About Sue Westwood

Project Researcher:

Sue’s academic and professional interests cohere around ageing, gender and sexuality, approached from a critical feminist perspective. She has multidisciplinary qualifications including in gerontology, gender and sexuality, and law, and is about to complete a PhD in Law at Keele University. Sue’s thesis explores LGB ageing in a regulatory context, from a feminist socio-legal perspective. Sue is co-investigator, with colleagues at Surrey University, Nottingham University, the University of Oxford University, and the Chinese University of Hong Kong, on an ESRC Seminar Series funded project, ‘Older LGBT People: Minding the Knowledge Gaps’ (2012-15).

Sue has expertise in the field of dementia, having previously researched and managed dementia and end-of-life services. She has assisted on several research projects including on the experiences of carers of people with dementia.

Sue was a Visiting Scholar, at the invitation of Professor Martha Fineman, at Emory University, Atlanta, GA, in 2011. She was Chair and Convener of two LGBT ageing symposia at the British Society of Gerontology’s 2012 annual conference, held at Keele University, and Chair of the roundtable ‘Gender and Sexuality as Magnifiers of Older Age Concerns’ at the British Society of Gerontology’s 2013 annual conference, held at the University of Oxford. Sue is a member of the Law and Society Association (LSA), the Socio-Legal Studies Association, and the British Society of Gerontology.  She is on the Executive Committee of the ‘Aging, Law & Society’ Collaborative Research Network (CRN) of the LSA, and is Chair of the CRN’s outreach committee. Sue is also a Global Affiliate of the Vulnerability and the Human Condition Initiative, Emory University.

‘Preceptorship’ – helping newly qualified nurses ‘thrown in at the deep end’

Preceptorship is support for newly qualified nurses (NQNs) as they transition from studenthood to the demands, and responsibilities, of being a qualified nurse. Preceptorship refers to ‘a period of structured transition for the newly registered practitioner during which he or she will be supported by a preceptor, to develop their confidence as an autonomous professional, refine skills, values and behaviours and to continue on their journey of life-long learning’ (DoH 2010: 11). It is underpinned by a range of government policies and good practice guidelines, including A High Quality Workforce: NHS Next Stage Review which states: ‘A foundation period of preceptorship for practitioners at the start of their careers will help them begin the journey from novice to expert’ (DoH 2008: 72). Preceptorship aims to address how knowledge acquired in nurse training is recontextualised in practice (Evans et al 2010) and how newly qualified nurses (NQNs) adapt to the ‘real world of practice’ (Houghton 2014).

In addition to needing support in developing their clinical skills and self-confidence in their own nursing judgements, many NQNs find time-management in busy clinical contexts a challenge (O’Kane 2012) and, in parallel, experience difficulties in relation to delegation skills. Inability to delegate can lead to NQNs feeling overwhelmed, which can result in burnout and high staff turnover of NQNs. However, despite the need for registered nurses to be competent in delegating and supervising unregistered health care assistants, research suggests that their nurse education does not always equip them with the necessary skills (Hasson, McKenna and Keeny 2013). Preceptorship then becomes a vital means of supporting them in acquiring those skills.

Even though research repeatedly affirms the importance of preceptorship, it is not consistently available to NQNs cross the UK, nor, even if offered on paper, is it always reliably delivered in practice (Higgins Spencer and Kane, 2010) particularly at times where there are considerable restraints upon nursing budgets (Avis, Mallik and Fraser 2013). This means that many NQNs feel they find themselves in ‘Sink or Swim’ situations (Hughes and Fraser 2001). While many will swim, some inevitably will sink. This is a terribly waste not only of training, but also of people who want to be, and could be, competent and confident nurses, provided they are given sufficient support during their transition from student to qualified nurse. Investment in preceptorship can have huge benefits in supporting and retaining NQNs (Whitehead et al 2013) and as such should be made consistently and robustly available to nurses during their initial post-qualifying period.

References
Avis, Mark, Mallik, Maggie and Fraser, Diane M. (2013). ‘”Practising under your own Pin”–a description of the transition experiences of newly qualified midwives.’ Journal of Nursing Management 21(8): 1061-1071
Department of Health (2008). A High Quality Workforce: NHS Next Stage Review. London: Department of Health.
Department of Health (2010) Preceptorship Framework for Newly Registered Nurses, Midwives and Allied Health Professionals. London: Department of Health
Evans, Karen, et al. (2010) ‘Putting knowledge to work: A new approach.’ Nurse Education Today 30(3): 245-251.
Hasson, Felicity, Hugh P. McKenna, and Sinead Keeney (2013) ‘Delegating and supervising unregistered professionals: the student nurse experience.’ Nurse Education Today 33(3): 229-235.
Higgins, Georgina Spencer, Racheel Louise and Kane, Ros (2010). “A systematic review of the experiences and perceptions of the newly qualified nurse in the United Kingdom.” Nurse Education Today 30(6): 499-508.
Houghton, Catherine E. (2014) ‘”Newcomer adaptation”: a lens through which to understand how nursing students fit in with the real world of practice.’ Journal of Clinical Nursing: Advance access, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jocn.12451/full
Hughes, Anita J., and Fraser, Diane M. (2011). ‘”SINK or SWIM”: The experience of newly qualified midwives in England.’ Midwifery 27(3): 382-386.
O’Kane, Catherine E. (2012). ‘Newly qualified nurses’ experiences in the intensive care unit.’ Nursing in Critical Care, 17(1): 44-51.
Whitehead, Bill, et al. (2013). ‘Supporting newly qualified nurses in the UK: A systematic literature review.’ Nurse Education Today 33: 370–377.

Empowering the Voices of LGBT Individuals with Dementia

A seminar in London organised by the Dementia Engagement and Empowerment Project (DEEP) and facilitated by myself, was attended by over 40 people this week, to discuss how we can give greater individual and collective voice to lesbians, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) people with dementia. Attendees included dementia service providers and advocates, older LGBT service providers and advocates, older LGBT people themselves, and academics working in the field of LGBT ageing and/or dementia. There were three excellent speakers: Rachael Litherland from DEEP; Sally Knocker (trainer, consultant and writer) and Dr Elizabeth Price (Senior Lecturer, University of Hull). Two short films were shown: one from Opening Doors London (which includes a gay men with memory problems in need of befriending and extra support) and a training clip from GenSilent (which features, among others, a gay couple dealing with one partner’s dementia; a lesbian couple pondering their future care needs; and a trans women who is dying, is estranged from her family, and lacks support). One of the most amazing things about the seminar was that it started without us! Many people arrived early, some by almost an hour, and struck up vibrant and deeply engaged conversations. These continued even after we introduced the planned bits of the seminar, and went on over the tea break, and into the group discussions which then followed.

LGBT individuals with dementia are not one homogenous group (1). As dementia is age-related and women outlive men, then older lesbians and bisexual women are likely to be disproportionately affected by dementia (women outnumber men with dementia 2:1) (2). This, together with relatively diminished social support in later life, means that older lesbians are likely to also be disproportionately represented in care homes for people with dementia. By contrast, gay and bisexual men who do find themselves in those spaces will be a minority in a minority due to both gender and sexuality. Many LGB people are impacted by the lack of recognition of LGB carers of someone with dementia (3) and of LGB health and social care service users, including in dementia provision (4). This is nuanced by gender: older women are particularly concerned about being around potentially sexually disinhibited behaviour of heterosexual men with dementia; and many older lesbians and gay men want integrated provision, but many also want gender and/or sexuality specific care. This is also nuanced by sexuality: many bisexual individuals suffer from the disappearing ‘B’ in LGBT (5), being assumed to be heterosexual if single or in a relationship with a person of another gender and being assumed to be lesbian or gay if in a relationship with someone of the same gender.

Trans individuals (who may or may not identify as LGB) are concerned with both shared and particular issues (6). Those particularities include: concerns about transphobia; being worried about not being able to cross-dress; being very concerned about receiving personal care if their physical bodies are not congruent with their gender performance; and, among those who have transitioned, being concerned that if they have dementia, as it progresses, they may no longer remember that they have transitioned, and may revert to performing according to the gender which they were assigned at birth.

A wide ranging number of themes emerged across the seminar. These included: the issue of how to ‘find’ LGBT people with dementia who may be hidden both by their dementia and by their sexualities and/or gender identities; the importance of making sure any project which aims to empower LGBT people with dementia is driven by LGBT people with dementia; concerns about heteronormativity, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia among dementia service providers and dementia service users; the importance of training and practice development among service providers (7); the importance of both mainstream providers and the LGBT ‘community’ taking responsibility for addressing these concerns; and the need to take into account the needs of queer/polyamorous/non-labelling individuals with dementia who can often be hidden in generic LGBT discourse.

All attending the seminar were agreed that it was a very successful and stimulating event, and hopefully would lead on to the development of a number of different projects which will give greater voice to LGBT individuals with dementia in the future. A range of possibilities were discussed, including making mainstream dementia advocacy more inclusive of LGBT individuals with dementia, and LGBT intergenerational projects, which would involve LGBT befrienders supporting LGBT individuals with dementia. DEEP will be keeping all those who attended informed in future developments. Anyone wishing to know more, should contact the Dementia Engagement and Empowerment Project (DEEP)

(1) Newman, R. and Price, E. (2012) ‘Meeting the Needs of LGBT People Affected by Dementia,’ in R. Ward, I. Rivers & M. Sutherland Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Ageing: Biographical Approaches for Inclusive Care and Support, pp183- 195, London: Jessica Kingsley. [Accessible via: http://bit.ly/1dGiQCb]

(2) Knapp, Martin, et al. (2007) Dementia UK: a Report to the Alzheimer’s Society. London: Alzheimer‘s Society.

(3) Price, E. (2012) ‘Gay and lesbian carers: ageing in the shadow of dementia’, Ageing & Society, 32: 516-532.

(4) Ward, R., River, I. & Sutherland, M. (eds) (2012) Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Ageing: Biographical Approaches for Inclusive Care and Support, London: Jessica Kingsley

(5) Jones, R. (2010) ‘Troubles with bisexuality in health and social care.’, in: Jones, Rebecca L. and Ward, Richard (eds) LGBT Issues: Looking beyond Categories. Policy and Practice in Health and Social Care (10), pp 42-55, Edinburgh: Dunedin Academic Press, pp. 42–55.

(6) Auldridge, A., et al (2012) Improving the Lives of Transgender Older Adults: Recommendations for Policy and Practice. New York: Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders and National Center for Transgender Equality

(7) Suffolk Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Network (2012) Providing Quality Care to LGBT Clients with Dementia in Suffolk: A Guide for Practitioners; Alzheimer’s Society (2013) Supporting lesbian, gay and bisexual people with dementia. Alzheimer’s Society Factsheet 480. London: Alzheimer’s Society:

Older People’s Day – Including Older LGBT people

It’s Older People’s Day in the UK on 1st October, and it seems timely to flag the particular issues affecting older LGBT people, who are an under-recognised and under-served group of individuals. Yet their numbers are growing. It is estimated that between 5-7½% of the population have a ‘non-heterosexual’ identity. This means there are between 61,000 and 122,000 ‘non-heterosexual people’ over 60 living in the UK today, and this figure is set to rise to between 881,000 and 1,763,000 by 2030. Older LGBT share many of the issues and concerns of all older people, but their ageing can be made more complicated by their sexualities, gender identities and histories (1).

According to a recent UK survey comparing over 1,000 older LGB people and 1,000 older heterosexual people (2), older LGB people are more likely to be single and to live alone, less likely to have children and are less likely to see biological family members on a regular basis.  Older LGB people are also more likely to suffer from the consequences of a lifetime of minority stress (stigma and marginalisation) and as a result are more likely to drink alcohol, take drugs and smoke than older heterosexual people. They are more likely to have a history of mental health problems, and to have current concerns about their mental health, particularly depression. This can be linked to bereavement following the deaths of partners and/or close friends, which often goes unrecognised (3).  Many trans people are also estranged from their families, and continue to be regarded as mentally ill under the psychiatric diagnosis of ‘gender dysphoria’ making them particularly wary of engaging with mental health services (4).

With less intergenerational support than their heterosexual peers, older LGBT are more likely to need formal social care, and at an earlier age, than older heterosexual people. Yet at the same time, the majority of older LGBT people are very worried that health and social care providers will not be able to recognise or meet their needs.  Many feel they would have to hide their identities from care staff and/or fellow service users (the older people are, the more they carried the prejudices of the past, (5)). Many are worried that they will be unwillingly exposed by their own or a loved one’s dementia (6). Many are fearful that they will spend the final years lonely and isolated, estranged from loved ones, in care homes where their lives and identities are either not recognised or not valued and validated (7).

We need to ensure that all older people are recognised and respected for who they are, and that includes older LGBT people. We also need to know much more about the lives, needs and wishes of older LGBT people, and this is where the ‘Minding the Knowledge Gaps’ project comes in. This project is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and is co-organized by Andrew King (PI), University of Surrey, Kathryn Almack (University of Nottingham), Yiu-Tung Suen (University of Oxford/Chinese University of Hong Kong) and Sue Westwood (Keele University). The project involves a series of six themed seminars followed by a final conference, aimed at exploring gaps in knowledge and research about LGBT ageing, and identifying ways to address those gaps. For more information, go to the ‘Minding the Knowledge Gaps’ project. A further project of interest is ‘The Last Outing’ . Based at the Sue Ryder Centre, Nottingham University, the study is exploring end of life care experiences and concerns of older LGBT people.

Both projects can be followed on Twitter: @LGBTageing and @TheLastOuting.

References

(1)  Ward, R., et al (eds) (2013) Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Ageing: Biographical Approaches for Inclusive Care and Support, London and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley.

(2)  Stonewall (2011) Lesbian, Gay Bisexual People in Later Life, London: Stonewall

(3)  Almack, K., et al. (2010) ‘Exploring the impact of sexual orientation on experiences and concerns about end of life care and on bereavement for lesbian, gay and bisexual elders.’ Sociology. 44(5): 908-924.

(4) Fredriksen-Goldsen, K., et al. (2013) ‘Physical and Mental Health of Transgender Older Adults: An At-Risk and Underserved Population.’ The Gerontologist doi: 10.1093/geront/gnt021First published online: March 27, 2013

(5)  Valentine, G. & Macdonald, I. (2004) Understanding Prejudice London: Stonewall

(6)  Price, E. (2012) ‘Gay and lesbian carers: ageing in the shadow of dementia’, Ageing & Society, 32: 516-532.

(7)  Ward, R., et al (2011) Don’t look back? Improving health and social care service delivery for older LGB users, London: Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Faith, religion, spirituality and care

Regrettably, I am still a reader of the Daily Mail online. Whilst often infuriating, it does occasionally have its good points. Recently, an article on a new book about ‘mind over body’ – ‘The cancer patient cured by a broken radiotherapy machine and the paralysed man who walked again after visiting Lourdes: New book shows incredible influence of the mind over the body’ reminded me of Louise Hay’s excellent ‘You Can Heal Your Life.’ Hay considers the psychological/emotional/spiritual meanings and connections of physical illness, and offers those dimensions as spaces to support healing. All of this, in turn, got me thinking about faith, religion and spirituality as sites of care practices, sources and resources of care, and, then, their relationship(s) with care ethics. I realised that we have not as yet tapped this seam in our critique of care, and so wanted to raise this as a topic, perhaps for further discussion/contributions. Here is a brief bibliography to help get us started:

Care to comment/ discuss?

 

Key authorship on older LGB carers

Brotman, Shari, et al (2007) ‘Coming out to care: Caregivers of gay and lesbian seniors in Canada’, The Gerontologist, 47(4), pp. 490–503.

Conaghan Joanne and Grabham, Emily (2007) ‘Sexuality and the Citizen Carer’ Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly, 58: 325-341

Concannon, Liam (2009) ‘Developing Inclusive Health and Social Care Policies for Older LGB Citizens’, British Journal of Social Work, 39: 403-417.

Corden, Anne and Hirst , Michael (2011) ‘Partner care at the end-of-life : identity, language and characteristics’, Ageing & Society, 31:  217–242.

Cronin, Ann, et al (2011) ‘Categories and their consequences: Understanding and supporting the caring relationships of older lesbian, gay and bisexual people’, International Social Work 54(3): 421-435

Fenge, Lee-Ann, and Hicks, Christina (2011). “Hidden lives: the importance of recognising the needs and experiences of older lesbians and gay men within healthcare practice.” Diversity in Health and Care 8(3): 147-154.

Hughes, Mark, and Kentlyn, Sue (2011. “Older LGBT people’s care networks and communities of practice: A brief note.” International Social Work 54(3): 436-444.

Manthorpe, Jill and Price, Liz (2005) ‘Lesbian Carers: Personal Issues and Policy Responses’, Social Policy & Society 5(1): 15–26

Munro and Karen-Leigh Edward (2010) ‘The Burden of Care of Gay Male Carers Caring for Men Living With HIV/AIDS’, American Journal of Men’s Health, 4(4) 287-296

Munro and Karen-Leigh Edward (2010) ‘The Burden of Care of Gay Male Carers Caring for Men Living With HIV/AIDS’, American Journal of Men’s Health, 4(4) 287-296

Newman, Roger (2005). “Partners in care – Being equally different: lesbian and gay carers.” Psychiatric Bulletin 29(7): 266-267.

Price, Elizabeth (2008) ‘Pride or Prejudice? Gay men, lesbians and dementia’, British Journal of Social Work, 38: 1337-1352.

Price, Elizabeth. “Caring for mum and dad: lesbian women negotiating family and navigating care.” British Journal of Social Work 41.7 (2011): 1288-1303.

Roseneil, Sasha (2004) ‘Why we should Care about Friends: An Argument for Queering the Care Imaginary in Social Policy’, Social Policy & Society 3(4): 409–419

Rosenfeld, Dana, Bartlam, Bernadette and Smith, Ruth (2012) ‘Out of the Closet and Into the Trenches: Gay Male Baby Boomers, Aging, and HIV/AIDS’, The Gerontologist  Special Issue: Baby Boomers, Advance access 31st January 2012, doi:10.1093/geront/gnr138, 0(0):1–9.

Ward, Richard, et al (2005) A kiss is still a kiss? The construction of sexuality in dementia care. Dementia: the International Journal of Social Research and Practice, 4 (1): 49–72.

Willis, Paul, Ward, Nickie and Fish, Julie (2011) ‘Searching for LGBT Carers: Mapping a Research Agenda in Social Work and Social Care’, British Journal of Social Work, 41: 1304–1320

Older lesbians in residential and nursing care

A central feature of care in the fourth age is the medicalisation of ageing bodies, the emphasis on collective bodily care and the power dynamics involved in that care1. An aspect of these dynamics that has not yet been explored is the intersection of age, gender and sexuality in the provision of personal care in residential settings for older people. Single, childless, older women are most likely to populate these settings2. These women are also more likely to be lesbians, both because older lesbians and gay men are earlier and disproportionate users of formal social care, and because older lesbians are more likely than older heterosexual women to be single and childless3. Lesbians have often found the processes of self-disclosure in health contexts a treacherous terrain to navigate in earlier life, many avoiding screening/treatment and/or choosing not to disclose their sexual identities to medical professionals, particularly during intimate physical examinations4. Some younger(er) lesbians also report feeling vulnerable to the heteronormative gaze in those gay commercial contexts frequented by heterosexual women5.

Residential care for older people – heteronormative at best, homophobic at worst6, is situated at the intersection between these two sites of vulnerability. It is also a site of social exclusion where ageing bodies are hidden away and where dependency can mean it is less likely someone will complain about their care or otherwise assert their rights, especially people from minority communities7.

Care spaces in the home or in sheltered accommodation or residential care have long been recognised as complicating the notion of the public-private divide, being both public work spaces and private home spaces. For an older lesbian this becomes even more complicated. Home care which goes public no longer affords the sanctuary of private identity performance and management. Yet at the same time, because it is home care, often in care spaces where the very old older person is hidden away from the public eye, some of the legal protections which she might have been able to mobilise for herself also do not apply, when the disciplinary norms of social relationships dominate. In this way an older lesbian can be disadvantaged in multiple ways by a home that has gone public and a public space that operates on private, heteronormative, lines.

(1)  Twigg, Julia. (2004) ‘The body, gender, and age: Feminist insights in social gerontology.’ Journal of Aging Studies 1891): 59-73.

(2)  Arber, Sara (2006) ‘Gender and Later Life: Change, Choice and Constraints’. In J. Vincent, C. Phillipson and M. Downs (eds) The Futures of Old Age, pp. 54-61, London: Sage.

(3)  Heaphy, Brian Yip, Andrew and Thompson, Debbie (2004) ‘Ageing In A Non-Heterosexual Context’, Ageing & Society, 24(6): 881-902; Stonewall (2011) Lesbian, Gay Bisexual People in Later Life, London: Stonewall.

(4)  Hunt, Ruth, and Julie Fish. “Prescription for Change: Lesbian and bisexual women’s health check 2008.” Stonewall and De Montford University (2008).

(5)  Casey, Mark (2004) ‘ De-dyking Queer Space(s): Heterosexual Female Visibility in Gay and Lesbian Spaces’, Sexualities, 7(4): 446-461

(6)  Ward, Richard, Pugh, Stephen and Price, Elizabeth (2011) Don’t look back? Improving health and social care service delivery for older LGB users, London: Equality and Human Rights Commission.

(7)  Aronson, Jane and Neysmith, Sheila M. (2001) ‘Manufacturing Social Exclusion in the Home Care Market’, Canadian Public Policy – Analyse De Politiques, 27(2): 154-165

Mark Neary’s Tribunal: Unequal access to justice

Read Mark’s blog on trying to self-advocate in a housing battle on behalf of Mark and his disabled son, with no Legal Aid (since cuts), and so no legal representative, up against a powerful local authority’s barrister. Appalling. Shows vividly the power imbalance created by lack of funding for Legal Aid in social welfare disputes. The disempowered are further disempowered by a judicial process to which they do not have equal access.

Key authorship on alternative care/kinship models to nuclear family

With the current media frenzy about the royal couple and their baby, I thought it timely to consider scholarship on alternatives to the nuclear family. Here’s a list to be starting off with, which hopefully others will help to grow, with their own suggestions:

  1. Auchmuty, Rosemary (2009) ‘Beyond Couples? Burden v the United Kingdom (2008)’. Feminist Legal Studies, 17: 205-218.
  2. Barker, Nicola (2006) ‘Sex and the Civil Partnership Act: The Future of (Non) Conjugality?’ Feminist Legal Studies, 14(2): 241-259.
  3. Barker, Nicola (2012) Not the Marrying Kind: A Feminist Critique of Same-Sex Marriage. Basingstoke:  Palgrave Macmillan
  4. Boyd, Susan and Young, Claire F.L. (2003) ‘“From Same-Sex to No Sex”?: Trends Towards Recognition of (Same-Sex) Relationships in Canada’, Seattle Journal for Social Justice, 1(3): 757–793
  5. Browne, Kath (2011) ‘“By partner we mean …”: Alternative geographies of “gay marriage”’ Sexualities, 14(1): 100-122
  6. Conaghan Joanne and Grabham, Emily (2007) ‘Sexuality and the Citizen Carer’ Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly, 58: 325-341
  7. Fineman, Martha A (1994) The Neutered Mother, The Sexual Family and other Twentieth Century Tragedies, London: Routledge
  8. Fineman, Martha A (2004) The Autonomy Myth: A Theory of Dependency. New York: The New Press
  9. Harding, Rosie (2011) Regulating Sexuality: legal consciousness in lesbian and gay lives. Abingdon: Routledge.
  10. Peel, Elizabeth and Harding, Rosie (2008) ‘Editorial Introduction: Recognizing and Celebrating Same-Sex Relationships: Beyond the Normative Debate’, Sexualities, 11: 659- 666
  11. Polikoff, Nancy D. (2008) Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage: Valuing All Families Under the Law. Boston: Beacon Press
  12. Richardson, Diane (2004) ‘Locating Sexualities: From Here to Normality’, Sexualities, 7: 391-411
  13. Robson, Ruthann (2009) ‘Compulsory Matrimony’, in M. Fineman, J. Jackson and A. Romero (eds) Feminist and Queer Legal Theory: Intimate Encounters, Uncomfortable Conversations, pp 313-328 Aldershot: Ashgate
  14. Roseneil, Sasha (2004) ‘Why we should Care about Friends: An Argument for Queering the Care Imaginary in Social Policy’, Social Policy & Society 3(4): 409–419
  15. Roseneil, Sasha and Budgeon, Shelley (2004) ‘Cultures of Intimacy and Care beyond “The Family”: Personal Life and Social Change in the Early 21st Century’, Current Sociology, 52(2): 135-159.
  16. Stychin, Carl (2006) ‘‘‘Las Vegas is not where we are’: Queer readings of the Civil Partnership Act’, Political Geography, 25: 899-920
  17. Warner, Michael (2000) The Trouble With Normal: Sex, Politics and the Ethics of Queer Life. Boston, MA: Harvard University Press.

 

Recent publications on researching older lesbians

Two new articles by Sue Westwood have recently been published on researching older lesbians. The first was a very brief essay in a compilation a compendium edited by Sally-Marie Bamford and Jessica Watson, entitled ‘Has the sisterhood forgotten older women?’ Sue’s piece, ‘We are Older Women Too’ highlighted the marginalision of older lesbians from discourse about older women and ‘LGBT’ ageing research. Sue has also just had a paper published in the Journal of Lesbian Studies‘Researching Older Lesbians: Problems and Partial Solutions’ explores practical and ethical issues arising from Sue’s empirical research with older lesbians as part of wider PhD research project on LGB ageing and equality. The article highlights the difficulties and power dynamics involved in researching older lesbians, and suggests a more collaborative way of working:

Abstract: There is a lack of research about older lesbians, who can be considered not only a “hidden population” but also a population in hiding. Yet older lesbians hold vital historical and cultural narratives which are, in turn, the heritage of younger lesbians. They also have much to contribute to understandings about gender, sexuality and ageing, and to their currently unmet needs in terms of age-related housing, health and social care provision. This article reflects on some of the issues that make it difficult to access older lesbians for research purposes. It identifies four problematic areas in researching older lesbians: definitions, access, representative sampling, and ethical issues.  It suggests that participative action research  might offer a means of widening access and engaging with older lesbians in a more collaborative way.

For more information, please contact Sue Westwood (s.westwood@keele.ac.uk).  The article can be accessed on the Journal of Lesbian Studies or by contacting Sue.

Jane Traies is another researcher also publishing about older lesbians. Jane is working on a research project about older lesbians, based at the University of Sussex,  building the first-ever comprehensive picture of older lesbian life in the UK. Jane has also recently had a chapter published,  ‘Women Like That: Older Lesbians in the UK’ in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Ageing : Biographical Approaches for Inclusive Care and Support, edited by Richard Ward et al. For more information about Jane’s project, see her website:  ‘Women Like That.’

Why we should care about the menopause

A couple of months ago I was telling a younger woman about some of the problems I was experiencing with the menopause. She appeared to be listening with what has to be called grudging tolerance, at best, until I came to the bit about hot flushes. I was only mentioning them in passing, while explaining about some new medication that was helping. But when I said ‘hot flushes’ she sniggered. Yes, sniggered is the only word for it. She sniggered as if there was something really absurd and ridiculous about hot flushes. She sniggered in a conspiratorial way as if I should snigger too. I did not. For me, there is no sniggering about hot flushes.

I have discovered that there is still silence, stigma, and  taboo, about the menopause that is both widespread and, most worryingly, prevalent among women, even right-on feminists. If you broach the subject, women ten years younger – fellow lesbians, or bi or straight –  hastily do the maths to work out how long before it is their turn, and then, with anxious relief (or concern), tell you. Women two decades younger look uncomfortable, as if you’ve just broken wind. Older women seem reluctant to discuss the menopause, once over, either declaring breezily ‘Oh I sailed through mine’ (never has such a less empathic thing been said between two women, in my view) or, with a slight shudder, ‘it will pass’ as if half-remembering horrors now consigned to memory. Then there are the women who point out that in Japan there is no word for menopause, or the marvels of HRT (not mentioning its risks and that it is contra-indicated for some women, including me), or who helpfully suggest some homeopathic remedy a friend of a friend said was ‘simply marvellous.’ There is always the sense that there is something I could, and should, be doing to fix my menopausal symptoms.

There is no public space for menopause, apart from  books and magazine articles usually exhorting, ‘successful ageing’- style, women to enjoy our menopause (preferably ‘naturally’). ‘Enjoy’ is another way of saying ‘cope with it discretely and don’t complain about it’ and is a view not shared by all. Other than that it is privatised, hidden away. There is no place – apart from jokes, or self-help websites or conspiratorial chats between fellow menopausal women – for the impact of the menopause, particularly chronic sleep deprivation and effects on concentration and memory, to be recognised. Not at work, not in education, not in the provision of goods and services (beyond medicine). ‘Pregnancy and maternity’ is a protected characteristic under the UK Equality Act, because of discrimination pregnant women and mothers (especially nursing mothers) can experience. Perhaps ‘Menopause’ should be too, not simply as a gender discrimination issue.

The marginalisation is undoubtedly rooted in ageism – in mainstream society and between women – and sexism, the menopause being inextricably linked to loss of fertility and women’s (heteronormative) reproductive social value. If I hear anything more about the ‘male menopause’ I shall scream, and not because of hormonal changes. Heterosexual men going through the ‘male menopause’ often trade in their original wives for younger models, starting a family all over again. Women going through the (real) menopause are saying goodbye to their chances of ever having any (more) birth children, whether they want them or not.

In the 1970’s a man shop assistant said, when I was being mildly assertive, ‘don’t worry about her, her period’s probably due.’ And this menopause issue feels somehow similar, something very sexist, but with the added dimension of ageism. It feels like social exclusion from/by a world geared up for young, virile, things who have no limits, and don’t want anything to do with someone who reminds them that there are limits, that our bodies change, and that, in the end, we die. It feels like another aspect of the false (masculine) denial of vulnerability as part of the human condition.  All (cisgender) women go through the menopause, for now at least. While for some it is plain sailing, for others it is not. We should embrace each other in care and solidarity before, during and afterwards, not leave women to go through the menopause silently, on the margins, and alone.