There are five us on the panel, plus our moderator Bob Linscott, the Assistant Director of the LGBT Aging Project. This is an organization that has put queer aging issues on the agenda in Boston and beyond with great success. Diversity is a priority during the Boston University freshman orientation – and we are one of their diversity experiences.
There are perhaps 100 kids – most freshman, but also older undergraduates who are in charge of getting them to and from the activities. A surprising number of the youngsters are out gay. They are all welcoming, interested, responsive, adorable. They do this finger-snapping thing – meaning “yes, I hear you, I agree, I like that, but I’m not going to interrupt you with applause” – and they burst into applause repeatedly, too.
Bob provides a brilliant overview of the special challenges older LGBT people face: we live alone at a much higher rate, fewer of our generation have children, medical and care professionals may have their own bias, and much more. Sam talks about knowing he was gay since birth. “You flirted with the doctor when you were born,” his mother told him. Mel talks about juggling being black and being gay in a complicated world with competing oppressions. Michelle discusses her journey as a transwoman, which she only faced after getting off the drink she used to self-medicate. Dennis talks about sobriety as well, rightly connecting his drinking and drugs to life in the bars – the only place where gay people could meet up.
I talk about the restrictions on women when I arrived to BU in 1965, about the first women’s liberation collective at BU in 1969, and about how the world is now looking much worse than we 60s revolutionaries would have anticipated then. They laugh at my jokes, and love best my reference to the girl who used to climb the fire escape to my brownstone dorm – a few of them are now living in that dorm – so that we could secretly do it in the bathtub.
Their questions are fabulous – from why men who have had any kind of sexual contact with men are prevented from ever giving blood, to what people should do about the increasing restrictions on women’s reproductive rights.
We go to the student cafeteria where they have dozens and dozens of all-you-can-eat choices and have lunch. Three of the girls buy copies of Lillian from me and others take all the calling cards I have brought with me.
I have been feeling very down for some time – the result of obsessively following the massacre in Gaza and the protests in Ferguson combined with some rough patches with good friends. I have felt isolated and depressed and wondering what’s going to happen to me as I age. This afternoon has been like a tonic – meeting these teenagers who really give a shit. I hope they will not be burdened with piles of nasty student loans and that they will keep on being dazzled with hope.
On the way home, I check my Facebook page on the bus. I see that a ceasefire has been agreed in Gaza. The people in Gaza are celebrating the fact that for the first time in 50 days they are fairly sure that they and their own young people will live to see the dawn. Yes, it’s been a good day.