One of my research projects is to examine how a group of 25 gay men aged 60 and over have experienced or expect to experience old age. Interviewed as part of research I did for a book that Palgrave Macmillan published in 2013 (Gay Men’s Relationships Across the Life Course) the men were recruited in Auckland, London, Manchester, Melbourne, and New York. Six of them were in their 80s, nine were in their 70s and ten were in their 60s. This project builds on work that Brian Heaphy (2009), Ann Cronin and Andrew King (2012) among others, have already done in the area of queer ageing needs. It will also expand on my own findings from an all-Australian sample of gay men (n=80) that I used in The Changing World of Gay Men (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008) where I argued that I found little or no evidence to suggest that Australian gay men aged 60 and over were lonely in old age and that most seemed relatively optimistic about the prospect of growing old. What I did not examine, however, in The Changing World was the extent of their fears or concerns about life in care, which is the focus of the research I write about today.
Preliminary analysis of data from my international sample of 25 men suggests that they chiefly used two narratives when explaining what worried them about their care needs in old age. The first narrative related to that set of general fears and concerns that occupy the waking hours of many members of the general population as they age, namely fears about losing mobility or independence, having to live alone after the death of a partner, loss of sexual potency or interest, having to move into a nursing home, or the risk of dementia.
The second narrative the men drew on when explaining what worried them about old age were fears about heterosexism or homophobia. At the top of their list of worries was the heteronormativity they expected would exist in nursing homes or the homophobia of staff or other residents, either of which could have the effect of forcing some of the men back into the closet. One of the interviewees, a Sydney man aged 72 said the following about aged-care accommodation: ‘Nursing homes in Australia are often run by church organisations. Some church organisations, though not all, are not particularly welcoming to gay residents. They are not particularly understanding of the diversity of human relationships and of their needs’. A similar, related fear that men already living independently at home expressed was having to deal with care workers who were homophobic or uncooperative.
Cronin, Ann and Andrew King (2012) ‘Only Connect? Older lesbian, gay and Bisexual (LGB) social capital’ in Ageing and Society Available on CJO 2012 doi:10.1017/S0144686X12000955
Heaphy, Brian (2009) ‘The Storied, Complex Lives of Older GLBT Adults: Choice and its Limits in Older Lesbian and Gay Narratives of Relational Life’ in Journal of GLBT Family Studies, 5, 119–138.