Saturday, October 18, 2008

Open Forum: LGBT Youth & Seniors - Parallel Struggle?

There seem to be quite a number of parallels faced by LGBT youth and seniors. It's interesting to note that while one group is just starting out in life and the other is close to retiring they face similar issues and struggles with regards to their respective identities. I'd like to examine a few of the issues I see as parallels and would also welcome anyone elses thoughts and/or additions.

Being Alone:

Many LGBT youth are not out of the closet and live in a world of fear and sadness, unable to express their true identity. They long for a girlfriend or boyfriend for whom they can love. Similarly many LGBT elders are also alone, either having lived an entire life in the closet or being left widowed and without a partner or a support system.

Coming Out:

Every LGBT youth faces the struggle of coming out of the closet. They are faced with questions of their own sexuality and gender identity and also have to question whether their friends and family will be supportive. In our heterosexist society, it is assumed that you are heterosexual unless you say otherwise. The same goes for LGBT elders, it doesn't cross peoples minds that the individual may have been a lifelong gay activist or have a partner, the youth and the LGBT elder both have to engage in the coming out process within their respective environments.

Lack of Independence:

Many if not most LGBT youth and elders lack true independence because they rely on the care of others. LGBT youth are under the care of their parents, or in a foster home and thus are subject to a set of rules and standards by which they are to live by. LGBT elders often face a similar situation either with a nurse aid, or in a nursing home or hospice. Being under the care of others and not having true independence makes living out your identity or coming to terms with it more of a struggle.

Living in a Non-Accepting Environment:

Another parallel between youth and seniors is the fact that in many cases both live out their daily lives in a tough and non-accepting environment. Everyone knows from their own childhood that kids can be brutal, there is a lot of bullying and teasing that goes on. While of course LGBT seniors are not going to be subject to schoolyard taunts many are placed in an environment with fellow seniors who have been part of the society that has ridiculed them and sought to pathologize their lives. Can you imagine what it must be like to be an out and proud member of the community who suddenly gets thrust back into an environment with those who do not understand, are not accepting, or worse are disgusted and morally opposed by your "lifestyle".

Being Transgender.

It goes without saying that being transgender or gender variant is a struggle at any given point in life. I think it probably is the hardest on the trans youth and elders. The transgender youth faces the struggle of coming to terms with their gender identity and then coming out to others and seeking assistance to live their lives in conjunction with their true identity. The LGBT seniors who have already transitioned into their appropriate gender face the difficulty not only of acceptance from a generation that does not understand gender issues, but also the financial cost of keeping up with hormones and some medical routines that some trans people choose to undergo. The senior who is just coming to terms with being transgender having never even known of the concept faces the hard task of self acceptance, societal acceptance, and the lack of information out there for LGBT elders.

It seems that whether we are just beginning our life journey or are close to our retiring ages that LGBT youth and elders face a lot of similar struggles. It seems like a really unfair system that is changing slowly over time. I think this goes to show that we must be engaged in activism towards all ages in the lifespan, because whether young, middle-aged, or old, we face some of the same struggles in a unique fashion.

1 comment:

shrink on the couch said...

You make a very good point here. There is a lot of alienation on both ends of the spectrum.

I often think about senior gays who have lived their entire lives with their true sexual identity hidden. I imagine they look around and see the current permissiveness (in the growing number of liberal pockets where gay people live openly) and feel the impulse, the freedom to finally be who they are, on one hand... but the reluctance of facing their families, their livelong friends, on the other. The sadness and loss about being born a few generations too early.

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