42 posts categorized "Gay and Gray"

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.]