Envisioning the Future

At Creating Change 2011, as part of the Aging Intensive on February 3, Hilary Meyer — I’m stuck in Milwaukee, still digging out and kept from Minneapolis by a series of cancelations — is leading a shortened workshop I designed on how the LGBTQ community can start being the leading visionaries for a new view of aging.  You can play along at home and even go farther than February 3rd’s participants by completing the following set of exercises.

1.     Imagine yourself at age 80 (or 20 years from now, if you’ve already seen 80).  Answer the following prompts, each beginning with “When I’m 80…” 

  •  “…my days will be spent….”
  • “…my community will.…”
  • “…attitudes toward LGBTQs will….”
  • “…LGBTQ attitudes toward old LGBTQs will….”

 2.      Now set your notes aside and take a look at the Living Memory: LGBT History Timeline (http://www.forge-forward.org/handouts/LGBT_elder_timeline.pdf).  Using the Timeline, imagine that you were a 40-year-old gay man, Tom, in 1969.  Look at the events he’s experienced in his four decades as a gay man.  Pretend that you (Tom in 1969) have been given the same questions, and write out your responses:  “When I’m 80…”

  •  “…my days will be spent….”
  • “…my community will.…”
  • “…attitudes toward gay people will….”
  • “…gay people’s attitudes toward old gay people will….”

 3.     Now think of what has happened in the 40+ years since 1969.  Did your Tom imagine gay marriage?  Did he foresee the rise of a gay section in mainstream bookstores?  Was he confident the President would proclaim the month of June LGBT Pride Month (terminology aside)( http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/presidential-proclamation-lesbian-gay-bisexual-and-transgender-pride-month)?  Did he imagine that South Africa would adopt a constitution that protects the rights of gay people?  Chances are good that given what happened to him and his friends in the 50s and 60s, Tom would not have imagined the kind of progress we have actually seen. 

 What made the difference between what Tom imagined and what actually happened?  One word: visionaries.  People other than Tom did imagine LGBT Pride Month, did imagine same-sex marriage being made legal, did ask mainstream bookstores for LGBT books, did dare to propose giving explicit constitutional rights to gay people.  And through a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, these visionaries and the people they inspired made change happen.

 4.     Go back to your original answers to the four questions.  Take a look at how your answers would fare on the following three scales.

  • How much change over time do you expect?

            Everything will be the same 0 <—————–> 5 There will be radical changes

  • Do you expect largely positive or largely negative changes?

             Negative 0 <—————> 5 Positive

  • How visionary are you?

            No imagination 0 <———–> 5 Utopian visionary

 Note that in the U.S., aging is overwhelmingly viewed as a negative thing.  To call something “old” is to mean it’s tired, useless, boring, needing replacement.  Call somebody old, and they may get mad at you.  Many people, when they think of being “old,” think of someone who is mentally confused, physically debilitated, socially isolated, and poor.  If that describes your thinking, you’ve succumbed to ageism. 

 5.     Try to set aside those beliefs and imagine something better, something much better, for yourself.  Rewrite any of your less-than-optimistic “When I’m 80” answers using lens that believe things will be positive and visionary.

 6.     If you can convince others to go through this exercise, bring your answers together and start talking about what human aging and the world could be like if empowered, activist, utopian, LGBTQ visionaries called the shots.  If we were designing the world we’re going to be 80 in (or 20 years from now if you’re already 80 or older), what would it look like?  What would daily life be like for individuals?  What would the LGBTQ community be like?  How would old people be treated?  What would their roles be in society, politics, family life?  If it helps, remember that in the real world, contradictions abound: right now, to take but one example, we’ve got Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church blaming gay people for the deaths of people at war or shot down by assassins at the same time that we’ve just repealed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  It’s ok if your collective vision contains contradictions; that’s true to life. 

If you can’t gather your own group to discuss an aging vision, post your answers here in the comments section and let’s build the vision online!

7.     Look at your vision and think about today’s reality.  What will need to change or what needs to happen in order to reach your vision?  Write down changes that might be necessary in the following realms:  social, economic, structural, political, personal, attitudinal, medical….

 8.     Now that you’ve got a vision of what can happen and how it can happen, start making it happen.  Make up your own Aging Action Plan with the steps you’re going to take today, next week, next month, and next year.

 9.     Share your work here in the comments section.  That’s what Gray Pride Parade is all about…envisioning and creating a future LGBTQ people would like to age into.  We invite you to play.

One response to “Envisioning the Future

  1. Inspiring questions. The future will only be better than the past if we treat our chosen family of friends & supporters better than most of our blood families have treated us.

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