Monday, October 26, 2009

I'm 78, I don't have time for another task force or survey

by Leon Liberman, for LifeLube

"When middle-aged or young people look at the situation of the elderly, inevitably they compare it with their own. Then aging seems only a pathetic series of losses- money, freedom, relationships, roles, strength, beauty, potency and possibilities." - Barbara Meyerhoff

Invited by Jim Pickett, Director, Advocacy of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, I attended the recent LGBTI 2009 National Health Summit. Pushing 78, I was mainly interested in workshops concerned with aging and as a ten-year AIDS Legal Council of Chicago volunteer, such as the Take Charge of Your Health: Legal Tools for Obtaining Healthcare & Eliminating Discrimination.

I came away from the Summit with more questions than answers.

I’m aware of the difference between good intentions and actions and well-meaning efforts and personal agendas.

I was surprised to learn of so many task forces, studies, surveys, polls, focus groups, seminars and needs assessments. I couldn’t help but wonder how much is spent on them and paid to those who conduct them.

Obviously, I don’t subscribe to blind faith, but continuously question, doubt, and demand proof.

What does someone my age require? Primarily an immediate single source for what is available to me from municipal, county, state, federal agencies and privately funded facilities and help in determining eligibility and application. Like many my age, I am computer illiterate so accessing availability and eligibility is difficult. It is already a full-time job dealing with Social Security, Medicare, Public Aid, Medicaid and the Veteran Administration.

I recently read the late anthropologist Barbara Meyerhoff’s book “Number Our Days” and can’t remember relating so thoroughly to and profiting so much from than any summit would have made possible.

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Ms. Meyerhoff spent several years studying those who frequented a Southern California Senior Center. Please bear with me while I quote from the book. I sincerely hope that those involved in task forces, studies, surveys, polls, focus groups, seminars and needs assessments will read “Number Our Days” if they have not already done so.

“When middle-aged or young people look at the situation of the elderly, inevitably they compare it with their own. Then aging seems only a pathetic series of losses- money, freedom, relationships, roles, strength, beauty, potency and possibilities. Aging is usually discussed from this point of view; whether compassionately or patronizingly, this stance is external, describing aging as it appears to one who is not old. We are rarely presented with the views of old people about themselves and given an opportunity to hear how aging is experienced by them, “from inside the native’s head”, so to speak. This approach, basic to anthropology, yields the “aging as a career” concept, to replace the usual “series of losses” that results when younger people regard the elderly from their own perspective. Another advantage accrues to the study of aging from the anthropological point of view: attention to the correspondences- or lack of them- between action and ideas, or real and idealized conduct. For example, of the Center people’s verbal statements about aging were as grim as anything said or written about them by younger people, but their behavior often belied their words. Even those who state flatly that old age was a curse, with no redeeming factors, could be seen living engaged lives, passionate and original. Nearly every person in the Center community- men and women- had devised some career, some activity or purpose to which he/she was committed. They had provided themselves with new possibilities to replace those that had been lost, regularly set new standards for themselves in terms of which to measure growth and achievement, sought and found meaning in their lives, in the short run and in the long”

Thanks, Jim, for the summit invitation. It caused a great deal of thought, an exercise I always welcome. I would appreciate having your comments and those of your readers.


HHS To Provide support For Older Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual And Transgender Individuals 


  1. I agree with Leon that our golden years should not be viewed as a sad, lifeless time. I think the key is staying engaged in activities and community as opposed to becoming reclusive, which I think many people stereotype elders as being.

  2. As one who is entering the "aging" population at almost 60 years of age, I worry that so little focus is put on those who are living with the medical issues HIV and the medical issues of aging. I too attended the LGBTI Summit. I was disappointment with the lack of conversation of aging and the LGBTI community. When looking at 'gay' news, the images are of young 20somethings, and the aged are omitted more often then not. Wake up, smell the coffee and remember we are all aging.

  3. The SAGE Program at Center on Halsted offers a lot for those of us who are "seasoned with life", shall we say. SAGE is an acronym for Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (sometimes endearingly called Sexy And Gay Elders)
    All of the prgorams are free for older adults and include: art, film, discussion groups, cultural outings, lunches, fitness, educational seminars, and support groups. There are a lot of folks who attend these programs (an average of 100 people attend the Tuesday Lunch) and SAGE is really working towards senior visibility in the LGBT community. I just wanted to get the word out that there ARE resources in Chicago and that we can take advantage of them.

  4. I think the point here is that Leon, and others, need SERVICES other than social get togethers and the like - they need to access health care, and housing, and other critical services that really are a matter of life and death. Does SAGE provide those sorts of linkages?


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