Cultural Influences: At the end of my initial blog I mentioned that we would continue exploring optimal aging strategies that would capitalize on our qualities and strengths as LGBT elders. One of those strategies is to examine how our cultural values and experiences have impacted us and continue to affect us.
Internalized ageism: Our culture is addicted to staying young. Age is experienced as a disease, as a failure, as a betrayal of our bodies. Television and magazines are filled with products guaranteed to restore and maintain the beauty, strength, stamina and sexuality of our younger years. Instead of being proud of our age, we are flattered when people tell us we don’t look our age. We gay men are especially prone to internalized ageism. Many younger gay men have negative stereotypes of older gay men and dread their later years.
Internalized homophobia: Our culture is only now beginning to relax its strict rules around variations in sexual expression and gender identity and that relaxed attitude is still not yet universally accepted. Most of us who are older suffered from judgment, discrimination, intimidation and harassment for most of our lifetime. It was difficult to avoid the impact of the homophobia that engulfed us. Our sense of self-worth suffered. Many of us jeopardized our health by drinking too much, experimenting with drugs, or engaging in unsafe sexual behaviors. We may also have tolerated unhealthy relationships out of low self-esteem or accepted limited career choices out of fear of rejection or even worse consequences.
The good news: The research that is being done on older LGBT adults confirms the negative impact on us of a lifetime of avoiding or combatting our culture’s rampant homophobia. We continue to be vigilant and cautious in letting others know us fully. However there is some good news for us as we age. The research is also finding that the strengths and adaptive strategies that we survivors engaged to tolerate such stress have resulted in an increased capacity for handling the difficult challenges of aging! We are able to respond to crises and adjust to change with greater resilience! This is great news as it means that our past challenges have made us stronger and more likely to adjust to whatever changes lay ahead.
In my next blog, “Reweaving Our Life Tapestry,” we will look at how life review and “life repair” can be a strategy for discovering our strengths and freeing ourselves from lingering resentments and regrets.
Buz Hermes is co-facilitator of the Sonoma Valley LGBT Seniors Group and a former staff member of Spectrum’s Senior Outreach Program. He is currently offering 8-week “Aging Together With Pride” workshops sponsored by Adult and Aging Services for LGBT seniors. He can be reached at GaryDHermes@comcast.net or (707) 227-6935