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Gay and Gray

Celebrants at the Gay Reunion in Our Time 7th Annual Semi-Formal -- Photo from GriotCircle.org

Due to AIDS and homophobic violence, many LGBT souls who fought so hard for the things we take for granted today never expected to reach old age... but they have.

Daniel and Kurt have been happily coupled for over 40 years. As an out and proud couple, they have fought homophobia through the worst times of the gay equality movement, and they have taken great pride in the growing acceptance that American society has for homosexuality and gay couples. They had already been together for a couple of years when the '69 Stonewall Uprising in New York City sparked the nation's Gay Rights movement, and both were in their mid-40s before the American Psychiatric Association took homosexuality off the list of mental disorders (1973). They lost many of their closest friends in the early years ('80s) of the AIDS epidemic, and cheered ACT UP's first major demonstration in 1987, which stormed Wall Street in New York to protest the hefty financial profits of AZT manufacturers. Both had retired before the 1993 US Supreme Court ruling declaring sodomy laws unconstitutional. Now in the golden years of their lives, Daniel and Kurt have done something they never thought they would. They've gone back into the closet.

Last year, Kurt had a stroke, and Daniel's weakening health prevented him from taking care of his life partner. Consequently, the two were forced to take up residence in a nursing home, where, they quickly learned, homophobia is rampant and abuse of elderly homosexuals frequent. In the name of self-preservation, they told the staff they were life-long "friends", not a couple, which means that they can no longer show one another affection, call each other by their pet names, or refer to their past struggles in the fight for gay rights. At least not in front of others.

Daniel and Kurt are a fictional couple, but their plight is neither farfetched nor isolated. Such institutional homophobia against gays has resulted in California's legislature passing The Older Californians Equality and Protection Act, which is presently waiting for Governor Schwarzenegger's signature to become law. Mark Leno, Assemblyman from San Francisco, says that the intent of the bill is to insure that aging GLBT residents will be included in "the design and implementation of all state programs serving the elderly to ensure they are afforded the care and services they need." ("Calif. Passes LGBT Senior Law") However, the bill is just a band-aid. The struggles of elderly gays and lesbians are spiraling into despair, and few people seem to be paying attention.

Obviously, legislation similar to that in California is needed throughout the entire US. The LGBT Aging Project of Massachusetts reports that, nationwide, almost half of service providers in senior centers declare gay and lesbian seniors unwelcome unless they hide their sexual orientation. And the 1999 New York State of the State Report on Lesbian and Gay New Yorkers observed, "Older people are the greatest users of medical care services, but services for the elderly, including nursing home and residential care, almost never consider the possibility of a LGBT identity."

The LGBT Aging Project reports that every week 10,000 LGBT individuals reach the age of retirement. For many of them, though, the "golden" years are anything but. Having grown up acutely aware of how homophobia can manifest itself, these individuals become reluctant to make use of public services where they might encounter discrimination, even if that means forgoing necessary medical treatment. Such a disinclination to make use of available services forces elderly homosexuals to rely on family and friends for needed care. But tragically, 68 percent of aging LGBT persons over 50 couldn't think of a single person who would be willing to provide such care if it was needed. That leaves them alone at a time in their lives when they are more vulnerable to injury, disease, crime, and financial hardship.

It is easy to attribute such a status to a lack of foresight, a failure to plan for the future. However, many of those gay men entering retirement age never expected to live long enough to see senior citizen status. This generation of gay men and women lived through an era when their friends and lovers were dying at an alarming rate; a considerable number still struggle with HIV and AIDS, but thanks to medical advances, they have been living years or decades longer than any one thought they would. It is difficult to plan for a future which may never come. Even without such a pessimistic outlook, the financial burdens of the medical regimen required to keep an AIDS death at bay limits the ability to start a suitable retirement fund.

Elderly LGBT individuals not suffering from the virus still had just cause for not expecting to live to a ripe old age. Having spent their formative years in a time when homosexuals were frequently killed, harassed, or ostracized, countless gay people came to expect a violent end for themselves. Now that they have survived such a culture, their fears aren't quelled.

Violence against elderly homosexuals is rampant. Those homophobes wanting to vent their rage against queers find mature gays and lesbians easy targets. Why start a fight with a 20-something homosexual who spends time in the gym when you can wail on a 70-something one who struggles with arthritis? How widespread this violence is remains uncertain, as such crimes are usually recorded as being hate crimes against homosexuals or against the elderly, but seldom as being against elderly homosexuals. Additionally, many elderly gay men and women remain in the closet to everyone except their closest friends, so they don't report hate crimes as being exactly that.

Even within the gay community, discrimination against the elderly is widespread, as young gay men and women often refer to elderly gays as "trolls", "dyke hags", or by other unflattering terms. Gay bars and discos are considered the domain of the young, and older gays who frequent them are often ridiculed. Of course, such behavior is consistent with Western culture, which fails to value its elderly, but in a subculture that places high priority on appearance, the loss of physical fitness can be particularly devastating, and the barbs aimed at those who are no longer "players" particularly cruel.

Suppose, though, that a gay couple survived the AIDS epidemic, gay riots, prejudicial senior services, and thugs preying on the old. They've worked for generations, contributed to society at least as much as their heterosexual counterparts, if not more - they may even have overcome housing discrimination and bought a home together, thus becoming part of the economy-stabilizing middle class. They should have a happy and peaceful retirement, right? Not necessarily. Because gay and lesbian couples have no legal protections, they must have a slew of legal documents drawn up to insure they share the same rights as married heterosexual couples. A surviving partner could lose his or her home and finances, as well as custody of adopted children or pets without appropriate legal documents. Likewise, gay and lesbian individuals can be denied visitation rights should a partner be admitted to the hospital; they have no role in important medical decisions, can't identify bodies in the case of death, and can be excluded from planning funeral arrangements.

These problems for LGBT elderly persons are not just an American phenomenon. News agencies in the UK, France, Canada, the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, and Australia report that aging LGBT individuals and couples have experienced some, if not all, of the same discrimination and harassment in those countries as well, despite the fact that many of those countries are more progressive in their attitudes towards alternate lifestyles.

The Steering Committee of Old Lesbians Organizing for Change

All in all, it would seem to be a pretty grim picture for the elderly homosexual. But does anyone think that the generation that rioted to protest police brutality, fought for fair housing and employment legislation, and marched to get AIDS funding would go quietly into the night? Not likely. Numerous social and service organizations which cater specifically to the needs of older homosexual, bisexual and transgendered persons are emerging. Prime Timers Worldwide has numerous chapters throughout the US, Canada, and Australia, which cater to gay men who "involve themselves in their community with volunteerism, politics, gay issues, arts, entertainment, and every other facet of healthy living." Senior lesbians can join Older Lesbians Organizing for Change, which is headquartered in Ohio but draws members from across the US in their fight against ageism. Additionally, numerous regional groups have been formed, such as the Coalition of Older Lesbians (COOL) in Los Angeles and Gay Reunion in Our Time in Brooklyn, which assists persons of color.

While these groups address the disparities many older LGBT must face, other organizations seek to establish LGBT communities exclusively for senior citizens. The Gay and Lesbian Association of Retiring Persons has as its mission "to develop and operate Retirement Communities that are openly LGBT friendly and to promote, provide and support education on aging… We also want to promote fun, friendship and continued relationships in a group living setting that is accepting and tolerant of differences while emphasizing health, wellness and well-being." With and without the assistance of GLARP, retirements communities for elderly gays are opening worldwide, providing aging LGBT persons with a safe home, as well as care and attention for those who have no one to turn to. Unfortunately, many of these retirement villages are still cost-prohibitive for lower income people, but the fact that they are being built offers hope that affordable nursing communities for LGBT elders will soon follow.

As much as these communities are needed, they isolate older gays and lesbians from those who could most use their input: the younger generation. So many of the liberties which gays and lesbians enjoy today, from Gay Pride Celebrations to the ability to dance in a gay bar without the fear of being arrested, came about due to the hard work of the generation now settling into old age. While focusing attention on the battles still to be won in the fight for gay rights, it is easy to overlook the battles already won and the brave women and men who endured beatings, persecution, prosecution, and rejection to win them. After all that, don't they deserve a peaceful, secure retirement -- and our respect?

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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Features

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge



7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

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Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

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