Remembering LGBTQ+ History and the Stonewall Generation
October 2023 | Dr. Jane Fleishman
We last spoke in 2020 after the release of your book The Stonewall Generation: LGBTQ+ Elders on Sex, Activism and Aging. Has this book helped to change the narrative around LGBTQ+ Aging?
When you send a book out into the world, it’s kind of like sending your kid off to college (though not as pricey)! I never knew what was going to happen to our kids and the same was true for my book. I didn’t know how the book would be received or how people would respond to the incredible stories I collected from those courageous elders. Would there be a backlash? Would there be support? It was hard to predict. And remember, my book got published right smack in the middle of the first year of COVID. I mean, who was even paying attention to anything else? We were so laser focused on trying to understand what was going on in the world with this new pandemic. I do know that many of the LGBTQ+ elders I spoke to that year were having a very different reaction to the COVID pandemic having lived through the earlier HIV/AIDS pandemic and were so happy I was speaking about our shared history.
As we’ve begun to recreate a “new” normal, I’ve noticed a few countervailing forces around my book. One is the enormous vitriolic rhetoric and public debate over LGBTQ+ issues and in particular the recent spate of anti-trans bills coming up in almost every State Legislature in the country. Today’s count is at 496 anti-LGBTQ+ bills being debated, according to the ACLU. When the Dobbs anti-abortion Supreme Court decision came down in June of last year, it unleashed a new focus of the forces of hate who turned their attention to limiting the rights of transgender individuals.
Amid all of that, surprisingly, I’ve had the most warm, enthusiastic response from older adults in senior living communities. When I presented my book last summer at a senior living community near Boston, a group of them had gone to Pride together. The LGBTQ+ contingent came to my talk to listen, add their own stories, and were warmly received by their non-LGBTQ+ neighbors. That day was recreated over and over again in other communities. I love that my book has become a way for people to come together to talk about their own and others’ histories as a social justice endeavor.
October is LGBTQ+ History Month. As you reflect on the stories shared through this book, what lessons from the Stonewall Generation will help our continued fight for LGBTQ+ equity?
In the research I conducted for the book as well as previous research I had conducted on older adults in same-sex relationships, I found three themes: (1) the first is resilience or the ability to continue to move forward to strive for sexual freedom even as oppressive conditions prevailed, (2) the second is community or the presence of others to co-create a better future for all of us, and (3) the third is perseverance or the capacity to continue to fight for social justice for years, for decades, and for the long haul. We need resilience, community, and perseverance as much now as we did back then to continue the fight for sexual liberation.
Are there any new projects you are working on to lift up the lived experiences of older LGBTQ+ people?
Since I wrote The Stonewall Generation, I’ve been wondering what my next big project will be. I’m almost 70 and I always like to continue to learn as I age. And since COVID is loosening it’s grip on us, I’ve been loving the in-person presentations, the workshops and trainings, and the keynote addresses I’ve been asked to give. I’ve been all over the US and Canada, which has been so much fun! But I know it’s going to get more difficult as I get older to travel. I’m an early adopter of many new forms of technology, but I don’t always have the patience to figure it all out so I decided to take a course on how to put your workshops online. I created my first online course last year with the help of an amazing young woman, my producer, Naomi Silverman. It was all about dismantling ageism through sexual pleasure. And with Naomi’s help, it was a blast to create the scripts, produce the videos, learn the new platform, and then put it all together as a course.
After I finished working on the first online course, I realized there was an absolute dearth of material for LGBTQ+ elders who not only have to combat ageism, but so many other forms of oppression that their non-LGBTQ+ counterparts may not even be aware of. As a result, I’m now working on an online course specifically for LGBTQ+ elders, talking about their own sexual liberation as elders.
I am taking my time with this one, doing research on what the needs of the community are. It’s been fascinating so far! The responses have been pouring in and preliminary results already point to tremendous need. Once I finalize the results, I will take the community’s ideas to develop a set of resources to help LGBTQ+ elders navigate their own sexual journeys. At this point, I have no idea whether that will take the form of another online course or short videos or written materials or all of the above or more. It’s an exciting process that I’m right in the middle of!
How can our readers learn more about your work and contribute to your ongoing efforts to lift up the voices of older LGBTQ+ people?
The National Resource Center and SAGE Collaborative Partners have been so helpful to my research in the past. I am so grateful to you all for that already. If you are reading this and would like to participate in my current research, feel free to click here and take the survey. The survey is completely anonymous. It will only take a few minutes and I would be so grateful for your time. If you’re interested in getting in touch with me with any questions or ideas, please feel free to write me at email@example.com. Thank you