Good News/Bad News of Elder Brains
The TGB Interview: Alex Bennett

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.]

Comments

Welcome Jan!

When I read last September in Newsweek magazine in a "My Turn" article written by an 88 year old woman "coming out" I was captivated. She wrote:

"For heaven's sake," Barr said, recounting that day in May when she finally decided to mail off her essay. "I'm 88 years old. What difference does it make to anybody? It doesn't make a difference to anybody now."

It really got to me, thinking about what kind of lives gay women her age must have had/and are having right now.


Hello Jan,

I learned a lot reading your article and look forward to hearing from you each month.

I am of the generation that never spoke of homosexuality. Hell, we never spoke of anything even remotely associated with sex. We were not permitted to say the word "Pregnant". Our expression was "Expecting" or something equally harmless.

So, homosexuality was strictly a forbidden subject. Only by reading various authors who had the courage to "Come out" did we begin to understand and now you can add to our knowledge with your monthly comments.

Welcome!

welcome, jan. the very thoughtful way your church group has begun educating others impressed me.

could i suggest that your next post in march, women's history month, you share more about the pleasures of your life and how inclusion enriches all of us.

thanks for your courage. yours, naomi

How nice that you are here....a much needed voice in the elder world.

And after reading your words, I was left wishing that someone would tell that fashion lady's story.

One of the first books I read on the subject of homosexuality was "The Well Of Loneliness". Like Nancy, I was an innocent and didn't know anything about the subject before that. It was such a poignant book it touched me deeply.
To be in the closet to avoid being stigmatized must have been a living hell years ago and may still be for some. Although society has progressed, there are still far too many who believe it's a sin and I, for one, think they are the sinners.

This seems like an excellent addition to Time Goes By given the climate in our country-- and obviously in others. I grew up knowing about gays because my mother had been a professional musician in the 30s. In the various orchestras, where she would work, she sometimes had friends or acquaintances who were openly gay. She just saw them as people-- good or bad based on their behavior. When I went through high school, I never knew then that I also knew gays because it was very much a closeted time.

I would like to see us get, as a people, to where it's not good or bad to be homosexual or heterosexual. It is just what it is, and it doesn't need to have a moral code attached to it. When it does, it's general a using of a religion and choosing passages to suit the prejudices of the group.

Sometimes it can be bad to be gay if the lifestyle chosen is damaging. Sometimes it can be bad to be heterosexual if the lifestyle chosen is damaging. Sexual preference is what it is, and if we quit judging people according to things that don't matter, like gender and race, then we could look at them for the things they do-- which is how we all should be viewed in our communities

Ronni & Jan--Thanks for bringing another perspective to my daily reading. Write on!

Thanks for this piece and for having a new Gay and Gray writer. I hope this will encourage gay and lesbian folks to send in stories to the elder storytelling network. Perhaps a little encouragement would help. I know I would feel a little hesitant without it.

And thanks for educating folks on the Nazi era. Many people don't know what happened to gays and lesbians. The Holocaust Museum has a very powerful exhibit and their website has excellent resources.

PS I would LOVE to write either of the stories described in your post.

Reading today’s post, and especially the foregoing responses, has made me proud to be associated with such a soulfully inclusive community. Thank you all.

I suppose that most elder, gay people must have suffered much discrimination in their younger days. It's good that attitudes are improving now - even if there's still some way to go.

Thanks for the kind welcome! I've enjoyed this community for a long time.

If folks have any themes about gays and aging they'd like me to research, please leave a note. I'm going to try for some material that takes a little digging, as well as more stories.

Thank you both for this addition to the conversation on Time Goes By.

My ex-husband used to tell me "nobody loves you when you're old and gay." (he's not gay, but nobody loves him, either.) anyway, i loved your intro statement, ronni: "while this is not in my personal experience," etc. etc. Actually, it hasn't been in my personal experience, either...not for a long time, anyway. who is this chick? would i like her?? she's a little, er, young. oh, well. there you have the whole gay&gray dilemma in a nutshell.

Being inclusive of all older groups certainly seems appropriate for this blog on aging. Perhaps this will help all better understand shared common issues and the unique issues homosexuals face differently from those of us who are heterosexual.

Seems a dialogue here finding common ground on which to focus, could aid in dispelling stereotypical misperceptions.

There were numerous human groups arbitrarily swept into the Holocaust and I had tended to forget homosexuals were in that number.

We need to hear their stories, just as we do those of the other groups, to be reminded just how expansive in their condemnations hate groups can be today as in yesteryear.

I can't tell you how happy I am to see this section. I've been enjoying this site and was thrilled that you have opened the door for acceptance of the richness and diversity of all those who are aging. We all deserve our stories to be told. But especially those whom have been forced into silence for so long. Thank you for the addition

My uncle recently entered a senior citizen home because he needs constant medical care. He is, unfortunately and tragically, dying of a deteriorating lung disease.

He is homosexual, but because of the times he was born in, the terribly repressive society he grew up in, and the fierce Catholic family taboos he had to endure, he never came out. Yet, he did manage to find one great love and a few good lovers over his lifetime.

He finds cohabitation with a large group of old women a challenge. Even though he has enjoyed friendships with women, he has never lived in such intense and full proximity of them.

Jan, sorry, I completely forgot to give you a warm welcome to TGB. Your post was very interesting and a delight to read. I'll be very much looking forward to your next article.

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