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Once we were grown-ups…

That the world is ageist – that is, discriminating against those who get old – is frequently noted. And the LGBT community is not exempted from this cruelty of looking down on the mature-aged members of the community. A Bahaghari Center for LGBT Research, Education and Advocacy (Bahaghari Center) study done by Raine Nuyles Cortes, John Ryan Nual Mendoza and Michael David dela Cruz Tan notes why this needs to be stopped, and why there is a need for inclusion of these “invisible people” particularly by a group of people that – as a whole – continues to be discriminated against.

Select parts were completely lifted from Ginintuang Agora: The Community and Sexual Life Stories of Mature-Aged Gay Men of the Home for the Golden Gays by Raine Nuyles Cortes, John Ryan Nual Mendoza and Michael David dela Cruz Tan.

On December 4, 2010, right after the 2010 Pride March, the annual gathering of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and ally (GLBTQIA) community in the Philippines, Rev. Richard Mickley, O.S.Ae, Ph.D. – the abbot of the Order of Saint Aelred, a SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) registered religious society of mostly gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender members – sat by himself not too far from the stage where the after-parade program was being held. He was… awaiting his turn to speak.

“They’re taking a while,” he said – not even with a hint of exasperation, just stating an observation. He then got to talking that, considering he’s already over 80 years old, he is “consolidating everything I have done (for the GLBTQIA struggle for just under 40 years).” It was a realistic way of looking at mortality.

Mickley never got to speak that night – others who were younger (thus supposedly more exciting) were given priority, leaving him no time to address the crowd. It may well be considered a slap on the face on the person who, with Pro-Gay Philippines’ Oscar Atadero, actually started the Pride March in the Philippines (and Asia, for that matter) in 1994. What can only be worse is that a few months before the parade, Task Force Pride, the organizer of the annual Pride celebration that he helped establish, was considering giving recognition to GLBTQIA leaders who shaped GLBTQIA history in the Philippines. When Mickely’s name was raised, only a handful among the members of the (then) executive committee even heard of his name, with someone even saying “must be some old queen.” All he has accomplished for the GLBTQIA community seemingly easily dismissed with reference to his age (and aging).

This highlights how aging is perceived in the GLBTQIA community – a perception that may be best summarized in what Kertzner (2006) observed as the stereotyping of gay male aging as a descent from “adolescence to obsolescence.” Within the GLBTQIA community, the “gay generation gap” has been noted by Russell and Bohan (2005) to focus between the youth and those in middle age, arguably fracturing the GLBTQIA community into groups with cohorts divided according to social and political influences.

There exists in the GLBTQIA community an emphasis on youth, so that ageism has become a serious problem in it (Knauer, 2009). The GLBTQIA community, especially the gay male community, is said to be a youth culture focused in bars (Hostetler, 2004) that – while they may have been historically important meeting places of community – reinforces the preference for youth (Hiyasaki, 2007). Indeed, “in a community where twenty-something gay men consider thirty-something gay men to be irrelevant, getting either group to take an interest in the lives and well-being of octogenarians presents an obvious challenge” (Knauer, 2009).

There exists in the GLBTQIA community an emphasis on youth, so that ageism has become a serious problem in it. The GLBTQIA community, especially the gay male community, is said to be a youth culture focused in bars that – while they may have been historically important meeting places of community – reinforces the preference for youth. Indeed, in a community where twenty-something gay men consider thirty-something gay men to be irrelevant, getting either group to take an interest in the lives and well-being of octogenarians presents an obvious challenge.

It was after noticing the ignoring of the mature-aged members of the GLBTQIA community that led to Raine Nuyles Cortes, John Ryan Nual Mendoza and Michael David dela Cruz Tan to conduct a research involving select members/residents of the Home for the Golden Gays (HGG), a one-time residence of aged men who have sex with other men (MSM). The output – entitled Ginintuang Agora: The Community and Sexual Life Stories of Mature-Aged Gay Men of the Home for the Golden Gays – captured through the life stories the issues that affect them.

As the authors stated: “In a country like the Philippines, where a dearth of information about the mature-aged population as a whole – even more so the mature-aged gay men – is noticeable, hearing the stories straight from the sources becomes not just ideal, but a must, in order for them to take a more active role in the making of impressions of themselves… (What this highlights is) how life stories become identifiers not just of the person telling his/her story, but of the community he/she belongs to/moves in. Here, an individual life story also becomes a community’s life story.”

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AGORA AND GAY

Price (2008) cited the work of Wahler and Gabbay (1997) to put a spotlight on the frequent forwarding of “pejorative stereotypes” about older gay men and lesbians, including “living lives of rejection, shame, loneliness, isolation, poor psychological adjustment, and sexual predation on younger men (p. 1,342). For Trentham (2010), this is the “stereotype of the lonely homosexual or the bitter old queen, images that as a gay man, I am all too familiar with although I have no sense of how these stereotypes came to be.”

That homosexuals are largely ignored in researches is unfortunate since the mature-aged member of this population reported concerns similar to heterosexual-identifying mature-aged men and women (Whitford, 1997). These concerns have been noted to have been exacerbated, nonetheless, by fear of loneliness in older age, a reduced social life and marginalization from the gay community (Heaphy, 2007; Hughes, 2007), as well as lack of financial resources and appropriate care and living arrangements (Bayliss, 2000).

Of interest to Cortes, Mendoza and Tan’s study were the sexual practices of mature-aged members of the GLBTQIA community, particularly gay men. This is because various studies have been highlighting the need to focus on young men who have sex with men (MSM), in the belief that they are more at risk of HIV infection (for example, McAuliffe et al., 1999; Age Concern England, 2002); but none have given mature-aged gay men the same amount of attention.

Admittedly, just as more studies on GLBTQIs are surfacing, the experiences – thus the needs – of older gay and lesbian citizens have started to also become more visible (for example, in the UK, Heaphy, Yip, & Thompson, 2004; Pugh, 2005). Mainly, not only are the studies too few, their coverage has – even now – failed to question, thereby attempt to effect the existing damaging beliefs about GLBTQIs.

Being gay and being old (also referred to as agora in gay lingo) may be considered a double whammy, a gold mine for would-be discrimination. Already identifying contrary to the heteronormative narratives, gay men who live in the fringes of the society are further discriminated against when they grow older, with all the stereotypes going with aging additionally impressed upon their already stereotyped lives.

The issue is even more obvious among transgenders (TGs) and intersex (also members of the GLBTQIA community, and who are, most times, erroneously grouped with gay men), since “the historical development of modern day biomedicine, psychology and psychoanalysis is bound up in the complex interactions of a Eurocentric, heterosexual, Judeo-Christian viewpoint” (Witten, 2002). The “restriction of the underlying theoretical construct of sex and gender to the dualistic genital sex model has eliminated all biomedical and psychosocial healthcare research on behalf of both the intersex population” (Witten, 2002) and “gender-variant individuals” (South, 2000).

FACING ISSUES

That the mature-aged members of the GLBTQIA community has issues to contend with goes without saying.

Internal homophobia, for instance, helps create the “other” – i.e. how a heteronormative society may consider GLBTQIs; and how gay men, for example, may treat each other.

Combinations of the risk factors when mature-aged gay men engage in sexual acts therefore become problematic. The HGG interviewees, for example, openly discuss having anal sex without the use of condoms, “basta bata ang ka-sex para siguradong malinis (as long as you do it with a young man to be sure he’s clean),” Mother Leony said. He added that, “of course, huwag magpaputok sa loob (as long as he doesn’t orgasm/cum inside you).” That proper information do not reach them, even if they are still actively engaging in sexual activities, make their every sexual encounter a gamble in getting infected or, hopefully, not.

Greg, a resident of HGG, proudly claims being “heterosexual-looking” – akin to the Western concept of “straight-looking and/or straight-acting,” which supposes that gays, by their very being, act more like women than like men (since genders are defined, in this view, only between the biological men and women, with gays believed to mimic women and lesbians believed to mimic men). “Noon pa, ganito na ako (From way back, I have always been like this),” he said. Acting as “straight” (i.e. not crossdressing) gave Greg a sense of “normalcy – hindi ako naiiba sa mga tao (I don’t differ from others).”

His very reason for avoiding to be identified as an outsider of the mainstream, however, made Greg help in the treatment of the other HGG inhabitants as the “others”, the outsiders in heteronormative discourses. “Matanda na kasi tayo, dapat behave na (We’re already old, we should behave now),” he said. “Nakakahiya kasi (maging) matandang baklang ang arte-arte (It’s embarrassing being a flamboyant old gay man).”

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Financial capability is, of course, also an issue in pushing the otherness of mature-aged gay men.

Mother Leony, a resident of HGG, used to be a sex worker when he was younger. Now in his 80s, he has largely been dependent on HGG (e.g. for accommodation and food) and distant family members (who send him his daily allowances). Only recently, he underwent a hernia operation, one of the many he had had in the past years.

This time, “dinala ako sa ospital, sa Tondo Medical Center (I was taken to a hospital, at the Tondo Medical Center),” he recalled. “‘Yung ospital ni Madame Imelda (To the hospital of Imelda Marcos).” His visit was actually only made possible after “tinawagan ko na lahat (I called everyone) – Mayor (Pasay City’s Antonino Calixto), mga konsehal, at kung sinu-sino pa. Kung wala akong contacts, ewan saan ako pupulutin (I called everyone – the Pasay City mayor, councilors and whoever I could call. If I didn’t have contacts, I don’t know where that would have left me)”.

Mother Leony could easily recall how, while in the hospital, many were asking him how he could have afforded having his own room, while others had to share not just rooms, but even beds due to the lack of available facilities for “people like us – mga walang pera (people who do not have resources),” he said, laughing. “Hindi nila alam nangolekta na ako (ng kabayaran) sa lahat ng nagawa ko (They don’t know I collected the returns of all the favors I did).”

While he could not recall how much he had to pay to Tondo Medical Center [“Alam mo na, matanda na ako, sira na memories ko (You know I’m already old, my memory isn’t what it used to be)], in an earlier surgery, when his eyes had to be fixed, Mother Leony remembered having to pay PhP 25,000.00 for a two-night stay at the Manila Sanitarium Hospital in Pasay City, the health facility closest to HGG. “Kuwarto pa lang ‘yan (That’s just for the room),” he said. “Saan naman tayo kukuha ng ganoong pera, di ba (Where could I get an amount like that)?”

Basically, “kung wala akong pera, dedma sila (If I don’t have money, I am ignored),” Mother Leony summarily said.

Numerous studies have already stressed how poverty is linked with access to healthcare, thus to good health. In 2005, for example, the WHO estimated that, annually, 25 million households (more than 100 million people) are forced into poverty by illness and the difficulty to pay for healthcare. This development – “referred to as the income erosion effect of ill health for poor households” by Tagoe (2010) – was noted in the bottom 15% to 20% of the population of Bangladesh (Sen, 2003), with the risks that poor households face posing greatest threat to their lives and livelihoods (Krishna, 2004; Noponen & Kantor, 2004).

SEX WITH THE INVISIBLE MEN

A common notion about the mature-aged population is their supposed asexuality or at least have inactive sexual live, with the belief persisting despite survey results that show the opposite (Cahill et al., 2000). In the popular imagination, sex among people aged over sixty-five is largely considered as unappealing, and is even unlikely. This is a misconception, since, contrary to the prevailing stereotype, mature-aged people actually want to, and are still able to, have an active, satisfying sex life (National Institutes of Health, 1981; Reinisch & Beasley, 1990; Wooten-Bielski, 1999).

There is a need to to put a spotlight on the frequent forwarding of “pejorative stereotypes” about older gay men and lesbians, including living lives of rejection, shame, loneliness, isolation, poor psychological adjustment, and sexual predation on younger men. There is this “stereotype of the lonely homosexual or the bitter old queen, images that as a gay man, (we may be) all too familiar with although (we) have no sense of how these stereotypes came to be.”

According to Grossman (1995), while it is true that HIV and AIDS may sometimes be misdiagnosed in older people because “many of its symptoms mimic other illnesses that affect older people”, mature-aged gay men are particularly at risk to be infected with HIV due to various reasons, including societal beliefs, myths, and stereotypes emanating from ageism, homophobia, denial of risk, alcohol and other substance use, and anonymous sexual encounters. The risk of HIV transmission among mature-aged gay men (and among MSM, in general) has been noted to have been exacerbated during intercourse, too, due to the normal aging changes (Moore & Amburgey, 2000), including the thinning of the epithelial structure of the anal area, a physiological changes “allow for more microscopic tearing during sexual penetration and therefore, provide a direct route for HIV transmission” (Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention, 2006).

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Combinations of the risk factors when mature-aged gay men engage in sexual acts therefore become problematic. The HGG interviewees, for example, openly discuss having anal sex without the use of condoms, “basta bata ang ka-sex para siguradong malinis (as long as you do it with a young man to be sure he’s clean),” Mother Leony said. He added that, “of course, huwag magpaputok sa loob (as long as he doesn’t orgasm/cum inside you).”

That proper information do not reach them, even if they are still actively engaging in sexual activities, make their every sexual encounter a gamble in getting infected or, hopefully, not.

IN NEED OF ATTENTION

Cortes, Mendoza and Tan’s research noted steps needed to be taken to include the mature-aged MSM into mainstream GLBTQIA discussions. Also, “while the mature-aged gay men of HGG have individual stories to tell, their narratives are actually intertwined to show patterns that may then be used for the drawing of inferences on how their community works”.

The authors’ recommendations include: further researches to “gather even more information – be it through qualitative or quantitative approaches – on a population that is often neglected”; broadening of existing HIV and AIDS programs for prevention and sexual health education to also target the mature-aged gay men population because they are also at risk given that they also practice MSM behavior; the need to inform government policy makers of the specific needs of mature-aged gay men, since existing laws “fail to consider the variations of the experiences of the sub-populations within the generalized mature-aged population”; and the need to “indiginize” the solutions provided to this population.

FORMING COMMUNITY

A key point of the study is the importance of the community among GLBTQIAs – including the mature-aged MSM. And “emphasizing on the community is important since, in the case of mature-aged gay men, for example, where they are will affect how they will define their identity, thus its expression”. According to Grossman, D’Augelli and Hershberger,

“Gays have been known to create ‘alternative’ families due to the failings of hetero-dictated norms of family formations – i.e. friends and the support they provide serve a unique function in mitigating the effects of stigmatization.” (Grossman, D’Augelli, & Hershberger, 2000)

For Weston (1991), “community” in the context of gay and lesbian lives is “as multifaceted in meaning as it is ubiquitous.” He, therefore, proposes for it to be considered sans territorial bounds, but as “a category implicated in the ways lesbians and gay men have developed collective identities, organized urban space, and conceptualized their significant relationships” (p. 124).

This is how, borrowing Weston’s (1991) words, “chosen families” are formed – with the shared identities coming together. Dorrell (1991) referred to this as the family “of comradery and caring.”

What exists at the core of this community is friendship. As Manasse and Swallow stressed:

“The way a lot of gay men and lesbians come out in the world is very alienating. For many of us, building families of linkage and connection is very healing. It’s important for us to feel that love and connection because it’s the antithesis of the alienation of homophobia. It’s important for us to say, ‘This is the innermost circle’” (Manasse & Swallow, 1995, p. 153).

And so it is that it remains worth highlighting how the GLBTQIA community truly needs to embrace all its members, even those already in their golden years…

The full research – Ginintuang Agora: The Community and Sexual Life Stories of Mature-Aged Gay Men of the Home for the Golden Gays – may be requested from Raine Nuyles Cortes, John Ryan Nual Mendoza and Michael David dela Cruz Tan.

SELECT REFERENCES

Bayliss, K. (2000). Social work values, anti-discriminatory practice and working with older lesbian service users. Social Work Education, 19, 45-53.
Cahill, S., South, K., & Spade, J. (2000). Outing Age: Public Policy Issues Affecting Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Elders. Policy Institute of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Foundation.
Heaphy, B., Yip, A.K.T. and Thompson, D. (2004). Ageing in a non-heterosexual context. Ageing and Society, 24, 881-902.
Hiyasaki, E. (2007). For Gays, A Generation Gap Grows, L.A. TIMES, May 18, 2007. Retrieved on January 22, 2011 from http://articles.latimes.com/2007/may/18/nation/na-gays18.
Hostetler, A. J. (2004). Old, Gay, and Alone? The Ecology of Well-Being Among Middle-Aged and Older Single Gay Men. In G. Herdt and B. de Vries – Eds., Gay and Lesbian Aging: Research and Future Directions. New York: Springer.
Kertzner, R.M. (2006). Beyond Coming Out: Gay Men, HIV and Age. Focus, 21(10). San Francisco: UCSF AIDS Health Project.
Knauer, N.J. (2009). LGBT Elder Law: Toward Equity in Aging. Harvard Journal of Law & Gender, Vol. 32.
Krishna A. (2004). Escaping poverty and becoming poor: who gains, who loses, and why? World Development, 32, 121-136.
National Institutes of Health. (1981). Age Page: Sexuality in Later Life (DHHS publication 19a5-461-308/200007). Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office.
Noponen, H., & Kantor, P. (2004). Crises, setbacks and chronic problems: The determinants of economic stress events among poor households in India. Journal of International Development, 16, 529-545.
Price, E. (2008). Pride or prejudice? Gay men, lesbians and dementia. British Journal of Social Work, 38(7), 1137-1352.
Russel, G.M. & Bohan, J.S. (2005). The Gay Generation Gap: Communicating Across the LGBT Generational Divide. Policy Journal of the Institute for Gay and Lesbian Strategic Studies. Retrieved on A1pril 2, 2011 from http://www.iglss.org/media/files/Angles-81.pdf.
Sen, B. (2003). Drivers of escape and descent: changing household fortunes in rural Bangladesh. World Development, 31, 513-534.
Wahler, J., & Gabbay, S. G. (1997). Gay male aging: A review of the literature. Journal of Gay and Lesbian Social Services, 6(3), 1–20.
Whitford, G.S. (1997). Realities and hopes for older gay males. Journal of Gay and Lesbian Social Services, 6, 79-95.
Wooten-Bielski, K. (1999). HIV and AIDS in older adults. Geriatric Nursing, 20 (5), 268-272.

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