Stu Maddux’s documentary Gen Silent explores a problem that is only now coming to light--but it’s a problem that won’t simply go away. The GLBT leaders who faced down social prejudice in decades past are now reaching their elder years, and their needs--medical and social--are not being met. In order to survive a system in which health care workers might attempt to "cure" or "convert" them--or, worse, might harass and abuse them--gay senior citizens are faced with the prospect of returning to the closet.
It’s a bitter dose to swallow. After all, as one longtime lesbian couple remarks, without the efforts of the trailblazers who came before, the current generation would not at all enjoy the relative freedoms that they do. It wasn’t so long ago--and here the term "living memory" takes on a poignant urgency--that gays were treated in ways so deplorable that we can scarcely imagine it now.
Indeed, it’s the memory of those bad old days that drives some of the fear that elder GLBTs grapple with as they enter a phase of their lives in which they are vulnerable as they’ve never been since reaching adulthood. Without families of their own, many elder gays are at risk of crippling isolation; only by drawing together--and through the efforts of new community organizations like Boston’s LGBT Aging Project--can GLBT seniors navigate their final years with serenity and dignity.
For the handful of couples and individuals featured over the year-long period in Boston that Gen Silent covers, that simple ambition--to live, and finally die, well--sometimes seems unattainable. A transwoman abandoned by her entire family faces terminal lung cancer without the comfort of children and grandchildren; the mail she’s sent to her family members is returned scrawled with vile denunciations. One elder gay man becomes so frightened as his health declines that he seeks to "de-gay" his house; he finally has to enter an assisted care facility, where he feels unwanted. His life partner, meantime, is over-burdened and emotionally exhausted, and contemplates suicide.
But just as the GLBT community has always done in times of need, so they do again--drawing together, forging new ties of family and friendship, turning to culture for solace and vitality. It’s hard to keep a good man (or a gay man, or a transman, or a lesbian) down: Gen Silent shows us hard truths, but also demonstrates how it’s possible, even in life’s last stages, to triumph over bias and ignorance.
Producer, Stu Maddux; Producer, Joseph Applebaum.
This article is part of our "New England Transgender Film Festival" series. Want to read more?
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