Monday, May 17, 2010

My Senior Moment

This was the first time I attended a social or support group for older GLBT folks. In a typical fashion, we sit around the room in a circle. The majority were men (and white). There were a few lesbian women. I was not formally introduced. Instead, I introduced myself as we were going around the group stating our names and a reason to be thankful for today. “I’m thankful for my health.” “I’m thankful for standing vertical.” “I’m thankful for the bright sunny day.” Indeed, it was a warm and clear spring afternoon. The sunlight filled the room through the wide windows.

Everybody seemed cheerful and in good spirits. They smiled, joked, and teased each other. I was not nervous or anxious. I felt at home. In a kind and tranquil space. This is not the first time I interacted with older folk, gay or straight. In fact, an astrological reading once told me I was an “old soul.” When I was in fourth grade, back in Mexico, I’d frequently spend recess with an older teacher, a woman in her late sixties, who had taught me the year before. She used to remind us that she was chewing gum because she was ill. It was medicinal gum. We shouldn’t be chewing gum. In my late teens I related better with my friends’ parents than with my friends. Later, when I came out as a gay man, in my mid- twenties, my best gay friends were much older than me. My first long term boyfriend was seventeen years older than me. In my thirties, I started socializing with a group of older gay men, mostly from the suburbs of Chicago. My friend Norm introduced me to a group called “Imagine.” Most of the members were white, older than fifty-five, well off, and conservative –except for my friend Norman who is fairly progressive. I have gravitated around older folks for a long time.

Back at the group -- the conversation, while at times seemed random, centered on three related issues: health, identity, and stigma. As they shared their thoughts it was clear that health issues are a daily concern and in the forefront of the lives of these gayby boomers. Illness is a major threat. As an older gentleman (perhaps in his eighties) stated, “I’m thankful that I’m still in good health.”

The people in the group come together as gay, lesbian, and transgender, not only as seniors. So they talked about their frequent invisibility in both the larger society and the gay community. They evoked Rock Hudson as a gay man who lived a life as a heterosexual man in the screen. Then they talk about the immediate reality of facing living alone or living in assisted living housing and depending on senior centers: “We’re going to be living with the same bigots who hated as when we were younger,” a woman emphatically spoke. She urged the group to directly confront homophobia in those spaces. Others in the group did not want to be so outspoken. They did not want to directly present themselves as GLBT people. This is a long-lasting dilemma for many of us.

I left the meeting with joy, but thinking: where are the gayby boomers of color? Where are the Latino and Black guys? Why they are not around here? I’m sure there are somewhere in the city! I’m also wondering if what I have been learning about the gayby generation reflects the lives of Black and Latino gayby boomers.

1 comment:

Karen said...

So well written...I am always shocked at how much I under estimate the value of "older" folks. I think that's such an American convention. The strange thing is I work with A LOT of older patients. I am constantly surprised to hear about life experiences and perspective that are fascinating to me but just part of their time on earth. Makes me wonder how much I could be missing.