Aging with HIV: A Gay Man’s Guide offers a ten-step guide to optimal aging. The tenth step is Play. “The ability to play is probably one of the most influential factors in development across the lifespan.” Through play we developed new skills, established friendships, learned to handle defeats and victories, and shaped our growing minds. We can still grow through play as we age: increase our social networks, express creativity, challenge ourselves mentally and physically, and continue to learn new skills.
Well, I decided to take my own advice. I wrote a play. About life, and love and being a survivor. It’s called Survivors and it’s having a staged reading on Monday October 16th at 7pm at the Bernie Wohl Center in Manhattan. This has been a learning process for me and the reading is an opportunity to learn more by presenting the work in front of an audience. If you’d like to join in the fun go to the eventbrite page.
The Day DOMA Went Down
The night of the SCOTUS rulings on DOMA and Prop 8, my husband and I celebrated with dinner at Brooklyn Fish Camp, the restaurant we stumbled giddily into after filing for domestic partnership in 2007. (We subsequently married in San Francisco during the window period of 2008.) Announcing our federally married bliss we struck up a conversation with other diners seated at the bar. As a straight couple quietly exited our waitress told us that they had paid our bill. We caught them and had a nearly wordless exchange, the two of us trying to express our gratitude while she with tears in her eyes conveyed her deep understanding of the day’s significance. Stunned by their generosity we neglected to ask their names. For two middle-aged gay men so accustomed to defending the legitimacy of our love, the evening confirmed that we will need time to adapt to the realities of acceptance.
A Momentous Day
Today the United States Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) paving the way for gay marriage. I am exhilarated and so deeply moved that it will take me some time to process the significance of this event. I would like to write a few immediate thoughts as I take in the ramifications of this day.
On a national level the ruling raises the concerns of LGBT people to their rightful place in the discourse on human rights. And, on a very personal level, it means that my marriage is now federally recognized.
Yet, there is so much more.
I am deeply grateful to Edith Windsor. In fighting for her rights as a married woman, she took up a cause that will have implications for all of us. I applaud all the activists who participated in this case and who are fighting for LGBT rights in so many other battles. There are too many people who continue to experience the pain of abuse and oppression.
When I heard the news my mind went immediately to my lover who died of AIDS in 1991. He participated in changing his world for the better and I think he would have been so proud to know how far we have come. There is a long history of activism in our community that has led to this event, and I want to honor those who came before and are not here to reap the rewards.
In my psychotherapy practice I often have to help people through feelings of sadness that accompany a joyful event. They wonder why they should be crying when they are so happy. I let them know that it is normal to feel grief when we get what we want. We are encountering the feelings of loss that have been kept at bay when we couldn’t have what we were longing for.
As with any change, including changes for the better, there will be a period of adjustment. For many of us this ruling will create shifts in how we relate to ourselves and others. We must reexamine the walls that we created to protect ourselves from the homophobia of our pasts. We might find that defenses that were necessary at the time may no longer serve us. As someone I spoke with today said so eloquently, “I need to learn how to be accepted.”
I feel such love for my husband. I have to wonder whether the lack of recognition of our marriage might have affected the quality of our relationship and how this judgment could offer us an opportunity to deepen the commitment we have to one another.
I’m glad to be alive on this momentous day, to learn and grow. Lets keep the conversation going and help each other adapt to the changes ahead.
The AHA Project (Action for HIV and Aging)
When a woman with HIV realizes that she’s lived longer than she ever expected and begins to rebuild her life, that’s an aha moment.
When a doctor and patient sort through the complexities of HIV, the medications used to treat the virus, and the realities of aging to identify an effective treatment, that’s an aha moment.
When a group of gay men acknowledge how the AIDS epidemic has impacted every aspect of their lives and start the healing process together, that’s an aha moment.
When a politician recognizes that AIDS is not over and funds programing to meet the challenges of HIV and aging, that’s an aha moment.
In the past two years since the release of Aging with HIV I’ve met many amazing men and women who are living with HIV longer than they ever expected. Throughout the country we’ve created conversations that have expanded our understanding of aging with HIV. Together we’ve exchanged information, shared experiences, processed feelings and built communities. It’s been a real learning experience filled with aha moments.
That’s why I’ve decided to start the AHA Project (Action for HIV and Aging) to facilitate discussions that empower people to define for themselves what it means to optimally age with HIV.
In the coming weeks agingwithhiv.wordpress.com will become ahaproject.org. I appreciate your patience as I develop the site to reflect its developing mission.
It has been an exciting year since the publication of Aging with HIV: A gay man’s guide. I have met a lot of great people around the country and overseas who are keeping conversations going about the challenges of aging and how people living with HIV can define optimal aging for themselves.
There have been many developments in the field: SAGE developed a policy paper on Aging with HIV; There was an historic White House meeting on HIV and aging; Interesting findings were discussed at the Baltimore Conference on HIV and Aging, the SAGE constituent conference and the 2nd Annual Conference on HIV and Aging in Austin; The HIV and Aging Group built community on Facebook; The National LGBT Aging Resource Center was created; Clinical Guidelines for Medical Management of HIV and Aging were released; and Caring and Aging with Pride published its report on LGBT Aging in the United States.
Aging with HIV was discussed in print and on the web: I talked with Mark S. King on MyFabulousDisease.com; The Philadelphia Gay News; The New York Times; Edge Magazine; And, the book was reviewed in The Bay Area Reporter, Lambda Literary Review, and The Gerontologist. And, I’m looking forward to the publication of an interview with Neal Broverman in next month’s Advocate.
It’s been quite a year!
I am looking forward to keeping you posted on new developments in the field. Aging with HIV is an expanding field. I am hoping that readers continue to share insights, information, and personal stories with me, so that I can pass them on to the community and keep the conversation going in 2012.
Hide/Seek at the Brooklyn Museum
I don’t think I could have been more proud of my cultural history as a gay man than I was last Saturday on Queer night at the Brooklyn Museum.
What could be more empowering than to dance to Sylvester’s “You Make Me Feel,” with hundred’s of LGBTQ people of diverse ages, ethnic, and racial backgrounds surrounded by priceless works of art in one of the oldest and largest art institutions in the United States?
The evening was to celebrate the ongoing Hide/Seek exhibit, and I knew it was going to be special as I entered the building. The museum, which I have been going to since I was a child, seemed transformed by the energy of the crowd. People were milling about, laughing and expressing affection with ease. There were two venues for music, live and DJ. And, although I usually hate standing in line, I waited patiently to enter the exhibition, feeling like I was part of something monumental that night.
HIDE/SEEK: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture is billed as “The first major museum exhibition to focus on themes of gender and sexuality in modern American portraiture.” It was originally exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution, National Portrait Gallery with some controversy and will be on display at the Brooklyn Museum until February 12, 2012.
The exhibit documents the contributions of LGBT artists from the 19th century to the contemporary era. It was a lesson in art history, and I learned not only about the impact of LGBT artists, but that many famous works were created by artists that I never knew were gay. The works included in the exhibit tell us the story of gay life through the eyes of great artists of their day. For example, I was struck by the soulful expression in “Arnold Comes of Age,” Grant Wood’s self-portrait (the painter of American Gothic). He shows us how difficult it is to be a gay man in Middle America in 1930. A walk through the exhibit documents the pain and suffering, joy and daring these great gay and lesbian artists endured through their work. As the exhibit moved into the contemporary era, the impact of AIDS and works of current artists, I was able to reflect on my own life as a gay man, and could see how my experiences fell into a context of gay liberation and identity formation documented in art.
And, later, on the dance floor I felt deep gratitude for all the LGBT artists, activists, and people from all walks of life, who through their work and existance helped create a world where I could hold my husband’s hand at the Brooklyn Museum and feel proud of being gay.
To find out more about the exhibit go the the Brooklyn Museum.
Caring and Aging with Pride
Caring and Aging with Pride, the first national federally-funded project to examine LGBT aging and health, recently released a report of its findings. The study included a national community-based survey of over 2,500 LGBT older adults from diverse walks of life. This research provides a “historic new window into the health and lives of LGBT elders in America.”
The report is comprehensive and examines several areas of older people’s lives, including: Physical health, mental health, healthcare access, health behaviors, services/programs, HIV disease, and caregiving. From their intensive research this group of recognized scholars conclude that LGBT older adults are a “resilient yet at risk population.”
Some key findings illustrate the complex reality of LGBT aging in America. In the 88-page report a few statistics were particularly disturbing to me. Respondents reported high rates of loneliness, disability and depression, and fewer social supports than found in the general, non-LGBT aging population. Most had been victimized at some point in their lives, and many had been victimized multiple times, because of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The participants reported significant barriers to accessing health care, including discrimination, receiving inferior care, and inadequate care from providers who they can not “come out” to or who are insensitive to LGBT issues.
Yet, there were findings in the report that point out the strengths of LGBT older adults. Many were involved in their communities and engaged in wellness, as well as physical activities. They were contributing members of their communities and have distinct networks of support consisting of peers, partners and friends. And, a large majority feel positive about belonging to the LGBT community.
The report concludes with a strong call to action that addresses steps we can all take in the areas of policy, services, education, and research.
I am excited and encouraged by the breadth and quality of this research. This project represents a significant step in addressing the needs of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender older adults. The findings will help researchers, policy makers and service providers, like myself, do our jobs more effectively.
I encourage you to go to the Caring and Aging with Pride website to read the full report or to view the brief Executive Summary.
Gay Marriage Victory Still Shadowed by AIDS: New York Times
In today’s New York Times Austin Considine writes about gay marriage and the bittersweet victory it represents for men in midlife who have lost loved ones to the AIDS epidemic. Considine interviewed several gay men who share their feelings about this previously unimaginable day in New York history. There is happiness and rejoicing, but also sadness and grief. I talked with Considine about my experience and how even successes can trigger old feelings of loss. I think that many gay men will relate to these men and find support in their stories.
National Resource Center on LGBT Aging
The National Resource Center on LGBT aging has updated its HIV and Aging pages. Click here for a link to my article and browse the site for other articles and resources throughout the country.
On Gay Marriage in New York State
On June 24th the New York State legislature passed a bill legalizing marriage for same sex couples. This was a momentous occasion for New Yorkers, of which I am one. The gay pride parade, held the next day, was the largest attended in its history, and everyone I spoke to agreed that the tone of the day was exuberant throughout.
On the day of the event, my mind took me back to another human rights advance in the City’s history – the passage of New York City’s gay and lesbian rights bill in 1986. The law protected gay and lesbian New Yorkers from discrimination for the first time in the city’s history.
I was a 19-year-old student at NYU. Our gay and lesbian student union was very involved in the issue. I remember we had been at an event the day before and stayed up late that night making posters for people attending the vote. The next morning, I was assigned to “person” the phone in the office. When I arrived I found that our officers had spent the night. So, I made them coffee and sent them on their way. I got the usual calls during the day – students asking about our programs or wanting to talk to someone about coming out. And, then I got the call: “We won!” It was so exciting. Even though I was in the office, I felt as though I was part of something really big. And, later that day the New York Times had a photo of the students from the NYU gay and lesbian union on the front cover of the paper.
I remember my parents talking about where they were when Kennedy was shot and what they were doing during other major events of their youth. For me, the passage of the NYC gay and lesbian rights bill was that event. I saw, first hand, the power of activism. My rights, and the rights of people like me mattered. And, it changed me. I felt a little prouder.
Yes, the passage of the same sex marriage bill in New York State is an important human rights victory. LGBT people deserve full equality under the law. The right to marry is an integral step in the promotion of equal rights for all.
But, it is also something more. It is a message to LGBT people everywhere that we matter. That the fight against homophobia in society, and the struggle that many of us must continue against the homophobia internalized within ourselves, is a worthy battle. Each step we take, whether it is a victory or a set-back, reminds us that we are worth fighting for.
People wished me “Happy Pride” all that week. And, I feel it. I am a little bit prouder, now.