Conversations We Avoid

This week, Jen sent me a couple of news articles that were quite unnerving. And, another friend dropped off a newspaper clipping that added to the worry.

The first article Jen sent me is from NPR and reports on bias in the workplace against overweight and obese women.

The second article Jen sent is from the New York Times and reports that many women grappling with the symptoms of menopause have had issues at work due to the symptoms they’re facing.

The article from my friend Robbie is an opinion piece from the New York Times about the challenges facing gay people in America as we age.

All three articles, when taken together, paint a bleak, scary future for American women as we age. Particularly those of us who are also LGBTQIA+.

First, women who are overweight or obese often earn less than thin women and certainly earn less than men, as the NPR story notes. That pay gap gets worse if we’re talking about women of color.

As the NYT article on menopause in the workplace notes, women going through menopause may have symptoms from the hormonal changes that affect their concentration, memory, and ability to meet the demands of their jobs.

Again, women of color are likely most affected by this as well since they are already paid less for their work than white women are.

Compounding all of this is that menopause hits women in their 40s, 50s, and 60s, which are often the years that financial planners tell us are our “prime earning years.” Those ages are when we’re told to start putting more money into our retirement accounts and rein in our spending.

But, how are we supposed to do that when we are being penalized for being overweight, going through menopause, or both?

Let’s be honest, most of us gain weight as we age. That’s simply a fact, no matter how hard we work out, how careful we are about our diets, or how lucky we were at winning the genetic lottery. 

The third article that rattled me this week is an opinion piece by a lesbian who is in her 50s. She is already going gray, while her partner—who is older—looks a bit younger due to her hair color. People have started confusing the opinion writer for being her partner’s mother.

That piece hit hard because Jen is three months older than I am but I’ve always looked older than she does. That’s partly due to my graying earlier than she has. But, even before my hair color started to change, I had colleagues think that Jen was in her early twenties when we were both only 30.

That opinion piece notes that only 18% of long-term-care facilities in the U.S. have nondiscrimination policies for sexual orientation.

And, as the opinion piece notes, getting access to those kinds of facilities requires either the person or their family to have the money to pay for those services.

Circling again to women being paid less and being penalized for natural aging processes, I have to ask: How in hell are we supposed to pay for those services when we need them?

Few surveys have looked at the situation facing aging members of the LGBTQIA+ community. But the few that have paint a bleak picture. We’re less likely to have access to government services, we’re less likely to have family we can turn to for assistance. We’re also less likely to get regular medical care, and so on.

Again, these numbers get worse when we start looking at what awaits queer people of color, who have long been paid less, denied access to services, and so on.

At present, America has only 10 or so LGBTQ-specific retirement communities. And, I’m willing to be very few of us can afford them.

Having Jen be laid off in 2021, coupled with knowing some of these statistics already, is a part of the reason she is attending law school part-time while working full-time. We’re hoping that gives us some additional options for the future.

I’m also considering going back to school. But, I have real concerns about how each of us will do in school since we’re both starting menopause.

And, while we’re fortunate to have that option, not everyone does. Lots of women who are affected by weight bias, ageism due to her menopause symptoms, or discrimination due to her orientation cannot use additional schooling to address these issues.

Even if everyone could, it’s not the right path for all of us. Instead, this country needs to do a much better job of protecting women, elders, and the LGBTQIA+ communities as we age.

Image Credit: Photo by eberhard 🖐 grossgasteiger on Unsplash

One thought on “Conversations We Avoid

  1. Wonderful article, Ruth.  I’m forwarding it to my friend, Mary.  She will be very interested in your topic. I hope all is going well with you and Jen.  Chuck and I are doing well after a bumpy few months of health issues. Take care. Love,Carol

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