Monday, January 09, 2012

Realty Bites:Generations on Shoulders

Gen Silent: Elder LGBTQ Community Standing in the Shadows of Closets

I had chance this weekend to catch the online stream of Gen Silent, the award winning documentary from Stu Maddox who wrote and directed the feature. The video above is clip of him giving an overview of the film and his enlightentment while filiming. Gen Silent is a stark and troubling look at the complex issues of aging in the LGBTQ community as well as the lack of culturally competent service providers that may engage elder gay people. The stories unfold around three couples who had lived through the early 50's and 60's as gays dealt with institutional discrimination and societal rejection which often led to wrongful terminations or even perhaps death in some circumstances. Ultimately as these individuals moved through time changes, it was the fact of "aging" that had for some had attempted to push them back into their closets. Even though I consider myself a harden battle ax, the film took me on an emotional roller coaster. It force me to take a moment to begin pondering my own personal situation as well as my partner. At one point I was reduced to tears, then the next moment busting with pride to know that these long time companions loved each other with a depth and breath that most will never experience or dare to embrace.

Cast members Lawrence and Alexander's (pictured) story was exceptionally heartwarming as they encountered Alexander's demise into the caverns of Parkinson's disease. Lawrence struggled with grief, depression and guilt as he was forced to place his partner into a long term care facility. The tenderness he demonstrates as he visits Alexander and the angst of leaving him was almost too much for me to watch. As he recounted their 38 years together, I was touched to know that despite their multi-racial union they strived to endure all obstacles including Alex's growing internalized homophobia which had caused the couple to become isolated unto themselves prior to the long term facility. When Lawrence speaks into the camera and states that "I don't know what I will do when he dies... maybe I should just die with him", is a poignant show stopping moment.

However even as Alexander succumbs to the disease, Lawrence moves on to publish a book of poetry and even becomes the apple of another gentleman's eye. Kris Anne was transgendered Vietnam war vet who was facing living alone while dealing with the final stages of lung cancer. She was terribly bothered by the fact that her family had all but deserted her. Even returning unopened mail often times with scribbled messages of "freak" or stamped addressee unknown. Her spirit to live despite that rejection was searing but it was the semi-visits from her son that was heart wrenching. He finally came to reconcile but it was all but too late. Kris had attempted to widen her support circle which was extremely supportive, but it was her family that she desired most. Unfortunately, the isolation continued as she stated in a video blog she recorded showing her gasping for air and unable to get into bed. She cried out, "don't let this happen to anyone else," she then crawls to the recorder and it fades to black. She died shortly thereafter at 60.

 Maddox has crafted a film that should be require viewing for all long term health care workers or service providers. This film is also important in lieu of the death of Dr. Robert Frank a retired Unitarian Minister who was ejected from a long term care facility here in North Little Rock after his status was disclosed.  His case was taken by Lambda legal whom reached an out of court settlement concerning fair housing laws and basic human rights. Before Frank's death, he was able to share his story and highlight the issue of gay seniors and AIDS Stigma during a 2010 White House conference. The film has been widely seen including numerous film festivals where it has racked up many awards plus it has spotlighted on PBS's In the Life series. Unfortunately that series is not apart of the AETN line up basically because there's been no support generated for such programming. If you get a chance to see this film, by all means do so. If this is a film that you think should be presented in this community, tell us about it so we can share it.  If you have seen it, please feel free to share your thoughts.

RuPaul Prowls the Campaign Trail 2012

"I am not Ron Paul!" shouted RuPaul, the famous drag queen (wearing men's street clothes), at the top of his lungs inside a cramped diner here, a picturesque little restaurant that presidential candidates have visited for years. "And I am not running for president of the United States!," he added.

Sleepy locals sipping their coffee looked up from their cups. What the hell?

And what was RuPaul doing in chilly New Hampshire just days before the state's first-in-the-nation primary? The back story: When Ron Paul first ran for president as a Republican in 2008, a picture posted online of a Ron Paul campaign sign altered to say "RuPaul for President 2008" spawned a viral joke that the septuagenarian statesman from Texas was actually RuPaul, the black drag queen. Now that Ron Paul is ranking at the top of the polls, after placing third in the Iowa caucuses, RuPaul is here to capitalize. Leaving Los Angeles behind for a few days, he's traveling the state "campaign-style" with television cameras in tow to prove once and for all that he is definitely not Ron Paul. The tour will feature in his reality TV show, "RuPaul's Drag Race," which airs on Logo.

The Red Arrow Diner, where RuPaul made his declaration on Saturday, is a must-stop on the presidential campaign trail, so there's nothing particularly strange about people gathering there, anticipating a glimpse of a candidate or a handshake. Yet Saturday morning brought a different mix of patrons: drag queens, RuPaul fanatics, gay activists, and rowdy high school students jostled amidst the regulars, including one angry local who was just trying to enjoy his breakfast in peace. ("Don't bump me!" he grunted after absorbing an elbow in the ribs from a over-excited tween.) Earlier in the morning, a C-SPAN crew rolled up next to the diner in a deluxe campaign bus with the hope of talking to some Regular Americans. Instead, they came across a hoard of freaky and fabulous ones.

RuPaul greeted each person in the crowd, inside and outside the diner commenting on and complimenting various personal attributes. (One girl asked for a picture. "I'm short," she said, standing next to him. "You're not short. You're perfect," he replied.) Every few minutes he'd utter his "I am not running for president!" line. As he made his way down the counter, extending his hand to every patron, he reminded them, of course, that he is RuPaul, not, Ron Paul.

Standing along the wall, a 19-year-old boy from Boston wearing rhinestone-studded stilettos, a pearl necklace and earrings and a mink stole waited patiently to see his hero. His name? "Gee-Gee Louise," he said, the "world's only drag burlesque dancer."

"I'm technically a drag queen," he said before getting his picture taken with RuPaul. "But I take my clothes off."

Several feet away, an old man stood alone, watching the scene unfold from a safe distance.

"I came to catch the flavor of the campaign," he said. "I was thinking more along the lines of Rick Santorum."

Eventually, RuPaul wrapped up inside and stepped back out into the frosty morning.

"You betta vote!" he whooped at the cheering crowd. "Remember, this country was founded by a bunch of men wearing wigs!"

"And heels!" a voice hollers from the scrum.

Somewhat surprisingly, RuPaul seems to have been made for the campaign trail. He's warm, great with eye contact and liberal with compliments.

But politics, of course, isn't really his game. Since the 1980s, RuPaul--which is his real name--has built a career around his flamboyant female alter ego. He's written music; he became the first drag queen super model; he hosted his own day time talk show; and is now the star of a reality show where transvestite competitors battle for his approval to become "America's next drag superstar."

Yet, for entertainment's sake, I planned a little test to verify that RuPaul is definitely not Ron Paul. He agreed to meet with me in Manchester's Palace Theater, just a few blocks from the diner.

How do you feel about the printing of fiat money?

"Fiat? I do love that new J-LO car! I do love that."

Where do you stand on the merits of lowering the marginal tax rate to boost growth?

"I usually stand on six-inch platforms. It's actually not as tall as it looks."

Who is more fabulous? The economist John Maynard Keynes or Frederich Hayek?

"You better work!"

What does that mean?

"That's drag for no comment," a camera guy said.

Any predictions for the New Hampshire primaries or the general election?

"I'm not really a psychic...I'm more of a psycho, really."

We talked about the possibility of him endorsing a candidate.

"Well I do have a line of shoes coming out if that's what you mean," he says. "They're called Iron Fist shoes and the platform is amazing."

I also listed the names of candidates and asked RuPaul to say what first popped into his head.

Ron Paul


Rick Perry


Newt Gingrich

"Uh-huh! That's right!"

"I'm not really a political person by nature," RuPaul said, yet his trip to New Hampshire has piqued his interest in the subject. His advice for the candidates? "I think they could probably have a lot more fun and not take it so seriously...I think that's a great message for everybody out there. I think politics is very similar to show business. I just think in show business we have better outfits."

Correction: An earlier edition of this article suggested that C-SPAN departed the scene because of the type of crowd that arrived at the diner. Although the bus left before RuPaul departed, the camera crew remained and continued covering the event. Thanks to my allies and supporters who keep COP 24/7 in the loop of what's really going on!

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