In this month’s issue about growing older within the LGBT community, Ciarán McKinney asks whether being ‘old’ is one of the last acceptable taboos.
In 2011, when we (Age & Opportunity) partnered with GLEN to carry out Visible Lives the study on older LGBT people, we did so because we felt that older LGBT people were more or less invisible in society in general and possibly even invisible within the LGBT community in Ireland.
The study looked at the lives of people from 55 up and to be frank we were finding it a struggle to recruit participants. I had a brain-wave: let’s approach people at the GAZE LGBT film festival! At the time I was 52 and therefore under the age bracket for the study. I decided to be careful about making assumptions on people’s ages and only approached people who I figured were at least ten years older than me, explaining that we were carrying out this study etc.
I was quite taken aback at the negative reaction I received, with lots of ‘what’s this got to do with me?’ type attitudes. I didn’t think they were denying being LGBT. Instead It felt like no-one wanted to be associated with being older in a time when it certainly seemed acceptable to be identified as gay, lesbian, trans or queer. So is ‘old’ a taboo in our community?
There has probably never been a better time to be older in Ireland. In general longevity has increased significantly to the extent that most of us who reach the usual retirement age of 65 can expect to live for another 20 years. This is something to celebrate and we should make the most of it. At Age & Opportunity our goal is to turn the period from age 50 onwards into one of the most satisfying times in people’s lives.
One of the key messages in Visible Lives was that many participants felt proud of being one of the first generations to be out in Ireland, and despite the pressures of living here before decriminalisation and the introduction of equality legislation, there was a palpable sense of resilience.
But what is resilience? Some people say it’s about surviving, and that some of us are more resilient than others, as if it’s a trait we inherit, just like the colour of our skin and eyes. At Age & Opportunity we think that resilience is something that we can learn and develop no matter what age we are, just like learning to swim, or learning a new language. Resilience is more than surviving what life throws at us, it can also be about taking stock of where we are now, reflecting and learning from our past, and planning and preparing for the future.
The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) has been researching the area of health and wellbeing in the over 50s since 2006. Their research shows that our quality of life in older age is greatly improved the more we are integrated into our communities.
We have a range of programmes in arts & culture, lifelong learning and active citizenship and physical activity, all designed to promote participation for people who are 50-plus. You can learn more about what we do on our website You might also be interested in finding out more about the Bealtaine festival. Bealtaine is one of the world’s first arts and creativity festivals for older people and takes place all over the country for the whole month of May. There is a huge range of arts and cultural events so check it out at www.bealtaine.ie.
Participating in the arts is good for us, whether we are listening to a concert or playing one of the instruments, splashing paint on canvas or looking at someone else’s work, dancing or singing, it all adds to a feeling of wellness and being part of something, so have a go!
Ciarán McKinney is Manager of Active Citizenship and Life Long Learning Age & Opportunity