My friend Eleanor and I sweated and gasped as we rushed down Provincetown’s Commercial Street through the humid, misty air to be in time to grab good seats for the screening of “Gen Silent.” I had tried to see it the couple of times it was shown in Boston, but it had been sold out.
Directed by Stu Maddux, who was present for a fascinating post-screening Q&A, it is a documentary based in Boston about local ageing queers. What are their options? Who will look after them when they need help? How do elder and nursing facilities treat LGBT elders? Will they have to go back into the closet if they need care?
By following individuals and couples and allowing them to tell their stories, Maddux draws us in with a sense of both identification and admiration. Sniffles and quiet sobs marked the showing, for no one among us could avoid a sense of vulnerability as we approach old age – even if it is decades away.
With senior facilities too often lacking in consciousness of queer and trans needs, even some of the earliest gay militants are now facing the possibility of having to return to the closet in order to safely get the care they need.
When Lawrence Johnson (top photo) can no longer care for his older partner of many decades, he must place him in a nursing home. But his partner feels too paranoid to be out, limiting the ways in which Lawrence can comfort him. Eventually, Lawrence finds a more open and supportive facility, so that he and his partner can hold hands without looking over their shoulder.
Sheri Barden and Lois Johnson (2nd & 3rd photos) are hoping to stay in their own home, for they live in a neighborhood with many long-time, close queer neighbors. But they are also aware of the kind of dangers any institution might hold for out lesbians – from physical and sexual abuse to isolation and ostracism.
KrysAnne Hembrough’s severe breathing problems are preventing her from taking care of herself. But her late-life transition has left this transgender woman with nothing but hostility from her entire biological family. Medical people, too, have expressed revulsion and have refused to touch her body. A case worker who actually gives a damn organizes an instant support network for KrysAnne, making her painful physical decline a less horrific experience.
“Gen Silent” is more than a top-notch documentary. It is a conscious-raising tool that needs to be shown widely in mainstream elder institutions and among professionals working with older people. It needs to be shown to LGBT people of all ages so that this important discussion becomes a key issue for our movements.
Not everyone is thrilled with what the well-paid, (mostly) pale male “leaders” of the gay rights movement have been spending their time and the community’s resources on, not the least the focus on military and marriage. These issues speak strongly to certain segments of the community, but certainly not to everyone. Some people so object to the roles of the American army abroad that they don’t want to spend precious pennies to ensure that queers get the chance to occupy other peoples or guide drones to bomb the weddings gays can’t have. Others feel that marriage is an appallingly failed institution and prefer creative family forms to assimilation.
But everyone would agree that we need to win the battle to stay out of the closet our whole lives.
Unfortunately, “Gen Silent” is an underfunded project that could use support – both financial and in terms of distribution. The visionary director Stu Maddux asked for human and material resources to get the film out to the nooks and crannies of our aging lives. Visit his website to learn more.
And check out the trailer below, presented under the righteous banner: The generation that fought hardest to come out is going back in – to survive.