By Mariette Sluyter | The Foundation Lab
Seniors Sexual Health was not an area I was particularly drawn to as a 40-something community developer until a staggering statistic was pointed out to me: oositive HIV tests among those over 50 have risen from 7.5% between 1985 and 1998 to 13.5% in 2005.
After some thinking about the statistic, my colleague Nicole Hergert with The Calgary Sexual Health Centre and I explored some theories. It was clear that public health campaigns remain largely focused on the young, as HIV and sexual health are perceived to be topics for young people. Pharmaceutical campaigns also speak to certain decreased function issues. Also clear was the generational gulf around talking openly around sexuality. The final piece of the puzzle was the understanding of how we were housing many of our elders in our community—institutionally and communally.
The implications of this cocktail of cultural silence, health campaigns targeted at youth, Viagra and the warehousing of seniors were clear. Education was important for this population and the generations that surround them. So the Seniors A GOGO project began. This partnership found myself (The Foundation Lab) working with my long-term partners The Seniors Action Group in concert with The Calgary Sexual Health Centre in an attempt to devise an approach that could unpack these issues.
I have multiples role with this group as writer, director, facilitator, collaborator and community developer. What does that mean? Generally, I am the person who gets you to do the things you never thought you would do on stage with the understanding that you are doing this in order to promote deeper understanding of a problem with an eye towards solution. I worked with the project participants to tease out the stories that lay hidden.
The other role I took on arouse out of a deep desire to undo the mess we are in culturally. My organization, The Foundation Lab, was developed when I understood how deeply our storytelling roots were laid. We build our culture on story, and culture is what we build our future on. If we build our future on misinformed stories (or belief systems) we are doomed to miss some of the greatest opportunities our society has, and we are also doomed to create some spectacular failures. The Foundation Lab strives to tell stories and build our culture so that we as a community can have a collective say about our future and move forward wisely in a way that we have never historically, as a species, been able to do. This is not easy. But it is vital to our moving forward in line with life’s progress.
The Seniors A GOGO project moved me in ways much of my activism hadn’t previously. I have spent most of my life as a “sexual outlaw”. My first theatre company, Spinstergirl Productions, looked at feminist issues and morphed into gay and lesbian struggles with heterosexual issues. So I felt well versed in the area of sexuality. I understood sexuality to mean more than the vulgar which it is often reduced to.
I came into this project with an understanding of how sexuality is on a continuum. I can explain the Kinsey Scale and unabashedly site human rights precedents and procedure. Something in this project, however, was different. As I moved through the creative process with our participants, as we dug deeper into the stories that illuminated the landscape of our culture and belief systems, it became evident that there was much more here than we, as a culture were prepared to see.