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Q&A Forum: On Being LGBTQ+ and Aging

on Wednesday, 14 November 2018. Posted in Safespace

Q&A Forum: On Being LGBTQ+ and Aging

We are to launch a new feature focusing on Being LGBTQ+ and Aging with responses based on information from our partners at Champlain College. To submit a question for next month's newsletter, please email your question to whatsup@pridecentervt.org.  

Q&A Forum:

On Being LGBTQ+ and Aging

This month we are excited to launch a new What's Up Q&A column! We are featuring a section focusing on Being LGBTQ+ and Aging with responses based on information from our partners at Champlain College. To submit a question for next month's newsletter, please email your question to whatsup@pridecentervt.org.  

Q: I read on Healthy People 2020 that LGBTQ+people are (for the first time!) identified in the U.S. national health priorities. If this is good news, I am concerned by the fact that this might lead to considering all LGBTQ+ aging population as “at-risk,” opening the door to healthcare coverage discrimination. Is that even true? If it is, is there anything that can be done to minimize the risks?

A: Thank you for a very interesting question! There are risk factors that have been identified and that may be specific to the LGBTQ+ population. If we think about what “healthy aging” means, a few categories come to mind, like physical and mental health, social connections, and a positive sense of self/identity. Studies that explored these within the LGBTQ+ community found out that a positive sense of sexual identity can be a key factor to promote healthy aging, while past experiences of discrimination or victimization can be detrimental to healthy aging. The good news is that people are trying to address these risk factors, so that their impact will become (hopefully) less and less evident, and this should also prevent healthcare discrimination. Given all that, the most effective path towards healthy aging healthily would be to build connections within the community, find groups or even a few people who allow you to express your real self by supporting your sexual and individual identity, and – obviously – try to minimize unhealthy behaviors like smoking and engage in healthy ones like exercising.

Getting more information from the Pride Center about their current activity targeting LGBTQ+ adults over 45, like the group Momentum would be a good first step to improve the quality and size of your social network.

Additional Reading: Karen I. Fredriksen-Goldsen, Hyun-Jun Kim, Chengshi Shiu, Jayn Goldsen, Charles A. Emlet; Successful Aging Among LGBT Older Adults: Physical and Mental Health-Related Quality of Life by Age Group, The Gerontologist, Volume 55, Issue 1, 1 February 2015, Pages 154–168 [https://academic.oup.com/gerontologist/article/55/1/154/2957461#58792619]

Q: Is gender transition in later life common? Are there any negative consequences?

A:  It appears that many older Baby Boomers are seriously contemplating gender transitions in their later years; within this population, it seems that transgender women may be disproportionately coming out later in life. A study collecting life-stories from a broad sample of transgender women - all of whom seriously considered or pursued a gender transition past the age of 50 - reported that their contemplation of gender transition came after years, often decades, of internal and interpersonal struggle.

This struggle goes against what’s believed to be important for healthy aging: a strong positive sense of self, and being able to work on the negative experience of discrimination and victimization. From this perspective, gender transition later in life could be seen as a positive step toward better aging. Heteronormativity still has a pervasive influence in our society which means that transgender older adults are often forced to reconstruct the meaning of their experiences at the periphery of these norms; this is hard.

Additional reading: Vanessa D. Fabbre; Gender Transitions in Later Life: A Queer Perspective on Successful Aging, The Gerontologist, Volume 55, Issue 1, 1 February 2015, Pages 144–153 [https://academic.oup.com/gerontologist/article/55/1/144/2957454#58792509]

We want to extend a huge thank you for the support of AARP and Champlain College to helping to make this work possible! Thank you!

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