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queer perspectives: talking sexuality and relationships with the ‘golden oldies’

Holding Hands with Elderly Patient

Almost two years ago my partner, S, and I made a sea change. We moved from the outskirts of Brisbane to her hometown on the coast. With the goal of saving up for a beach house we moved in with her grandparents. Our plans changed dramatically though and with little prospects at work, S took the chance to go on a working holiday to the UK. She flew out just over a month ago. I’ve had my moments when I’ve cried, and  cursed the distance, but one truly positive thing from the situation is continuing to live with her grandparents. It is lovely to be around her family. I feel more connected to her through being around them. S’s grandparents – who are in their mid-sixties – and I get on really well. We eat dinner together, share a bottle of wine, chat about our day and ruminate on life in general.

A couple of weeks ago, after dinner one evening, I was discussing sexuality with S’s grandmother, Nana. I felt comfortable. I spoke about coming out in my mid-twenties to my brother and parents, which was a positive experience. Nana spoke of when S came out in her teens, a much more harrowing experience than my own, and how she and S’s grandfather had told S that ‘all that matters is that you are happy.’ S was still the same young woman regardless of her sexuality. S’s grandparents at the time knew it would be harder for her having come out. They wished for acceptance of gay and lesbian people and an end to discrimination and homophobia. This conversation and the unwavering acceptance of their granddaughter regardless of her sexuality got me thinking about the positive experiences we as a couple have had with people of older generations – the ‘Golden Oldies’.

When S and I lived near Brisbane we lived in a small unit complex. Our next door neighbour was a lovely older lady in her early seventies and as soon as we moved in, we formed a close bond with her. We invited her around for coffee, pizza, a BBQ. There seemed no need to come out as a couple to her as she already knew. She would tell us stories of her life in rural New South Wales. Two ex-husbands, seven kids, abusive relationships and her struggle as a single mother in the ‘60s and ‘70s. When S and I spoke of our relationship, our neighbour said she understood why some women chose to live with other women and she knew that some women fell in love with other women. She understood that our relationship was just that, a relationship, and not purely about sex or subverting society (though sometimes I love doing that!). We would all talk about the absurd anti-marriage equality ideas being bandied about by the older generations. When the civil partnerships came into affect in Queensland she was so happy for us. S and I gushed that we would invite her along to our wedding (when we had one). Our neighbour was chuffed to have been invited and she would definitely be there! Such acceptance and understanding of our relationship, and her enthusiasm for the legal recognition of this was terribly heart warming.

Another ‘Golden Oldie’ who showed acceptance of our sexuality was none other than S’s great-grandmother, a sassy lady in her eighties. She was very accepting of S and welcomed me into the family with open arms. When S and I were first dating she told me about a conversation where her great-grandmother asked her ‘how do lesbians have sex?’ Uncomfortable as this was for S, it was a sign of acceptance and interest in her great-granddaughter’s life. S’s great-grandmother had lived an interesting life. She served in the Royal Air Force in the UK during World War II, had married and raised a family, went though a divorce, become a Special Constable, and then moved to Australia in her late sixties. Sadly she passed away three years ago, but I remember once chatting with her over a scotch or two where she casually mentioned how different her life would have been if she had been a lesbian! This wasn’t a simple statement, it involved experiences with and opinions of men, and what living with a woman could have offered her. She had contemplated a sexuality other than heterosexuality.

The acceptance of our relationship and sexuality by these two extraordinary older women really touched a cord with S and I. Two ‘Golden Oldies’ that didn’t subscribe to the religious and homophobic views expressed on marriage equality and LBGTQI people by other older Australians. Are there other ‘Golden Oldies’ like them? We hope so.

Alisa is from Queensland and spends her week days working in research administration at one of Australia’s top universities. A trained scientist, self confessed history and science nerd, feminist, aspiring writer and out lesbian, she spends her spare time blogging, watching classic movies, and relaxing by the water. She is interested in issues affecting LGBTQI individuals, ranging from identity and self expression, to marriage equality and acceptance by greater society, to lesbian feminism and the lesbian gaze. Read Alisa’s blogs here and here.

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