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Who is Aging Next to You?  

Aging has a lot going against it. It’s to be avoided at all cost, as noted in the birthday card section at the pharmacy, in magazine articles, photos of famous people who’ve had plastic surgery to deny or defy the process, cultural jokes about men dumping their same age partners for “trophy wives”, etc. Culturally, we are intent on running away from aging as fast as we can.

rosevita_morguefile

Health wise, aging looms over us all with fears of chronic conditions, cancers, heart issues, diabetes and changes we can’t control. Who wants to look forward to that? We’re all going to have to deal with something, and hopefully have great friends and family around us when we do. But not everyone does, as two stories brought this home to me recently.

Patricia Shelton is 61, and is living with HIV. When she was diagnosed 23 years ago in 1991, she figured she had a couple of years to live. Hello 2014. Thanks to research that’s led to life-changing possibilities for people living with HIV, Patricia is still here. Yes, she’s survived, and is well, in fact. What bothers her most these days are the rigours of menopause.

But HIV is nothing to be scoffed at, and Patricia deals with its physical ails and stigma every day. She comes up against people who say “It isn’t my problem,” even though STIs are a possibility for anyone having sex, and especially unprotected sex. Patricia deals with ignorance through educating people, and sees that while HIV is manageable medically (for the most part), it’s stigma that needs big work.

There are parallels to Patricia’s story for seniors Paulette Kupnicki and her long-time partner Ginny Lundgren. Paulette and Ginny recently moved into a senior-specific building after living in a house for many years. They’ve experienced a couple of things that have given them pause to being open about their lives in their new home. This could be me in the future. It’s an experience lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people are facing as they age. In their younger, abler years, they could fight against homophobia, but with aging and its accompanying health issues, the fight becomes harder, and in the case of debilitating health issues, downright frightening. If a health care provider is homophobic and you need that person, what are the options?  For some, going back into the closet seems like the only one.

Stigma and discrimination shouldn’t be happening to any of these women, but it is. These women boldly spoke out for these articles so that others in the same situation feel stronger and more empowered. So that others in the position to change things will. We all need to look at what we can do to change this, for ourselves and for our neighbours next to us.

 

Janet  | @janet_madsen

 

Photo: Rosevita, Morguefile

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