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Gen Silent: Stu Maddux and the ’Greatest Gay Generation’

(Continued from Page 1)
by Kilian Melloy

"A Growing Epidemic"

Just as heart-rending are stories like that of Chris Anne, one of the film's subjects, a transwoman whose entire family abandoned her when she transitioned. Alone and bereaved, Chris Anne faces terminal lung cancer; her attempts to reach out to family members are rebuffed in the harshest possible terms ("To whom it may concern: LOSE THIS ADDRESS!" is scrawled angrily across one returned letter).

"You know, I did a film about six years ago called Bob and Jack's 52-Year Adventure, because I was interested in finding more examples of people who have lived their lives together," Maddux told EDGE. "It turned out that there are a lot of examples out there, they're just not really visible. I decide to look into why there are so many invisible LGBT elders out there--people who are our greatest generation--and it led me to this problem. We've got a growing epidemic of GLBT elders who are going back into the closet because they fear the people giving them care."

Though scant, there have been some media stories on the plight of gay and lesbian elders finding themselves subject to bias and harassment in assisted living facilities. The impression one comes away with after reading the articles is that the environment-with its social snubbing, and its dichotomy between caregivers and clients-is a virtual replay of high school. Or, perhaps better said, grade school.

"That's exactly the way some of these elders have described it," Maddux confirmed. "They have that feeling of when they were oppressed, at the beginning of when they first came out, all over again. And this is from the person that is now oftentimes sleeping next to them in shared rooms, or sharing a meal with them. There's no escaping these bullies. As one elder said, 'I think these gays are still in the trenches in World War II, telling their lesbian jokes.' "

As sad as the plight of GLBT elders is, it's also one more illustration in a stark generational divide. In matters of equality, Americans are fairly cleanly divided by age, with younger Americans generally supportive of equality causes and older Americans constituting the cohort that is against marriage equality, military service by openly gay troops, and family parity measures such as equitable adoption laws. Perhaps we could not realistically expect that, as the generation that brought gay civil rights to the fore ages, they would have been embraced by their generational peers; after all, if our gay elders came of age in a climate of fear, it was their straight counterparts who were the source of anti-gay hostility. Though GLBT elders clearly deserve dignity and respect-and need relief from the animus they face all over again in their vulnerable golden years-might the fact that America seems to be "aging out" of its cultural homophobia be an encouraging sign for the future? Could Generation X or Y enter the autumn of their lives without facing similar terrors?

"I think it's going to subside," Maddux said of anti-gay animus. "I don't think it'll go away. I'm from the Midwest, and I know from my background that the wheels move slow. It's going to take our lifetime to get [the medical system for elder care] ready for the young people coming out today. I am hopeful about that, much more so than for my generation, people already in their 40s.

"But I think the most important thing is to record the history of the people who are there now, in their 70s and 80s," Maddux added, "because we're going to be looking to them when we're their age for examples of how we got through all this. They are the silent generation, having to cut the path for all of us. And now we owe it to them to make sure that they aren't silenced at the end."

But how do we best approach the problem? Gen Silent offers some hopeful ideas on that front. A movement toward GLBT-specific retirement communities and facilities offers promise, too, but could setting ourselves apart actually be a recipe for disaster? IT might be attractive to retire to a commune of one's sexual peers, but could it not also be seen as retrograde-or even a self-imposed form of "separate but equal?"

Maddux disagreed, citing Jewish retirement communities. "There is such a thing a hopeful pluralism, where we celebrate the diversity that we have, and it's okay to want to be around people like ourselves," he told EGDE. "That doesn't mean that we are discriminatory toward the world at large. I don't think that would set us back at all."


Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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