Wednesday, October 26, 2011

And Then There Is Me

As a gay male on the cusp of seventy-one, I want to reflect on my current life-experience from the perspective of what I have written concerning older gay men. I'm very conscious of the fact that, even if musing about my own life holds little interest for most people, nevertheless it is productive for me. Writing about the present is difficult to do; more difficult that writing about the past. Just as an important value of therapy is to gain perspective on your life from another person, not involved in your personal life, so the simple fact of time-passing provides somewhat of a perspective on your own past life. While I can look at the past and see some of the narratives I think were guiding my life, it's more difficult for me to discern what narratives are constructing my present.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Fight Gay Ageism: Go Shopping!

The recent deaths of Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings highlight the reality that, despite the negative attitudes toward aging in the gay community as a whole, there are sparkling exceptions of elders who were pioneers in the movement for homosexual civil rights and continued to be influential leaders after the inception of the gay liberation movement.  They stand in stark exception to the more common treatment of pioneers in our community, which has been either to ignore them totally or to trot them out as relics at reward ceremonies.

Patricia Neel Warren wrote in the Nineties of attending such a ceremony during which an elderly man with a walker was asked to come up on the stage to receive a plaque of recognition. She describes watching with embarrassment as the man struggled to negotiate access to the stage; no one in the audience made any attempt to help him; some even chuckled. She relates that she made a decision after witnessing that even to stop using the word "community" to refer to gay society; any genuine community, she felt, would not treat their most vulnerable members in such a fashion.

It would have been preferable and praiseworthy had a powerful enough movement to bring about a more positive attitude toward aging, along with more caring and respect for gay elders, emerged from within the gay community itself. As it is, the simple fact of demographic shift will likely be the most effective factor in accomplishing that goal. To be sure, there have been both individuals and organizations (SAGE is a fine illustration) in the last couplee of decades that have been working to change the negative perception and treatment of elderly gays in our community. However, in my opinion, they have not yet achieved the breadth and strength of influence to accomplish the significant change that is needed if were are to become a healthier community for gays of all ages.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Gay Ageism: A Particular Vulnerability.

I have reflected in my last post on the fact that the gay community, more specifically, the gay, male community, has internalized negative narratives regarding gay aging that are propagated by the dominant, heterosexist culture. That narrative is, of course, re-enforced by the broader culture of youth that has prevailed in Western Society since the Sixties. It is not to be expected that the gay community would be impervious to that broader, cultural trend; however, I want to suggest that the community has, in fact, been particularly susceptible to some of its more destructive consequences.

Such vulnerability exists because of characteristics which are either particularly present or specific to the gay male community itself; characteristics that have served to augment the negative narrative present in the wider culture; creating a negative feedback loop. The emphasis on the value of youth and the horrors of gay aging transmitted by the dominant culture feed negative perceptions and experiences of aging endemic to the gay community; the extreme negativity toward aging in the gay community strengthens the perception of the accuracy of the perspective of the dominant culture. Each trip through the loop augments the negativity; re-enforces the narrative serving the interests of the dominant, heterosexist culture and diminishing the lives of gay men.