We Are Here!!
A Space for Older LGBTs
In an article written by Andrew Sullivan in 2005
there is the suggestion that in some ways in the USA, the concept of ‘gay’ community has ceased to exist. He talks of LGB families now ploughing their own furrows without the need to be separate from the straight community and even suggests that the gay male population was so decimated by AIDS that a whole generation was actually wiped out. He also makes no specific reference to Trans people, either young or old. One almost gets the impression that his somewhat blinkered experience of being gay is all there is, and that, coupled with the outrageous assumption that older gay men are just a small minority who were lucky to escape death from AIDS, is sad.
The consequence of Sullivan’s thinking is that older LGBTs are a small group, are of no consequence, will soon pass away and then give way to the neo-gays who have now established a new world, presumably where everyone stays at being 45, or some such age, for ever!
I have frequently experienced this approach, especially from gay men, and have also seen the repercussions of it with men in their 30s, who realising the decline of their pulling power, and then panicking, refer themselves for counselling in the hope of it creating some escape from the awful inevitability of ageing. I have seen the way this approach has fed itself through to the straight population with a typical comment, ‘there aren’t any gay people in our street, the residents are all old!’
The consequence of this ‘nothing but the youth’ approach has been that publications have pampered to the bright young lesbians, gay, bisexual and trans people with only just an occasional tokenistic nod in the direction of older ones who might be interesting, especially if they have a unique story to tell, but nothing more.
However about 10 or so years ago the world seemed to awake one morning to the discovery that demographically it wasn’t a young person’s world any longer. Someone was proclaiming that there were more people over 65 than there were under 16 AND then one or two bright LGBT sparks had worked out that the same might be true for the LGBT community too. Indeed it might even be the case that, should this change continue, there might eventually and soon be more older LGBTs, living in their 60s, 70s, 80s and even 90s than the rest of the combined LGBT population.
The blinkers were now starting to be taken off. It might mean that Justin might have to put up with the possibility of bedding Peter , 20 years his senior; or Tracey (27) might have even greater difficulty in finding the girl of her dreams within her set compass of 5 years older or younger; or that Barbara might not be so unique, having gone through transition at the age of 37
The nodding acceptance by the LGBT organisations that older LGBTs not only existed but might have specific and even unique needs has taken awhile to lead to concrete action, but it wasn’t until the end of the 20th century that, through the auspices of Age Concern, a conference devoted to older LGBs actually took place. It was an inspiring occasion and led to further action. A few groups sprung up around the country to meet LGB needs and some of these continue and have even flourished, though it has taken much longer for older Trans people to find their place.
However there was an implicit ignorance in the way in which the LGBT community approached the issue. For example, the Stonewall report about LGBs in Later Life (2011)
unbelievably grouped together all LGBs within an ‘over 55s’ compass and seemed to purposely omit references to such things as the need for all LGBs to create ‘power of attorney’. To be fair, however, the report did highlight some significant details about older LBGs in comparison with their heterosexual counterpart, some of which had not been sufficiently recognised by service providers.
The point is that as 55s we are in one place, but the same may not be true at 65, and slightly less likely at 75 and probably not likely at all at 85. In other words there is still not the recognition that grouping older LGB and Ts together as a single unity, with single needs, is as ludicrous as grouping together 20s and 40s together as one.
There are good signs that research is enabling service providers and LGBT groups to move away from this simplistic approach and thus create projects which recognise such changes and attempt to meet needs at various points in the older LGBT journey of ageing, but the results are still very sparse and there is yet much to do.
One way, and a big, big way is to enable older LGBTs to speak for themselves and give clear advice about their needs and how these might best be met, and a National Forum for Older LGBTs might be an effective means of achieving this. But more about that next time!