Monday, February 20, 2012

Hey Mister Tambourine Man

Do you ever get a song stuck in your head and no matter what you do, the melody or the lyrics keep playing over and over like a broken record? 


I think I just dated myself. How many people still remember broken records? I guess the closest equivalent in today's parlance is when a CD player goes into a digital bleep, or when a sound file loops continuously.

Mister Tambourine Man has been looping in one part of my brain while in another region I have been thinking about a conversation I had with a new friend, Alexandra Henriques, director of Generations at Qmunity, BC's queer resource centre. I met her at a recent workshop at the University of British Columbia and as we were learning about each other, she shared with me a bit about the sensitivity training workshops she gives at Seniors residences and care facilities. Up until that moment I had never really thought about aging lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender seniors and the challenges they may face when they move to one of these homes.

The reality is that there is an aging LGBT population, and contrary to popular opinion, a person's sex drive, need for companionship and affection don't suddenly go dormant when one turns sixty-five. The other reality is that for those who are part of that demographic today, their orientation and gender identity were in all likelihood suppressed and kept deep in the closet, thanks to the times in which they grew up and lived, when everything was taboo. And now they find themselves isolated and living in an environment that offers little support and opportunity to be themselves. If loneliness and the sense of abandonment are not already some of the consequences of old age, they are compounded for LGBT persons.

Some facilities have well-meaning rules and policies with respect to acceptable behavior, visitation rights, who to call in case of emergency and who is next of kin. Often these policies are biased and prevent same sex partners from having access to their friends and the activities offered are based on heterosexist models. Alexandra is hoping to change this, one facility at a time, as staff and administrators are educated and enlightened. After all, how else can you deal with the seventy-four year old man who now insists on wearing nothing but dresses, or the senior woman who wants her "best friend" to be allowed to cuddle with her in bed? How else to ensure staff don't overstep their authority or jump to conclusions, suspecting diminished mental capacity when they witness "unusual" behavior?

As I said, I had never thought about these issues and the potential complications aging LGBT persons face when it becomes necessary for them to live in a Seniors' facility. It actually made me feel a bit nervous about my future, I must admit. I suppose what gives me hope is that for the people entering this age group in the next few years, their experience has not been marked by suppression and have been living and surviving out of the closet and are comfortable in who they are. Hopefully as well, the care facilities and residences will have also been infused with staff who, if they are not LGBT themselves, will be attuned to the needs of their residents.

One interesting outcome of meeting Alexandra is the possibility of working with her to provide transgender specific workshops and the exchange of information between the two of us so we can make our respective presentations more effective. And that is a good thing.


Yes. Mr. Tambourine Man is still playing in my head!


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