My way of letting off steam!

Archive for the ‘LGBT’ Category

GAY AND AGEING

FALLING IN LOVE AGAIN

What did I think about in my young days? Money? Fame? Living in a house with a bathroom? (Yes really!). And marriage? Oh sure, and, sadly, I was well on the way to achieving all those. I just assumed that these would provide an outward veneer of respectability and happiness and which would eventually overwhelm and conquer those other inward feelings I was having which, I feared, could only lead to unhappiness and tragedy.

Everything I read convinced me that the paths to hell were paved with gay intentions.

You could only listen to our Shirley mournfully singing about the ‘Sad Young Men’ to know that being gay was not the most convenient state to be in.

“Ballad Of The Sad Young Men”

Sing a song of sad young men, glasses full of rye.

All the news is bad again, kiss your dreams goodbye.

All the sad young men, sitting in the bars.

Knowing neon nights, and missing all the stars.

All the sad young men, drifting through the town.

Drinking up the night, trying not to drown.

All the sad young men, singing in the cold.

Trying to forget, that they’re growing old.

All the sad young men, choking on their youth.

Trying to be brave, running from the truth.

Autumn turns the leaves to gold, slowly dies the heart.

Sad young men are growing old, that’s the cruellest part.

All the sad young men, seek a certain smile.

Someone they can hold, for just a little while.

Tired little girl, does the best she can

Trying to be gay, for a sad young men

While a grimy moon, watches from above

All the sad young men, who play at making love

Misbegotten moon shine for sad young men

Let your gentle light guide them home again

All the sad, sad, sad, young men

Even at the cinema, once you had crept in under cover, you could watch the pro gay film ‘The Boys in the Band’  and even hear a gay character mouthing ‘Show me a happy homosexual, and I’ll show you a gay corpse’!

Gay literature of the 60s was similarly less than optimistic, with gay heroes always seeming to end up as a tragic figures, ‘reviled and rejected of men’, and usually killed off well before the end.

Searching for personal happiness then, and certainly even looking for love, promised a doomed outcome. Oscar Wilde, Tchaikovsky, and others were good enough examples of the futility of that.

Taking a Chance

So, undaunted or, in some people’s eyes, propelled by some sort of a death wish, I found the first man of my dreams, but it was all shrouded in monumental secrecy. It took 4 months of contact with him before I let him know my real name. Our meetings were always arranged miles away from where we lived so that we wouldn’t be found out. If something happened and neither of us turned up for a meeting, then it could take days and days to re-establish contact, and you never, ever put anything down on paper.

That didn’t stop us!!! Eventually we gave up our jobs, moved away and found other work; we stopped our old world, and got off. We ended up in a holiday flat, and worked hard at ensuring our new employers didn’t know that each of us was living with a man; we never left our flat each morning without ruffling up the sheets of both beds, just in case our landlord entered our flat and noticed that only one bed had been slept in; and we did all our weekend shopping together in places where we wouldn’t meet anyone we knew.  If there was the chance we might bump into someone from work, then the other quickly moved away, even crossing the road, so that we wouldn’t be seen to be together.

Well, that, now laughable secrecy, didn’t last for long and we settled into a happier joint existence, both of us so very glad that we had found each other, and, in a situation where we could create a world where others, who mattered most to us, easily spoke about ‘David and Roger’ in the same way that they did about ‘Jean and Brian’

Staying single

Reflecting on that experience it is sad to me that today there remain thousands locked into those same experiences that we had in those early days. I still meet men, and women, who have stayed single for work reasons and whose sexuality remains covert for reasons of ‘privacy’, though actually they mean ‘secrecy’. I meet people who do not pursue committed relationships because “their families wouldn’t understand”, or because “it would kill my mother, if she found out”, or because “my firm is very homophobic, and I would miss out on promotion if I started to live with another man”, or “I am wedded to my career and don’t have time to find someone else”.

I find that sad especially since in this brave new world of gay rights and changing attitudes towards sexuality we can even blaze a path towards society accepting new understandings about personal happiness and fulfilment. We have a free choice about the personal life we wish to have. We can stay single or opt for partnership and we have no need to be constricted by heteronormative beliefs that only specific lifestyles can result in happiness and fulfilment.

It is therefore important to firmly deny that the vast majority of older LGBTs, who are living alone, are in that condition because something has gone wrong in their lives, or because they are deficient in some way. Single LGBT people can be just as settled and fulfilled as their LGBT counterparts in a relationship.   They contentedly affirm their sexuality. They provide and meet their physical and sexual needs with respect, safety, consent, satisfaction and love. They nurture their spirits without selfishness. They use their freedom to serve others within our community and are fulfilled through the mutual companionship of friends. They rejoice with others who have chosen different pathways towards personal happiness. They are often hilarious and wonderful company. They age with composure and die in peace. They are not ‘the sad young men’ of the song.

Finding love

However, as for me, I opted for a committed relationship and even after losing two partners, and in later life, I coveted and gained a third lover. I am in the minority within the LGBT community and its all too easy to flaunt one’s situation. You know what I mean. Yes, I’m the one who receives a cup of tea in the morning in bed; who copes patiently with someone else snoring their head off at 3 a.m.; who gets the sympathy when going though the worst head cold anyone could ever have had; who is certain that the world would be a wonderful place were everyone as perfect as me; who is convinced that his cultural choices continue to be of a higher level than that of his partner; AND who has gratefully discovered ‘how wonderful life is, now you’re in the world’.

But I believe that there is a serious point to be made about the value of my situation. I believe that all human beings are the better for being in close committed relationships. I believe that we can be happier, healthier and more fulfilled by being in them and I believe that this can be true for older LGBTs too.

Easier said than done eh? Let’s not forget some of the reasons for the aloneness of our seniors. The baggage of the repression of earlier years, inhibiting the creation of any close gay relationships. The failed attempts at forging relationships when familial and professional pressures have been an impediment. The scars left by fractured relationships and the misuse of our goodwill by others. The trauma of bereavement and the feeling that we can now best survive in the future if we stay on our own. All these are reasons enough for opting out of making any further efforts to find that special someone.

A way ahead

But I want to suggest that the following actions might help the situation of those who would like to be with a special someone.

  • We need a positive emphasis on the value and status of older LGBTs. To concentrate on our fallibility and weakness is to demean us. To focus on our potential and ability is affirming and enhancing. The whole LGBT community needs to be unambiguous in saying that it is possible and not unusual to create happy and successful relationships in later life.
  • It has to be recognised that many feel that the risks for anyone setting out to create a close relationship are too great to bother with. Many of us know how degraded we can feel when things don’t work out or go wrong, and as we age we are less resilient in coping with such experiences. I believe that older gay people need support so as not to give up on the process. We need to be upheld and have our confidence nurtured if we do decide to search for that special someone. Encouraging others to be open about their experiences can be an ennabling process, and avoid mistakes; and showing positive images of people who have found relationships later in life is particularly helpful.
  • We need open, detailed and honest acknowledgement about sexual activity in later life. I have written elsewhere about the sexual health needs of older gay men but to focus on danger over against the celebration of sexual activity is what older people need.
  • For some, isolation and loneliness can lead to a blunting of social skills – the very skills which enable successful relationships. There are sufficient professional people within the LGBT community with the knowledge to create programmes and establish groups in which our elders can be empowered, should they choose to set out to find their significant other.
  • Charities for older people, like AgeUK, have the funds and the organisational capacity for online social interaction. There is an anxiety about doing this but it has huge potential, and this would enable the creation of separate sections for LGBT elders. For many older LGBTs this would be a far better and safer alternative to other more commercial dating web sites.

Best wishes to all as you search out your own path to happiness.

Michael – A gay man with mesothelioma

Michael

It was just 6 years since we had met, and close to his birthday, that Michael, my partner, phoned me and told me that he wasn’t feeling well and was going to see the doctor. This led to a visit to the local hospital where they identified a quantity of fluid in his lung, and so just a few days later he was admitted to Guys Hospital where they drained it away. Some further tests were made and one of the doctors off handedly asked him if he had ever been in contact with asbestos, to which he answered that he hadn’t and so we assumed that he had been suffering from pleurisy and that he would at least have time to regain his strength before Christmas. We spent the festival quietly and looked forward to a New Year’s gathering with friends. The remaining event  on the horizon was a further visit to the doctor, hopefully to get the medication right, and then full recovery.

On January 8th 2004 Michael attended his appointment and I phoned later in the day for our usual chat,  when we were not spending the night together.

“How did you get on?”

“Not very well” he said, after a short rather ominous silence.

“Have they told you anything?”

“It’s not good news” he said, quietly.

“I’m coming over” I said. “Be with you in half an hour”

When I arrived I felt that a chasm had suddenly been created from nowhere, and without warning. He was not smiling and was clearly burdened.

“What is it?”

“It’s something called mesothelioma” he said, cautiously.

“Is that serious?”

“Yes” he said. “It’s incurable”.

The bottom fell out right then. For God sake it was only a handful of years since my last partner had died from Alzheimers. WTF is going on with this life?

I didn’t need any prompting. I had been in this situation before with my AIDS buddy, my parents and my previous partner and so I just assumed that this was what life was all about.

“I’m not going anywhere. I will do whatever you need. I love you”

He went out of the room and poured us a drink.

“One thing else” he said quietly “I asked the doctor how I long I had, and he told me 6 months”.

We spent the evening quietly. Trying to watch TV. Occasionally throwing in an issue which the diagnosis had created. Trying to make some plans. Rescheduling and sometimes cancelling all the other plans we had made.

Our biggest and most important plan was that whatever happened it was going to be two people together facing this, right up to the end.

Bravely Michael did all the things he knew he had to do in preparation for the inevitable. He resigned from his job, he made the necessary legal decisions, gradually he told friends and family, and then eerily, we seemed to spend that January and February just waiting for death.

Michael was not ‘out’ about his sexuality to most of those in his world but we decided that neither of us could get the help and support necessary without making our sexuality and relationship clear to all who were involved with us.

Our first contact with the nurse from the local hospice led to her assuring us that there was no issue about our sexuality/relationship since everyone received the same care. Our response was that we thanked her for that but we didn’t want to be treated the same as everyone else, we wanted to be treated as two gay men, in relationship, in love, and joined at the hip!!!  If she didn’t know what that meant then she needed to ask the right questions to find out.

So from that point we stopped sitting around for the visit from the grim reaper. We made plans for whatever holidays might be possible and, when medical consultations were held, we were both there together, and service providers soon learned that they were not dealing with Michael who had a friend called Roger, but were dealing with Michael and Roger, two men who were essentially one item.

Michael’s disease was taking its toll. The six months sentence was passed with relief but he was clearly weaker. The photo of him sitting on the beach in Cannes showed the beautiful man I loved, but also the man whose smile betrayed the knowledge that his time was coming to an end.

Eventually Michael accepted that a time in the hospice might help and he spent two weeks there while I was ordered to go away for one of them and get some respite. After this he returned home and the decline continued. The medication was giving him terrible sweats, and nightmares. Each night had features of him talking in his sleep about work, or something else in the past.  It was difficult to get him to bath successfully and even with the electrically operated bath seat it was not easy. He was losing weight badly too and that wonderfully contoured bum of his was now nothing skin and bone. But he was surviving. Those, for whom, the news about his sexuality had been a bit of a surprise received the news with perfect understanding and empathy. The daily visit from the nurse became a pleasure since, once she had felt secure enough, told us about her gay friends and then her service took on an additional value because she was clearly more than treating everyone the same.

On Michael’s first stay at the hospice you could see other patients whispering to their visitors and clearly talking about us but it didn’t matter because we knew that the staff knew that they had no reason to do anything other than to celebrate our relationship, as we indeed did.  On one occasion Michael said to me about the staff “They are watching us, you know.”

“What do you mean?” I said

“They know they’ve got to get it right.” He explained.

And so they did. When I went in each day I was greeted with “Hello, Roger. He’s just in there.”  In other words I was publicly recognised as the significant other in his life.

One time one of the nurses said “He’s just having his bath. Do you want to go in and help?”  In other words there was the recognition that I had been and was now central to his care. After all I had been bathing him for months before.

Then on his second stay at the hospice, like many gay couples, and without yet the legal right to be in a partnership, we nevertheless had a day which was recognised as our anniversary. We had flowers and cards in his room and the staff suddenly realised that gay people might have anniversaries too and they took it further and wanted to know how we met. We related the story we had told so many times before about how I advertised in a gay magazine and found him.

Inevitably Michael declined further. The pain remained and he found it such a trial coping. I wrote him a letter telling him how I felt about him. I arranged for two friends to be at our front door so that I wouldn’t be alone once the dreaded moment happened, and at just past 5 that evening on November 30th he died. The nurse said “You two have been magnificent. You have been there for each other right to the end”. A compliment to both of us, and especially to him, but also an acknowledgement that our relationship had just the same significance as the other straight relationships which were going through the same experiences.

At Michael’s funeral we passed the final hurdle where the officiating priest had been told, and accepted, that there was to be no fudging and avoidance of the fact that this was about one gay man dying and being mourned by others but, especially now, by his gay lover.

Every day I think about Michael and miss him but I know that he would be his usual self in rejoicing that I have found Nigel as my loving married partner, a worthy successor to a lovely man.

.

 

 

 

LGBTs and Dementia 5

Carers are the salt of the earth. Their devotion, sacrifice, sheer hard work, frustration, exhaustion (and guilt too) can only be appreciated fully by those who have been there.
Caring for someone with profound dementia Is like, and also not like, caring for those with other life threatening conditions, but having also cared for a partner with mesothelioma, I know only too well that dementia care for me was the most demanding of the two. I also believe that the LGBT carer can face extra burdens, and I will try to identify some of them.
My caring experience in the field of dementia is now way back into the past but the memory still affects me deeply. When you are identified as a partner it is immediately acceptable but as a friend, or as some significant other your role can be seen to be less significant. This is sad since the majority of us, in our community, are not in partnerships and are most likely to live alone. Thus we often create a family of choice, which can be as strong and as deep as any blood relationship and service providers need to recognise this, without question.
My partner spent 8 years in a residential home. His dementia was so profound and his behaviour so difficult that I could not possibly care for him at home. So I chose for him to live in a care home very close to where our house was and where I could visit each day and, also usually, where I could bring him home for an hour or so.
The care home was warm and friendly and did their best for both of us but for me as the carer there was another feeling which I believe is not unusual for a gay man of my generation. It was a feeling of not being ‘of them’ of being ‘different’; of them not being ‘my people’. My present husband says that I come alive when we are in LGBT company and that is because I feel so relaxed, at home, and without any need to explain, relate or defend who I really am. I see us therefore as ‘different’ but nevertheless ‘equally different’. Thus, when some gay friends of mine placed a relative of theirs in the same home, for some reason, I suddenly felt more relaxed and relieved; I was no longer there alone. This ‘aloneness’ is something I have seen in other LGBT carers, even when they are lucky to be surrounded by friends.
The cultural gap, for us, can also be huge and when I see filmed extracts of older people living in residential homes I look on with dread (though this feeling is probably not unique to LGBT people). Perhaps we really do need LGBT care homes where we can be fully ourselves.
Have a look at my chapter ‘Surely the world has changed’ in the excellent book ‘Telling Tales About Dementia’, published by Jessica Kingsley. There are also other chapters there written by LGB carers.
So what kind of experiences have I dealt with when supporting LGBT carers? Here are a few:-

The gay man caring for someone somewhat older that himself and wanting reassurance that his need and search for sexual activity was not a rejection of his partner, nor to be seen as avoidance of his caring role.

The lesbian woman caring for two parents with dementia and selling her house and business so she could move in with them and care for them, and her deep need for other lesbian contacts in a new place where she knew no one.

The gay male couple trying to care for a mother and now experiencing a crisis within their own relationship because of conflict with other relatives and a feeling by one of them of being sidelined.

The lesbian woman wanting to continue within her deeply satisfying job and sometimes having to choose between job demands and meeting the needs of her partner.

The gay man with developing dementia, and not having power of attorney, now ‘at the mercy’ of a family who cannot fully accept a caring role for him.

The lesbian woman and the only unmarried person in her family now assumed by them that she will naturally fall into the role of carer for her father.

The trans woman with a historic problem of opposition from her mother over her transitioning and now finding herself, the only child, as the sole carer of her mother.

The Chinese gay man in a relationship of over 20 years with his friend, now with dementia, and of whom his family knew virtually nothing. He was ‘just a friend’.

The lesbian woman now caring for her partner and neither of whom had ever publicly acknowledged their sexuality, and now having to deal with service providers who might well ask questions.

The gay man in a relationship here in UK and with an American friend who has now decided to return to the USA to be with his family, leaving his friend bereft.

And so the examples can go on. Each one takes for granted those challenges which all carers of those with dementia have to cope with, but also acknowledges additional ones relating to the sexuality of the carers or cared for. Being treated the same as everyone else only begins to get to the root of the need for holistic support.

LGBTs and Dementia 4

The diagnosis of any serious illness is a huge challenge for any of us whether LGBT or not, however  the one significant feature of our situation remains that we are more likely to have to cope with it alone – the majority of us are single. So for the LGBT person making a Will and creating Power of Attorney is not just important but surely essential. For the person diagnosed with dementia,  to say clearly and precisely what their future care should be like, is so important and it is wise to do it as soon as possible. For some LGBT people past relationships with family may not always have been happy and it is wise for everyone, both relatives and friends, to be clear what one’s wishes are and thus avoid any conflict. Here are some case histories:-

When Joan’s dementia diagnosis was confirmed, both she and her partner were somewhat startled to receive renewed interest and visits from her long separated family and both doubted their motives.

When Peter said quite clearly how he wanted his care to be conducted, his family intervened and eventually went to court to contest the ‘rightness’ of his caring situation; fortunately they were unsuccessful.

There is also surely a need for advocacy services tailored to meet the needs of single people, like LGBTs, who, not having the support of partners and without close family ties behind them when making applications and responses to various agencies and government departments, might need  assistance.  

Fortunately we now live in a world where dementia care is more widely available and effective but, however well intentioned the provider may be, there remains for so many Lesbian and Gay people a feeling that they are different and this makes incorporating them into established care situations difficult, and for some, impossible. Consider again those defensive walls which have been created because of past attitudes to sexuality. What those walls have done is to enable us to construct a distinct and separate world. It is a world where a gay radar has been created so that we can recognise other’s sexuality without a word being said and without making too many mistaken assumptions. It is a world where, certainly for men, and to a certain extent for women there is even a separate language – talk to a gay man about ‘cottages’ and you have entered an entirely different universe of discourse. It is a world where our appearance and manner of dress can say a great deal about behaviours and choices. It is also a world where our cultural interests have a direct relationship to our sexuality. All these factors and others have a significant bearing on the value of the support which providers might give to LGBT people, and not to consider them would be a mistake and a failure of personalisation. For example:-

Pat’s local dementia group has a monthly singalong event which is fine for those who find singing along to World War 2 songs enjoyable, but since she has been a professional singer and still knows what she wants from singing, wild horses couldn’t drag her along to take part in that activity.

David loves film and the dementia group has occasional showings, but the assumption has been that as a man he wouldn’t want a Judy Garland film or a viewing of Priscilla Queen of the Desert and in his case that assumption is wide of the mark.

Similarly watching TV can be a valuable resource for occupying those with dementia but don’t assume that stereotypical men’s and women’s programmes are likely to be the choice of Lesbians and Gays.  It is a gift for LGB and T people that  advances in technology such as ipods, ipads and downloadable films can ensure that activities for those with dementia do not have to consist of a one size fits all experience but instead can be directly tailored to the personal interests of each one. This is where local LGBT groups could service the needs of their carers and those with dementia to supplement other care provided elsewhere.

When we consider  the nature of our relationships and those deeper feelings surrounding our sexuality, dementia care ignores them at its peril:-

As Brian’s dementia deepened it became clear that he really did need residential care, but from the moment of him entering the home he started to become a different person. Gone was the hugging and kissing one always received on meeting him. Gone was the outrageous campery which had always been hilarious to his friends; and gone were the stories, which even at the 50th recounting were a joy to hear. The residential home didn’t intend to have that effect on Brian but its failure to understand and encourage him to give vent to the depths of his sexuality had effectively forced him to give up on being the real person he was.

Then there was Jim who, previously always kissed his partner wherever they were and now, with the onset of dementia, the hugging and kissing actually increased, but his partner now felt uncomfortable about this  because effectively they were out of their private world and now in a different one. The partner felt that they might have to temper their behaviour, not for their own sake, but for the sake of others around them.

Then again Jennifer and Brenda, both residents in a care home gradually became inseparable and walked around hand in hand all day. The home owner said that the one believed the other was actually her husband, but when they were found in bed with each other, Jennifer’s family intervened and demanded that Brenda be moved to another home.

 There are other challenges too, not least for example where it is suggested that as many as 1 in 12 gay men over the age of 60 may be HIV positive – this has repercussions for health provision but, since HIV dementia can exist, it also provides a separate challenge for dementia care.

Then there is the matter of sexual activity related to those with dementia and whether consent is really possible as the condition develops. It is surely right that some have not shied away from dealing with the issue and there remain unanswered questions. Whatever the outcomes might be it is surely right that homosexual activity should be treated on an equal basis as heterosexual activity.

Out there, throughout the UK, it is highly likely that there are at least 40,000 LGBTs with dementia but where are they? Only a proactive approach to reaching all communities will ensure that this group is not left uncared for.

 

 

 

 

 

LGBTs and Dementia 3

 I could tell that Jill, a lesbian carer and a friend, was anxious as she attended her first carers support group. For a start  I knew it was going to be necessary for her to ‘come out’. Everyone would want to know who she was caring for and that meant admitting her sexuality with the ensuing risk that not everyone might react in the best way. I remembered a carer once rounding on me when I spoke about my partner and saying “but I am talking about my HUSBAND”.

So the LGBT person with dementia and any LGBT carer will be faced regularly with deciding whether to ‘out’ themselves and even whether to out the person they are caring for. Since it is likely that there will be contact with relatively large numbers of health professionals and domiciliary carers  ‘coming out’ may become too regular a challenge for comfort but I remain convinced that doing so is the best way of ensuring holistic treatment.

However when we admit our sexuality we have said something fundamental about ourselves. It is not enough to say to us ‘ it’s ok, it doesn’t matter, we treat everyone the same’. Instead engage with us. Ask if there is anyone special in our life; our friends; and our culture. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about our sexuality, if you don’t know the answer. Any information which enables you to serve us holistically has got to be good. Your positive proactive response will also help us not to be fearful and defensive, and having to hide things like photos, magazines and all the other ‘incriminating’ evidence from our ‘gay’ lives.

Not for nothing then have some LGBTs looked for LGBT specific service provision as a way out of this challenge and understandably some LGBT groups have set up befriending schemes, support groups and private domiciliary service organisations to counteract a feeling of being left out or ignored. The fact also remains that LGBTs are good at setting up ‘families of choice’ and there are numerous examples of wonderful loving care being provided in such situations. We have got used to making up for what society does not offer.

What else then might our situation be saying something to those working in the field of dementia care?  Well for a start, there should be a constant reminder that gay or straight dementia does not discriminate and that there are LGBTs out there with dementia. Yet, and perhaps just as importantly, with the numbers now having dementia there is a new sense of all of us being in this together and the ‘all’ relates to our society as it is and not how we would prefer it to be. Those affected by dementia are therefore not just devoted happily married couples; white and middle class; surrounded by concerned and devoted families; and mostly prosperous. They are also single unmarried persons; they are widowed persons living miles away from family;  they are childless persons; they are divorced persons; and those dependant on benefits; and BME people; and persons from fractured families; and also, as you might expect,  LGBT persons too. The list then is almost endless and for all of them dementia does not discriminate. Our system of care, therefore, needs to reflect this real society

 

 

 

LGBTs and Dementia 2

When my partner was diagnosed with a life threatening condition, I was not with him when he was given the news, though I wish I had been. Later, however, we were able to sit down, hold each other, and then talk about and plan what we were going to do. I was able to assure him that I wasn’t going anywhere; I was in it with him, for the duration.

We were lucky, we had each other. However that is not the case for the  majority of older LGBTs who are not in a relationship and are more likely to live alone. They might have someone special with whom they can share and receive support from, but essentially they are alone shouldering the news. Their immediate families might step in and help, but for us, at our age, the relationship with the family might not always have been of the best; I still hear of older LGBTs who, having ‘come out’ ,were rejected by their relatives, and that state has remained for the rest of their lives.

Giving the diagnosis of a serious condition is a challenge which GPs do not always recognise as the crisis it is for the patient, and which requires immediate help and support. Some more enlightened GPs, however, do provide information packs which give details of services, support groups and other relevant information,and which will later probably be a life saver. However I would bet my shirt that such packs wouldn’t be likely to contain details of LGBT support, either because the issue hadn’t been considered; or wasn’t immediately available; or, more likely, didn’t exist in the first place. Remember we are at least 5% of the adult population – there are a lot of us!

So, consider. Anne is living alone, has been diagnosed with a form of dementia, and is not ‘out’. What now? The best answer might be to ‘come out’ and thus ensure that all of her service and health provision will be  given with the added information that she is a lesbian. In that way there is a hope that she will be treated holistically, with the acknowledgement by service providers, that her sexuality is fundamental to who Anne really is. However, since Anne is faced alone with yet another issue to be sorted before her dementia becomes more profound, the chances are that she will stay ‘in the closet’.  She will keep the matter secret and, from now on, will silently accept that she will remain, or become, an honorary heterosexual.

Not surprising therefore that so many service providers, health professionals, residential home workers will say that they haven’t had to deal with an LGBT person and the unspoken assumption follows that it isn’t an issue.

 

 

LGBTs and Dementia 1

Enter my world and largely the world of those of us who are in our 70s. Yes I know there are some of us who would say that they were never in the closet but for the most it wasn’t like that. We grew up in a world where newspapers and family chat assumed that being ‘gay’ belonged to others; to Piccadilly and Soho; to the secret bar and club; to comedians and theatre actors and actresses; but not to us.

At times there would be the odd scandal which would break out. Scout masters with their troops, choir masters with their choristers, peers or MPs with guardsmen, but that was them, not us. Not our family.

So what you knew was going on within you had to be kept firmly in its place. Perhaps those feelings might go away; perhaps it is a phase, some of us thought. Marriage might cure it. No point in talking about it to anyone, they might tell and then you would almost certainly lose your job.

The arrival of the wonderful world of gay rights and legislation protecting LGBTs was an enormous relief but the trauma of earlier years takes a lot of undoing. You might have relationships, friendships, and work situations which had all assumed a straight life and coming out to that lot takes time and, in some circumstances not a little courage. Better then to start a new life away from them all?

So we appreciated our new freedom but for many of us we were ‘out’ and ‘not out’ at the same time. Some of us might now fortunately be in LGBT relationships but we still carried with us the baggage of the repression of previous years. There might even be a fear that this new freedom might not last and our world might regress back into repression and the reports of homophobic violence were scary enough. So we learned to build defensive walls around ourselves so we could be safe and we could decide who would be allowed to know our secret.

Those are the experiences and feelings which LGBTs bring to the event of being diagnosed with dementia. Before you blandly trot out, ‘we treat everyone the same’, please understand what that news might mean to us – it could be different to your experience; but more about this next time.

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