25 January 2017


'Ageing fears and concerns of gay men aged 60 and over' by Peter Robinson in (2016) 17(1) Quality in Ageing and Older Adults 6-15 considers the destination facing most of us, ie old age.

The author comments
Gay men’s experience of ageing and old age is affected by both universal and gay-specific fears or concerns. Universal fears or concerns are those that are fairly common among the general population, including such things as supported care, aged accommodation, and social isolation. gay-specific fears or concerns mostly related to aged accommodation where other GLBT ageing research (Cronin, 2006; Heaphy, 2009; Hughes and Kentlyn, 2011) shows that gays and lesbians are wary of moving into nursing homes not only for the same reason as members of the general public, that is, it is something elderly people generally loathe thinking about or doing, but also because they fear heterosexist assumptions or homophobia from other residents or their families will affect their living circumstances and arrangements. In relation to supported care and social isolation, research for this paper strongly suggests that their fears or concerns are no different from those of the general public.
Like other elderly people, gay men fear the loss of partner or friends and the effect this can have on their intimate and social lives. And class affects gay men’s experience of old age just as it does the rest of the population (Phillipson, 2013, 1982). This is especially so in terms of aged accommodation and especially in Anglophone countries where policies over the last 30 years have meant that material resources now directly affect how individuals may age and experience old age.
Robinson's findings are that
Analysis of extracts from their life stories showed the men interviewed for this paper drew on two principal narratives when discussing their apprehensions about growing old. The first related to general fears or concerns about old age that would be fairly common among members of the general population. The second narrative related to gay-specific fears or concerns.
His significant claims are that
class affects gay men’s experience of old age just as it does for everyone else; and that fears of being ostracised because of their sexuality were strongest when the men spoke about aged-accommodation settings.
He notes that
With the exception of early work by British scholars such as Ken Plummer (1981), Hart and Diane Richardson (1981), and Jeffrey Weeks (1981), research in the field of GLBT ageing was slow to start, mostly getting going in the mid- to late 1990s and early 2000s, that is, after the worst of the AIDS crisis in the West was over. In her work on lesbian communities in the USA, Arlene Stein (1997) argued that, as the lesbians she studied grew into middle age, their attachment to the lesbian sub-culture changed. Something approaching this was found in an all-Australian study on the lives of middle-aged and old gay men (Robinson, 2008a) where there was evidence of the men moving away from the “centred” gay world where they had socialised in their youth and finding more useful social possibilities among gay and straight friends and family. In that study, gay men aged 60 or older said that they felt marginalised in the gay world of clubs and bars but were relatively sanguine about their outcast status and in some cases pitied the young gay men their superficial preoccupation. Similar accounts were found in a British empirical study of older gay men and lesbians (Heaphy, 2009, p. 126).
Stein’s (1997) argument about middle-aged lesbians being able to move in and out of different settings could help to explain why some gay men in their mid-40s and older become less concerned with the values and practices of the gay world and tended to lead more “decentred” lives (pp.152-3). More recently, a similar pattern – of moving away from the gay world and relying on it less for social/sexual relations – was found in the stories of gay men’s long-term relationships (Robinson, 2013) and in the work of Paul Simpson (2013) on Manchester’s gay village where he argues that middle-aged gay men are capable of both submission and rebellion in regard to ageism (p. 297). ...
The interviewees drew on two principal narratives when speaking of fears or concerns they held in relation to care and accommodation in old age. The first narrative related to fairly universal fears or concerns that the general population holds regarding old age such as supported care, aged accommodation, and social isolation. The second narrative related to gay-specific fears or concerns, which were: the possible effect of homophobic care workers, either those who were home-based carers or working in aged-care facilities; and the possible effect of the heterosexist culture they expected to find in aged-care facilities and/or homophobic residents, care workers or management. If this were the case, some thought they would be forced to return to closet. These fears are similar to those that British sociologists, Sara Arber (2006) and Ann Cronin (2006) found in their work on ageing women and lesbians.
He concludes
Further research would be useful in testing the reality of gay men’s fears about heterosexist or homophobic attitudes among other residents or staff in aged-care accommodation. The fact that these fears are being more widely discussed suggests that GLBT baby boomers are likely to effect cultural change as more of them take up residence in aged accommodation. The sort of research that will help determine how entrenched or easily shifted is anti-gay prejudice would include in-depth interviews with gay men who had legal capacity and were receiving in-home supported care or living in aged accommodation. The two variables are social class and time. Social class because it is likely men living in high-cost, aged-care accommodation would have greater privacy and time because as mentioned as more baby boomers take up residence, their presence will bring about cultural change and underline the importance of policies such as ageing with dignity that are more in evidence in hospitals and aged-care facilities in Australia, Britain, and New Zealand and similar countries.
'Permanent personhood or meaningful decline? Toward a critical anthropology of successful aging' by Sarah Lamb in (2014) 29 Journal of Aging Studies 41-52 comments
The current North American successful aging movement offers a particular normative model of how to age well,one tied to specific notions of individualist personhood especially valued in North America emphasizing independence, productivity, self-maintenance, and the individual self as project. This successful aging paradigm, with its various incarnations as active, healthy and productive aging, has received little scrutiny as to its cultural assumptions. Drawing on fieldwork data with elders from both India and the United States, this article offers an analysis of cultural assumptions underlying the North American successful aging paradigm as represented in prevailing popular and scientific discourse on how to age well. Four key themes in this public successful aging discourse are examined: individual agency and control; maintaining productive activity; the value of independence and importance of avoiding dependence; and permanent personhood,a vision of the ideal person as not really aging at all in late life,but rather maintaining the self of one's earlier years. Although the majority of the (Boston-area, well-educated, financially privileged) US elders making up this study, and some of the most cosmopolitan Indians, embrace and are inspired by the ideals of the successful aging movement, others critique the prevailing successful aging model for insufficiently incorporating attention to and acceptance of the human realities of mortality and decline. Ultimately, the article argues that the vision offered by the dominant successful aging paradigm is not only a particular cultural and biopolitical model but, despite its inspirational elements, in some ways a counterproductive one. Successful aging discourse might do well to come to better terms with conditions of human transience and decline,so that not all situations of dependence,debility and even mortality in late life will be viewed and experienced as “failures” in living well