There is a scene in the play I Am Tonie Walsh where Tonie reads a list of names of guys who died due to HIV infection. I knew every single one of them, and have really fond memories of dancing in their company at Flikkers - the nightclub at what was then The Hirschfeld Centre in the ‘80s.
So it is with gratitude that I approach this significant age; I am already older than my dad was when he died and I certainly hope to live into my 80’s and beyond as this is one of the marvellous things that is happening in Ireland and other countries in the West; we have increased our life expectancy enormously in the last few decades.
So instead of talking about the pensions time bomb, let’s celebrate the bounty of longer life, let’s re-imagine what our lives can be like in older age. I now think of 60 as the new 40 because, while I know I have less time ahead of me than has already gone by, I also see the next 20 or so years as a time for new beginnings and opportunities while building on what I have learned through my life.
The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) shows that we get happier as we get older and that the happiest time in our lives is from 65 to 75. I imagine that comes as a bit of surprise to many people as we are surrounded by so much of a youthoriented culture, with anti-ageing creams and other treatments being hurled at us from billboards and magazines.
I prefer to think of anti-ageing as anti-life, because if we are not ageing, what are we? We’re dead! So give your ageing a bit of a hug, as it means you’re alive and kicking.
So what is it like to be ageing in the LGBTI community? Certainly there are pre-conceptions of our community being obsessed with youthfulness and the pressure to constantly look good. I admit to lying a bit about my age on the apps and was caught out beautifully a few years ago when Edmund Lynch’s film A Different Country was aired. A few wisecracks contacted me on Grindr to say that the documentary must have been mistaken as my Grindr age was quite different. Touché.
When Age And Opportunity funded Visible Lives (2011), in partnership with GLEN, we wanted to find out what it was like for older LGBT (we didn’t include intersex people at the time due to our lack of awareness) to live here in Ireland. Some of the findings were really positive, like people feeling proud of being one of the first generations to live their lives as out and proud, and that was reassuring. However, there were significant findings where participants expressed concerns about what would happen if they needed residential or homecare services; would they have to go back into the closet about their sexual orientation or gender identity?
These are real concerns and need to be taken seriously and we can demand that our identities as LGBTI people are honoured and respected. There is some good news on this front; the HSE issued guidance in 2014 to owners and managers of residential and daycare services to say that relationships between all older people should be facilitated and supported so long as both parties can consent and no one is being coerced. The guidelines don’t make specific reference to LGBTI older people but say: “As a provider, you have a duty to promote the best interests of service users in regard to issues of intimacy, relationships and sexuality. Providers also have a clear duty to protect service users from abuse, including sexual abuse.” This is a beginning and one that we should be clear about using. If a care setting is not recognising existing same-sex relationships or indeed facilitating the development of relationships it is failing in its duty of care and should be challenged.
Ireland is a different country to the ‘70s and ‘80s. We have so much more diversity and inclusion in our society. I’m not suggesting that we have it all sorted by any means, but it is certainly better than it used to be, and that includes older proud queers like me.
Ciaran McKinney is the Manager of Age And Opportunity’s ENGAGE Programme, which offers a range of learning initiatives and workshops for our own personal development as well as opportunities for us to play an active role in our community, as we age.
Age And Opportunity’s vision is an Ireland where all older people are more active, more visible, more creative, more connected, more often.