The Gay Elderly

Intersectionality– roughly, the way that multiple oppressions may interact, and may even not be clearly separable– is rightly a major topic that receives a lot of attention in academia (though arguably still not as much as it should).  But some intersections get more attention than others, and one that doesn’t really get a lot of attention is the intersection of ageism and homophobia.  But it should, as this New York Times article makes clear.  There always has been a large gay elderly population (as a few seconds’ reflection would make clear to anyone but Mahmoud Ahmadinejad), but now things are a bit different: many of these people have eventually managed to live openly as gay in a world that is more tolerant than the one that they grew up in, partly by choosing the communities in which they live.  But when they need long-term residential care things turn ugly– they’re forced to live in close quarters in homophobic communities (both residents and staff).  Most of them return to their closets, and at a time when life is getting enormously difficult anyway this is a huge burden.  Some commit suicide, and many suffer depression.  The good news is that there are some– though surely not enough– retirement centers that cater to gay people; and that gay rights organizations are working very hard to educate those running and working retirement centers, in order to improve things. One of those working to do this, by the way, is Amber Hollibaugh, known to me for her writings on sexuality. (Although the article is primarily focused on homophobia, the work being done includes work against transphobia as well.)

2 thoughts on “The Gay Elderly

  1. Whose intersectionality? Which multiple oppressions?
    It’s unfortunate that in highlighting the discrimination elderly lesbian and gay men confront in long-term care faciliities (and elsewhere), the article demeans elderly disabled people (some of whom might themselves be lesbian or gay!). I am referring in particular to the place in the article that describes the situation of the 79 year-old man who was moved from his floor because of taunting and harassment. The article explains that the man hung himself because he got roomed with “people with severe disabilities and dementia,” an arrangement that (according to the article) Hollibaugh had suggested was ‘inhumane’. The implication seems to be that these disabled people are some kind of human garbage or justifiably outcast. I infer from the article that these disabled people are segregated from the ‘general population’ of the housing facility. Why is that presumed to be acceptable? Indeed, why is that any more acceptable than someone else being segregated? The article (and Hollibaugh?) may advance the circumstances of non-disabled elderly gay people, but it does so by further marginalizing another, already demeaned social group.

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