Social Connection, Relationships and Older Lesbian and Gay People
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This paper presents data from a small study exploring the impacts of homophobia on the lives of older lesbian and gay Australians. Eleven in-depth interviews were conducted with older lesbians (6) and gay men (5) ranging in age from 65 to 79 years. The study found that participants’ sense of self was shaped by the dominant medical, legal and religious institutions of their youth that defined them as sick, immoral or criminal. Participants described enforced “cure” therapies, being imprisoned, having employment terminated and being disowned and disinherited by family. In this context, intimate relationships and social networks provided refuge where trust was rebuilt and sexuality affirmed. Many created safe spaces for themselves. This equilibrium was threatened with increasing age, disability and the reliance on health and social services. Participants feared a return to institutional control and a need to “straighten up” or hide their sexuality. In response, partners stepped into the role of caregiver, at times beyond their capacity and at a cost to their relationship. The study describes the importance of understanding social connections in the lives of older lesbians and gay men. It highlights the need for inclusive services to ensure that social networks are supported and that health and well-being are promoted.
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