By Team Change Leaders 24th June, 2022

Queer Ageism.

In every pride march, young queer people emerge as prominent. What this also highlights is the prominent generation divide in queer community. This article brings queer adults to the centre stage and  makes you question aspects of queer community that get sidelined. Can aging be queered? That is, how visible is the queer representation among elderly community and how prominently discussed is aging in queer community? What happens to the queer population that ages? Generation Equality by UN Women highlights the intergenerational nature of leadership required for achieving gender equality and mitigation of Gender Based Violence in all spheres of life. However the Generation Equality campaign falls short of addressing the needs and integration of voices of intergenerational queer from decolonial spaces.

What it means to be queer has evolved over time

Crisis competence theory contends that routinisation of handling crisis and stigma from a young age prepares the individual to tackle older age – another layer of stigmatised identity – relatively smoother. Ragan C. Fox highlights the ‘difference in intergenerational approaches to survival’ that creates demarcations within the queer community based on age stereotypes. 

Queer elders in India today were young in the pre-liberalisation era of India where digital space was constricted. As older members of the LBTQIA+ community have hardly come out with their identities and sexual orientation, their voices are often muted. This is a result of social contexts and historical intolerance of the queer community as they grew up in an atmosphere of rejection, illegality and harassment. In the twenty-first century, the transition of queer identity from being a ‘stigma’ to a ‘status’ describes the incremental shift of community response and support for queer population across the decades.

Mental Health and the Class Dimensions

The psychosocial modus operandi and mental health of the LGBTQIA+ community rely on the network of support, reconstruction of comprehension of ‘family’ and their personal relation with their aging bodies.In ‘Psychological Wellbeing of middle aged and Older Queer Men in India: A mixed methods approach, study in 2020, by Anupam Joya Sharma, Malavika A. Subramanyam’, observes that older queer men with affluent backgrounds tend to skip consequences of ageism such as loneliness and depression. 

Enhanced agency to express sexuality among older queer men was seen owing to their class privilege. Those living on meagre resources find it hard to be part of pride parades in comparison to middle age urban queers as noticed by the study. The limitation of this watershed study has been regarding its urbanised and upper-class focus on older queer men. Further studies regarding older transgender and asexual folks, older queer women are amiss in formalised reportage.

We must observe how commodification of the queer body has de-sexed and made elder LGBTQIA+ elders become obscure with age. This is how queer aesthetic has drawn ‘increasing politicisation of theatricality’ as Yvette Taylor calls it. The erosion of this aesthetic from middle age to the elderly, causes them to be brushed aside to the margins.

What must policy makers and society do?

  • For a healthcare system that villianises their ‘non-normal’, gerontology should become queer sensitive. In the 20th century and still continuing homosexuality is considered a disorder requiring treatment. The homophobic and transphobic attitude of caregivers if not overhauled will leave queer elderlies to suffer hostility beyond their younger days.
  • Physically disabled queer elderlies may require caregivers. Caregivers must be trained into eliminating their homophobia and transphobia.
  • Research needs to be segregated within the LGBTQIA+ community itself since transgender, bisexual and asexual people are understudied and their processes of aging are marginalised within the broader cohort of the queer. In the duration of their entire life course, there are ample distinctions across and among LGBTQIA+ members. Disaggregated gerontological data across the different spectrums of LGBTQIA+ is thus a necessity that needs urgent attention.  
  • Indigenous knowledge of queer elders reveals data about coping and adaptation mechanisms and intergenerational trauma within the queer community. However, most queer elders fear coming out of the closet. Thus, most of the indigenous knowledge never gets disaggregated into knowledge from the queer elders in an institutionalised manner.
  • Ageing in asexual people is an underexplored subject of investigation.
  • Productive aging is built on the premise that decades of experience and wisdom of the elderlies can be used in forms of voluntarism, advocacy, education and other activities related to civic culture. Productive ageing of queer elders should become included in government policies for the elderly. For instance, lack of queer elders/mentors within the queer communitiy can be resolved by involving queer elders into movements and campaigns of young queer people. 
  • Social safety nets for low income queer, particularly in old age can also constitute governmental policies. 
  • Queering Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) not only for the young but also old queer population in India. The attitudes need to move beyond HIV related data alone. SRHR for queer goes beyond that as highlighted by OutRight International.

Many of the older queers are first-generation queers and the loss of family support isolated them from a young age. The taboo of discussing the same shoved the muted ancestral experiences, so the assumption would be that they are the first-generation queer. Most queer elders want their voices to not be appropriated by the young in their community and therefore organisations like OLOC work towards that very objective.

Few Questions Left Unanswered

  • Does aging within the queer time follow the rules of heteronormative linear time? Would  the processes of aging not differ for individuals who have countered stigma and ostracization from a young age? Stephen Hicks delineates how rigid classification of one’s sexuality is sensitive to temporal factors and with aging one may see a potential shift in sexuality. Therefore, it is essential to not only put the spotlight on aging amongst queers but also on the process of aging that deals with overtures and transitions of s exuality. 
  • Within People of Colour (POC) how do caste-based structural inequities and in queer elderlies play out? Queer elders in religious minorities find a plethora of deprived positionality.  
  • In a country with abysmal palliative care, how do queer elderly with meagre social networks and sans family support survive their last days? Ege Selin Islekel has studied the crosscutting themes of race, gender-diverse identity, sexualities and how they contribute to gendering of death.
  • Decades of advocacy by civil society in India, since the 1990s, regarding HIV/AIDS prevention among the LGBT population has had incremental advances with scope for more to be accomplished in the domain of prison advocacy for LGBTQIA+ and public health issues. 

The multiplicities of stereotyping, bullying and discrimination render queer elders ill-represented within the LGBTQIA+ populace, let alone the hypersexual, heterosexist and trans sexist society. This article is important because the queer youth of today will have to tackle these challenges in the future and it does some good to learn from one’s elders the methods and the grievances that they want to be redressed. 


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