As we mark International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia on 17 May, Dr Rebecca Jones, Senior Lecturer in Health at The Open University discusses ageing and bisexuality as part of the Looking Both Ways research project, which she led alongside Professor Kathryn Almack (now at the University of Hertfordshire) and Dr Rachael Scicluna, a former OU PhD student.
Looking Both Ways explores the experiences of people with bisexual histories as they grow older. Twelve people (aged 51 to 83) living in England took part in the interviews between 2013 and 2015, to help develop case studies depicting real life stories, concerns and needs. Edited versions of the case studies below highlight the issues that arise for some older LGBT people.
Ideally, Ruth would continue living solo until she dies. Imagining herself moving into sheltered accommodation, she expects some carers and people to feel aversion towards her transgenderedness, although she imagines that she would overcome such hostility through her ‘reasonable sort of personal charm’. However, she describes the prospect of being in a care home as ‘semi-imprisonment’.
She’s sure that all older people would have concerns about having to live in a care home but there are specific concerns for LGBT people. One thing that worries her is the isolation of not being able to talk about your life to people, and a possible lack of understanding from other residents or staff. Imogen feels that it is going to be difficult in mainstream settings: it can make her feel like people resent accommodating her needs, and that she is burdensome and a nuisance. She would want to maintain access to LGBT culture.
Alex lives in a sheltered housing complex run by a not-for-profit organisation. One day another resident knocked on Alex’s door and asked to come in. Once inside, the other resident stared at Alex and then told Alex he was disgusting and said he wanted to ‘punch his lights out’ and threatened to push him out of the window. Eventually Alex managed get him out of his flat. It happened to be a women’s bingo night and the other resident went down to the group and told them what he had done, and said he had done it on their behalf. However, the women said that they didn’t agree with his stance and that it was ‘not in their name’. Alex went down to the bingo group and the other resident threatened him further. The police were called and Alex reported it to the housing complex management. The management took the other resident to court and he was sentenced with an ASBI (anti-social behaviour injunction). He moved on to another home within a matter of weeks.
Ideally, Roger would like to live independently as he does not want to go into a care home. This partly ties in with the fear of being in a homophobic care home or sheltered accommodation, where the cleaner or a carer would ask about the absence of pictures of grandchildren and this would be painful. What is important for Roger is to get the sensitive personal care that he needs and not the sexual orientation of the carer.
Dr Rebecca Jones, Senior Lecturer in Health at The Open University commented:
“This study focused specifically on the experiences of older people with bisexual histories because there can be significant differences between older lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, as well as many shared experiences. We found that participants had often experienced stigma and misunderstanding around their sexual orientation, especially at points in their lives when a new partner was a different gender from a previous one.
However, we also found that some people had developed strong support networks, were very resilient and had a sense of having lived their lives authentically, which was very helpful in responding to some of the challenges of ageing.”
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