuality is a moral aberration
  • 1973 – American Psychiatric Association removes homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses
  • 1974 – Ohio Supreme Court rules that even though homosex is legal, the state can refuse to incorporate a gay organization because "the promotion of homosexuality as a valid life style is contrary to the public policy of the state."
  • 1976 – Doonesbury is the first mainstream comic strip to feature a gay male character
  • 1976 – Renee Richards outed as MTF (male to female transsexual) and barred from a women's tennis tournament
  • 1977 – 80 percent of surveyed Oregon doctors say they would refuse to treat a known homosexual
  • 1978 – Openly gay San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk murdered by colleague; these events are portrayed in the current film Milk
  • 1979 – First National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights; 100,000 attend
  • 1980 – Aaron Fricke takes Paul Guilbert to his high school prom after winning a lawsuit against the school
  • 1983 – Congressman Gerry Studds comes out; first federal official to come out as gay while in office
  • 1984 – Martina Navratilova's female lover publicly sits in her box at Wimbledon and the French Open
  • 1985 – NAMES Project memorial quilt for AIDS victims launched
  • 1987 – Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights; Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt shown
  • 1990 – First National Bisexual Conference held in San Francisco
  • 1991 – First Black Lesbian and Gay Pride celebration held in Washington, D.C.
  • 1992 – Colorado voters ban state and municipal rights laws for lesbians and gay men
  • 1995 – President Clinton names the first-ever White House liaison to the gay and lesbian communities
  • 1998 – Matthew Shepard murdered in Wyoming
  • 2003 – Massachusetts Supreme Court rules it is unconstitutional to deny marriage to gay and lesbian couples
  • 2008 - California Prop. 8 eliminates state constitutional right to marriages for gay and lesbian couples.

And so on, a true rollercoaster ride of lived history. This is an amazing catalog even to me as a participant in some of it - so many very rapid steps forward, often bracketed by frightening steps back.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Jo Ferguson ruminates on how our given names affect our lives - or don't - in My Name is Jo.]


Barbara MacDonald: A Pioneer Theorist of Ageism

category_bug_gayandgray.gif [EDITORIAL NOTE: Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here.

In 1983 (along with her partner Cynthia Rich), Barbara MacDonald published a collection of essays titled Look Me in the Eye: Old Women, Aging and Ageism.

With this slim book, MacDonald put the lesbian feminism movement of that time on notice: in carving out space for ourselves as lesbian women, we were ignoring, excluding, and rendering invisible the few old women around us - and the old women we ourselves would one day become.

MacDonald insisted unequivocally that her ability to name the ageism she experienced derived from her life of knowing "otherness" as a lesbian in unsympathetic times. And she knew that experience was not something unique to lesbians.

”...these essays are about growing old...but they are about difference - about otherness - and all my life I have had to deal with difference, so old age does not come to me now as a stranger...It happened that I felt my difference because I was a lesbian.

"But difference is something we have all dealt with in our lives - that struggle to follow our impulse, our own uniqueness, to know aloneness; and that desire to be like everyone else - not to stand out, to belong.”

In those heady days when lesbians were making themselves visible as never before and many U.S. women were exploring their individuality and autonomy with heady vigor, MacDonald all too often felt an outsider because, in her mid-sixties, she was the oldest woman in the room. Living in Cambridge, Massachusetts amid the ferment,

”...again I was ‘other.’ Again I lived with the never-knowing when people would turn away from me, not because they had identified me as a lesbian, since I was no longer thought of as a sexual being, but because they identified me as old.

"I had lived my life without novels, movies, radio, or television telling me that lesbians existed or that it was possible to be glad to be a lesbian. Now nothing told me that old women existed, or that it was possible to be glad to be an old woman...Again I had to chart my own course, this time into growing old.”

Sometimes this was lonely, alienating.

”I am glad the women's community has a beginning and is there to support women but I am aware that it is not there to confirm who I am...Sometimes I feel like the only way I'll really get into [a women's community center] - [appear] alive in the eyes of the young women - is dead, on a poster.”

Though righteously angry with the young women who erased her, she knew what she wasn't going to do in response. She wasn't going to pretend that she was not getting old. Too often, MacDonald wrote,

”...the old woman tries to pass. ‘I don't think they know my age...People don't think I'm as old as I am, so I don't go around blabbin' it.’ Another old woman recommends ‘taking on the qualities associated with youth. People will never think about your age. They'll just think how young you are.’

“Passing...is one of the most serious threats to selfhood. We attempt, of course, to avoid the oppressor's hateful distortion of our identity...But meanwhile, our true identity, never acted out, can lose its substance, its meaning, even for ourselves.”

MacDonald understood that the aging of the U.S. population would mean that old people would become targets of a pervasive, ageist marketing campaign. She insisted we were being deformed by

”…a society which, in anticipation of the year 2000 (when one out of every four persons will be over 50), is planning a whole new image of aging that will tell us we are as young as we feel and that how to feel young is to look young. A society which is developing endless products to keep us looking young. Which is to say that society isn't going to let us grow old naturally any more than they ever let a lesbian, or any other woman for that matter, do what comes naturally.”

Angry as she was about what society did with her experience of aging, she sought to report honestly what aging meant to her.

”What I am always aware of, somewhere in the back of my mind but not taken out and examined as I do now on this page, is that I am in the process of dying and that all of this is part of the life experience. It is a process and one that we may be conscious of for the last ten or twenty years of our life, which, if you think about it, may be a quarter or more of your lifetime. I find myself wondering why this is not more talked about and why it has not become the common knowledge of our lives...

“...I see that only some deaths are hidden...I see now that all my life, as in yours, one death was always visible in film, in art, and in literature - the agonizing death of the hero who dies gloriously in mortal combat...we see him always in that single moment of death...

“The assumption that is made [by the myth of the heroic warrior] is that if you kill them first, you will live. (I assure you that, with the body messages I've been getting lately, I won't.) This assumption would not be possible if the daily deaths of ordinary people were made visible, and if the life process of dying were in our heads instead of the single event, and if the bravery of the old who face death every day were recognized for the courage it demands of the human spirit...

“Today, gradually, sometimes not easily, I begin to understand that my body is still in charge of my life process and has always been. It is still taking good care of me, but it always had two jobs: to make sure that I live and to make sure that I die. All my life it has been as busy with my dying as my living.”

Barbara MacDonald died on June 15, 2000 at the age of 86.

***

Lookmeye-web I had not thought of MacDonald's book in many years until Marian Van Eyk McCain of Elderwomanblog reminded me of it in comments on a previous Gay and Gray column. When I first encountered it, I was one of those youngish women among whom MacDonald was never sure she could find a place. Today I am almost as old as Barbara was when she began writing these essays. Reading it again was a profound experience I had hope I have succeeded in sharing here.

Look Me in the Eye is presently out of print, so I have taken the liberty here of offering long quotations to share the flavor of what hold up well as a challenging work by a brave woman.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lois Cochran explains how she came to be nicknamed Smokey.]


Elders in Political Ads

[EDITORIAL NOTE: If you have written any blog posts on political issues this week, be sure to get links to me by the end of today for the Sunday Election Issues post. If you're wondering what I'm talking about, see this post.]

category_bug_gayandgray.gif All too frequently, our culture keeps elders out of visible participation in media culture. Young and beautiful rules.

But I realized recently there's a surprising exception to this norm: a particular genre of political ads. Take, for example, this ad from the No on Prop. 8 campaign which is fighting the initiative to eliminate California's constitutional right for same-sex couples to marry.

An attractive older heterosexual married couple plead directly with the viewers: "don't eliminate marriage for anyone," including their gay daughter. I think it is probably pretty effective. What do you think?

This ad is not unique in showcasing elders speaking to values. A story: in 2003 I had the privilege of working on part of the campaign to defeat California Proposition 54. This was a deceptive measure that would have prevented the state from collecting racial demographic information about people who used state programs. Proponents sold it as encouraging "color blindness." A coalition of civil rights advocates worked to defeat it because we feared its consequences: if no demographic data could be collected, it would become impossible to discover if very different populations were getting a fair shake.

In the 1990s, California had an unhappy history of voting for propositions like this. We were experiencing rapid racial diversification and many people weren't entirely comfortable with that, so we were susceptible to appeals to sweep racial classifications under a rug. But on this one, opponents pulled out a sweeping 64 percent victory.

How? We figured out that both the majority white electorate and the emerging communities of color would respond to the same pitch. The message was "by voting on this you'll make a life-and-death decision affecting every Californian. Proposition 54 would block information that can help save lives. It's bad medicine."

KoopWe had funds for just one TV ad to deliver that message. So we tested three sets of messengers. One was an attractive middle-aged female nurse. When opinion researchers measure who is trusted by the most people, nurses always rank very highly. We also had available to us many members of the cast of the show ER - then TV's most watched medical drama. So we tried out having them deliver the lines. Finally we tested Dr. C. Everett Koop, the retired Surgeon General of the United States and internet medical entrepreneur. If ever there was an archetypal grandfather, Koop fit the bill. I may not like him much, but I don't deny that.

Our focus groups found Koop by far the most believable messenger, so up he went and we blanketed the state with our ad. (Sadly, this was before YouTube, so I can't show you.) And we won, pretty much everywhere.

So why are visible elders so effective in some political ads? I have some theories.

Obviously, good political ads need to be attractive to elders because we vote much more reliably than other age groups. So it is not surprising that ad creators would show us some of our own.

But also, in a limited way, elders do bring a special authority to some elections that are really contests between conflicting visions of society's values. Most people, at least for the few minutes during which they cast their ballots, bring to elections a kind of civic communal consciousness that may be largely absent from most of our lives. If we vote, we do it in a mood of slightly solemn seriousness. (We often do this with jury duty as well I think.) And elders, despite our youth-oriented culture, bring a certain experiential authority that meshes well with that momentary communal consciousness.

And so, when campaigns are trying to urge people to come together about something that makes them anxious, elders make good spokespeople. And we elders get to see ourselves on TV in those moments.

Here's another specimen of Koop doing his grandfatherly curmudgeon bit for another campaign. Prop. 86 would have socked smokers with a cigarette tax, using the proceeds for health services. Koop couldn't beat the tobacco money that fought that one, but he gave it a good try.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, David Wolfe explains how he found a novel remedy for a malady that afflicts so many, titled Oh, My Aching Back.]


Some Elder Polling

category_bug_gayandgray.gif [EDITORIAL NOTE: Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here.

I'm both a political junkie and an elections professional (I train community groups to increase participation), so I actually enjoy poring over polling date. In this post, I'm going to look at some of the polling about elders in the upcoming election and particularly at polling on state Proposition 8, a measure that that would add language to the state constitution to eliminate same-sex couples’ right to marry in California.

Some basics I keep in mind when looking at the data:

  • Different pollsters define older people differently in their surveys. The most common definition seems to be voters 65 and up. Those of us between 60 and 65, who TGB also names "elders," disappear statistically in the huge mass of voters 50-64.
  • Voters in the over-65 age group are only a little over 19 percent of registered voters according to a Pew Research Convention Backgrounder. We're often told we're a huge chunk of the electorate, and we are, but not as huge as we might have been led to think.
  • The reason elders are thought to be such a large segment is that fully 79 percent of us were registered and 70 percent of those actually voted in 2004; that's higher than the electorate at large in both categories. Maybe we have just hung around long enough to get more involved?

Much has been made this year of how attractive to Senator Obama is to young people. And polls bear that out; the Democrat was winning young voters by 60 - 33 percent in August.

At the same time, there is some evidence that Obama has a much harder time with older voters. Recently some 16 percent of voters over 65 reported being undecided.

"Seniors are about 50 percent more likely than other voters to be uncommitted at this point in the race. Voters aged 65+ will eventually represent about 20 percent of the electorate, but they may represent more like 30 percent of the pool of persuadables."

That explains why the candidates may pay a lot of attention to elders. Senator Obama's selection of Joe Biden as his running mate was supposed to assist in bringing us into his fold.

Here in California, age also seems to be a big factor in whether people will vote for or against the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. The Field Poll, considered the gold standard for the Golden State, found on July 18 that if the election were being held then, more voters said they would vote No (51 percent) on Prop. 8 than would vote Yes (42 percent).

Democrats overwhelmingly will vote No - and we have a substantial plurality of Democrats.

"By age, opposition to Prop. 8 is greatest among younger voters under age 30, as well as among baby boomers in the 50 - 64 age bracket. Voters in other age groups are more evenly divided."

Though in this poll all groups would reject Prop. 8 at least narrowly, voters over 65 came closest to approving it, showing a 45/46 split.

It seems pretty clear that the variable that decides whether people can support same-sex marriage is their own experience with gay people. According to a Los Angeles Times survey

"The divide was...stark when it came to the proposed constitutional amendment: 70 percent of voters who said they did not know a gay person would vote for it, a position taken by just 49 percent of voters who said they knew a gay person."

So there it is - the daily lives of gay people are new and strange to some folks and a matter of ordinary experience to others. Exposure to gay people seems to determine attitudes. The "Love Rush," the spate of same sex marriages in California since May, is probably having its own effect, showing happy people whose unions don't cause the sky to fall.

Not surprisingly, unfamiliarity with gay people is greatest among elder voters. Gay people used to keep their personal lives secret. (I should point out that the notion of gay marriage is a very new thing among older gays too; we certainly didn't grow up expecting such acceptance would ever be possible!)

One of the most interesting arguments I ran across while researching how age influenced attitudes toward Prop. 8 was an article by Peter Levine refuting the notion that as we get older, we automatically get more conservative. His argument is statistical and not simple (go take a look if you like math), but his conclusions suggests that elders aren't out of sync with the rest of society:

"With the possible exception of those born in the 1930s (for whom we don't have much data), it appears that people grow more tolerant as they age...It's my sense that there may be a small age effect here: people become more tolerant of gays as they mature and get to know openly gay people...However, the biggest effect here is historical. Everyone is becoming more tolerant, regardless of age."

Anyone wishing to know more about the No on Prop. 8 campaign can check out Equality for All.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lois Cochran tells us what she has learned about Working From Home - The Telecommuter Challenge.]


Gay and Gray: The Book

category_bug_gayandgray.gif [EDITORIAL NOTE: Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here.

When I agreed to write this column for TGB, I figured I better do some research. After all, what credentials do I have? I'm just a lifelong lesbian who is aging and who blogs.

Imagine my delight when I discovered that there was a book entitled Gay and Gray. I was a little less enthused by the subtitle, "The Older Homosexual Man," but what the heck? Fortunately I was able to find a used copy.

Originally issued in 1982, and reprinted with new material and a new prologue in 1995, Raymond M. Berger's book is a serious social scientific examination of the lives of gay elders. It leans on all the apparatus that academic researchers use to support their conclusions: interviews, case studies, a questionnaire, reference to other research.

And, especially for its time of publication, Mr. Berger came up with a delightful thesis. In the prologue to his second edition, here's how he described it:

"...being gay can actually be an advantage in adapting to the aging experience. Every gardener knows that placing his seedlings in the harsh outdoors early in the season creates plants that are better able than the greenhouse variety to withstand the stressors of the growing season. So it is with people, gay positive scholars have argued. Early weathering promotes survival."

He goes on to contend that because many gay men have to leave their families of origin in order to live fully into their orientation, they also, earlier and perhaps more fully than heterosexual men who have mothers, girlfriends and wives to fall back on, have to learn to live as competent, independent adults.

"Later, when faced with the losses of old age - loss of job, status, friends - the older gay man can draw on the skills he learned as young adult."

Sounds to me like the kind of facile pop psychology peddled by those throwaway "magazines" inserted in Sunday newspapers. And like reading them, there's a certain guilty pleasure in playing with the idea mentally, before throwing it away. I don't think any of us have to be gay to play:

  • Did you feel at some point that you had to leave home or family in order to grow fully into yourself? Was it painful, surprising, or just "growing up"?
  • Has your particular experience of "weathering" made getting older easier, harder, or maybe just no different that any other life challenge?

Lots changed in the LGBT world between the two editions of Raymond Berger's study. The AIDS epidemic vastly changed the circumstances of the gay male population while concurrently gay people began to win civil rights and wider acceptance. In 1995, having viewed the trajectory of those changes, he made some predictions that seem to me still interesting after another 13 years.

  • "Chronic illness will play an increasing role in the lives of gay men of all ages."

    Indeed yes - the AIDS plague acculturated many urban, gay men from a young age to be exceptionally aware of and sensitive to dealing with sickness and disability.

  • "Lesbians will assume an increasing role in the leadership of gay community groups..."

    Yes, again. On the one hand, this simply reflects that an entire generation of men who would have occupied leadership roles died off prematurely. But in consequence, many LGBT institutions got used to the experience of having women in leadership. Though the plague has receded, many lesbians still occupy highly visible leadership positions.

  • "Older gay men will become a large part of gay community institutions." For Berger, this predicts declining ageism: "Even the traditionally youth-oriented bars and social clubs will increasingly cater to the more numerous and affluent gay men."

    I think on this topic he underestimated the power of generational marketing. Wherever any affluence exists, our society creates a niche commerce to exploit its potential. So we all have even more institutions encouraging expense and consumption for the young - and for the old.

  • "Gay men will increasing adopt 'traditional family values.'"

    He means stable relationships and parenting. Sure - it's true. When you aren't living as an outlaw, it is a lot easier to live responsibly and care responsibly for others.

  • "Senior-specific, gay, social service agencies will continue to be rare."

    I don't have the expertise to evaluate this, but he is probably right that general purpose social service agencies have become more adept at recognizing and accommodating the needs of gay elders. Whether LGBT elders trust the agencies is another question.

  • "The aging of the gay population will enhance the political clout of urban gay communities."

    This is something I do have some expertise in and I think he's generally right. Older people are simply a more reliable base of voters than younger age groups. And we have more money to throw at politicians. Still, the rising influence of urban gay political communities has depended on a lot of factors besides the aging of gay communities that would take a book to explicate.

  • "Older gays will play an increasing role in the environmental movement."

    This was a long shot at the time and I don't know if it has panned out. Berger opines that, because of the sophistication that gay men of sad necessity had to develop about public health and immune dysfunction, they might lead the way in our growing awareness of how our thoughtless civilization is poisoning the world.

    Perhaps as a community, we gay folks are still little more conscious about public health. But everyone has had to get more aware quickly when facing such new threats as West Nile virus and a potential bird flu pandemic.

For an older book, Gay and Gray has held up pretty well and remains thought provoking. How about that?

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, TravelinOma recounts a sweet event about enormity of love in Remember Me.]


Adjusting to Changes

category_bug_gayandgray.gif [EDITORIAL NOTE: Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here.

It's a strange and wonderful time to be gay. And it can seem a particularly strange time if you're an elder. Most of us who are over 60 lived at least some part of our lives in semi-voluntary invisibility or, if we chose to allow our sexual orientation to show, feared rejection and stigma.

Yes, there has been an LGBT civil rights movement since the 1950s, a movement that gained momentum in the 1960s and never looked back. Lots of us "came out." But it wasn't easy. As recently as 2004, eleven states voted to ban same sex marriages - and in 2006, seven more followed. Then this spring the California Supreme Court ruled that forbidding same sex marriages was illegal discrimination within that state.

And all of a sudden, popular opinion seems to have taken a discontinuous leap. A Gallup-USA Today poll published June 3 reports that nationally 63 percent of us believe that "government should not regulate whether gays and lesbians can marry the people they choose, a survey finds." As far as a majority is concerned, gay marriage (and presumably a responsible gay life) is on its way to being seen as a self-evident individual privacy right.

There are still holdouts of course - and for an elder, the Gallup-USA Today picture is uncomfortable: approval of same sex marriage wins "among all ages except 65 and older: among younger groups, the results are: 18 to 29 (79%), 30 to 49 (65%), 50 to 64% (62%) and 65 and older (44%)."

Our age peers are finding change harder than the younger set. The social attitudes of our generation are being pushed aside. Anna Quindlen writes in Newsweek:

"The opposition is aging out."

Is this really because, as a group, older people have a harder time dealing with the unfamiliar? Perhaps. But I am sure the answer is more nuanced than just that we are bunch of stick-in-the-muds.

Just for fun, I'd liked to suggest a little experiment. Play this YouTube version of an ad from the United Kingdom. It's short and completely work safe. (:28 seconds)

Then, if you are willing, share your reactions in the comments. Do you like it? Did you laugh? If it makes you uncomfortable, can you share why?

The British advertiser pulled the ad after less than a week, after receiving numerous complaints. I doubt U.S. networks would have run it at all. But maybe I'm wrong.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lia tells a story of satisfying comeuppance we can all cheer in Collective Critical Censorship.]


LGBT Elders Contemplate Marriage

category_bug_gayandgray.gif [EDITORIAL NOTE: Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here.

At a fundraising party for a candidate in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago, a male friend confided slightly furtively:

"But I don't want to have to do that...we've been together 20 years. My employer puts him on my health insurance. Why should I get married?"

Reaction in the gay community to the decision of the California Supreme Court that the state constitution does not allow discrimination against same sex couples was not uniformly ecstatic.

A moment's reflection makes it obvious why this muted reaction is quite frequent, especially among gay and lesbian elders: we belong to a generation which largely managed to grow up and "come out" never imagining in our wildest dreams that marriage would be available to us. Marriage simply was not an option.

So we went about our business, formed our relationships, solemnized them if we wished either with our own ceremonies or perhaps in our churches (if liberal), sometimes privately negotiated the painful process of uncoupling (whether gracefully or not), and sometimes stuck fiercely to one another until death did us part -- just like anyone else. But we didn't expect to live our couplings while "married."

Yet, though younger folks and especially prospective parents, are often some of the loudest advocates of gay marriage, legal inclusion of gay couples within the marriage status might be just as, or even more, vital to gay elders.

Apart from romance, marriage is a useful, practical set of legal categories that set the rules for people living together. In 2004, the General Accounting Office enumerated some 1138 legal provisions in which marital status conveyed benefits, rights and privileges.

At the simplest level, if one member of a married couple is incapacitated unexpectedly, any hospital is going to be downright eager to find a spouse so that someone can make medical decisions. But if a couple aren't married, that same hospital could be terrified of facing a lawsuit for letting a partner of whatever longevity speak for the patient.

And what if that unmarried patient dies and leaves no will? If the couple were married, the law of inheritance would take over. On the other hand, the bereaved unmarried partner has no relationship automatically recognized in law. If the dead person's next of kin wants to be a cad, s/he can walk off with the couple's joint property if there is no will. It happens.

It is more or less possible in more tolerant states for a gay couple who cannot marry to write wills, share powers of attorney, and otherwise protect themselves from these problems. But setting up one's private legal arrangements isn't cheap. My partner of 28 years and I spent several thousand dollars recently, in liberal San Francisco, to try to replicate protections that male-female couples have the minute some authority signs off on a marriage license.

Reasons like these have pushed the AARP to act as an unlikely ally to gay marriage advocates in campaigns (mostly unsuccessful) to defeat state bans on the inclusive status. For example, in Ohio in 2004, the organization stated:

"State Issue One would deny property ownership rights, inheritance, pensions, power of attorney and other matters of vital interest to the health and well being of unmarried older couples."

AARP's analysis raised the specter that the gay marriage ban might be stretched by snoopy fundamentalists to extend to heterosexual elder couples who lived together without marriage in order to continue to qualify of a deceased partner's pension.

Even if additional liberal states join Massachusetts and California in legalizing gay marriage, that won't entirely create marriage equality for gay couples. The federal Defense of Marriage Act passed in 1996, means that gay couples cannot file joint tax returns (no matter how economically entwined they may be) or receive each other's Social Security. And it explicitly says that if states don't want to, they are not required to recognize marriages or other partnership statuses legally authorized by other states.

This exception recently hammered a friend who moved to Idaho seeking rural quiet after surviving escape from the World Trade Center during the 9/11 attack; his employer decided that it no longer had to provide the health insurance he had enjoyed through his domestic partner when they lived in New Jersey because Idaho recognized no such status.

So - unlike my friend at the fundraiser, I do find myself contemplating whether California's new marriage option means my partner and I have to legally tie the knot. Of course, first we have to see whether legal gay marriage survives an anti-gay constitutional amendment the state will vote on in November. We've got some chance to win this campaign because attitudes are changing so rapidly on this issue.

Unhappily, it is among elders that there is the most resistance to legalizing LGBT marriage; in 2006 according to an analysis of census surveys,

"...the older the respondent, the lower the probability of supporting gay marriage."

Still, even if we don't win in California this fall, I think the possibility of marriage for LGBT couples is something that will be won, and relatively soon.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Claire Jean explains how a favorite destination has changed for her over the years in I Love New York.]


Housing Challenges of LGBT Elders

category_bug_gayandgray.gif [EDITORIAL NOTE: Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here.

The Human Rights Campaign Fund is a big, Washington, D.C.-based gay civil rights lobbying outfit - often not my favorite sort of institution. Professional advocacy necessarily rubs off the quirky edges of our lived lives in order to score its points. It’s uncomfortable being presented as an issue, though it may at times be necessary.

But HRC does offer some genuinely interesting perspectives about the housing challenges of LGBT elders. (They use the language "seniors.") When lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender seniors need to turn to others for housing assistance, they often face three challenges: lack of family help, a shortage of welcoming housing and fear of discrimination and harassment.

Lack of Family Help
While heterosexual seniors often rely on their spouses or children to help them, many lesbian and gay seniors find themselves without either resource, says Steven Karpiak, executive director of Pride Senior Network.

In fact, when Senior Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE) conducted focus groups in New York City, they found that approximately two-thirds of the lesbian and gay seniors interviewed lived alone - a higher rate of isolation than among the general elder population. Other research has found similar results.

Shortage of Welcoming Housing
"The reality is, most older people don't live in retirement communities, period. So there isn't any reason to believe that would be particularly different in the gay community,'' says David Aronstein, a social worker and managing partner of Stonewall Communities, a project to build gay- and lesbian-friendly senior housing in Boston.

"One thing that came out in our focus groups is that people wanted it to be gay-managed [and] owned and predominantly occupied by gays, but people were very clear that it would be fine if there were straight people who lived there, too. People have wide friendship networks that aren't always exclusively gay."

Fear of Discrimination and Harassment
The greatest obstacle for lesbian and gay seniors, however, appears to be an unseen one: fear of discrimination and harassment in mainstream housing facilities. To what extent it exists is difficult to determine, according to most experts. But there is anecdotal evidence that discrimination exists.

Yet perhaps the most common problem is one of isolation and loneliness, brought on by a fear of discrimination.

"The major struggle that older lesbians and gay men have in long-term care facilities is the need to remain closeted out of fear of retaliation and out of an instinct of self-preservation," says Doni Gewirtzman, a Lambda Legal staff attorney who specializes in age discrimination.

In part, Gewirtzman says, this is because the current generation of lesbian and gay seniors came of age in a time of "officially sanctioned homophobia and abuse of gay people," and the coping strategy that many of them learned was just to remain in the closet.

The result, however, is that many lesbian and gay seniors find themselves unable to freely discuss what most people talk about when they get old - namely, the people they love.

That sounds about right to me. Last month I visited a friend, heterosexual, who lives in a "life care retirement community" - quite a marvelous place really for the tiny minority of elders who can afford such a thing. Elders buy in and pay monthly fees, knowing they'll have a place to live and health care for the rest of their lives (as long as they can afford it.)

According to the community's own public profile, three hundred some people live in this rural community. The average age of residents living independently is 83. About 70 percent are women; 30-some percent are members of couples.

My friend has lived there long enough to know a good deal more about the community than the pretty exterior reveals. She is sure that none of the current couples are LBGT, although there have been a few during the 15-year life of the place. She only knows one gay current resident, a lesbian now in her eighties who moved in with her woman partner. Her partner died almost immediately; the lone lesbian has lived on alone almost ten years.

My friend suspects that hardly any of the current residents know this woman had a woman partner. I was introduced, but quickly understood this was not a person who wanted to talk about a life that hardly anyone around her is aware of. I didn't even try for an interview.

What would that be like - to grow old while being unable to talk about, to share, central parts of what life has been? I imagine many heterosexuals also carry such locked up secrets. I belong to a slightly younger generation less prone to be silenced that way, perhaps even inclined sometimes to put out TMI - too much information.

But I know that feeling constrained to keep my life story "private" would make me feel invisible, not fully myself. It would not matter if the constraint was not so much fear of rejection as simply convention. I think there is a lot of that going around for LGBT elders, maybe more than any of us who aren't living it realize.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Celia Jones weighs in on a lifelong obsession many will recognize in Weighing In.]


Aging Together: So Like Their Peers, But Different Too

category_bug_gayandgray.gif [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.

Stuartgarypensive 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.

Gents_wsister

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.]


Listening

category_bug_gayandgray.gif [EDITORIAL NOTE: Today, I am pleased to announce the launch of a new Time Goes By category, Gay and Gray, which will address issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Some of the issues will cross over with those of straight elders, and some will be unique to homosexuals. Because this is not in my personal experience, I asked Jan Adams to become the Gay and Gray columnist and she graciously agreed.

Jan lives in San Francisco and has been a political activist for most of her 60 years. You will find more about her here. She has been blogging at Happening-Here since 2005, and her Gay and Gray column will appear at Time Goes By on the 26th day of each month, or thereabouts. I know you will welcome her to the TGB fold.]


I didn't really want to "listen." Who does, when listening is a matter of duty?

But because of one of the projects I am doing for work these days, I felt I had to listen. You see, I am organizing within the Episcopal Church for the full inclusion of our gay members within the life of the community.

Compared to most Christian outfits, we're not that bad on this, especially locally. Many parishes have gay members; there are gay, lesbian, even transsexual priests; heck, to the horror of the fundies and our own conservatives, this denomination even made a partnered gay man a bishop.

But it would be great if we could move from "not bad" to good at this elementary facet of respect each others' dignity, so I'm working for the folks who are organizing to get us over the hump.

One of the steps along the way has been a thing called "The Listening Process." Gay people wanted to stop being talked about and start having real conversations with our more conventional brethren and sistren. We persuaded the official bodies of the church to say that such things should take place about 30 years ago, but mostly this "listening" has been a good idea that doesn't happen. And despite not always playing out the whole process, we, this particular church, have muddled toward putting up with and even loving each other.

However this season, the small, very gay parish where I am a member, St. John the Evangelist in the San Francisco Mission District, was invited to engage in some listening events with the people of a suburban church. Uh oh. I knew I had to put my body where my mouth is and go to these things.

It seemed an odd idea. I've been out so long in the world and in the church that I've almost forgotten the angst that too many LGBT folks still suffer in hetero-Christian-land. I'm an "I'm here, I'm queer, get used to it!" kind of person. So I didn't know what to think.

Off a little bunch of us, gays and friends, trooped on Sunday to a very friendly, suburban congregation. We shared worship followed by a very nice potluck lunch. One of our folks quite bravely told the story of how hurt he had been by being forced by another denomination's authorities to hide his relationship with his partner. Then we broke up into tables of about six people each to discuss further. Each table consisted of one or two of us visitors and the rest from the local congregation.

I found myself at a table with several mature parishioners from the suburban church and several of their quite elderly visiting parents. Now this was in a room with a low ceiling and some 40-50 people. That is, once we started talking, the din was cacophonous. Though we could barely hear each other, we gamely attempted to address the discussion questions.

After a few minutes, the elderly woman seated next to me reached out and gripped my arm. She was elegantly dressed and groomed, every hair in place, carefully made up. She seemed tiny to me, wispy. Her very white skin was almost transparent; I could see a bit of blue vein peeking through her scalp. She whispered with a slight accent I couldn’t place.

"I worked in fashion. They all worked there,” she said. “There were so many of them. They were so creative. There was a young man, he used to ask me to go places with him, to be seen with him. We'd go places together. You know, so he'd be safe."

"When was that?" I asked.

"The Hitler times," she answered. "Then we came to this country and I worked in fashion. There were so many of them. They were so beautiful."

The din overcame us both. We stopped trying to talk, but she squeezed my arm.

Here is the sort of thing that happened in "the Hitler times":

"An account of a gay Holocaust survivor, Pierre Seel, details life for gay men during Nazi control. In his account he states that he participated in his local gay community in the town of Mulhouse. When the Nazis gained power over the town his name was on a list of local gay men ordered to the police station. He obeyed the directive to protect his family from any retaliation.

"Upon arriving at the police station, he notes that he and other gay men were beaten. Some gay men who resisted the SS had their fingernails pulled out. Others were raped with broken rulers and had their bowels punctured, causing them to bleed profusely.

"After his arrest he was sent to the concentration camp at Schirmeck. There, Seel stated that during a morning roll-call, the Nazi commander announced a public execution. A man was brought out and Seel recognized his face. It was the face of his eighteen-year-old lover from Mulhouse.

"Seel then claims that the Nazi guards stripped the clothes of his lover and placed a metal bucket over his head. Then the guards released trained German shepherd dogs on him, which mauled him to death."

- Wikipedia

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Darlene Costner explains how her mother prevented potential disaster during Sunday drives in Grandpa.]