Fading History: Why We Should Pay More Attention To Our Queer Elders

I’m scared of getting older. I think a lot of people are. Apart from the common fear of just slowing down in general, I’m also scared of becoming invisible. Senior citizens always seem like an afterthought in public perception. Often shunted to the shadows, their struggles mostly go unnoticed.

The effects of ageism permeate every part of our society. They can seriously hinder older adults’ access to necessary resources like physical and mental healthcare services, or even social support. 

Sounds bad right? Now imagine also being queer. I’ll save you the time and tell you that they have it a lot worse. Statistically, older queer individuals are far more susceptible to mental illnesses, poverty and exclusion. They are also more likely to suffer from loneliness, either because of the death of a partner or lack of supportive family members.  

If they turn to the internet for support, they are called out for using ‘outdated’ terminology to describe themselves. The policing of queer language is brutal, especially online. And as a surprise to no one, one small mistake invites a barrage of hate. Suddenly, the language they have used throughout their lives becomes a problem, and so do they.

Queer senior citizens need our support, not our judgement. They are the last, living links we have to our history. So we need to do better. And we need better representation in films and books of how LGBTQ+ senior citizens actually live their lives. So, in honour of World Senior Citizens Day, here are my recommendations. 

Before You Know It (2013)

This documentary follows the three gay American senior citizens, Dennis, Ty, and Robert through their daily lives. They reflect on the past, losing friends and partners to AIDS, getting older, and their coming out journies. 

Within the first few minutes, any stereotypes you may have had about older queer people goes right out the window. We see them having a healthy romantic relationships, talking about sex, doing drag, and actively try to give back to their communities. It is heartwarming and heartbreaking all at the same time (and Ty, if you’re reading this, I am once again asking you to adopt me). 

Watch it here.

Major! (2016)

A picture of Miss Major wearing a colourful shirt looking straight ahead with her right arm raised
© Floating Ophelia Productions, 2016

This documentary details the life of Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, a Black transgender senior citizen (and overall icon), who has been fighting for trans women of colour for over four decades. A former sex-worker and Stonewall survivor, she has also survived previous incarceration and police brutality. 

It is the story of a woman who has been through the worst kinds of abuse and violence possible but is undeterred in her support and passion for trans rights. Throughout this doc, we see her compassion for the most marginalised of communities, and her determination to advocate for intersectionality.

Watch it here

Shadow Life by Hiromi Goto (illustrated by Ann Xu)

© First Second, 2021

This graphic novel tells the story of Kumiko, a 76 year old bisexual woman who is trying to run away from death. The artwork is very realistic (and so cute!), and the best part? Her bisexuality isn’t treated as a major plot point, it’s just part of her identity. The story paints a very real picture of what it’s like to grow older and realise that your body and mind aren’t what they used to be, all served with a side of dry humour. 

Find it here.

Twilight’s Kiss (2019)

© New Voice Film Productions, 2019

Based in Hong Kong, Twilight’s Kiss is the story of Pak, a senior taxi driver finding love with Hoi, a retiree (with great fashion sense). Both secretly gay, both living with homophobic families, the movie is a great look into how queer people in non-Western cultures navigate heteronormativity, family dynamics and constantly living in fear of having their identities exposed. 

We also see a lot of Hong Kong’s LGBTQIA+ history as both men reflect on their pasts. The cinematography is stunning, and the scenes with Pak and Hoi are effortlessly tender, and heartwarming. I also loved how the movie was unafraid to show older men having sex and actually having a good time. I think this a great stride for queer Asian representation, especially one that explores sexuality in the older generations. 

All of these recommendations serve one main purpose. And that is to remind us that queer people don’t just magically disappear when they get older. They still want to find love, they still want to have sex, and they still want to be a part of a community. 

Our elders have dealt with change their whole lives. But getting older is a unique challenge that requires a lot more adjustment, so now is the time we need to be there for them more than ever. By actively trying to create more environments that are inclusive and encouraging, we can help them readjust into a world that they fought to create.

Written by Nithila

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