Tag Archives: Middle Age

Gay Graduation Gratitude

17 Jun

MHSGraduation“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” (Walt Whitman)  In the last two years I am grateful that I have learned how to start being comfortable with my largeness and my contradictions — to sit in ambiguity and reflection.

I started this journey with great trepidation.  I was going back to get my MSW as a middle aged gay man who felt like a cross between Mary Tyler Moore and Rhoda Morgenstern; I was scared to death no one would like me and feared it was too late to reinvent myself as a social worker.

I have learned a lot about dignity — how to help people retain their dignity and keeping mine, which means working with resistance and understanding how people need resistance to protect something.

My first experience after being accepted into the program was my visit to the IT Department.  You see, I did not know how to access my student account.  I explained this to the very nice young woman who was trying to help me in earnest.  She very politely explained that she did not have the answer to my query, but would make a phone call (she was standing no more than two feet from me).  She picked up the phone and said: “Yes, I have an elderly gentleman here from the MSW program and he can’t get into his account.”  Of course, I looked around to see who she was referring to, and it dawned on me that she was talking about me.  I had become “the elderly gentleman” just two days before the term had started.  Of course, I wanted to take the tennis ball off my walker and throw it at her, but decided just to walk away and appreciate that she was genuinely trying to help.

While I am exceedingly grateful for my professors and their time, dedication, and belief in me, I have to say that I am also in awe of and grateful for so many members of my cohort.  I listen to their individual and collective narratives full of passion and reflection and I have learned a great deal from these absolutely lovely people. It would be remiss of me to not acknowledge and thank these people for also embracing me and making me feel so welcomed and integrated into the community.

There have been many times during the last two years that I have submitted to my misanthropic woes and have often reflected: “Maybe I can’t do social work.  I don’t know that I do believe everyone is capable of a transformative experience — what if I’m not capable of a transformative experience?”  Then I hear one of my peers talk about standing in solidarity with me around marriage equality and I get verklepmt and I reflect: “How lucky am I? How on earth did I get here?”  I must confess, I don’t always feel worthy of being in such amazing company and I hope I have been able to add just a tiny significant gem to those I have touched and have touched me.

In the larger scheme, I know most of us are desperately wanting to change systems that are wholly unfair.  We are wanting to eradicate poverty, racism, homophobia, and ageism and underscore the power of interconnectedness and interdependency.  The energy and dedication to creating equity both locally and globally is palpable.  One can feel that amazing energy walking down the halls of the school of social work, or running into each other at the Occupy Movement, or posting activist events for us to attend.  When I look around me today, I feel so much optimism that maybe, just maybe we can actually do it!

I have been fortunate enough to have many “social work” heroes through my lifetime: Bayard Rustin, Nina Simone, Gloria Steinem, Howard Zinn, bell hooks, several of my professors and peers here at PSU, and of course Walt Whitman.   The common thread that ties all of these folk together is that they are all radical progressives — the gatekeepers of truth.  None of us can remain neutral.  If we do not work to interrupt oppression, we are as culpable as the oppressors. As radical progressives, we must not give into systems that collude with oppression, but rather we must stand in solidarity with all who are oppressed.  Collectively and individually, we are the Bayard Rustins, the bell hooks, and the Walt Whitmans.

Whitman also wrote, Failing to fetch me at first, keep encouraged. Missing me one place, search another. I stop somewhere waiting for you. I find at this point in my life, I am both searching and waiting and I could not be in finer company to do so.

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LGBT History Month 2013: Estelle

12 Jun
Pride

Pride

A friend of mine, whom I shall call Estelle, follows my blog and was elated to see that I was celebrating LGBT History Month.  I have known Estelle for over two years now, but never knew that she had tried to commit suicide. As an out lesbian and sensitive soul, she was feeling crushed by the negative messages all around her.

Estelle relayed this story to me and asked that I keep her real identity in confidence, but she hopes, as do I, that her story will be of help to other middle aged people as they embrace their sexual orientation with pride and not shame.  Estelle has children and parents who are now very supportive, but she does not want them to know that the pressures of society caused her suicide attempt.

Estelle:

Before I moved to Portland I was walking out the door with a garden hose in my hand, Was headed down to the lake to kill myself. I stopped because my friend Lana called me as I was walking out the door. I stopped to talk to her and before I knew it was 45 minutes later. And I had forgotten why I was holding a garden hose.
After living in Portland for a couple of years. I went back to that small town and stopped by to see her. I told her the story and we just sobbed.

Now I know I am suppose to be here–to be alive…

I can’t even imagine this world with out Estelle.  She has dedicated her life to helping other LGBT people and she models pride in being who she is: a wonderful and beautiful lesbian. Sadly, there are too many LGBT folk who do commit suicide.  Again, I would love to see a Make It Get Better Campaign, rather than It Gets Better Campaign.  We need to put the onus on the dominant culture, which means making laws and policies that create a level playing field, which we are far from having. Estelle asked that the following link be included.  Thank you, Estelle!  If you, or someone you know is contemplating suicide, please contact the Trevor Project.

One of the Voices of Social Justice: Eva Hoffman

26 Jul

Eva and her wife Dana

Those of you who have been reading TSM for at least a year now are clearly aware that this blog is dedicated to issues of social justice and civil rights; since you are reading this, I presume you share similar passions.  Today I was able to visit with my friend Eva; she is a fierce advocate for social justice and civil rights.

Eva is 55 and grew up in Los Angeles until she was 12, when she moved to a small city in Washington State.  She moved to Portland in 1995 to go to school and she has lived here ever since, “I went to college for computer sciences.”

On coming out:

I left my husband in 1991 and I have three wonderful children.  I came out when I was 40, because it was about time.   I had gone to this hardware store to apply for a job because my former manager encouraged me to apply there.  I walked up to customer service and saw this big black beautiful woman with a great smile and I said to myself, I want her—love at first sight.  We have been together for 13 years August 1. I refer to her as my wife.  I don’t need a piece of paper to prove that, but it sure would be nice.

On kids:

It was okay. My son Matthew knew before I told him and he walked up to Dana [my wife] and said “Don’t hurt her.”  He and Dana are very close—they are buddies.  Dana is also very close to my eldest, Jennifer—they call her Mama D.  Jeff is my middle child and he and his girlfriend love us both and they are very accepting.  However, I lost a lot of friends after coming out, but oh well.  I’m not able to return to the small town in Washington.

When I told my best friend that I was gay, she said I was going to burn in hell.  Fortunately,  I have made so many new friends since coming out and feel very much accepted—I’m very open and I don’t hide who I am.

Do you consider you and your wife political?

Yes.  Very much so.  We follow politics and read a lot and we love Bill Maher.  We are not Democrat or Republican-I just vote for the person who deserves it.  Right now, President Obama is the only choice!

What would you give as a task to the LGBTQ community?

I want equal rights for everyone—I believe every Veteran should have a place to live—they should have a job.  I believe everyone should have insurance.  I am also an outspoken advocate for Autism.  My grandson is autistic and he is 6 years old.  I want to know why there is such limited funding for research on Autism.  People need to know that some immunizations contain mercury and lead, the biggest one is the swine flu shot which contains mercury.  When my grandson was three, we took him to a naturopath and he had mercury in his system and the protective coating they use for flame retardency on pajamas; he had a significant dose of that in his system.  He had to be detoxed with vitamins at only three years old.  (Eva grows tearful when talking about her grandchild.)

What task would you give the LGBTQ community?

Not be divided. Why don’t we fight as one? We are one community—if we stood as one and fought those that oppress us, Chick-Fil-A, Mitt Romney, anything that hurts us.  Stand up for who you are and what you are and don’t let people hurt you.

What would you say to closeted people that are middle aged and fearful?

Life is too short—Do IT.  I know it is not easy, there are so many factors.  If your church does not support you find another church.  It is an amazing feeling of freedom and self-worth and you will never be happier than after you come out and live your life honestly.  Hiding is a lie and you are lying to yourself, your friends and your community.

Thank you, Eva.  Thank you for your courage and thank you for your authenticity and your advocacy for civil rights for all.

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