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.