Many LGBT elders are faced with feelings of loneliness, and suffer alienation from within their communities. The struggles and experiences are unique and range from having lived an entire life in the closet or being left widowed and without a partner or a support system due to the governments failure to recognize our partnerships.
Ageism in Society and the Gay Community:
Ageism is a serious problem in our society in general with explicit and sometimes unconscious discrimination and stereotyping of middle aged and and elderly people. The gay community views anyone over the age of 35 as a senior, and as a result it has a strong impact for people searching for the fountain of youth, and makes it harder for older gays to maintain a good sense of self-esteem.
LGBT elders, it doesn't cross peoples minds that the individual may have been a lifelong gay activist or have a partner. The elderly LGBT person needs to continue coming out in a society that sees gay identity as sexual, and dismisses the notion that elderly people also have sexual identity and sexuality. Many LGBT elders have lived their life in silence, never being true to themselves, and face the hardship of coming out at an old age. Our society today is much more open and affirming of LGBT people, with most coming out resources aimed at youth, and little in the way of assistance for the elderly who have been closeted and seek to be free in their respective identities.
Lack of independence:
LGBT elders often face a lack of independence either with a nurse aid, or in a nursing home or hospice. Being under the care of others and not having true independence makes living out your identity or coming to terms with it more of a struggle.
While of course LGBT seniors are not going to be subject to schoolyard taunts many are placed in an environment with fellow seniors who have been part of the society that has ridiculed them and sought to pathologize their lives. Can you imagine what it must be like to be an out and proud member of the community who suddenly gets thrust back into an environment with those who do not understand, are not accepting, or worse are disgusted and morally opposed by your "lifestyle".
The LGBT seniors who have already transitioned into their appropriate gender face the difficulty not only of acceptance from a generation that does not understand gender issues, but also the financial cost of keeping up with hormones and some medical routines that some trans people choose to undergo. The senior who is just coming to terms with being transgender having never even known of the concept faces the hard task of self acceptance, societal acceptance, and the lack of information out there for LGBT elders.
Rainbow Senior Pride:
Even in the face of all the roadblocks faced by queer elders there are some wonderful things that this sub-section of the community can be proud of. For one, their generation represents the very face of the gay liberation movement, the old drag queens who stood up to police brutality at Stonewall, the gays and lesbians demanding change from within the system of oppression, and organizing a powerful and dedicated constituency organized for social justice and change. It is the queer elders of today who organized the groups such as The Mattachine Society, The Gay Liberation Front, The Daughters of Bilitis, and so many other early groups that fought for freedoms for sexual minorities.
Books of Interest:
The Changing Of The Guard: Lesbian And Gay Elders, Identity, And Social Change
by Dana Rosenfeld
Gay and Gray: The Older Homosexual Man by Raymond Berger
Village Elders photobook by Penny Coleman
Dyke Life: From Growing Up To Growing Old, A Celebration Of The Lesbian Experience by Karla Jay.
Sociological Analysis of Aging: The Gay Male Perspective by J. Michael Cruz
Long Time Passing: Lives of older lesbians by Marcy Adelman
Gay and Lesbian Aging: Research and Future Directions by Gilbert Herdt
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Aging: Research and Clinical Perspectives by Douglas Kimmel
LGBT Assisted Living/Retirement Homes:
http://www.sageusa.org">Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders
LGBT Aging Issues Network
Old Lesbians Organizing for Change
Gay and Lesbian Association of Retiring Persons
Wednesday, February 11, 2009