Nov 302016
 

Facebook user Jicama Fine posted a wise open letter to young queers this week and you need to read it no matter how old you are. His breathtaking history lesson will inspire you as our community works our way through the grief spawned by Donald Trump‘s election.

Letter to my Queer community

I would like to speak to my younger Queer community. Those of you who weren’t around during the darkest times of the AIDS plague. Some of you call me elder. It’s a title I often want to run from. It scares me. Most often because I will have to live up to any advice I give you.

Since the outcome of the election I’ve been in a dark place. I’m scared, I’m reduced to tears at times. My hands shake. I want to hide in my house with the doors locked. I’m in pieces. Yet through my own grief and fear I see you. Your faces come to me, some familiar some unknown. I see your pain and fear and they are valid. They are not imaginary. The threat is real. I want to comfort you and tell you things will be alright but I’m not sure of this.

Many of you are estranged or have a tenuous connection with your birth family because you are Queer or HIV positive or because of this last election or other circumstances. Many of you don’t have an elder to turn to. Many of you feel alone.
I’ve been waiting to feel stronger or whole or for when my thoughts are more organised to speak to you but I’m unsure of when that will be. One thing I do have to share with you now is my experience.

I’ve been in this dark place a number of times before. One of those times was during the mid 80s through early 90s. AIDS was decimating our community. Loved ones, friends, strangers and ourselves were suffering and dying from this horrible disease.
I , myself tested positive for HIV in 1985. I cried, I hid, I spun around and around. Effective treatment was still about 9 years away. I thought I had 2 years to live tops. Luckily I had the support of the Queer recovery community and the larger Queer community in Seattle.

The government was doing nothing to stop the spread of AIDS. Some so called Christians were calling for mass internment for people with AIDS, telling us that we should die and go to hell. Even some medical professionals were refusing to touch patients. Families were torn apart and sons and daughters were abandoned, stigmatized and left to die alone.
Our community members were broken physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. We were in pieces.
We started taking care of ourselves and each other. We didn’t have time to wait to feel better or get ourselves together. We took care of each other the best we could. We used the skills we had. We built community using the broken pieces of ourselves. Many new skills were learned by doing. We made mistakes, we cried, we grieved, we buried our loved ones, we kept going somehow.

I had an elder who would often say ” Do the next obvious thing”, I had just gotten my massage license in 1985 and decided to use this to help. I started massaging one or two patients in my home once a week and eventually joined the massage team that went into Seattle hospitals and hospice to comfort the sick and dying. I massaged emaciated bodies sometimes covered with KS lesions. I did things I didn’t think I was capable of doing. My fingers still hold the vivid memory of what that feels like. Sometimes these people were loved ones but often they were strangers. Some had no birth family support others did. There were mothers and fathers and siblings that took care of their loved ones amid the fear and stigma. Some died alone. We tried to catch the ones falling through the cracks. We often failed.

From this basis of love and care organisations sprung up. We washed dishes, cleaned houses, wiped asses, made food and fed each other. We organised protests and actions to bring attention to the lack of government response. Real people of faith came forward and helped. Some of us ran for political office.
I tell you these things not because I want to be called hero or feed my ego but to give you the benefit of my experience. Many others did a lot more than I did in the face of greater fear. I went to the hospital to comfort a dying friend and instead he was the one comforting me. He died clean and sober and faced his death with grace. He was a hero.
I cannot talk about these times without acknowledging the women that came forward to help. They were the backbone of this movement. A lot of us men were broken and sick . Many times I fell into the arms of women who were there doing the work. They held me up literally at times. We came together from different gender identities, color and economic background.

Though the circumstances are different today I see many similarities. Hate is hate and fear is fear. Hate is a powerful dark spell fed by more hate. Try not to feed it. This thing called courage is not something I carry around with me that I can give. Real courage comes from within oneself at the time it is needed. It doesn’t come with flags waving and trumpets blaring that is something else. It often comes with tears and shaking and the urge to run and hide. Courage isn’t the absence of fear.

I see you, the younger members of my communities and I am given hope. You are bright, strong, energetic and loving. I am honored by your presence in my life. I see the work you do and the risks you take and I am humbled. I have often looked at you and have seen the faces of Queer ancestors I have known. Your Queer ancestors are with you in Spirit and also in more tangible ways. They survive in the rights and organizations we benefit from today.

This is a stressful time. The pull of addictions is strong. If you need help, get it. It is there. I love you. We need you. Mend your broken fences, We need everyone. Take good care of yourself and others, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Strengthen those bonds. The work will present itself if we are ready. If you are feeling down look around you. There is always someone else hurting more than you, Reach out to them.

Other communities are under attack. I cannot speak for them. I can only tell my story. You can find their stories elsewhere.

I offer you these words and the broken pieces of myself. It’s all I have

Nov 282016
 

Loren A Olson MD  73-year-old semi-retired, gay psychiatrist. Author of “Finally Out”, http://www.lorenaolson.com

Click on the name and you will find more interesting articles

Gay and bisexual men seek mental health care more frequently than heterosexual men but are more likely to have attempted and succeeded at suicide.

Suicide in the United States has surged to its highest level in nearly thirty years. Although this rise was particularly steep for women, it increased substantially for all middle-aged Americans, a group whose suicide rate has been stable or falling since the 1950s.

The majority of gay/bi men maintain good mental health, but compared to other men they are at greater risk for mental health problems. One group of researchers found that 12% of urban gay and bisexual men have attempted suicide, a rate three times higher than the overall rate for American men. Almost half reported multiple attempts.

One common theme underlies most successful suicides: a sense of hopelessness.

Some psychiatrists have described predicament suicide, circumstances from which a person cannot find an acceptable escape such as financial loss or forced marriages. A decision to come out in midlife might represent such a predicament; older men may feel they are sacrificing everything they once valued and feeling there is no one with whom they can speak about it.

Dr. Whitney Carlson, a Seattle based geriatric psychiatrist says, “Some individuals decide this is as far as they want the road to take them. Many of them are completely rationale and accurate in their assessment of their situations. If they are lucky, they will cross paths with someone who can offer hope. For some, this does not represent depression but perhaps, rational choice.”

Most research on suicide has been done on youth with an increasing emphasis in recent years on bullying, but very little research has explored gay, middle-aged men and suicide.

Several things account for mental health issues for older gay men:
• Homophobia, stigma and discrimination
• Social isolation
• Lack of trust in healthcare providers
• Lower income
• Alcoholism and illegal drug use
• HIV

One study found that the age of serious suicide attempts by gay/bi men coincided with major coming out milestones. At whatever age a person first begins to seriously question their sexual orientation, that conflict has been implicated in the lead up to the suicide attempt. When coming out milestones are reached at a later age, the first suicide attempt for gay/bi/questioning men occurred at an older age.

Most gay and bi men can cope successfully if they have access to the right resources. Therapists who are knowledgeable and affirming provide helpful therapeutic experiences, while counseling from therapists who focus on changing sexual orientation or encourage hiding it are unhelpful and sometimes damaging. People who seek counseling from religious advisors who considered homosexuality sinful have a higher risk of suicide risk than those who counsel with affirming religious groups.

A recent study found that strict conformity to masculine norms had implications for negative mental health outcomes, including depression, anxiety, substance abuse and poor body image. The three characteristics most closely associated with poor outcomes were self-reliance, power over women and sexual promiscuity. Boys are taught to be self-reliant by gender police who continuously remind them to take it like a man when they transgress from this norm. For gay men, this is often accompanied by a sense of shame: I am bad therefore I don’t deserve help.

A consistent correlation exists between race and socioeconomic factors. Those from a racial minority or living in poverty have poorer outcomes and higher risks of successful suicide.

Many of the challenges that lead gay/bi/questioning men to consider suicide are not immutable. As more and more people have come out in recent years, social attitudes toward homosexuality have changed albeit with significant backlash. One of the most necessary changes is to deconstruct the requirement for self-reliance and reconstruct a new sense of masculinity.

Coming out is not an event but a process. Not everyone has to come out to every person in every circumstance. Having a supportive group of family and friends is very important. When families are not accepting, developing a “family of choice” may be essential. The Internet has helped men isolated in rural areas or cultures with strong prohibitions against homosexuality, and it allows for an anonymous discussion of questions concerning sexuality.

Medications may be indicated particularly if there is significant insomnia or a failure to function in most areas of one’s life. Counseling may be helpful, but choose carefully. A good therapist will not impose their values on their counselees. Care-seekers are often intimidated by their perception of an imbalance of power in the counseling relationship, but you have a right to interview the therapist about their attitudes and training before making a commitment to therapy.

For those struggling with conflicts about sexual orientation, reach out to someone who can offer hope.

Nov 252016
 

With a little planning, your later years can be absolutely amazing.

by Peter Field is a UK registered psychotherapist

The gay world, with its emphasis on youthful good looks and hip fashion trends can be a cold and unwelcoming place for those who are no longer young.

For many, aging is a frightening concept, something to be denied, fought against and held at bay for as long as possible. Botox, collagen injections and cosmetic surgery, our obsession with youth seems to know no bounds.

In so many ways, being old and gay is one big taboo subject, a topic to be shunned and avoided at all costs. But age, like the future, cannot be avoided; like it or not, it is something that will come all too soon.

Research is really only beginning to uncover what it means to be older and LGBT. Because many older LGBT people felt unable to be open about their sexual orientation, gender identity, and preferences earlier in life, some may experience even greater difficulty adjusting as they continue to age.

Rutgers University professor, Dr. Michael C. LaSala, believes that aging may be particularly difficult for gay men because historically gay culture has focused on youth and beauty, and as sexual attractiveness diminishes, so can self-esteem.

To free ourselves and develop a robust and lasting sense of self-worth as we age may mean going against the current of many present-day gay attitudes.

Aging can be especially difficult if we are overly dependent on one aspect or dimension of our self, but when we remember that there is much more to us, and that we have far more value than mere physical beauty, then growing older can be better accepted and handled with dignity.

In 2010, the UK organization Stonewall conducted a survey of LGBT people over the age of fifty-five. The data, intended to assist in planning for long-term housing and medical support for the aging LGBT population, revealed that older gay and lesbian people are more likely to be single and to be living alone than their straight counterparts.

LGBT people are less likely to have children and they tend to see their conventional families less often. This is sometimes due to the family’s rejection. People who came out later in life, or not at all, also have less time to build up lasting relationships within the LGBT community.

In many other ways, aging LGBT people share the same concerns as others involved in the aging process. We may have concerns about finances, health, and death. Some of the health needs and concerns of LGBT people are unique and require further study, but many are not.

Gielgud, pictured with co-stars Dudley Moore (left) and Liza Minnelli (right), won the Best Supporting Actor award in 1982 for “Arthur.” He is generally considered the first openly gay actor to win an Oscar, though he rarely discussed it openly.

As we age, it is important that we learn to assert our rights in terms of the kind of care we receive.

Unfortunately, homophobia continues to be an issue for older adults. Not every doctor, social worker, senior community or gerontological physician is knowledgeable or prepared for LGBT seniors. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or to assert your rights in order to help educate these health care professionals. If necessary, shop around to find the right doctor and the right community for you. They are out there, and they can be found.

If all of this makes you feel blue about your golden years, don’t be! Remember that you have control over many things, and this includes a huge part of your own happiness. With a little planning and determination, your later years can be absolutely amazing.

Many older LGBT people manage to find wonderful, long-lasting relationships, even in later years. The same rules that apply to youthful relationships apply to relationships in later life. As long as each partner is loving and supportive, the relationship can be healthy, regardless of age.

One U.S. not-for-profit association that offers support to the mature gay person is SAGE, the country’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of older LGBT people. SAGE offers numerous services to gay people nationwide, and their website gives much useful information. The address is www.sageusa.org.

In the UK, Age Concern is a not-for-profit organization that does much to support and improve the lives of older LGBT people. Simply type “ageconcern.lgbt” into the address bar and click on the link.

In the coming years, the LGBT community will continue to increase in visibility and in power. As society changes and becomes more open and accepting, it is likely that life for aging LGBT people will change for the better as well. But this will not happen until gay people themselves end the taboo on becoming old.

As long as we maintain a dismissive attitude to older gay people, we will continue to fear the aging process, and we will continue to make those uncomfortable beds upon which we ourselves will one day have to lie.

If our lives are to have any meaning beyond the pleasure principle, any real relevance and authenticity, then we need to end our denial and come to terms with the aging process, of what it is to be gay and older.

It really is time to break the taboo about being gay and old.

“Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength.” – Betty Friedan

Peter Field is a UK registered psychotherapist and Director of Rainbow Champions, assertive life-skills and confident communication training for LGBT persons. His book ‘How to Be Gay and Happy’ is now available on Amazon. Peter’s hypnotherapy Birmingham and London clinics provide hypno-psychotherapy services for a wide range of issues.

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