Wednesday, May 25, 2011

What Keeps us Coming Back?

What happens every Friday afternoon at the senior LGBT drop in group? On the surface, very little; on the inside, critical matters take place.

Around 12 noon, one by one, we start gathering inside the room a social service organization provides to the group. We greet one another as we walk in. None of us is ever on time, but most of us are seated around the table, with our cups of water, soda, tea, or coffee before 12:30. The staff facilitator (an employee of the organization) arranges food and coffee on a side table, assisted by a volunteer from the group. The food and drinks are also supplied by the organization, but every once in a while, members bring desserts or drinks.

Conversation flies randomly and in all directions. Two members chat among themselves on one corner, three others loudly converse across the table, and another one reads the latest edition of the local gay newspaper. There are, usually, between seven and twelve of us: half of the group are males, black and white. Then the facilitator interjects and asks us to check in. The structure of the meetings is loose. We are asked either to briefly summarize what’s going on in our lives or to highlight a good and meaningful event we experienced the previous week. This takes us through house chores; medical appointments, new maladies, and recoveries from illness; family birthdays, anniversaries, and drama; transactions with social service agencies; travels; new read books; and movies. In between, we ask questions and diverge. More people arrive. Others get up to get their lunch. And the facilitator takes us back to the check in round.

Then, we talk, share, cry, and laugh. For the rest 90 minutes, the group conversation freely flows. Oprah Winfrey’s show: Why and how she gives expensive gifts to the audience? Cancer radiation’s effects and how to fight them. George W’s wars and his ties to fascists in Germany. Facebook: should I join? Who is in? I don’t want people to know about my life. The perils of being gay or lesbian in the workplace in the 1960s and 1970s. The senior LGBT events happening in the next few weeks. Is the governor gay? Memories of deceased parents. Looking for peace and finding one’s self (yes, still at the age of sixty-five). The weather. How rheumatoid arthritis changes with through the seasons. The bar in the Gold Coast in the mid-1970s. Home long term care vis-à-vis assisted living housing. And Seinfield.

Is the sharing, chatting, laughing and (once in awhile) crying that brings this group together? This group of older LGBT folks has been meeting every Friday for over a year and half (I joined about a year ago). Through the Friday conversations and a few sporadic especial events, we have come to know each other and see where each of us has been through in his/her live. We feel ok talking about old lovers, sexual adventures, and financial difficulties. We joke and make fun of ourselves. As in a religious service or meditation practice, we close off the outside world when are together.

For many of these seniors, the Friday gathering is the only opportunity to meet peers and feel connected with LGBT folks. For others, the meeting gives them a chance to express themselves, find support and be supportive of others.

The Friday’s drop in group may not be a community in and by it itself, but it is an element of community. It builds a sense of belonging and individual and collective identity.

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