In San Francisco this weekend I attended ArtSpan’s Open Studio tour of artists’ spaces and work in the Castro, Noe Valley, and Mission Districts. I had the opportunity to meet with many of the artists and talk to them about their work. These discussions reaffirmed my belief in the transformative and healing powers of creativity, and the important role that artistic expression has in gay aging and adapting to aging with HIV.
Gay themes were present in many works. There were sculptures, paintings and photography that depicted the beauty of the male form. Some of the work was homoerotic, and I thought of gay men’s reminisces of San Francisco in the 1970’s and 80’s when I saw the open, playful sexuality expressed in these pieces. Some of the artists included political statements about HIV or gay rights in their work. And, others were fun and campy reflections of the gay sensibility. When talking with the artists I learned about their craft and the dedication and commitment it takes to master a form and develop a work to completion.
The qualities found in creativity (playfulness, self-expression, empowerment, and mastery) can be utilized for continued growth in adulthood. When we engage in creative pursuits, as professionals or amateurs, we discover new parts of ourselves, engage with our environment in new ways, and express our unique perspective of the world for others to share. We can use our creativity to re-engage in life, to reconnect with forgotten parts of ourselves, to mourn losses or bridge former views of ourselves and experiences of others into the present. As one artist explained, “The work expresses itself through me. I am not sure what the final product will be until it emerges.”
For many gay men, HIV interrupted the flow of life. Caring for yourself and others, grief and anticipating mortality knocked you off course. In order to get back on track you need to review what you have come from, consider where you are, and determine what to take with you as you move into the future. Creative expressions, like painting, sculpture and photography (or music, dance, writing etc.) can free you up to experience yourself in a new way. If you make the time, you may be inspired by what emerges.
Please feel free to share your creative expressions on aging with HIV here or on the community page.
I am pleased to be presenting a workshop with Dr. Stephen Karpiak at the SAGE National Conference and LGBT Expo, “The Future of Aging Is In Our Hands” in New York City. This session will take place on Saturday November 13th at 10:45-12:15pm in the CUNY Graduate Center, room # 9204. The conference theme is “Empowerment” and will be organized by and for the LGBT aging community. Scholarships are available. For more information about the conference and how to register for our workshop go to the SAGE website.
Here is the workshop description:
By 2015 half of all people living with HIV will be over age 50 in the US. Effective antiretroviral treatment has transformed HIV into a chronic illness, where a longer life span is achieved. But the aging process for this population is often characterized by the early onset of chronic age-related conditions. Often a 55-65 year old with HIV has the clinical profile of a 75-85 year old.
A lead researcher on HIV and Aging, Dr. Stephen Karpiak, will provide an up to date assessment of the health and psychosocial needs of this dominating HIV population. He will provide an overview of clinical data as well as research which has identified critical psychosocial issues including depression and social isolation. He will present challenges to social networks and successful aging for people living with HIV.
Dr. James Masten will lead a discussion of the challenges of aging with HIV. He will present a ten-step strategy to optimal aging with HIV, found in his new book, Aging with HIV: A Gay Man’s Guide. This workshop will help you identify the complications of successful treatment of HIV-disease and develop skills to adapt to the changes of growing older when you’ve lived longer than you expected.
If you like, please let me know if you will be attending and what you would like to get out of the workshop.
SAGE has developed a policy paper on HIV and LGBT Aging that addresses key prevention, education, treatment, and accessibility issues. To read the paper go to the SAGE website or follow this link:
We’re just two months away from the publication of Aging with HIV: A Gay Man’s Guide. I am including this excerpt from the Preface to acquaint you with the book:
Is This Book For You?
- Have you lived with HIV longer than you ever expected to?
- Have you spent the past 5, 10, or 20 years dealing with the impact of HIV on your life, your friends, and your community?
- Do you wonder whether changes in your body are due to AIDS or age?
- Have you made plans for your future?
- Are you satisfied with your life today?
If you’re like the men with whom I spoke, you probably didn’t think you would live long enough to concern yourself with aging. All of a sudden you’ve become aware of changes in the way you feel physically, in the way others treat you, and in your interests and priorities. Aging with HIV means adapting to a whole list of unexpected changes.
See if you relate to these gay men as they talk about aging with HIV:
Tim*: I never thought I would live this long. I’ve buried all my friends. I didn’t think I’d see forty, and I’m over fifty!
Mario: Now I, pardon my Armenian, I don’t give a flying fuck, you know? I just don’t care. So I find that the older I’ve been getting and my friends my own age say the same thing, most of us, you just get to a point where you realize life really just isn’t about anything that anybody else thinks. It’s about you. It’s about what you think. You know and who cares what anyone else thinks?
Luis: Because I don’t think of the virus has… has changed me. I think it’s changed me is my age. My wisdom. My experiences. Times. I don’t think it’s been the virus. I don’t think the virus has slowed me down. I think I’ve slowed down. I’m seeing life different. Because of being a middle aged man. Not because I’m a gay man, or because I’m an HIV man. Because I’m a middle aged man. And I see life and I see people and I see the times and I see how things have changed.
Peter: Bette Davis had it right, “Getting old ain’t for sissies.”
If you identify with these statements, then consider this:
Research on aging tells us that, in general, we follow a somewhat predictable path of development from childhood to old age. Each era of life presents a series of challenges that, when mastered, help us prepare for the next stage of life. In middle adulthood we deal with common issues in the areas of physical changes, career issues, family, and relationships that help us plan for the future. We make decisions such as whether to take a job in a new city, how to care for aging parents, and when to make commitments in our relationships. We travel on this path of development with a cohort of peers who are involved in many of the same tasks. Our peers are not only friends we can rely on for support, they also serve as mirrors of our experience. We compare ourselves to others in our age group to evaluate how we are progressing along our life course.
But AIDS has knocked many gay men off their life course. As Mark put it, “We are the generation wiped out by HIV.” Since AIDS was first identified in 1981, gay men have been engaged in a consuming battle with HIV. Just as a country at war diverts its resources from areas such as health care to military funding, gay men of this generation have put their efforts into fighting the effects of HIV and AIDS in their bodies and communities.
Meanwhile time has rolled on and aging has affected all the areas of your life: Your body has changed; your friendships and social life are no longer the same, you have a different perspective on work and money, you have a new role in your family, and you have a new attitude about sex and dating. The strategies that you had been using to cope with the challenges of life no longer work in the same way. Whether you recently learned your status or you’ve been living with HIV for decades you need help getting back on your life course to make the most of this phase of your life and to prepare for the future.
That’s where this book comes in.
*All names have been changed.
The blog is almost complete. Don’t know why the last post is dated March, 2009, but I’m learning as I go. Check out the pages, listed above. Start the discussion, or just say “hello” on the community page. And, suggest any referrals that you think would be helpful.
In the meantime, read GMHC’s report on aging and HIV released on July 19, 2010.