Gen Silent: Stu Maddux and the ’Greatest Gay Generation’
Director Stu Maddux has made some compelling documentaries: Bob and Jack’s 52-Year Adventure profiles a long-term male couple, giving the lie--as do so many life-long commitments--to the myth of gay "promiscuity." On the flip side, Maddux has also made Trip to Hell and Back, a film about a horse rider who also deals crystal meth--an examination of how a friendly public profile can hide a complex, and much more ambiguous, personal story.
But for power, relevance, and sheer heartbreak, Maddux’s film in progress, Gen Silent, may excel anything he’s done before. The filmmaker spent a year in Boston following the lives and travails of a group of GLBT elders as they came head-to-head with a medical system that is unprepared at best--and overtly hostile at worst--when it comes to meeting their needs.
Maddux was on hand at a Feb. 18 reception at the New England Foundation for the Arts to talk about his film, which he’s still editing and which is set to premiere in May at the Boston LGBT Film Festival. The event was filled to capacity with people of all ages; a cross-section of generations, professions, genders, and persuasions filled the spacious room, which boasted a view of the Boston Common. A buffet of Chinese snacks-egg rolls, mini-cartons of lo mein noodles and vegetables-lined one wall; a row of chairs lined the opposite wall. Wine was available, both red and white.
A screen and projector commanded the room’s center, however, leaving no doubt that the focus of the evening was the film; meantime, the filmmaker moved through the space, chatting with attendees. A staffer from the office of openly gay Massachusetts State Rep. Liz Malia was there, as were several of the individuals featured in the film, and the staff of the LGBT Aging Project, an organization dedicated to the safety and dignity of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender elders.
The financial controller for the New England Foundation for the Arts, Joanne Herman, took the mike to greet those in attendance. Herman, a transwoman, is the author of the book Transgender Explained; at one point, she offered signed copies to donors willing to pledge $500 on the spot. The film, like many independent documentaries, needs financial backing, not only to be made, but to be marketed and distributed. The goal, of course, is to get the film before audiences: to that end, Maddux would like to see it picked up by a TV network. He explained to the audience that getting the movie shown on TV-and whether it might be HBO or LOGO that puts it on the air-comes down to dollars that will support the project as Maddux works to get his film into as many film festivals as he can.
"This is a good film," Maddux told the audience-not with smugness or pride, but with the earnest conviction of someone with a larger message. "Someone else could make a film on the same subject that isn’t as good-but that has more money behind it." In which case, Maddux seemed to be saying, that lesser film would then be the one more likely to inform the public and influence decision makers.
One member of the audience called out a question to Maddux. "What can we do to help you tonight?" she asks.
Maddux chuckled. "You know the answer to that," he responded. "Cash."
Maddux clearly has a passion for the project, and it’s easy to see where that passion comes from. Imagine having been in the vanguard of GLBT rights in America--what Maddux calls "our greatest generation" for the gay community. Imagine experiencing what they did: the fear, the courage, the victories, the setbacks, the culturally ingrained prejudice and animosity and then, gradually, the progress toward visibility, tolerance--and even acceptance. "You wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for us," an elder woman, one half of a lifelong female couple, declares in the film. And she’s right: without the sacrifices, the bravery, and the determination that the previous generation invested into declaring and defending their very humanity, gays would still be living fearful, furtive lives.
But the heartbreaking thing is that those same brave souls, faced now with nursing homes where the fellow residents--and even the staff-- can be hateful, shunning, and downright abusive, are withdrawing once more into the closet. The film reveals how gay elders are harassed and marginalized, told that "it’s not too late to be ’cured,’ " or forced to "pray" and ask "forgiveness" for their alleged "sins."
Among GLBT elders there’s a deep distrust, one person in the film explains, of institutions in general, given that elder gays have spend their lives faced with large-scale organizations--from the military to corporate culture to churches to society itself--that afflicts GLBTs with assumptions and accusations questioning gays’ mental and moral fitness, and attacking gays as being "perverts." The sad thing is how readily their health care system affirms the worst expectations of gays and lesbians, discounting their lifelong bonds to spouses and relegating them to second (or third) class status.