Families of choice are cornerstones within LGBTQ communities, and often maintain integral connection and care networks into older age. As Owner of The Care Plan, I assist people to successfully navigate health and aging challenges.
I constantly encounter aging baby boomers and seniors who are living single, without clear ties to family of origin. The question “who will care for me as I age” is raised again and again. I firmly believe families of choice can be a strategy for aging wellness, if shared intention, communication and planning are in place.
LGBTQ Aging Challenges
LGBTQ people may not have considered aging wellness for a number of reasons. Thirty years of devastation and lives lost due to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The inexcusably low life expectancy for trans women of color which some estimates identify as 35 years of age. Higher rates of breast cancer in lesbian communities, not to mention the violence and hate crimes many LGBTQ people continue to live under the threat of around the world.
However, LGBTQ individuals and communities are living longer and experiencing new challenges. Aside from discrimination or neglect within health, financial, and senior service institutions, one of the largest concerns many seniors face is isolation. Over and over again, LGBTQ people in their middle age and senior years express fear of loneliness and isolation. This fear is validated by research that LGBTQ people are twice as likely to age alone, and are three to four times less likely to have children. http://www.lgbtagingcenter.org/resources/resource.cfm?r=54
A few years ago,Chicago area About Face Theater Company began “The Loneliness Project”, an initiative to explore the experiences of people within LGBTQ communities who feel the most lonely and isolated. What they found is that those at each end of the age spectrum experienced deep loneliness. In the words of Eric A, an interviewee with About Face, he poignantly describes the journey of many LGBTQ individuals :
“In our community, we experience isolation from the moment we realize our sexual identity. We become liars out of the fear of our most nurtured secrets. We learn to become our own security blanket, best friend, and our guard is always up. . . . It feels like acceptance could be taken away in a matter of seconds. Friends you thought would be with you for a long time dissipate, family could look at you like you were a different person, people can call you names as you go about your daily life – and for what reason? Because you love the same gender or in other cases you don’t feel you were born in the correct gender you were assigned. This is what loneliness is in our community.” – Eric A http://aboutfacetheatre.com/tag/the-loneliness-project/ .
Families of Choice
LGBTQ communities have an opportunity to claim aging and health in a new way. To anticipate age related challenges, and create stronger connections within families of choice for a healthy aging process. The often unspoken promise of families of choice is that members will support each other through life’s challenges. By taking the time to have facilitated conversations in our 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and beyond, the opportunity to plan together, and identify decision makers early on, and clarify expectations will deliver on that promise.
Throughout LGBTQ history, families of choice serve to increase safety, create intimacy, and foster the resilience to successfully maneuver an uncertain world. The majority of families of choice are networks developed over time, most often based on shared interests, values, and lifestyles. Over the next two months The Care Plan blog will explore the idea of families of choice, and provide resources for how to establish, cultivate and utilize those relationships throughout a lifetime.
If you have families of choice in your life and would like to further the conversation or plan together as you age, please contact us at The Care Plan at 630-479-0083 or Jacqueline@the-care-plan.com. We are proud to be at the forefront of developing affirming health and aging processes for LGBTQ individuals and communities.
Families of Choice are Remaking America – by Bella DePaulo http://nautil.us/issue/34/adaptation/families-of-choice-are-remaking-america
Four Years To Live: On Violence Against Trans Women of Color – by Trav Pittman
Isolated Gay People and Support from the LGBT Community – by Dr. Loren Olson
What is Our Story: Perspectives from the AIDS Generation – by San Francisco AIDS Foundation