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As we age


Boston Guy
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A dear friend has begun to decline. At 70, he is still young, too young in my eyes to be thinking already of a final shore.

 

Although he is not rich, he does not lack for money and will not lose his home in the time he seems to have left. He has medical coverage and will receive proper care as he needs it.

 

And while he has many friends, he is still alone. He is not now in a relationship and hasn't been for many years. His memory for what happened five minutes ago is less certain than it once was, but he clearly remembers events of 20 years ago, more clearly than I do and I think more clearly than he once did, too.

 

He is an intelligent man and an educated one. He has devoted his life to thinking and teaching. And he is aware of what is happening to him and I think he is afraid, although he has not said so.

 

Where once he had a sparkling wit and could easily lead the conversation at any dinner, he now is somewhat slow and hesitant to join in. He has gone from active professional to old man in a very short time.

 

Watching this happen, I've begun to think more about what happens to gay men as we age. We do not have children and grandchildren who feel a responsibility to take care of us and it seems that many of my older friends may well enter old age alone rather than in relationships.

 

Fortunately, many of us are now living longer, healthier, happier lives. But I can't help but wonder if older gay men are more likely to be alone or lonely than older straight people. Are older gay men more in need of support? And if so, what kind of support?

 

I'm not thinking so much of my friend here. He has enough people around him that I think he will be ok. Instead, I find myself wondering if he is one of the lucky ones and if there are many others who are old and more alone because they are gay than they might otherwise be.

 

I know that I am not even beginning to understand the myriad difficulties that must be facing guys who have gotten older, retired, may be trying to live on a fixed income and are at the wrong end of the age spectrum in a community that seems to place so much value on being 21, tanned and buff.

 

And I wonder what we as members of the gay community can do about it, singly or collectively, and what we might want to do for ourselves, in our own lives, to perhaps help minimize the chance of one day being old, alone and lonely.

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Guest JustANametoPlay

Boston I have often thought of the same thing. On a postive note, there is something changing about one of your comments. More and more gay men are adopting so there are children and grandchildren on the way (not that that is a reason to do it!).

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Guest blankman

I'm in my 30s and hope that is neither young nor old. But old people seem drawn to me for some reason and I've always felt older than my chronological age.

 

Once on a train I ended up in a conversation with a man who was about 90 years old, believe it or not. It was absolutely fascinating to talk with him, even though the whole time I was squirming, thinking, "Is this ancient man hitting on me?" When I got home, I told myself I should invite him to dinner and get to know him better. But I didn't. I was busy. I had a new relationship. No time. I later found out that he and his (late) lover had been at one time extremely prominent members of the gay community in my city. I could have learned a lot from him.

 

An old lady who lived down the hall from me always wanted to talk with me when I ran into her by the elevator. She invited me into her apartment several times. Once we had tea. She had never married. Maybe she was a lesbian. Who knew? I always felt awkward. She walked with a walker and was blind in one eye. What could I have in common with her? Then one day I left for work, and the police were outside her door. She had died alone. I felt crushed. I read in her obituary that she had some hobbies in common with me. I never knew -- we could have been great friends.

 

An old man lived across the hall from me. He was elderly and unmarried, an artist. Gay? I never really knew. I was afraid of him, even though he was a fixture in the building and had lived there for as long as anyone could remember, and everyone liked him. I moved out of the building and later saw new curtains in his window. He had died and I never got to know him.

 

Young people live fast, busy lives. I'm sorry I didn't slow down enough to make these three people my friends. I'm not sure why I hesitated so much. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has felt like this.

 

I suspect a lot of young people today did not have any meaningful relationships with their grandparents. Geography and family disunion seem to separate people from their extended families in ways which were not as pronounced as before. I only knew two grandparents, and they were phantom figures who inhabited the weird far-off world of retirement Florida where they actually played big band music on the radio.

 

I'm not going to give a prescription for how to live or think, just wanted to share.

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Guest Joey Ciccone

>On a postive note.....More and more gay men are adopting so there are children and grandchildren on the way (not that that is a reason to do it!)<

 

If all the gay men who are currently aging alone had BEEN ABLE to adopt thirty and forty years ago, they'd be surrounded by loved ones now. Our culture has been in a state of suck for so long, it's almost impossible to think of a bright future for any of us. But it's coming. It has to.

 

>..and are at the wrong end of the age spectrum in a community that seems to place so much value on being 21, tanned and buff<

 

If we could just stop being aroused by tanned and buff twenty one year olds. I suggest a push towards being aroused by guys closer to forty. Guys like me. Although not overly tanned (at my age, I've started avoiding prolonged direct sunlight), I'm am still fairly buff.

 

Just kidding Boston. It's good your friend is not alone, and good that you care. Thanks for the warm and provocative post. I hope it gets lots of answers - jc -

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Boston Guy

 

You’ve raised a very provocative question that I’ve been wrestling with for a long time. It’s a major issue for many if not most gay men.

 

I see two distinct phases in the aging process:

 

1) The time between retirement and major disability:

 

Many gay men derive a large part of their self esteem from their professions. Our careers let us connect with mainstream society. And professional excellence is usually rewarded without regard to a person’s sexual orientation.

 

So, our first major adjustment comes when it’s time retire.

 

If money permits, this is the time to travel, cultivate interesting hobbies, cement relationship with our siblings and their children and get involved with volunteer organizations. Fortunately, non-sexual companionship is relatively easy to find at this stage. Many gay travel agencies cater specifically to older men. I’ve met some wonderful people through the tours I’ve taken with Hanns Ebensten Travel, for example. And one of my best friends volunteers as a computer consultant to social agencies that serve the gay community.

 

2) The time between major disability and “the final shore”:

 

This is where things can get really difficult. As I mentioned in another thread yesterday, Chris, my long-term BF, will be 75 later this month. He is severely troubled with arthritis and back pain and has failing vision – but, thankfully, is still very sharp mentally.

 

Yet, I think Chris would already find it difficult to live alone – especially in a house that requires the usual maintenance. If I were not here, he most probably would be forced to move into a retirement home where he undoubtedly be very miserable and lonely.

 

Of course, I will not be so lucky when my turn comes (I’m currently 62). My options? If the stock market recovers maybe I’ll be able to afford a live-in companion (a young Asian houseboy would be wonderful). Otherwise, I pray that the end comes quickly and suddenly.

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I want to take this in another direction. Has you friend gone to a doctor? Memory loss at any age usually has some physical

cause. 70 is too young to give up. He may have suffered a series of small strokes. A doctor may not be able to help, but

he should seek the best medical care possible just in case.

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Guest tino5500

As a side note... I hope that when I am 90 years old I will be putting the moves on some youngster on a train somewhere!

 

As gay men, I think we owe it to ourselves to give something positive to older gay people. You can, however, get a response you don't expect: There is a man, probably 80 years old, who lives in my building -- a very interesting man who grew up in South America under repressive and dangerous conditions, and lived to tell the story. After he initiated several conversations with me, I suggested that we have dinner sometime. He looked at me, bug-eyed with disapproval, and reminded me sternly that he lives with someone. "I'm not really available in that way." At age 80! This man is my hero.

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there are just beginning to be gay retirement communities and senior living housing (imagine being on the personal hiring committee). as baby boomers age, they will often have the resources to afford this and as many are "out" they do not mind being known as gay; many men in their late 70's and 80's today are going back into the closet in order to fit into most of today's senior living communities.

 

i would expect to see major changes in this reguard in the next 10 to 15 years. even if not sexually active, the companionship and feelings of belonging to a "family" will help ease the feelings of being alone that previous posts described.

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Guest LG320126

Boston, being a married and closeted 52yo who has only entered these waters in the past couple of years, I do not have the answers to your questions. Maybe I am very lucky to be able to enjoy both worlds, knowing fully well that I have a wife and 2 grown children to help me when the days of needing help arrive.

 

What I want to say here is that in the last 2 days, there have been some wonderful posts (yours being one of them) mainly by older guys (clients) that brings a peaceful calm to the current bickering going on with some of the hot, young, buff studs (escorts) that are too much into themselves instead of their fellow men. They can learn a lot from all of us if they will just take the time to listen and I realize that some of the classier ones do.

 

Thank you for sharing this story.

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Guest blankman

That's great! I think he might be my hero too if I knew him.

 

It's so easy to assume that people who are old or are unpartnered are somehow pathetic. But I suspect that their inner lives are often as rich and rewarding as anyone else's.

 

"Internal Difference -- where the Meanings Are"

 

Thanks for the reminder and antidote to my bummer of a post!

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Blankman -

 

I didn't think that your post was a bummer at all. I think you very effectively portrayed something we've all fallen victim to -- I know I have.

 

It's a pity our culture has lost the great respect it used to have for older folks and a pity some of us don't have more room for them in our lives. Some cultures still hold older people in high regard and I think they are richer for doing so.

 

Thanks for posting.

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> But I can't help

>but wonder if older gay

>men are more likely to

>be alone or lonely than

>older straight people. Are

>older gay men more in

>need of support? And

>if so, what kind of

>support?

 

If you change all of the pronouns, you could be talking about a very good family friend who died in 1997. She was 84 years old. She married late and was widowed shortly thereafter. Her brother -- and only sibling -- died when he was 17. She had some cousins who she was very close too, but they were scattered around the country like dust in the wind and had their own lives and families to attend to. (To their credit, they were there on very short notice whenever she needed them.)

 

Fortunately, she also many close friends and the means to afford a fairly comfortable retirement. Sadly, a series of strokes left her legally blind and deprived her of two of her greatest joys -- reading (she always said that books on tape weren't quite the same) and going to the theater.She eventually had to go into a nursing home. It was a very nice facility, but she still was forced to depend on the kindness of others.

 

 

>And I wonder what we as

>members of the gay community

>can do about it, singly

>or collectively, and what we

>might want to do for

>ourselves, in our own lives,

>to perhaps help minimize the

>chance of one day being

>old, alone and lonely.

 

This is my biggest fear. I'm very close to my family and I have several lifelong friends that are close enough to be considered family. That being said, they all have their own lives and families and we're all growing old together. Still there are days when the caller id doesn't show any recognizable phone numbers and when there are no messages left on my machine. I know that the telephone works two ways and I sometimes find myself communicating via e-mail (it's sometimes much too convenient) instead of picking up the phone. I admit that I spend way too much time online.

 

I guess what I'm trying to say is, don't ignore the people around you. Go to the theater. Invite each other to dinner and to brunch. I have dinner every couple of Fridays with some other singles from work. (They're all straight, but you'd be surprised how much we have in common.) Travel together. (I'm going on a cruise in August. I'm part of a group of 31 people -- most of whom have known each other for over 20 years.) If your a member of a church or synagogue, then make it a point to get to know the people who worship with you. Take time to smell the roses. (Even if, as in my case, that will provoke a severe allergic reaction.) Hopefully, you'll be blessed with good health and you'll minimize the chance of "being old, alone and lonely".

 

Thanks for bringing up this topic.

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Guest tino5500

I didn't think your post was a bummer at all -- it's useful and good to reflect on these things. Maybe someone will read your post and speak to the 90-year-old man on the train!

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You have raised the topic that most of us think about but don't really want to face. As I approach my seventh decade, I am seriously wondering what my options are, with no family and a lover who is older than I am. The opportunities for senior housing and personal care are available for those who are willing to go back into the closet, but only those with a lot more financial assets than I have can afford to live openly as old queens. I sincerely hope that developers will see the market for gay retirement communities for the average middle class person and will start to build them while I can still take advantage of them. I don't know that I will need sex (or maybe even want it) in my 80s and 90s, but I certainly will want a sympathetic environment.

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As one who has done a good bit of community fundraising before, I feel that, while our fundraising groups should never quit making money for AIDS, that we can start concentrating on other subjects. After a couple of years where we will/should try to repay our sisters for their help with AIDS by concentrating on breast cancer, our organizations should concentrate for a while on fundraising for, and just even getting established, organizations which will try to give aging gays the same kinds of benefits we have been trying to give our PWAs for some time. I am proud to say that Houston has seen a start (basically a bare start, but a start) to that kind of dialogue. Han-net, our email trading place for Houston area glbt activitists (mainly political) made it one of their top ten priorities this year. And our MCC is trying to make out its three year plan, having successfully accomplished its first three year plan, and one thing they are definitely trying to decide what to do about is how to help our aging brothers and sisters.

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