Not All Our Heroes Are Dead (or: Stop Burying Us, Help Us Live)

Yes, large swaths of my generation (and others) passed on no, were sacrificed. They died. Often horrible, painful, deaths. Too often unloved and rejected by their families of birth. I mourn them all- even as individual voices, faces and names fade from my memory. Every time I return to Toronto I stop, at least once, at the Aids Memorial pictured here.

Now there are treatments for people with the virus and PrEP (a preventative medication) and recent rumours of near-breakthroughs.

What is very often ignored is that the virus did not wipe out entire communities. There are lgbt, kinksters, sex workers and other queer folk from ‘way back then’ who are still alive. Many of us did not end up having the virus. And there are people living with hiv/aids decades after testing positive.

Now I am very well aware that the marketing industry (led to a large degree by men of my generation) long ago decided that youth is king. The prized demographic. The ones that companies cater to.

Fewer and fewer families keep three (or more) generations together- in the same house or same neighbourhood. We spread out across the country, if not around the globe. And stick ‘old folks’ in retirement villages (if they’re lucky) or assisted living centres, nursing homes, or hospice as their medical conditions suggest. This isn’t the place to go into how ‘primitive’ cultures (advanced societies in many ways) approach elder care- suffice it to say it’s generally nothing like this.

On top of that societal trend are various realities of aging queer folks.

Many of us Baby Boomers were rejected by their biologicals. Some never to reconnect with siblings and their offspring- or at least never connected deeply enough to be supported or cared for. Many of us built families of choice- replacing or supplementing their birth families. But even those families have limits. Many of us had no ability to percieve of a life after 40. Not because of the above-referenced marketing; when I was 25 (1983) I watched my tribe dying around me. What we now know as hiv/aids erupted in gay communities across North America- and elsewhere.

Working to build a career seemed naive; I worked retail jobs to cover the essentials while my time was spent supporting my community. Many queer folk went into low-paying jobs, from retail to social work, so we could serve our tribe, or to party like there was no tomorrow, or both. Many did not invest in retirement savings beyond Social Security. This was back before it was widely admitted that the programme was not designed for a population that (other than us) was living much longer than before. And those who did have careers with company-funded pension plans learned just how fragile corporate promises can be.

Over the past decades the availability and quality of gender-affirming surgical procedures has increased. But not without side effect. High costs drained many people of all their savings; medical, emotional and social consequences continue.

Mental health issues have, to some degree, come out of the shadows. But being openly discussed does not guarantee acceptance, understanding or full social support. Not that queer folk are inherently less healthy. People who endeavour to live open and honest lives (so ‘queer’ by the traditional definition) are often more open in facing demons. This, like everything above, is a generalization with limits and exceptions.

So we now have generations of elder queer folk who too often have no private retirement fund, smaller support network, need greater medical attention, living in a culture that devalues them- sees only the expense column and can not place any value on our experience and wisdom. Some LGBT/Queer Community Centres do offer social activities and the largest cities have, or are developing, LGBT/Q retirement residences.

How can you repay the efforts these pioneers, unsung heroes, everyday activists put into building this future you’re enjoying? Two things come to mind; first is to engage us in conversation. Real talk. See if your local LGBT/Q Community Centre has something. Many of us are not technophones- we can be found here, on other social media, and blogs. If you’re up to reading (print or screen) we can be found there as well.

The second method is crass financial support; directly or though local community centres (sponsor a gathering, a field trip, etc) or through SAGE USA and other groups.

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To be clear; this post is not just about me- I know of a number of queer elders who are facing hard times. From a pioneering queer writer/activist whose work has touched many, but now faces many challenges, to others who served more anonymously. No leader succeeds without followers.
Related Posts:
Living To 60;
When We Rise;
Still Here: Still Queer;
Today in Canadian Queer History.

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