The gay world, with its emphasis on youthful good looks and hip fashion trends can be a cold and unwelcoming place for those who are no longer young.
For many, aging is a frightening concept, something to be denied, fought against and held at bay for as long as possible. Botox, collagen injections and cosmetic surgery, our obsession with youth seems to know no bounds.
In so many ways, being old and gay is one big taboo subject, a topic to be shunned and avoided at all costs. But age, like the future, cannot be avoided; like it or not, it is something that will come all too soon.
Research is really only beginning to uncover what it means to be older and LGBT. Because many older LGBT people felt unable to be open about their sexual orientation, gender identity, and preferences earlier in life, some may experience even greater difficulty adjusting as they continue to age.
Rutgers University professor, Dr. Michael C. LaSala, believes that aging may be particularly difficult for gay men because historically gay culture has focused on youth and beauty, and as sexual attractiveness diminishes, so can self-esteem.
To free ourselves and develop a robust and lasting sense of self-worth as we age may mean going against the current of many present-day gay attitudes.
Aging can be especially difficult if we are overly dependent on one aspect or dimension of our self, but when we remember that there is much more to us, and that we have far more value than mere physical beauty, then growing older can be better accepted and handled with dignity.
In 2010, the UK organization Stonewall conducted a survey of LGBT people over the age of fifty-five. The data, intended to assist in planning for long-term housing and medical support for the aging LGBT population, revealed that older gay and lesbian people are more likely to be single and to be living alone than their straight counterparts.
LGBT people are less likely to have children and they tend to see their conventional families less often. This is sometimes due to the family’s rejection. People who came out later in life, or not at all, also have less time to build up lasting relationships within the LGBT community.
In many other ways, aging LGBT people share the same concerns as others involved in the aging process. We may have concerns about finances, health, and death. Some of the health needs and concerns of LGBT people are unique and require further study, but many are not.
As we age, it is important that we learn to assert our rights in terms of the kind of care we receive.
Unfortunately, homophobia continues to be an issue for older adults. Not every doctor, social worker, senior community or gerontological physician is knowledgeable or prepared for LGBT seniors. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or to assert your rights in order to help educate these health care professionals. If necessary, shop around to find the right doctor and the right community for you. They are out there, and they can be found.
If all of this makes you feel blue about your golden years, don’t be! Remember that you have control over many things, and this includes a huge part of your own happiness. With a little planning and determination, your later years can be absolutely amazing.
Many older LGBT people manage to find wonderful, long-lasting relationships, even in later years. The same rules that apply to youthful relationships apply to relationships in later life. As long as each partner is loving and supportive, the relationship can be healthy, regardless of age.
One U.S. not-for-profit association that offers support to the mature gay person is SAGE, the country’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of older LGBT people. SAGE offers numerous services to gay people nationwide, and their website gives much useful information. The address is www.sageusa.org.
In the UK, Age Concern is a not-for-profit organization that does much to support and improve the lives of older LGBT people. Simply type “ageconcern.lgbt” into the address bar and click on the link.
In the coming years, the LGBT community will continue to increase in visibility and in power. As society changes and becomes more open and accepting, it is likely that life for aging LGBT people will change for the better as well. But this will not happen until gay people themselves end the taboo on becoming old.
As long as we maintain a dismissive attitude to older gay people, we will continue to fear the aging process, and we will continue to make those uncomfortable beds upon which we ourselves will one day have to lie.
If our lives are to have any meaning beyond the pleasure principle, any real relevance and authenticity, then we need to end our denial and come to terms with the aging process, of what it is to be gay and older.
It really is time to break the taboo about being gay and old.
“Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength.” – Betty Friedan
Peter Field is a UK registered psychotherapist and Director of Rainbow Champions, assertive life-skills and confident communication training for LGBT persons. His book ‘How to Be Gay and Happy’ is now available on Amazon. Peter’s hypnotherapy Birmingham and London clinics provide hypno-psychotherapy services for a wide range of issues.