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