The lost years for LGBT seniors

In the New Yorker‘s 3/8/21 issue, “Tallying the lost years for L.G.B.T. seniors: An art exhibition at a Brooklyn retirement home features twelve of the country’s three million L.G.B.T. elders, many of whom fear having to go back into the closet when they enter senior housing” by Michael Schulman on 3/1/21, which begins under this spot illustration (aka spot) by illustrator John Hersey:


To see Pearl [who’s T] in all her glory, you have to make an appointment at the Watermark, a new “luxury senior community” in Brooklyn Heights. You enter a lobby with a grand piano, get a thermal scan, then emerge onto a mezzanine. You scan a QR code on the wall and download an augmented-reality app. Pearl’s photo hangs to the right: drawn-on eyebrows, hand over mouth, delighted eyes. If you hold up your phone, the portrait comes to life on the app, and you can watch Pearl tell the story of how she became herself. If this level of technology eludes you — maybe, like Pearl, you’re seventy — you can use a pair of headphones connected to an iPad.

[Digression on “L.G.B.T.”: in my 5/11/15 posting “Confessions of a Comma Queen”, there’s a section on the periodophilia / periodiphilia of the New York Times (which the New Yorker shares): an insistence on always abbreviating with periods, even when this is against the practice of the relevant institutions and organizations themselves; I suspect that “L.G.B.T.” is to be found almost entirely in the pages of these two publications, but in any case it’s bizarre and obtrusive.]

A different photo of Pearl:


Schulman’s New Yorker piece continues:

There are some three million L.G.B.T. seniors in the United States; twelve of them are represented in “Not Another Second,” the residence’s inaugural exhibition. Many carry the burdens of less accepting times, before Stonewall or gay marriage or “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Their numbers are diminished from AIDS, and thirty-four per cent of them fear having to go back into the closet when seeking senior housing. Watermark, a national chain, is trying to change that, by pursuing a platinum accreditation from SAGE, an organization that serves L.G.B.T. elders. (SAGE avoids the “Q,” for “queer,” because it still sounds pejorative to many of its members.)

For “Not Another Second,” the subjects were photographed by Karsten Thormaehlen.

… In “Not Another Second,” the participants each tabulate their “years lost,” before they began living as their authentic selves. Pearl’s number is fifty.

Ray Cunningham, eighty-three, and Richard Prescott, seventy-nine, were photographed together [two Gs]. Both served in the Navy in the fifties. One of Cunningham’s duties was to file paperwork for “undesirable” discharges, including homosexuals. “I realized that I could be in their boat — excuse the pun,” he said. “It hurt, to the point where I went into the Navy with the idea of having a career and retiring in thirty-five years or whatever, and I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t live under those circumstances of always looking over my shoulder.” He left the Navy and moved to San Francisco. He and Prescott were both middle-aged and driving buses when they met, in 1991. “We enjoyed camping. We enjoyed model trains,” Prescott said. They married in 2008, in Palm Springs. Years lost: a combined hundred and fifteen.

… Lujira Cooper [an L], seventy-three, was born in Queens. … “I don’t think I ever came out, because I don’t think I was ever in the closet,” she said. Years lost: zero.

Care facilities. From my 1/11/21 posting “The package”:

All of these issues [about negative attitudes towards sexual activity in old people] are blown up for people, but especially gay men, in care facilities of various kinds — places where gay men are likely to confront hostility and  incomprehension in a number of forms. Such places strike me as nightmares, but my family reassures me that I that I would adapt easily, as I have in the past on being thrown into alien and unwelcoming environments — by altering myself and finding a niche where I would be at least minimally acceptable, by exploiting my amiability and empathy [there is a later digression on an occasion when this expectation failed spectacularly and I fell into a near-catatonic depression]. After a career of quite public intransigence about my sexuality and a life as a highly visible queer, I view the idea that I should just change myself to fit in — time to stop making a spectacle of yourself, you old faggot! — insulting; and I doubt that I’d be willing to do it.

Two things. First, I have asked those who assure me that I would adapt easily whether I could expect a care facility to provide me with the privacy to masturbate regularly, using gay porn videos as sex aids — this has been my sole sexual activity for 20 years now, and I have indulged in it very frequently and with great pleasure — and they routinely say, of course not, it would be too much to expect such special treatment.

Second, when I mention the episode of my deep depression (in 1959), people are likely to discount the gravity of the event, by pointing out that, after all, I recovered from it, and look at me now. In fact, the experience left me permanently scarred, with some crippling inabilities. Consequently, I don’t have a lot of confidence in some endless ability to cope with difficult situations (like the one that triggered that depression, or the difficulties in adjusting to my homosexuality that triggered later, less severe depressions). It all feels like a disaster waiting to happen.

My number. Hard to calculate my years lost. I realized that I was attracted to men when I was just a small child, but I pushed those feelings aside to accommodate to heteronormality (which came with genuine pleasures and rewards), then fell in my 20s into leading an uncomfortable double life sexually. I came out dramatically to most of the world when I was 30, but I suffered agonies about my homosexuality for several years after that, even while I was developing a side career as a public gay activist. By the age of 35, however, I’d come to feel comfortable in my sexual skin, so maybe my number is 35.


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