Golden Girl-ing Your Future And The Concerns for LGBT Aging.

I’ve been dumped! and just before Christmas. I’m telling a half truth really because I am eternally single, at least over ten years. Being dumped was for my future senior living. You see, my experience of being part of the LGBT population is that for years you plan what will happen when you are older and single. Because what you really want is to “Golden Girl” your retirement. A forthcoming plan changed slightly in a discussion about living as an older. So I am now looking to other LGBT friends to make a retirement pact.

The idea is that, if you find that reaching the age of say 65 and single, economically and socially, it would make more sense to live in a big house with a few others. Like The Golden Girls every day would be sunny, funny, full of pastel coloured clothes and witty one liners. Oh, and cheesecake for post break-up romances.

Of course, we never delve into the full practicalities of the situation other than who will be Blanche, Dorothy, Rose or Sophia; I’m either designated Blanche or Dorothy. What underpins these flyaway conversations is a serious consideration of what will happen when we age and, due to health and economics, a time when could become more restricted by mobility and socially.

The LGBT population have consistently created communities, finding a haven of solace from a political and social world that has not always been, and sometimes continues to be, open to us. Because in Europe with a greater understanding and equity there are still the city gay villages but LGBT people can be happier to live outside of gay villages and in all towns, cities and villages. However, as the documentary film Gen Silent (2011) presents us with the biographies of LGBT seniors, there may come a time when we have to submit to the care system.

Gen Silent (2011) is directed and produced by Stu Maddux. The documentary follows a group of LGBT seniors in Boston. They talk about their lives, how they met, the repression and medicalisation they experienced, gay liberation and now to a point of aging. Having lived a full life they were finding it difficult to ask for help in older age because that care often came with a return to the closet. Because of their LGBT identities they are in some cases treated with disrespect because of the values of their carers. The documentary follows some of these stories and others who are being resilient in living alone, purely because they do not wish to return to be repressed about their sexual orientation or gender identity. Altogether this is a thoughtful documentary and a portrait of an LGBT aging experience.

But it is also the experience that other residents of a care home can equally make for a LGBT resident to feel uncomfortable and unwanted. An article in The Guardian focused on the experiences of Marsha Wetzel who had moved into a retirement community. On telling residents that she had a son with a female partner, Marsha found that she became isolated in a community which aimed to offer a 24 hour living facility with the opportunity to live, eat, socialise and be part of a community. All because she is, and should always be open, about her identity (Schuessler: 2016).

What this creates is a reluctance to enter a care system. The Golden Girls living experience is what we are looking for. Whether in a collective of friends or even in a retirement community. Because of experiences of existing care facilities new ones are being created by the LGBT community in response to the baby boomer generation who are now reaching 60+. A reclaiming of LGBT safe spaces similar to the gay village of metropolitan cities. This time for the senior population.

In 2014 Eleanor Margolis reported on an 80s apartment block that was being converted into living accommodation for older LGBT residents and would become Europes first. The idea to create a residency came from the experiences of Christer Fällman and started at a conference for care for the elderly and ended with the opening of Regnbågen opening in 2013 and in 2014 had 100 residents. This is the Golden Girl living on a grand scale (Margolis: 2014)

Residencies like Regnbågen offer support and companionship beyond seventy, there is still the concern about what happens when you are unable to look after yourself. If I were living with a couple of other LGBT people in a big house or apartments close to each other, it is still a heavy burden to care for someone. There are more care and nursing homes around the world appearing specifically for the LGBT community but at the moment it is not enough nor are they close enough for the majority of the LGBT population. If an LGBT care or retirement home became the option then more than likely a person would want to be close to where they had resided for decades for friends to visit. At the moment this may be unlikely because of the geographical location of these homes.

When I am older maybe there will be more inclusion of LGBT aging. That time is still a fair few decades away and I will consider myself very lucky to get to a grand old age; the caveat being that I am still healthy. Or maybe I will be like Maude in the film Harold and Maude (1971) and her firm belief that eighty years of age is a good age to go. Oh! and if we live together, my golden gal avatar will be Kate Bornstein or Roz from Fraiser.

References

Ashby, H., (1971) Harold and Maude, initial release: 20th December 1971.

Margolis, E. (2014), LGBT retirement home: the end of the rainbow, The Guardian, Sunday 27th July 2014 (accessed 25th January 2017).

Maddux, S (2011) Gen Silent, release: 25 June 2011.

Schuessler, R. (2016), Anti-LGBT bias in retirement homes: ‘It was like they had bubonic plague’, The Guardian, Sunday 4th September 2016 (accessed 25th January 2017).

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