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Monday 08 November 2010

Gay men and ageing

Posted in: Community
By Jacqui Stanford - 27th September 2010

Peter Robinson
An Australian academic is to visit New Zealand next month and wants to interview gay men about their experiences of age and ageing.

Melbourne-based Peter Robinson's first book The Changing World of Gay Men was published in 2008 and he has since been contracted to write another. He has already interviewed men in New York, Manchester, Melbourne, and Mumbai and in an international study of what ageing means to gay men.

Robinson is interested in how resilient gay friendship networks and gay families are and whether they will sustain gay people as they age. He is also looking at how the gay community addresses the issue of gay ageing.

"I lived through the HIV-AIDS epidemic and, like many others, was impressed by the way gay men responded communally and altruistically," he says. "And I wonder if we can respond similarly to the issue of gay ageing, which is of concern because of evidence to suggest that gay people are forced back into the closet the moment they take up residence in aged-care accommodation facilities."

The final chapter of his first book already touched on the ageing process, finding that gay men 60 and older were on the whole fairly content with their lives, with most in long-term relationships, middle class and optimistic about the future.

However Robinson says gay activists he interviewed were particularly concerned about the prospect of life in a nursing home. "This is an important issue that needs more discussion and airing, especially when one realises that in a country like Australia, and I suspect it is the same for New Zealand, the majority of nursing homes and aged-care facilities are operated by churches or church-based organisations—and not all of these are gay friendly."

So far he has found that in cities where GLBT community organisations exist and are actively involved in social matters, awareness of ageing issues seems relatively high. He says in Manchester, Melbourne and New York, GLBT organisations exist to raise funds and awareness of ageing in the gay context and to lobby the three tiers of government.

Robinson also found a high level of interest in ageing issues in Mumbai, largely because of the social and political activism of two charitable trusts, the Lakshya Trust, which is based in Gujarat, and the Saarthi Trust in Nagpur.

"By contrast, in Hong Kong, where, despite there being a very busy, well developed gay scene, homosexuality is still closeted, I found minimal interest or awareness in the ageing issue," he says.

"If there is any general rule, then, I would say that where the scene is predominant, ageing awareness is limited but where the scene is only one element of gay men's involvement with other gay men, there is evidence of growing awareness of ageing, especially as growing numbers of baby boomers enter late middle age or old age."

Robinson says straight people are sometimes affronted when they learn of his research, "and their response tends to be either that ageing has to be the same for all people so why am I bothering, or somewhat snidely that ageing can't be a problem for gay men because 'most of the gay men' they know are always going on international holidays and never had to pay for school fees."

Robinson is hoping to interview some Maori men and bears when he visits. He says the interviews will take between 30 and 60 minutes and cover interviewees' working life, social life and whether they have any fears or concerns about growing old.

Anyone who would like to take part can email Robinson at– he will be in New Zealand from 18-22 October.

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Jacqui Stanford - 27th September 2010