and then all this talk about my job and the elderly, and thinking about how come folks rarely talk about elderly queer folks -- what happens to queers when everyone else has settled down to the nuclear family, when everyone gets kids and age into being grandparents always in anticipation of their cute bubbly grandkids coming to visit to bring joy and warmth to the hearth of the home. (not that this is ever real anyway, but that for many nuclear families, this is the idyllic vision/direction of aging; a map that is non-existent for many queers). when queers grow old, which non-blood families stay, which ones diminish, and, which nursing homes play the role of substitute family, or not?
it is a coincidence that R sent me this article about the an abandoned Stonewall militant, Storme DeLaverie. Back when Stonewall set streets on fire in NYC, Storme was a hardcore lesbian who socked NYPD in the face when they taunted her. She was known then as the "Stonewall Lesbian." Storme was also a drag king, genderqueer and mixed woman from the South who imaginably survive helllllaaa both as a mixed woman as well as a queer woman. Today, she is a nursing home, ward of the state, aging woman with dementia, with no blood family. Close friends want to claim her but find legal challenges. A Stonewall veteran, she was unable to attend the 2010 Pride cos the nursing home did not allow her to leave the home. Even the New York Times missed her.
Been thinking about family, especially after reading this piece that my friend sent me: "'It's like Family': Race and Gender in Nursing Homes." This piece is by 2 researchers/anthropologists who do a series of interviews with CNAs in Massachussets (predominantly Haitian immigrants), and analyze the rhetoric of the family that these nursing home employers utilize as they extract the caring labor from these CNAs and immigrants, some of whom, far from their own families, substitute the elderly residents they care for, for their elderly moms. Yet, as exploitation goes, the humane relations that emerge from this kind of labor is unreciprocated -- the wages are only one layer; the others: including not having the time to mourn for the elderly whom you have cared for because at the end o the day, your productivity matters more than the family values extracted out of you; is also only another dimension. Where does this contradiction go? In my life, it gets swallowed, it gets internalized, it gets pent up and absorbed into our person, not expressed as class struggle, not expressed as tough love breaking down obstacles in way of reciprocity.
When I first finished the piece, I started crying. Yes, super dramatic I know, but it's just cos I saw how other CNAs in this piece described exactly my workplace experience. I wrote an equally super dramatic post about this a few days ago but got embarrassed and deleted it. But why this piece hit me so hard is because it resonated completely with what I experience, and also because I am reminded again and again, how working class women, women of color, take up caring work and are seldom compensated or reciprocated. Caring work sounds abstract but what it is, is love, is vulnerability, is trust, is emotional reliance -- and in this patriarchal, capitalist world that seeks to exploit human sensitivity, these expressions hit a wall, a dead-end and are instead betrayed.
In the nursing home industrial complex, as the paper describes, expects CNAs to treat their residents like family, are expected to go over the top to treat the residents like their own parents, yet, are never reciprocated for their care and love by the nursing home corporation/institution -- workers are still not treated as fully human but as machines. The only humanity is the humanity of the workers toward the elderly and vice versa (when the latter dont break out into racist dementia, as the piece also documents).
So thinking about the ways that the notion of the "family" under capitalism has been exploited and manipulated to extract even more labor from women of color and working class women, to extract our compassion and humanity unreciprocally, and then this talk about queer elderly who dont have chosen families when they grow old, even when once upon a time Stonewall created a momentary family of resistance. What happened? Where did all the younger queers go? The persistence of capitalist notions of the "family," contrasted with the obstacles/temporality/forgetfulness of families that are born out of struggle, desire, choice, and love -- chosen families, queer families -- is a bit of a mind fuck.
In the NY Times piece on Storme DeLarverie, her friend says:
“I feel like the gay community could have really rallied, but they didn’t,” said Lisa Cannistraci, a longtime friend of Ms. DeLarverie’s who is the owner of the lesbian bar Henrietta Hudson, where Ms. DeLarverie worked as a bouncer.
“The young gays and lesbians today have never heard of her,” Ms. Cannistraci said, “and most of our activists are young. They’re in their 20s and early 30s. The community that’s familiar with her is dwindling.”If queers fought for the rights of our elderly in nursing homes, regenerating a sense of the chosen queer family, AND the rights of queer/non-queer workers being forced to conform to a capitalist/exploitative model of the hierarchical nuclear family at the workplace, freeing ALL WORKERS from the unreciprocal dynamics of extracted, commodified family values, that would be a fucking amazing queer liberation, disabilities class struggle!!!