Gay teens are killing themselves — two 13-year-olds due to bullying (see this terrific blog post by Sue Katz), and a college student whose tryst was videoed and put online. It sickens me that young people just discovering their sexuality feel so vulnerable that it’s easier to die than to live. Those of us who have lived long enough to know ourselves, accept ourselves (including our sexuality — whatever its stripes or colors), and find or create a community that lets us live fully and honestly have a responsibility to pass this along to young people.
That’s how Leroy Aarons felt at age 61, and that’s why I’m repeating the following post from January 2009. I don’t know if you can find the Lifetime movie now, but the book is as valuable now as the day it was written. Please read it, then pass it along to someone who needs it. A life may depend on it.
Here’s what I wrote in January 2009:
At age 61, prizewinning journalist Leroy Aarons discovered the true story of Bobby Griffith, a story so gripping that he devoted himself to retelling this story in novel form.
His book, Prayers for Bobby, has inspired a movie premiering on Lifetime TV, Saturday, January 24, 2009. It is the riveting true story of teenager Bobby Griffith, who back-flipped off a freeway overpass into the path of a tractor trailer at age 20 because he could not accept his homosexuality. Prayers for Bobby chronicles Bobby’s angst at growing up gay in a fundamentalist Christian family and an anti-homosexual social and school environment. Aarons gently and lovingly pieces together Bobby’s life, fears, hopes and, finally, hopelessness, with the help of the five year diary he left, his legacy.
Prayers for Bobby (subtitle: A Mother’s Coming to Terms with the Suicide of Her Gay Son) is also the story of Mary Griffith, Bobby’s mother, played by Sigourney Weaver in the Lifetime movie. A staunch, one-tracked fundamentalist, Mary was convinced that if she and Bobby just prayed enough, and if Bobby tried hard enough, God would cure him of his homosexuality. She prayed, she nagged Bobby relentlessly, she shamed him, she put Bible quotes on the mirror for him to see when he wakened. Too late, Mary finally realized with a thunderbolt of insight that the reason God had refused to cure Bobby was that there was nothing wrong with him.
What does this have to do with our age group? Plenty. Think about how we had to discover our own sexual and sensual natures despite the mores of our restrictive society in an era that condemned what seemed our most natural feelings and desires. Imagine being trapped in a world that didn’t understand you at a time you couldn’t even understand yourself. And reach out.
If you think you don’t know any closeted gay teenagers, it’s only because they are closeted. Maybe your “Bobby” is your grandson, or your granddaughter’s best friend, or the neighbor kid, or the quiet boy at church. We’ve learned a lot about life and about sexuality in the decades we’ve been living on this earth, and part of it is to accept ourselves and open ourselves to younger folks who might need a role model, a listening ear, and a warm “so good to see you today.”
I am proud that I knew Leroy Aarons until his death four years ago, called him my friend Roy, and still enjoy a close friendship with Joshua Boneh, his surviving spouse. Please check out the website that Joshua and Roy’s friends have constructed in Roy’s memory and to celebrate the movie that he always hoped would be made about his book.
(photo of Leroy Aarons and Joshua Boneh)
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.
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.
I just saw the film Orgasm Inc. You must see it. It’s a powerful expose of the medicalization of female sexuality, specifically the development and marketing of female sexual enhancement drugs based on a made-up “disease”: Female Sexual Dysfuncton (FSD). The “disease” was created by drug companies so that they could sell drugs and procedures that have not been proven to work and have not been proven safe!
Filmmaker Liz Canner was hired by one of these drug companies, and what she learned was so apalling that she went on to make this expose. I was stunned by it. Some of the reviews call it funny. Though there were some hilarious moments, the aftertaste isn’t funny.
How did the drug companies invent a disease? They asked women questions designed to unearth if they ever had trouble becoming aroused or reaching orgasm (duh, who hasn’t?) and labeled those dysfunctional who said yes to any of the questions. Although women’s sexual responses are complex and based on relationship, health, energy, worries, other medications, and emotional issues as well as physical function, these issues were neither addressed nor ruled out.
The result: a new dysfunction and a drug to address it, both of which were then promoted by highly paid health “experts” on TV news and talk shows. I’m itching to name a visible, well-known “expert” who — although she denied any financial interest in the drug — was paid $75,000 a day for her media appearances on Oprah and other shows. You’ll see her identified in the film.
Below is one video clip — see the official trailer here (I couldn’t embed that one).
6/7/10 update: When I wrote this post a few days ago, Orgasm Inc. was available on Amazon, and today when I checked it, it has disappeared from the listings. This is odd indeed. I’ll keep checking for its return. It is listed on Netflix, but the available date is unknown, as a reader commented. How frustrating — I really want you to be able to see it. I’ll update the info when this changes — keep checking back.
Inge (brilliantly acted by Ursula Werner) has sex with her husband (Horst Rehberg), with herself, and several times with her lover (Horst Westphal). The film is graphic by US standards — you see all three characters’ naked bodies, both during lovemaking and just standing or sitting. The film seems to say, “These are the bodies we wear all day, so what’s the big deal? Why hide them?” The sex scenes are tender and erotic, and I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed them.
I have to applaud this film, not only for its refreshing and realistic treatment of senior sex and love, but because they didn’t make Inge an aging sex bomb. Rather, she’s a plain, frumpy woman with a chunky body and pendulous breasts, who sings in a choir and never seems to comb her hair. She’s not beautiful by any means, but she is radiant when she’s sexually turned on — which happens throughout the film — or laughing.
I’m skirting around the plot details because I don’t want to spoil it. Please see it. I welcome your comments (but please don’t give away the ending.)
You won’t find this film in your local movie listings, but Netflix has it, and so does Amazon. Hurray.