Now Reading
Being older and LGBTI – do you feel silenced by younger people?

Being older and LGBTI – do you feel silenced by younger people?

Older LGBTI Founders

‘I think people of a certain age feel invisible,’ Jen tells me.

It’s walking down the street and not paying the slightest attention to an older person who passes you and says hi, or seeing an older person eating alone and making assumptions. It’s not hearing their voices anymore.

GSN spoke to three people in the community, all over the age of 60, about their stories and experiences, and relationships with younger people.

Bill Duckworth, Herbie Taylor, and Jen O’Connor were all recommended by the Los Angeles LGBT Center, and they have vastly different thoughts on life.

Getting to know them, and where they come from

Bill: I’m originally from New Jersey, that’s where I was born. I’m 66. I really didn’t come out until I was 26, I was kind of confused, I didn’t really know what I was.

Herbie: I was born in Alabama, but we left when I was about 5.

I’m 66, I’m a 27-year survivor of AIDS, 4-year survivor of cancer. I don’t call myself gay, I call myself queer. That’s a big umbrella and I like to be inclusive.

Jen: I’m a little different in that I’m a very late bloomer. I’m over 60 now, I came out in the early 2000s. I had been married, had a son, and was probably in denial for most of my life.

Bill: I grew up in a small town, and I knew I was different, but I didn’t know how. I met my wife, and I fell in love. I was 21, she was 18.

Jen: I was always attracted to women, but it had always been ingrained in me – I was raised Catholic, very strict – to get married, have a child.

Herbie: I knew I was queer when I was born. I never came out, because I was never in.

Struggles we can’t always share

Bill is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served for 20 years, 14 years active and 6 in the reserve.

Bill: To retire with pay, I needed what they called ’20 satisfactory years’. I got 18, but I wasn’t able to pick up my last two, because they found out I was gay. They couldn’t throw me out, but they made it difficult to get those last two, so I had to retire without pay.

I had 18 good years, and then they shoot me out the door. I hurt for a number of years, I was angry and upset.

Herbie grew up in an abusive home in Los Angeles.

Herbie: My father tried to kill me because I was gay. I was 15. My mother used to buy Christmas gifts for my father from us. One year, we took down the tree and all that was left were some pine needles and ribbons and my gift to my father.

He tried to strangle me to the death, my brothers pulled him off, and I ran away to my aunt’s home. My mother came to get me and she said I had to apologize to my father. I went to him and said, “Daddy, I’m sorry.” And he never spoke to me again.

A lot of my survival comes from him. One day I realized, all my feelings about him I was carrying, they were poison and it also meant he wins! So I let them go and a weight lifted off me.

Herbie and The Android Sisters
Herbie with The Android Sisters, a drag trio in LA, including his late best friend Curtis (R) | Photo: Provided

He also received an HIV diagnosis, and feels like younger people don’t understand or care.

Herbie: I was diagnosed on 30 April in 1990 at 3:45 in the afternoon.

I don’t know that I could talk to younger people about this. I don’t know that I could go into a place, knowing they don’t give a fuck.

They don’t know. In the first days, watching our friends die, losing our friends in their 20s and 30s, that’s never supposed to happen.

For Jen, it was different, coming out later. She did face struggles as a woman, though.

Jen: I mean, I wasn’t really a feminist during the era when I would have been, and probably should have been. But I really did feel subjugated, and I had to throw that off.

Even when I was getting jobs, and getting married, men made all the decisions. I never experienced any sexual abuse, but sexual conversations, flirting I felt I had to go along with.

Fond memories

Bill: This past June for Pride, the LGBT Center nominated me and I was honored on the field at the Dodgers’ Pride Night. If I had a coming out party, that was it.

Herbie: Living with friends. When I was younger, my father would eat alone. When he finished, we fought over the leftovers. I went to a friend’s house in high school and we sat down to dinner with the father, and that seemed blasphemous.

Finally, I had a family. We had Christmas together, we cried on each other’s shoulders, we lifted each other up. I finally learned I can make my own family.

Jen, an LGBTI founder
Jen’s headshot from her time in theater | Photo: Provided

Jen: I moved out to California about 25 years ago. I became involved with theater companies and writing plays. I joined a company – the first time I walked in, I felt at home. There were gay men in it, but also lesbians too. This is really where I belong.

I started going to women’s groups at the LA LGBT Center. There, I met a woman there and now we’re engaged, we’ve been together five years.

I joined a women’s group and we would meet every week for dinner. It’s been a wonderful experience to be around these women from every walk of life, but we all have something in common: we’re lovers of women.

Silent voices?

Bill: Since being here at the Center – which I found by accident, while I was homeless out here – I would say we’re being listened to. I think a lot of younger people can learn from us.

Herbie: Oh no. I’m bolder. If somebody doesn’t want to listen, I won’t talk to them. People think I have an obligation to talk to young people, but they don’t care, and so I don’t want to share my history.

Jen: No. At least not at the Center. Anyone who’s in the community who’s over 50 is welcome there. I recently went to a poetry writing class specifically for seniors.

Still, Jen acknowledged feeling invisible at a certain age and treated differently.

Jen: I don’t want to be treated like a little old lady.

Herbie: At one point, I was in the hospital, this young nurse… He used to come to my room and talk to me, for long, long times. He asked me about the old days, about San Francisco, and AIDS, and he was very interested. It was very refreshing, but I find that’s not usually the case.

Herbie as a drag queen
Herbie as a drag queen | Photo: Provided

He also discussed the multiple aspects of his identity growing up, and how it feels in today’s community.

Herbie: You’re black and gay and a drag queen? That’s three strikes. In West Hollywood, you’re invisible. It’s about looks and money and young gay men. And that’s exactly why I’m queer.  I’m not going to let them take anything from me. I’m going to be who I am in a comfortable place.

I don’t like Pride. I went to the first one, and it was a march down Hollywood boulevard, and it was wonderful. It wasn’t what it is now.

Younger people in the community and what they can learn

Bill: I admire the younger generation. When I first came out, I saw two guys holding hands on the Santa Monica Pier. I was really in awe. Nobody cares, nobody looks.

Herbie: I admire their willingness to accept each other. Embracing the fluidity, which I think is wonderful.

Jen: I admire that they have come out, no matter how scary it might still be. I really admire their courage.

Still, they all agree there are things to learn.

Jen: I think the lesson is you have to find your tribe. Even in LA, there aren’t really any bars for lesbians. You have to find the people that are like you. Even if you have to stay in the straight world for your job, school, find the people you can congregate with regularly, because they will help you be stronger.

Bill at Senior Comedy Nite
Bill at Senior Comedy Nite | Photo: Provided

Bill: They need to understand the values of friendship. They need to find true friends, the ones who will really be there.

And they need to plan for tomorrow because before they know it, tomorrow will be here. A lot of seniors I run into struggle to keep a roof over their head.

Herbie: I think younger people have this idea in their head about older people, and what they were. I had the same idea when I was younger.

But it’s different now. We’re not stuck in the disco ’70s, I know who Rihanna is, we have lives. And they need to understand that.

Are you excited about the future?

Bill: Judging from what I see, I like the way it’s going. I’m glad to see we have programs for our youth, it gives me hope. I know with some gay kids, their parents find out and they throw them out like trash.

Herbie: I always have hope. You can’t live without hope, what is the point?

Jen: When we’re seen as normal and fine – especially trans women – and your sexual orientation or gender identity doesn’t matter anymore to society, that will be good. We’ll still have pride, but people will accept us.

Herbie: That’s what I want for the future. Where nobody’s better than anybody else, and we’re equal, and we can just live in peace.

More from Gay Star News

What is coming out like after you’ve turned 50?

What it’s really like at an LGBTI-inclusive assisted living retirement facility in Palm Springs

What’s it like to move from a gayborhood to small town life when older?