Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sue Katz Film Review: Gen Silent

Guest blogger Sue Katz is a wordsmith and rebel, offering frank talk about aging, sex, the Middle East, class rage and ballroom dancing. She used to be most proud of her martial arts career, her world travel, and her voters’ guide to Sarah Palin, Thanks But No Thanks, but now it’s all about her blog, Consenting Adult.

Sue recently reviewed Gen Silent, a documentary about LGBT elders who go back in the closet when they need long-term nursing facilities. It's a topic that even LGBT activists rarely look at. Thank you, Sue, for permission to republish excerpts from this review. Visit the original for the full-length review.


Film Review: Gen Silent
by Sue Katz

This emotive documentary helped me clarify what should really be among the priorities of the LGBT community. When one considers all the resources that have been lavished on lobbying for equality in the sorry military/marriage institutions, the issues surrounding LGBT aging seem to be a more pressing and much more widely relevant front on which to focus our struggle. In the best of circumstances, we’re all going to get old.

“Gen Silent,” directed by Stu Maddux, 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.

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 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 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.

“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.

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.

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