The last thing in the world many LGBT people want to be is a queer senior. And with good reason: entering the “golden years” in the queer community can be like entering a living hell.
It means being dismissed by younger people as sexually and socially undesirable or being patronized because you’re a piece of living history. It’s being invisible in queer publications (except when you die and the gushing obits come out, saying what a great hero you once were, emphasis on “once”).
It’s having the issues that are life and death to you (such as proposed cuts to Social Security and other benefits you so desperately need to survive) ignored by LGBT organizations too busy promoting marriage or political candidates who will end up backing more cuts.
According to many studies and reports, queer seniors are poorer than their straight counterparts. With threatened cuts to every program that might benefit seniors, they stand to get poorer and less able to fend for themselves. Already, queer seniors are half as likely to have health insurance, and two-thirds as likely to live alone. Not to mention that they routinely face discrimination in medical and social services, retirement homes, and nursing care facilities.
By 2030, queer seniors will number about three million. That’s a lot of people for the LGBT community to ignore. But unless things change, it’ll do just that -- ignore them, as it does now.
We live in a youth-obsessed culture. A quick look at TV and the movies will demonstrate that. Old age is perceived as a disease that has to be kept in check by any means necessary. There’s no reward for wrinkles or thinning hair. No reverence for the wisdom of having lived many decades on this Earth.
For me, the worst part about getting old is losing the ability to take care of myself. I’ve always been on my own. Ever since I was forced to leave home when I was 19 or 20 (Papa couldn’t deal with having an activist son), I’ve managed to work, put food on the table and pay rent.
I chose to work for nonprofits and small businesses that reflected my political views, so I never earned tremendous amounts of money. There were no fancy vacations or extravagant purchases nor a house with a lavender picket fence. Thankfully, I can look back at my working life and say that I contributed something to society.
Which doesn’t mean a hill of beans when I can’t pay the rent or go grocery shopping because the meager amount I may be forced to live on in my old age on will barely cover the essentials. Add on some sickness that needs constant medication and I could be seriously screwed.
When I look at the agenda of queer organizations, I see nothing that reflects my needs as a queer senior. No lobbying for universal healthcare, no mobilizing against the cuts that are devastating services for elders, no advocacy for affordable housing or renter protections. Few cities have affordable LGBT senior housing, and even those that do, don’t provide enough units to meet the need.
I came out at a time when gay sex was illegal, gaybashing was an honorable sport, discrimination was seen as reasonable and right, and being queer was the absolute worst thing you could possibly admit to.
Yet getting old is the scariest thing I’ve faced in my life.