by liz thomson. For the past five years, liz has been doing eldercare with mom and has learned a lot about the healthcare industrial complex, aging experience, and how marginalized the elder communities are. For more about liz and Betty, click here.
Since moving in together, mom and I have had to figure out how to share our lives together in a new way. One significant area of my life is about gender and sexuality. In Chicago, I had a very strong LGBTQQIA community – and specifically those who were Asian American and people of color. So, I knew moving to Greenwood, Indiana was going to be very different. However, I was surprised to see a PFLAG Greenwood chapter. Within my first few months of moving, I reached out and met the chapter’s president and looked forward to attending a meeting.
Ironically, I first thought I would need to organize care for mom, while I attended the meeting. However, it dawned on me, “No, mom needs to come to the meeting with me! Duh?! It’s PFLAG!” So, I asked her if she would come with me, and she said, “Yes.”
When I first came out as bi, I remember my other parent saying, “That’s fine, as long as you don’t expect me to go and march in a parade or something.” Now, that was nearly 20 years ago. I didn’t know how mom would feel coming to the meeting. I wasn’t sure how much she would engage, ask questions, or offer her experiences. When I was in Chicago, this part of my life was pretty separate to mom and my extended family in Indiana. But now that I’m with her – this part of my life is being more in the foreground.
The meeting was in a small rectangular room in an office building that houses various small independent businesses like counselors, massage therapists, and hairstylists. As I’m getting her scooter out of the minivan, she tells me she thinks she sees the pastor from the church we’ve been attending. As we reach the meeting room, there’s a small yellow notebook page welcoming friends and family.
Liz: What did you think it was going to be like before going?
Mom: Since I had never been to a PFLAG meeting, I wanted to know what it was going to be like. Well, I was happy that you wanted to share that part of your life with me, because I love you and am proud of you. You have shared it [being bi/queer] with me, but going to the meeting with other people is different.
Liz: Did you have any questions about being gay you thought about before going?
Mom: No. I’ve been aware of it and known for a long time so there were no surprises.
Liz: How did it feel knowing that you might know others at the meeting? The pastor of our church and a possible family member?
Mom: It made me feel comfortable, because I respect both of them.
Liz: Well, I thought it would make a difference. I know I felt better to know that we’d know some people.
Liz: What were the challenges during the meeting?
Mom: It was very difficult to hear.
Liz: Yeah, we’ll work on that next time. This reminds me that in all spaces, disability and access needs continue. I’m sorry that I didn’t ask people to speak up for you.
Liz: Did you feel comfortable there – talking about LGBTQQI things with others?
Mom: Yes, I didn’t have any problem talking about it. I told them that when you were in high school and had a gay friend, I told you I knew that the person was gay. You were surprised that I realized that and I knew that the person was gay.
Liz: I do kind of remember that. Back in high school, I really was clueless about a friend or two being gay. It just wasn’t something that was in my consciousness in the late 80s and early 90s. I almost laugh at it now.
Liz: If you go back, is there anything you’d want to bring up to talk about?
Mom: No, not especially. I can’t think of anything specifically I want to learn about it.
Liz: Well, I hope you might learn some things about gender and gender expression – transgender or gender non-conforming. I think those are things that might be new to you. I also hope in future meetings we think about the intersections of gender, sexuality, and race. Although Greenwood is very white, it’s still important to consider.
Liz: Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Mom: No, not really.
Liz: I just want to say that I really appreciate that you went to the meeting. I know we missed an exciting game of BINGO, but going to the meeting was really important to me. Thanks!
After typing up the conversation, I had mom review the article.
Mom: You know, you’re probably not going to like this, but can you take out the word “queer?”
Mom: I know you’ve used it before, but I’ve grown up understanding that it’s a bad word. I remember being a teenager and saying it about a guy. My daddy was in the car, and he said I shouldn’t say that.
Liz: When was that, like, the 1950s?
Mom: That it was equivalent to the “n-word.” I’ve looked it up in the dictionary before. She gets out Webster’s (2013) large print, abbreviated dictionary near her lift chair. It says, “Queer – 1. Differing in some odd way from the ordinary; singular; peculiar. 2. Suspicious; questionable. 3. Qualmish; faint.” Not sure what the last words mean. But, you’re not peculiar.
Liz: I don’t think peculiar is something bad. You know that language changes as time goes on. Some people actually don’t like the word “homosexual” and like the word “queer.” I think it’s a generational thing, and I get it. You learned that it meant this one way when you were young, but I learned it a different way in the past few years. I think you should bring up this topic at the next meeting!
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.