Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Ageing: Biographical Approaches for Inclusive Care and Support (Book Review)

Authors:  Ward, Richard, Ian Rivers, and Mike Sutherland
Publisher:  Jessica Kingsley, 2012, 223 pp., London
Reviewed by:  Douglas Kimmel

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Ageing: Biographical Approaches for Inclusive Care and SupportThis book is based on a series of four seminars over a two-year period hosted by four universities in Scotland involving 24 contributors. The eleven chapters are divided into three parts plus an introduction about the general themes of LGBT aging and a conclusion about social and healthcare needs.

Part one had four chapters dealing with bisexuals, lesbian and gay issues, transgender concerns, and a specific focus on the invisibility of older lesbians. In the bisexual chapter, Rebecca Jones asked respondents to imagine the “roadmaps” for their future, “trailblazers” in their life, and to think of themselves as travelers toward aging. For most of them this was a new experience and provided insights into the differences between heterosexual and non-heterosexual aging. Few respondents knew any old bisexuals, but they looked to elders with unconventional lifestyles as role models. Stephen Pugh focused on how professionals can provide more effective care for older gay men and lesbians. The trans aging chapter by Louis Bailey noted the diversity of the population, including those growing old and those transitioning in late life, the discontinuity of gendered experiences, and the multiple effects of discrimination; it concluded with recommendations for practice. The fourth chapter reported data from an online survey by Jane Traines of 370 lesbians in the UK over age 60, and 32 stories from face-to-face interviews. The study focused on how “women like that” were often previously married, closeted, and involved with hidden networks of other lesbians. One interview was with a blind widow living in a healthcare facility who was connected with a supportive group of lesbian friends after a social worker learned that she was lesbian.

Part two deals with health and social care issues for LGBT elders, including those living with HIV, those caring for others, and end of life issues. The first chapter describes lengthy interviews with 10 gay men over age 50 in London who never expected to grow old living with HIV; the three issues that seemed especially important were the effect of HIV on personal health, the emotional impact of HIV-related bereavements, and the individual’s narrative history of the epidemic. The second chapter examines the caregiving roles of lesbian and gay adults: caring for parents and being cared for themselves; it emphasizes the importance of personal biographical lived experience instead of categories or labels. The third chapter focuses on unique LGBT issues of end-of-life care, summarizing various studies and cataloging the relevant issues.

Part three discusses community projects that have focused on LGBT aging services. It begins with a chapter describing Polari, a volunteer project of significance that faded away from loss of funding, and makes a strong case for the negative effects of “hetero-normativity” in aging services: “the perspectives and interests of heterosexual service users are implicitly and sometimes explicitly favoured or prioritised.” The chapter documents the work of this pioneering organization and the lessons learned from its existence including the importance of awareness-raising and training, disseminating good practice, fostering social networks, and involving older LGBT service-users. The other chapters in this book describe current projects: Opening Doors in London, Count Me In project in Brighton, and the LGBT Dementia Support Network in the UK (“Gay or Straight: Dementia doesn’t discriminate!”).

This book adds to the growing number of useful resources on non-heterosexual aging and increases our understanding of research on LGBT aging by the scholars working on this topic in the UK.