An off the cuff conversation and a timely tweet on twitter got me thinking the other day.
The conversation was about tattoos and that, now old adage, “what will we look like when we are in our 80’s?”. Well the answer was pointed out to me “like everyone else” so from being the minority with tattoos (especially women) it’s almost an exception to see 20 something’s without tattoos. How times change.
The tweet was about LGBT and dementia awareness, the suggestion was made why don’t i do a blog so here goes.
I identify as “lesbian” and have been open about my sexuality since the age of 18. Before that, from the age of 15, I frequented the only place that I believed would have like minded people, the one and only gay bar in town. A far cry from the busy canal street in Manchester or other now trendy “gay districts” in every city.
This was the mid 80’s, AIDS / HIV was a new term and widely known as the offensive “gay plague”, you looked twice before you went in the door of the pub and once in their would still be subject to the “dares” of stag night parties and the odd brick through the window or offensive graffiti.
Once in the bar playing cards, dominos, pool, chatting would be ordinary people having a nice night, albeit a little secretively. I remember the lady at the bar, always in a tux on New Year’s Eve, and in her mid 50’s, the 2 guys that had been together for 25 years but still unable to be open about their sexuality at work.
If you bumped into someone around town, from the “scene” you would nod say hello, but we all kept up the front of a law abiding heterosexual, no hugs and kisses and definitely no flamboyant gestures.
So why is my little trip down family lane so important?
In 1967 the sexual offences act, in England and Wales, decriminalised homosexual acts between consenting men over the age of 21, exceptions to this, the armed forces and the merchant navy. A longer wait for the same in Scotland (1980) and Ireland (1982). What about ladies you may ask? Well (apparently) queen Victoria did not think ladies could do such things so it was never actually illegal to be a lesbian, although publically and for many years all homosexual acts were considered wrong and continued “underground”.
I got to thinking, all those people, I remember so fondly from my youth, are now in their 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. The early parts of their life was spent in a society that did not recognise them or respect their sexuality, partners would be “the friend”, “the lodger” or even the person no one ever mentioned.
I was talking to a lady a while ago, she was in her 90’s and went to great lengths to tell me about her friend, they lived together and had done since the 1960’s, both professional women. The ladies “next of kin” though was a great niece and all liaison about on going care and discussions were had with the niece. The “friend” was told 2nd hand and staff did not even think to have direct conversation with the friend. But then again, the lady insisted that the discussions were had with the niece and not the friend. I may be seeing something that is not there, if not a couple, the ladies had lived together for 50 years and obviously loved each other very much.
So here’s my dilemma, part of me wanted to shout “it’s ok you know, I understand” but then part of me thought if this is what makes everyone comfortable then so be it. After all for over half of their life to identify as same sex was socially shunned and illegal and could result in prison sentences.
So those role models and LGBT friends from my youth are now, probably, accessing mine and your hospital services, as young adults some had secret lives and were subjected to bullying and even imprisoned. Should we treat them differently or go to great pains for them to be able to identify? I don’t think so, we should treat everyone with, dignity, respect, kindness and compassion whilst being aware of the history, context and times people have lived through. Most importantly we must never judge or allow anyone to feel uncomfortable.
You may think why the big deal, everyone is fine now. Well here is my modern day example…..
“Your next of kin?”
“Oh yes, yes, thats ok, that’s nice”
Well yes thank you, I think I kind of knew that 🙂
I really don’t know the best approach to older LGBT, especially if there is some cognitive impairment, but i would love to hear suggestions, after all in another 40 yrs it will no doubt be this elderly lesbian (with wrinkly tattoo) wanting compassionate care.