I don’t feel like an elder. I’m
only 64. I still work a full time job. I’m a lot heavier than I
used to be, but otherwise I’m still the bashful white middle class
dyke in boy clothes I always was. Heck, I’m even getting married
for the first time next year. So I am astonished at being treated
respectfully as an elder by my beloved lesbian tribe.
This is not a complaint. I have worked
long and hard over many sleep deprived decades to add to lesbian
literature. Respect is a priceless payment for my efforts. I just
never knew it would make me feel such a combination of hoary and
Thank goodness the honors and tributes
didn’t come when I was a young writer. They would very definitely
have gone to my head. Now, though they still go to my head, I’ve at
least tried to earn them – and who cares at this point how big my
head gets, I’m enjoying it. Everyone in this crazy book biz is so
kind and helpful, from readers to publishers – I feel as lucky to
be a lesbian as I felt at 15. Maybe more so: at 15 I was writing
genderless love poems and skulking out of shops with lesbian pulps in
brown paper bags. Last week, I saw the front window of the bookstore
Now Voyager in Provincetown filled with our titles. Even the lurid
covers were proudly lurid.
My brother is 15 years older than I am
and just beginning to show his seventh decade after heart surgery. My
mother’s age caught up with her at about 93. My father died at my
age. It’s hard to know what to expect, especially after the surgery
I underwent earlier this year left damage that continues to require
medication for a condition a lot scarier than knee pain. Sometimes I
worry that the struggle of writers to both support ourselves and to
create may shrink our longevity.
Recently I was invited to speak at a
lesbian gathering. I have never been able to handle travel and public
engagements without great anxiety and exhaustion. I was shocked to
learn, as I tried to handle job, writing and appearances, that both
my mind and body had limits. Today, I can handle more than I could
twenty and thirty years ago because I have learned to take those
limits into account and because my sweetheart is always by my side,
making my life appreciably easier than it once was. It was not
because of advancing age that I had to turn down that gracious
invitation, but because of a crowded schedule.
Still, if my peers notice I’m getting
older, maybe I should pay attention. I can only allow myself a
limited luxury of denial. When I read that HHS Secretary Kathleen
Sebelius plans to establish the nation’s first national resource
center to assist communities to provide services and supports for
older lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals, I
admit that my grateful relief was selfish. Gay people used to be told
we’d die old and alone. This was supposed to convince us to
renounce our true selves. As I survived breakups and the death of a
partner, this fate was as haunting as a fortune teller’s bad news.
Now, Secretary Sebelius is acknowledging that as many as 1.5 to 4
million LGBT individuals are age 60 and older, and that we are still
an unknown and threatening population for some agencies that provide
services to old people. The resource center was created to include us
as it provides information, assistance and resources for all old
Americans. True, the grants are for only $250,000 per year, if the
money is available, but the recognition of a need to educate non-gays
and to give gays a modicum of assistance is welcome news. If lesbians
and gay men have been mostly closeted in the past, old lesbians and
old gay men have been invisible.
I used to think of myself as a lean,
quick, young hare. Today I am a proud, happy, silver-haired
tortoise, Only the Universe knows how many tales I have left to tell,
so I’ll plod on, treading across my laurels, deserved or not, and
use them as a bridge to the next stories and the next books.
Oh, and the name of that new agency?
The Resource Center for LGBT Elders. Seems like I’m not the only
gay elder getting some respect these days.
[Editor's Note: Lee Lynch is the author
of over 12 books. Her latest, Sweet
Creek, is a bittersweet love story. You can reach Lynch at
Copyright 2009 Lee Lynch