Robert Ganshorn

My Love-Hate Relationship with the AARP

Filed By Robert Ganshorn | August 02, 2008 1:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Living, Living, Politics, The Movement
Tags: AARP, elderly gays and lesbians, gay seniors, sage, seniors

Well, it isn't really hate- just annoyance and let me tell you why.

Yes, discounts on insurance, car rentals, hotels and coupon deals are nice. It is a good thing to have an advocate in Washington lobbying Congress in the interests of Elder persons. They also have a near mythic reputation of an advocacy for all that is goodness even though it strikes me sometimes that a part of what they appeal to is really selfishness.

Beginning at the age of 48 I began receiving teasers in the mail about AARP, with emphasis on all the savings I would receive through membership rather than the good for the truly unfortunate I might be creating through my membership. The stereotype is of a truly poor elder person, usually a widow, living on merely Social Security.

Actually the elderly, as a group, are the single richest slice of the American population. The elderly, from my observation, are very good at taking care of themselves because they have more practice at it than you.

Yes, there is ageism and an increasing number of seniors who need to keep working, but many more do not. Many seniors enjoy staying active like a wonderful friend of mine at IBM corporate who has just had her 70th birthday and loves the interaction she has with younger people she knows she would not have if she were simply at home, as she calls it, "acting her age."

At the time I received my first mailings from AARP, I had already been a member of "Professionals over Thirty" in Chicago (which later joined the organization "SAGE," which we will get to shortly). My partner is 24 years my senior and we enjoyed these once monthly dinners with interesting speakers and occasional social activities. I could not talk these guys (sorry, there were no women) into participating in a Gay Pride march in any form other than spectator. They, in Chicago, were primarily a social organization, which has undoubted value as the fully retired members had activities and companionship available to them four to six times a week plus special outings, parties, interest groups and the like.

I was recently sent a press release entitled: AARP sponsors SAGE conference: "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Aging in a Changing World."

In an unusual order, the promotion of the October 12-14 conference at the "New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge" kind of begins with its conclusions in place. Here are their conclusions (and mine as well):

There are two and a half million LGBT persons at present in America over the age of sixty five.
There will be four million seven hundred thousand LGBT persons in America over sixty five by 2030.

How do they know when the census does not yet even count us, and anyone responding would perhaps not respond truthfully? Are they just guessing? I imagine they have to.

After age sixty five a LGBT person is twice as likely to live alone.
After age sixty five we are half as likely to have a life partner.

(Notice how the above two seem obvious! If you are living alone you do not have a life partner).

LGBT people are half as likely to have close relatives and four times less likely to have children.

(How would they possibly know that! How dare they assume that with greater freedom there will not be more adoptions?)

OK, now I'm angry! So I am being told that I have a 50% probability of not being fit to live with and am a loner- with no close friends or family. I, and all LGBT persons, will become (or are asked to accept) that we are 50% likely to be this statistic based upon what? I guess the word of AARP and whomever they are getting their information from with or without the assistance of SAGE.

It has been said that "figures do not lie, but liars know how to figure."

I don't believe that anything diabolical is happening here, but something VERY marginalizing is happening. Elder LGBT's are being put in a box before this conference, which seems to have concluded what our "problems" are for us and are going to have an "action list" of solutions for us, which will assist guess who?


Who will suddenly be considered relevant to concerns of GLBT persons once we are old enough to qualify for discounts on hotel rooms and insurance?

I am in no way opposed to full integration of elder persons (or hotel discounts). My partner of thirty-two years is seventy-nine and I insist on keeping him wound like a Swiss watch. We went out for a younger woman's birthday last night getting in at 1:00 AM. We also (with reservations) believe one another are as fit to live with as anyone else. We are far from loners with no close friends and we even have family who are close. Social groups and mentoring younger persons (like Alan Shalleck, the Curious George author did) prove that elder persons have an absolute ability to enjoy life and interaction to the fullest with all ages.

Yes, there are individuals who are retiring in personality. Yes, there is isolation in old age for many due to infirmity. Yes, it could also be better for a lot of older persons, but a conference should listen to Elders rather than conclude what their problems are for them.

It is an affront to their dignity to be treated like children.

If due to innate shyness or preference, they desire to be left alone, that is their decision too. They are not unfortunates in that case. They are private people- and any panel of "career aging experts" does not know their life. They are going to know how some individuals live, but not enough to make broad generalizations like these.

GLBT Elder persons who want companionship, and are physically able to enjoy it, can find a SAGE chapter. There are plenty of ways to reach out to others and, by 2030, I have to think many of you who read this and will be past fifty, will seize the opportunity to break this trend of isolation to whatever degree it exists.

All people of all ages have something to teach us at all ages of our lives. Don't miss the opportunity to grab some wisdom, experience and advice. Elders generally don't want sympathy, love to tell stories, but are good listeners too. It is a mistake to wait to know older Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and (this is for Sara Whitman) LESBIAN persons right now regardless of your age.

We are all living longer so our differences are less than you might think.

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I agree they that AARP should be meeting with LGBT seniors to discuss their specific needs rather than come in with a list of random solutions. I wonder if there is a copy of whatever study they got their facts from (if there is a study at all) floating around somewhere...

Wait, I don't get why this is offensive. Queer people are less likely to have children... I thought that was true? Like, yeah, lots of queer couples adopt, but not all of them do.

I don't think the living alone thing is a sign that someone is mean or unattractive - there are many people who live alone for many reasons, including choice. And many others, of all ages, who do so without choice.

It just sounds like they're behaving like any other large non-profit that engages is lobbying...

I don't get it either, Alex. The press release Robert mentions was written by our own Cathy Renna. I'm confident that Cathy wasn't trying to shore up AARP; I'm also quite sure that she knows what she's talking about when she quotes statistics like mortality rates, elder partners and child rearing. All three of those areas have been studied by researchers and not just counted as part of the census.

And what's with the Sara W reference? Lesbians are only included because Sara thinks we should know older lesbians? ??!

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | August 3, 2008 11:55 PM

Good morning gentlemen,

My objection is that the extrapolation of GLBT persons, as a percentage, living alone will increase exponentially along with numbers is unproven.

I believe it is also false in light of increasing openness in adoption and cultural acceptance to anticipate that we will not have greater numbers of legal families in coming decades when elders are potentially living alone. The short version of this is that Gay people are doomed to become extremely ordinary. :)

I dislike the concept of having a diverse and unknown number of persons stated to be one way or another as though we are customers for a consumer commodity. The consumer commodity in question is AARP services, discounts lobbying etc. which are being marketed along with a false premise of a "population boom" of older GLBT persons living alone in 2030. I believe that we are better and smarter than allowing that to happen. I believe that we, more than "traditional" families will find means and methods of creating new and full life relationships.

I do not believe that AARP invests in any conference that would underscore how little they might be needed, do you? We are being used as a PR outreach for their services and being asked to accept that, without them, we will have some bleak isolated future to look forward to that they have answers to cure.

No disrespect to Cathy Renna is implied here. Until there is as little oppression of all age groups of GLBT persons I question the raw data. They are giving hard figures without citing a source other than themselves. I read the press release and observed no footnote of where the figures arise.

I would like to ask any of you if you have attended a SAGE meeting? I have found many intelligent, vibrant people there and this posting is an effort to underscore the tendency we seem to accept of telling elders what is good for them rather than listening to them. These are people who really knew oppression. They are not going to be forthcoming to a survey out of habit.

If we are starting with these figures I think it spoils the broth and presumes we are no better in forming new definitions of cohabitation in future decades of less oppression than we had been in the past where two "unrelated" men living together could be subject to eviction.

In any event we will know the answers when "SAGE" has their conference which I hope will be entirely independent from results that AARP would like to achieve. The usual message of these conferences is that "we need more" rather than "we need better and can do it for ourselves."

Sara W. and I have an inside joke about capitalization of Gay and Lesbian. She capitalizes every letter, should not have included that. i apologize for any misunderstanding.