Intergenerational programmes and LGBT people

How can LGBT people of different age groups support each other? This is a key question that the ESRC seminar ‘Intergenerational issues and LGBT people’ held at Oxford on 9th September 2013 aimed to address. The seminar brought together around 40 people – including academics, policy-makers, service providers, third-sector organisations, and advocacy groups – among them younger and older LGBT people.

Older and younger LGBT people have grown up under vastly different socio-historical circumstances. The priorities of needs and concerns of different age groups would be different. Even within the ‘community’ itself, especially among gay men, the focus on youth means that ageism against older people can be rampant. At the same time, reverse ageism against younger people, characterizing younger people as shallow and worry-free, is not uncommon. All these can lead to an impression that younger and older people are marked by ‘differences’ and different generations of LGBT people are torn apart from each other.

However, it needs to be recognized there are similar difficulties both groups face. Despite the speed and extent to which society has progressed on LGBT issues, both older and younger LGBT people still face minority stress on a daily basis, which is related to a range of mental health issues, such as social isolation, discrimination and depression. Service providers, be they educational and employment providers in the case of younger LGBT people, or care homes or day care centres in the case of older LGBT people, still work on heteronormative assumptions. Staff in such settings generally remain ignorant and unaware of, if not hostile towards, LGBT issues.

The International Longevity Centre (ILC) thus argued the case for intergenerational projects as a way to bring older and younger LGBT people together. It was argued that the range of benefits can include:

•    Unifying a diverse community;
•    Reducing age stereotypes;
•    Development of social skills and confidence;
•    Development of practical skills;
•    Exposure of young LGBT people to older LGBT role models;
•    Improved understanding of the needs of older and younger LGBT people;
•    Preservation and increased awareness of LGBT history;
•    Sharing lifecourse experiences and providing social support. (ILC 2011: 5)

It has been repeatedly pointed out in previous posts (http://revaluingcare.net/older-peoples-day-including-older-lgbt-people/, http://revaluingcare.net/a-darker-side-to-care/ ), that older LGBT people can be particularly in need of formal care because they are less likely to have children and more likely to live alone than their heterosexual counterparts. On a point related to this, The ILC argued that intergenerational projects can provide older LGBT people with the opportunities ‘to develop informal relations with younger LGBT people that could ultimately lessen the need for heavy reliance on social care providers, or may help in negotiating relationships with these’ (ILC 2011: 10).

Of course this is not to say it is easy to bring different generations of LGBT people together. But if intergenerational projects could help to bring about a more caring LGBT community that is defined more by empathy and mutual understanding across age groups, how it can be done would deserve more discussions.

Reference:
International Longevity Centre (2011) Celebrating Intergenerational Diversity An evaluation of three projects working with younger and older Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people. http://www.ilcuk.org.uk/files/Report_1.pdf

Yiu Tung Suen is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Sociology of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (E-mail address: suenyiutung@cuhk.edu.hk).

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.

A Darker Side to Care..?

It’s been great to read the diverse blogs on this site and the definite slant given by commentaries on issues of identity and sexuality to the challenge of revaluing care. Some time ago I attended a meeting with some of the other members of this network where we raised the question of what is ‘queer care’. And more specifically, how could we go about finding out how it was practised and what it meant to people? We were interested in the lived realities of care for LGBT people but also whether queer theory could offer a framework for making sense of this experience.
Of the still very limited research on care in the context of LGBT ageing there is every indication that helping relationships are organised rather differently to traditional binary notions of the care-giver and care-receiver. For instance, Ann Cronin and Andy King’s work suggests interdependence over dependence in lesbian and gay relationships.  Research with the trans community by Sally Hines also points to support clusters and collective ways of helping people rather than dyadic carer/caree encounters. While Margrit Shildrick and Janet Price’s joint work on intercorporeality and their notion of ‘two bodies becoming together…’ sheds a very different light on how we think about the body itself and its potential in helping situations. However, the closeness and intimacy signalled by these accounts stand in contrast to findings regarding care for older LGBT people of the more formal/paid variety.
Here, care is an uneasy term, and comes with baggage. This is why it has been all but bracketed off in critical disability studies, with the intention that this may lead to more novel ways of thinking about the helping relationships that evolve between people. Perhaps then a queer approach could also usefully begin by treating care with caution –  after all there’s no saying that ‘revaluing care’ might not lead us to decide it is a less useful term for future understandings of helping relationships rather than necessarily investing it with new worth. Many LGBT people’s experiences invite such a possibility because so much of what is badged as care can be experienced as very negative and damaging. This can range from the wholesale neglect of the individual supposed to be ‘in care’ to a diverse range of sometimes more subtle indicators of disapproval, disgust or rejection communicated verbally, behaviourally, emotionally, viscerally etc. and all of which are enfolded within care practices. To date, these experiences are not well documented, partly because LGBT people in the ‘Fourth Age’ are largely invisible and ignored by mainstream gerontology, as Ann Cronin has pointed out, and often are too concerned for their safety to identify themselves in the context of relying upon care services. Do the assumptions that underpin how we currently think and talk about care serve to perpetuate the cultural silence about this darker side?
Taken collectively, research to date tells us that many LGBT people are afraid of a time when they might require care. Findings in the UK and US have uncovered significant numbers who would rather take their life than be admitted to a care home and many more who report a fear of care that involves body work and the prospect of being exposed to and handled by a care worker (although much of this research has been conducted with fit and independent people being asked to anticipate the need for care rather than describe the experience of it). Ironically, older LGBT people are more likely to require formal care by virtue of being less likely to have children and more likely to live alone, but evidence suggests many delay or refuse altogether the uptake of services due to anticipation of negative treatment and its impact upon their lives. At the very least then, formal care has a serious reputation problem in certain quarters. But research with older LGBT people also suggests it has a dark side – one that is perhaps most visible from certain (queer) standpoints. In our efforts to debate and revalue care maybe we should begin with the perspectives of those who have a close-up on the under-side of care and its darker recesses. And perhaps the place to start in ‘queering’ care is to dispense with the term altogether in an effort to find alternative ways of capturing helping relationships and reconfiguring the terrain of help and support in later life in ways that might feel more acceptable to minoritised groups…?

‘Gender Identity and Health Care Experiences in Australia’ by Dr Damien Riggs

In 2012 and 2013 Dr Clemence Due and I conducted two surveys, the first focusing on the health care experiences of Australian people who were female assigned at birth (FAAB) but who now identify with a different gender identity, and the second focusing on the healthcare experiences of Australian transgender women. Our analyses so far have adopted a comparative approach, primarily because most previous studies of transgender, transsexual or genderqueer people’s experiences of healthcare have not disaggregated findings by assigned sex. We thought that a comparative approach might thus be useful given that research suggests that transphobia is highly correlated with both homophobia and sexism amongst heterosexual, cisgender people (see Riggs, Webber & Fell 2009). These three forms of discrimination are related by the fact that the first two are about attitudes towards gender non-conformity, and the third measures how much an individual subscribes to social norms about (nominally cisgender) gender role conformity. Previous research suggests that transphobia (and cisgenderism more broadly) is gendered, not only in the sense that cisgender men are more likely to be transphobic than are cisgender women, but that people FAAB will experience transphobia or cisgenderism differently than will people male assigned at birth (MAAB). In undertaking a comparative approach, then, our hypothesis was that such differential discrimination would result in different experiences with healthcare providers between the two surveys.

In order to test if it was appropriate to group all responses from people MAAB together as one group, and to compare this with all responses from people FAAB, we first checked to see if there were any significant differences within each group in terms of current gender identity. In each study participants were asked to name their current gender identity. The three main categories used by participants within both of the studies were:

1. Affirmed gender (i.e., simply ‘male’ – used by people FAAB – or ‘female’ – used by people MAAB)
2. Transgender (this included terms such as trans woman, trans girl, trans boi, transgender man)
3. Genderqueer

Statistical testing indicated that both within the surveys, as well as when combining the two samples into a whole, there were no significant differences in between those people who identified themselves using either their affirmed gender, the term ‘transgender’, or the term ‘genderqueer’.

In order to further ensure that focusing on differences between people MAAB and people FAAB was a valid approach, we also looked at whether there were other notable differences across the two samples. We found that:

1. Participants who were older were more likely to have undertaken sex-affirming surgery than participants who were younger,
2. Participants who were older reported more positive levels of mental health than did participants who were younger, and
3. Participants who had undertaken sex-affirming surgery reported more positive levels of mental health than did participants who had not undertaken surgery (as we had already found when looking solely at the first study, see Riggs & Due, 2013).

These initial findings suggested to us that it was possible that the main issue at stake across the samples was age. What we did, then, was control for age in our subsequent statistical testing. This enabled us to examine whether assigned sex (MAAB or FAAB) was a significant predictor of experiences. The answer was yes:

• Participants who were MAAB were more satisfied overall with the support they received from counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists than were participants who were FAAB,
• Participants who were FAAB reported more positive levels of mental health than did participants who were MAAB,
• Participants who were MAAB reported more positive experiences of gender-affirming surgery than did participants who were FAAB,

In addition to differences between participants MAAB and participants FAAB, there were other interesting findings. Some of these highlight areas in need of improvement by (nominally, though not in all cases) cisgender mental and physical health care professionals:

• Participants who reported higher levels of discrimination from health care professionals reported less positive levels of mental health,
• Participants who reported feeling that they frequently had to educate health care professionals about issues related to their current gender identity reported higher levels of discrimination,
• Participants who reported feeling that they frequently had to educate health care professionals about issues related to their current gender identity reported that they felt less respected by the professionals.

So what do all of these findings suggest to us? We of course acknowledge that this was a modest sample (78 people FAAB and 100 people MAAB), though these numbers are similar to those of the pioneering TranZnation report (2007), and they include participants from all Australian states and territories. The findings suggest the importance of taking into account both age and natally assigned sex. These demographics may impact upon people’s experiences due to differing:

• Diagnosis rates of ‘gender dsyphoria’ between people MAAB (0.005% to 0.014% of the population) and people FAAB (0.002% to 0.003% of the population),
• Societal gender norms and expectations of people FAAB and people MAAB, such that experiences of discrimination from the general population, from transgender communities, and from health care professionals will likely differ according to cisgender (and transgender) people’s assumptions about gender norms,
• Degrees of availability and successful outcomes of surgery as perceived by people MAAB when compared to people FAAB (though this is slowly changing, see Cotten, 2012),
• Understandings of gender identity within non-gender normative communities.

The report documenting the full findings is available at: http://www.genderidentityaustralia.com/?p=262

References

Cotten, T.T. (Ed.). (2012). Hung jury: Testimonies of genital surgery by transsexual men. Transgress Press.
Couch, M., Pitts, M., Mulcare, H., Croy, S., Mitchell, A., & Patel, S. (2007). TranZnation: A report on the health and wellbeing of transgender people in Australia and New Zealand. Melbourne: Australian Research Centre in Sex Health and Society.
Riggs, D.W. & Due, C. (2013). Mapping the health experiences of Australians who were female assigned at birth but who now identify with a different gender identity. Lambda Nordica, 5.
Riggs, D.W., Webber, K., & Fell, G.R. (2012). Australian undergraduate psychology students’ attitudes towards trans people. Gay and Lesbian Issues and Psychology Review, 8, 52-62.

Dr Damien Riggs
Senior Lecturer
Flinders University
GPO Box 2100
Adelaide 5001
South Australia

 

 

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

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.’

‘Who cares?’ By Dr Andrew King

It’s been National Carers Week in the UK recently. It’s been well publicised in mainstream and social media, even receiving its own twitter hashtag #carersweek. I’ve read some heart-wrenching and indeed heart-warming stories and learned some useful facts, such as those provided by ONS from Census data. There has rightly been a discussion of hidden carers.  Yet despite this, I have seen very little, indeed next to nothing, about informal caring relationships that take place between lesbian, gay and/or bisexual people (LGB). Unfortunately, this sort of invisibility and implicit heterosexism is nothing new. There is a growing body of literature, including academic, third sector and activist generated studies that points to the invisibility of older LGB people in general and older LGB carers in particular. There are some on-going and important projects which have tried to increase the visibility of older LGB people and their needs, such as Age UKs excellent ‘Opening Doors’ and work in public sector organisations, and projects about specific issues like end-of-life care.

Yet research, including my own, demonstrates that caring relationships amongst older LGB people, what we might refer to as informal care relationships within chosen networks, or ‘families of choice’ (Weeks et al., 2001; Weston, 1991) are both very important and diverse, more so than heterosexual people’s. Research shows that older LGB people rely more on friends and partners for support in later life. But it’s important not to simplify and to capture the levels of complexity that are apparent in older LGB people’s lived experiences of informal care. It’s why I think a relational approach is needed because it shows that roles and identities such as carer and care recipient are rather too simplistic. I discuss this approach further in a chapter I’ve written in a forthcoming book ‘Mapping Intimacies’. To give you an idea of what I mean, here is the story of two older gay men, Alec and Peter.

Alec and Peter first met in the late 1970s. Peter supported Alec physically, emotionally and financially. For instance Peter helped Alec visit various private doctors and specialists, obtaining better care for him, until his underlying medical condition was stabilised; he nursed him when he was particularly ill; he helped him cope with the psychological stress of his chronic illness; and when Alec had to retire early on health grounds, Peter continued to support him financially. Hence, it would appear that Peter has for many years taken the role and identity of being Alec’s carer. However, when they first met Peter was struggling to come to terms with his sexuality. He felt that his family, particularly his father, did not understand his sexuality and would not accept it. Dealing with this led him to a local lesbian and gay support network where he met Alec. He helped Peter to accept his sexuality and viewed in this way, he can be seen as caring for Peter psychologically, whilst Peter tried to support Alec with his chronic illness. Recently, Alec has suffered from further ill health and Peter, although continuing to work, has also suffered periods of illness. Peter is learning to cope with Alec’s increasing infirmity, whilst Alec faces coping with Peter’s growing depressions and frustrations.

So, let’s see much more of presence of carers who are not heterosexual in the next Carers Week, but let’s not forget that the distinction between carer and cared for is also complex, especially when we look at the experiences of communities who have traditionally (and still are) invisible and marginalised!

Weeks J, Heaphy B and Donovan C. (2001) Same-Sex Intimacies: Families of Choice and Other Life Experiments, London: Routledge.

Weston K. (1991) Families We Chose: Lesbians, Gays, Kinship, New York: Columbia University Press.