Old and Gay…

4 Sep

Am I too old and gay for a job?

I know the saying is “Old and Gray,” but my life’s challenge of late has been Old and Gay. The past two plus years have been excruciatingly painful in many ways. I am a 44-year-old man who has been looking for some type of gainful employment for over two years now–what a humiliating and dehumanizing experience.  Sadly, my story is shared by an unacceptably large population who are “middle-aged.”

What has been particularly troubling on this journey of unemployment has been the blatant and overt ageism and homophobia I have experienced. The homophobia started when I was still living in Atlanta.  I was preparing to move to Oregon with my husband, and my then Head of School asked to see my resume–a peculiar request I thought but I gave it to her to review.  She pulled me aside the next day and told me to remove the fact that I served on the Board of Directors of the National Women’s History Project and that I was asked to be a keynote speaker at the National Women’s Conference at Smith College.  She ordered me to remove that I volunteered at the Atlanta Gay and Lesbian Center.  Her exact words were: “No one will ever hire a gay male feminist.”  While I was disturbed, I explained, “I’m not going to lie about who I am, nor will I be hired under a false identity.”

My first job upon moving to Oregon, which was very temporary, was in Albany, Oregon.  My initial welcome was from a contemporary from Sweet Home, Oregon, the Nation’s Capital for incest.  The woman’s first words to me were: “Are you gay? I could tell you were gay on the phone during your phone interview.”  My next job was at a small state university in Monmouth, Oregon where a Mormon colleague of mine came into my office uninvited to tell me that: “I hate your sin, but not you. I just want you to know I pray for you every day.”  Really? How very special of you.

I hoped Portland would be a much better fit for my husband and me, and for the most part it has been.  Unfortunately, my problems finding employment in Portland are not because I’m gay, but because, apparently, I’m old.  I’m not sure I have the words to articulate how devastating it is to learn that 44 is OLD.  I had an interview for a Head of School position in Bellevue, Washington, where the young man who was the Board Chair told me: “I’m not sure we really want someone with all the years of experience you have.”  My reply was, “I guess you are quite fortunate that a less than kind candidate might interpret that as age discrimination and could file a lawsuit against you.”  Needless to say, I did not get that job.

After two long years of rejections and disappointments, I decided to return to school.  My decision is not without anxiety and trepidation. Just a few weeks ago, I had a technology question and so went to the tech support office. A very nice young woman tried to help me, but informed me that she would have to call for help.  We were within three feet of each other when I heard her say into the phone: “Yes, I have an elderly gentleman here and he needs help getting into his account.”  Elderly? ELDERLY? REALLY? When did I cross over from middle-aged to elderly?  Had she not been so kind to me, I would have taken the tennis ball off of my walker and thrown it at her.

My larger worry here is that I am in a huge pool of people who now have no retirement to depend on. I watch Republicans trying to dismantle healthcare, Medicare, and social services, as I am now working to enter the social service industry. We are witnessing a significant financial collapse, and when our President says he wants to hold a press conference he is met with a petulant arrested adolescent Speaker of the House, John Boehner saying, sorry, you can’t have your press conference until the day after the Republicans have their fund-raising event–this does not sit well with me.  The problem with Boehner and Eric Cantor is that they have jobs and shouldn’t!

Thank you for listening to an “old man” rant and rave.  Stay tuned to more adventures of this gay old man as he tries to reinvent himself in a culture that shows nothing but hate, and contempt for the LGBT, ageing, and poor communities.


16 Responses to “Old and Gay…”

  1. Jennifer Lockett September 4, 2011 at 12:00 pm #

    Oh Michael, I am so sorry for your recent struggles. You are such an amazing and gifted person. You do not deserve these ignorant comments and attitudes.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt September 4, 2011 at 12:06 pm #

      Jennifer, thank you! I think I’m also just very sad because I am not the only one that is going through this right now!

  2. Charlotte, aka Kiki September 4, 2011 at 12:27 pm #

    Dear one, as 10 yrs your senior I can only say I know all of the insults, all too well. Oh the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, anam cara. My experience with PSU grad school matches your story. My only validation has been at the Women’s Resource Center, and even there, often inconsistent.
    Where are you enrolled? A PSU prof friend teaches socio., mostly on the Latino/Chicano and borderlands experience. But he also wants me to come talk about ageism, esp., in academe. Care to explore and create something together?
    Namaste, Charlotte


  3. Tim Freud September 4, 2011 at 3:45 pm #

    Auntie M,

    You’re 44? Did you mean to type 34 all those times?

    Do you think that you misheard people saying ‘handsome’ instead of ‘elderly’?

    Just some thoughts–


    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt September 4, 2011 at 3:49 pm #

      My Dear Tim,
      You really are quite lovely!

      Your Auntie M
      p.s. Make sure you are eating properly and please tell me you are not smoking.

    • Jennifer Lockett September 6, 2011 at 11:24 am #

      Tim is right, ‘elderly’ is the new hip slang for ‘handsom.’ My students say that all the time.

      • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt September 6, 2011 at 4:53 pm #

        Jen, thank you. You and Tim are so wonderful and I’m so grateful for the both of you!

  4. Michelle September 4, 2011 at 10:34 pm #

    Oh Michael! No one should ever have to go through what you have been going through, especially you! You are a fabulous, YOUNG, intelligent man with a big heart! Hang in there! *hugs*

  5. jenny September 5, 2011 at 7:08 am #

    dear michael, i feel you–i’m pretty much in the same situation, except that i’m not gay or looking for a job…and i’m only 41. but i’ve been called “ma’am” by too many sales clerks, waiters, and police officers–and some of those people were older than me! i think “gay&old” = “10+ year stay at home mom” when it comes to the opinions of the world. your confidence, honesty, abilities, and qualifications will lead you to the perfect position–just keep being patient and true to yourself. 🙂 i think the worst part of your story is the fact that professional people believe that it’s all right to demean, criticize, and humiliate job applicants based on their own personal beliefs. i wish you had said something about the mormon guy’s magic underwear…but you are too kind. i wish you had called the atlanta woman a jealous old cat–but you are too classy. i wish you HAD threatened the interviewer with an age discrimination lawsuit…but you have too much sense. you will find a job, michael…or maybe a job will find you. but keep in mind, if you really need shoe money, they’re always hiring at target.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt September 5, 2011 at 8:11 am #

      Jenny, you are always so silly and so very sweet. I finally published this story because just two weeks ago I applied for a graduate assistantship and the young woman, who would have been my supervisor, basically told me I was too old for the job. This latest rejection pushed me over the edge and compelled me to write the post.

  6. Jay September 5, 2011 at 11:35 am #

    So sorry to hear of the multiple indignities and other, less weighted, rejections you’ve suffered during your long job search. The ‘elderly’ comment is so ridiculous that I hope it prompts more laughter than tears.

    One tiny suggestion, and I hope this isn’t misconstrued, is that discretion and spin is not the same as lying. I’m NOT thinking in terms of your speaking or volunteer work, or any other signifier of your politics or sexual orientation–to shamefully or fearfully hide those qualities would be contrary to your values. Rather, it was the anecdote where you mentioned “a less kind” person litigating for age discrimination. There’s no advantage to that type of comment–sue, or do not sue, but to make a snide comment about suing during a job interview shows poor judgment. As someone who has had input on hiring decisions, I have to say that comment would definitely round-file your app.

    Better to smile and spin–say something to the effect that experience does not equal inflexibility, and share an anecdote where your experience helped you find an innovative solution to a problem.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt September 5, 2011 at 11:40 am #

      Jay, I know you are right. I fear the Board Chair, whom I know rode his big wheel to get to the interview, just caught me so off guard and it was the second time within a month I had been told I was too old for a job. I hope to write more, if my elderly eyes and old fingers can type more 🙂

  7. Jonelle Thomas September 8, 2011 at 3:36 am #

    Oh Michael, those negative fools you’ve encountered don’t deserve you! I just know the the right environment–one that appreciates and respects your compassion, experience, tenacity and plain-old-smarty-pants-brainyness is right around the corner! Love you!

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt September 8, 2011 at 5:54 am #

      Thank you, Jonelle. I’m sending you a big hug and lots of love! I know the real truth is that so so many have been threatened by my youth and beauty! 🙂

  8. i2rent@yahoo.com November 16, 2011 at 3:38 am #

    Speaking of Sweet Home Oregon…Im from the Willamette Valley & just heard a story about my friend’s uncle who drives commercial buses recent stop in Oakland CA, some “underclass” citizens, mostly African American, asked where he was from., The only places he mentioned in Oregon they knew of was Portland and Eugene. After that some of the dudes he was talking to asked if he heard of Sweet Home, being from Lebanon he definitely had, but they started cracking up and saying a bunch of jokes about it being the incest capitol of America. I always had heard jokes about Sweet home & incest but to find out that people in the ghettos of Oakland had heard about a tiny town in Oregon that I always go to swim & camp, all from having such a dirty reputation, oh man what social degradation has brought this level of social degradation, I laugh because of the region’s familiarity but am more sad about the environment that causes such behavior’s and the hands that craft that environment & hope people will be able to wake up & see it..

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