Thursday, August 11, 2011

Talking Out Loud Thursday 2.0

When you finally realize that you are about to cross that five decades of living threshold, you stop and begin to think back. Way back, about the who, what, when and the WTF was I thinking about this or that situation. For a split second, you try to think that life hasn't passed you by and it has been good despite you may not have reached all your goals or pursuits. Then you look in the mirror, fully understanding that through it all, you're still holding you own even if no one else thinks so. After all of that, what you surmise is that you've got to take the attitude that "hey, I'm not just getting older, I'm getting damn better!"  Ultimately we all face the consequences that we are aging and as Jane Fonda states in her new book, "Prime Time", we've got to decide what our "3rd Act" is going to look like and who we are going to be within it. However, as we plan that state of mind, often we must deal with some internalize "ageism" from the younger set who attempt to put us in the "old box". Recently a trip with some of the young set brought this issue to my face with a vengeance. At first I didn't know what to think. Exactly who are they talking about? Of course, it's you fool. So now I'm now seen as an "old head," well they might like to think so, but I've got something for them. It's no secret that the lavender life is youth oriented as well as driven by its media, venues and culture. I'm not doubting any of that, but I want to make sure that those coming after me realize that they should be keenly aware of "ageism" that has devastating affects on aging gays and often goes unaddressed. Many older gays suffer from isolation, legal issues and economic insecurity that creates barriers and unique challenges as they prepare for retirement. While listening to Ms. Fonda on NPR's Diane Rheam Show, I came to the conclusion that perhaps subconsciously I've been planning for this time of my life. Even though those youngsters came at me kinda hard, I affirm that this "elder statement" is comfortable with his current position and will gracefully be respected otherwise. I am willing to share my life experiences with the young set in order for them to understand that my time "living the life" could be beneficial to those who will attempt to fill my shoes. Fonda concluded her set with saying continue to explore life anew everyday. Discover new languages, adventures, sports and growth from your failures. Thanks Ms.Fonda, I'm glad that I had your words to encourage me to keep kicking it and take it to new heights! Look out folks!   

Staying in the theme of Gray Gays, I wanted to share this piece to shed further light and scale up thoughts on this issue and offers a "teachable moment" across the board. As we disucss this issue, we have to also consider the angles of racial disaparities, health care access and other socio-economic factors.

COP24/7 Special:
Gray gays

Aging gay men and lesbians face unique challenges

by William J. Mann

Few gay or lesbian publications include groups for seniors in their resource listings. One Boston newspaper lists 18 support groups for gay and lesbian youth in New England, and only two for gay men and lesbians over 40. And though there are dozens of postings, resources, and chat groups for young gay men and lesbians on the Internet, it took a lot of digging to uncover a couple of bulletin boards about retirement. In fact, there seems to be only one organization specifically geared toward the needs of aging lesbians and gay men. Marking its 20th anniversary this year, the New York-based Senior Action in a Gay Environment (SAGE) has 12 chapters in the United States and Canada.
"I'd say the biggest problem facing gay seniors today is this sense of isolation," says Richard Bannin, executive director of SAGE. "Many of today's seniors did not have the benefit of spending their adult lives as out gay men or lesbians. . . . Many only came out later in life and so do not feel connected [with the gay community].
That dynamic may change, however. According to Bannin, the older gay and lesbian population will continue to grow: every year, an estimated 400,000 gay men and lesbians in the United States turn 50. And as more people with AIDS live longer thanks to new drug combinations, we may see a dramatically increased senior gay population within the next decade.
Even so, retirement remains a mystery for most gay men and lesbians. Larry from Seattle (who, like many gay seniors, requests that his last name be withheld) writes in an America Online (AOL) gay retirement area: "I'm turning 50 and I realize I haven't a clue as a gay person where or how to retire. Has anybody got ideas? I know that AIDS and surviving/living [with] HIV has taken up a lot of our energy, but what are we all going to do in our old age if and when it comes?"
Lydia Carlson, 60, who lives in Alberta and frequently posts on AOL, muses in a phone interview that "lesbians have been dealing with this maybe a modicum better than gay men.
"Possibly the reason more gay men haven't thought more about it," she adds, "is because so many have died, so many never lived to the point where they'd have to confront the issues of old age.

Aging heterosexuals must worry about financial security and health, too, of course, but gay seniors lack the societal protections that heterosexuals often take for granted. The lack of marriage rights and spousal benefits, says Bannin, is particularly hard on the older gay population. As in Hank's case, when one partner dies, the surviving spouse may not be allowed to remain in the home they shared. The right to make decisions for an ailing spouse, or even just visit a spouse who's been hospitalized, is also a big concern.
While more companies are now providing domestic partnership benefits for employees, those benefits have come too late for most gay seniors. "I wish I could've been covered under James's plan," Hank says. "He had wonderful coverage. I have practically nothing."
The problem of economic security is particularly hard on working-class gay men and, especially, lesbians. Historically, women have made less money than men, and this is reflected in their retirement benefits. "Sometimes a lover can supplement that," Carlson says. "But even then it's not much. Two women's income is not the same as the income of one man and one woman."

"AIDS is a very real problem among seniors, although they don't get much attention," adds SAGE's Bannin. "Many AIDS programs and services are frequently dominated by younger people. In group therapy, for instance, many of the issues are particular to younger people, and seniors feel excluded."
Other disabilities can also make life difficult for lesbian and gay seniors. One 58-year-old lesbian from Western Massachusetts says in an online posting that her arthritis keeps her away from the women's hiking trips she used to enjoy; even the women's music festivals are too difficult for her. "It keeps me at home," she writes. "How am I ever to find a lover at home? Is this how I'm destined to spend my retirement?"
Bannin agrees that openly gay and lesbian retirement homes are an idea whose time may have come. "People who have been out their whole lives," he says, "are not going to go back into the closet in a nursing home or in a retirement community."

The demand for such programs will only grow as the openly gay population continues its inexorable march toward retirement age. In the meantime, though, gay seniors often find themselves ignored or reviled by the larger gay community. "I found one bar that I liked, for a while," says Hank of Boston. "Then I heard a young man call it a `trolls' hangout.' I had never realized until then that younger gay men would consider me a troll."
Lydia Carlson notes that older lesbians may get a bit more respect from their younger sisters, but not much. "There comes a time when you realize you're not being asked out anymore, not invited to places," she says. "That's when you say, `Oh, I must be getting old.' "

Hundreds of thousands of gay seniors may suffer such feelings of isolation, Bannin says, and he wants to reach out to them. Whether that be through socials, political advocacy, or SAGE's pen-pal program, the need is there. "And this is a population that will only get larger," Bannin repeats. "Are we prepared for the challenge?"

Party with a Purpose
Don't forget to come party with a purpose, Saturday Aug. 13, 2011 at Sidetracks, 415 Main Street, 8 p.m. It's all about bring some awareness and fundraising for The Living Affected Corporation, a local community based organization with sexual health programming and addressing HIV/AIDS in the state. For more info on contact,  or reach out and touch at 877-902-7HIV 

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