As mentioned in an earlier blog, recent studies are showing that we LGBT seniors tend to be more resilient than our non-LGBT peers. In learning to live with the stress of being a stigmatized minority we have increased our capacity for handling the difficult challenges of aging. As the saying goes, our wounds have made us stronger. That resilience may also come in handy as we prepare to face the unknowns of the recent election. What are the qualities of that resilience? Here are some of my ideas:
Humor: One of the first qualities that pops up is that we have learned not only to laugh at ourselves, but we have also perfected the art of “dark humor!” We find ways to release hurt and tension, even in sad or fearful times such as during the AIDS pandemic. Humor can help us cope with the losses and uncertainty of our aging.
Self-Awareness: We tend to be introspective. While many of us as children did not have today’s diverse terminology, we knew at a very young age that we were “different” and that led us on an early path of eagerly discovering our authentic selves and finding unique ways to express our talents … a path that many non-LGBT individuals begin much later in life when traditional cultural expectations have been fulfilled.
Self-Protection: As we were learning what made us different, we also learned how to hide those differences in order to survive an intolerant, even hostile culture. In so doing, we developed a heightened awareness of our environment, an intuitive sense of others and strategies for avoiding uncomfortable or even dangerous situations. This ability to preserve our well-being may help us be pro-active and creative in exploring options when difficult aging challenges arise.
Self-Nurturing: While many of us had to overcome unhealthy behaviors that accompanied our internalized stigma, we have also learned the importance of self-care in coping with stress. Some of us find peace and fulfillment through seeking and expressing beauty while others may nurture themselves by connecting with animals and nature or by serving others or by cultivating gratitude and a positive attitude.
Interdependence: Last but not least, we have developed a “kinship” with each other within the LGBT community. We have demonstrated the power and the value of standing together. By combining our individual strengths with our compassionate caring for each other, we will meet both the challenges of our individual aging and overcome any hurdles that may await us collectively. Now that’s resilience!!!
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 a consultant on LGBT aging and can be reached at [email protected] or (707) 227-6935.