Dr Damien Riggs, Flinders University: Parenting, Ageing and Coming Out?


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Dr Damien Riggs, Senior Lecturer, School of Social and Policy Studies, Flinders University & Editor, Gay and Lesbian Issues and Psychology Review delivered this presentation at the 2013 LGBTI Aged Care Forum. The two day event offers a platform for discussion on national policy issues, mental and physical health and implementing sensitive quality care and service delivery.

The forum brings together LGBTI community leaders plus senior researchers on LGBTI issues in the aged and health care sectors, to share perspectives on good practice insights for real needs as well as strategies to build community and sector capacity. For more information about the event, please visit the conference website: http://www.informa.com.au//lgbtiagedcare

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Dr Damien Riggs, Flinders University: Parenting, Ageing and Coming Out?

  1. 1. Parenting, Ageing and Coming Out Dr Damien Riggs
  2. 2. Overview • Broader context of coming out when older for lesbians, gay men, and transgender people • Grandmothering • Grandfathering • Transitioning later in life and children • Trans grandparents
  3. 3. Ageing and Coming Out • For many older lesbians and gay men, options for coming out were largely restricted, and living life as nominally heterosexual was about social conventions more so than deceit – I just did what you were supposed to do...get married, have kids, and a house with a white picket fence. Back then you didn’t talk about sex and if you did it was only in the context of men and women. I learned about sex when I was on my honeymoon. Likewise, I learned about true love when I fell in love with a woman (female participant in Orel, 2013).
  4. 4. Ageing and Coming Out • ‘Internalised homophobia’ vs a realistic assessment of the risks associated with being out and the viability of living a life as a lesbian or gay man. • When it comes to children, significant risks of losing custody of children – Less of a risk for most gay men or lesbians in the west today, but still a considerable risk for many trans people
  5. 5. Ageing and Coming Out • Loss and grief associated with not experiencing gay or lesbian intimacy or intimacy in the right body during early years – having to go through a ‘second puberty’ • Challenges in negotiating connecting with others in possibly unfamiliar and youthcentric contexts (online spaces, clubs)
  6. 6. Ageing and Coming Out • Coming out when older can also be a considerable shock in terms of the relative loss of privilege • There is a difference between the oppression of the closet and the restrictions it generates, and the new restrictions that become evident when an individual is out
  7. 7. Ageing and Coming Out • Both people who transition later in life and people who come out as lesbian or gay later in life may not necessarily be prepared for the losses as well as the gains • This is especially the case when it comes to children, and their acceptance (or otherwise)
  8. 8. Grandmothering • Lesbianism is an ‘issue’ for grandmothers who feel they cannot disclose to their grandchildren – it fosters distance and guilt (Orel, 2013) • This can serve to reinforce the very norms and exclusions that women struggled against to come out
  9. 9. Grandmothering • For some women in Patterson (2005) and Orel’s (2013) research, this fear of disclosure was warranted • Some participants were prevented from seeing their grandchildren by their children on the basis of homophobic views of lesbianism
  10. 10. Grandmothering • Transgenerational nature of knowledge about discrimination re: second or third generation • Sum of Us – how does the experience of having a lesbian mother or grandmother both encourage respect for diversity whilst also bringing awareness of the costs
  11. 11. Grandmothering • In addition to exclusion from families, being out as a grandmother can heighten awareness of broader social and legal exclusions • For example, in Orel’s (2013) research the genetically-related grandmother was accorded recognition and inclusion whilst the ‘other grandmother’ was often not
  12. 12. Grandmothering • For some women having a relationship to children comes as a surprise, having accepted that the price of lesbianism was not to have children • Patterson (2005) discusses women becoming mothers and grandmothers through partnering with women who had children from a previous heterosexual relationship
  13. 13. Grandmothering • Lesbianism aside (!), women report a strong overarching gender normative experience of grandmothering due to social expectations • Some women also report normative expectations from within older lesbian communities in regards to having children and bringing grandchildren
  14. 14. Grandfathering • Again reinforcing the gendered nature of these issues, Fruhauf et al (2009) report that the older gay men in their study played fairly traditional male roles as grandfathers (e.g., ‘active play’ with grandchildren, attending sporting events with grandchildren)
  15. 15. Grandfathering • Some men reported fears that the discrimination they had faced or feared as young men would repeat when coming out to grandchildren • Like with grandmothers, adult children were significant gate keepers (for better or worse) between grandfathers and grandchildren.
  16. 16. Transitioning and Children • Historically practice wisdom has been that adult children can better cope with a parent transitioning • This has led many trans people to delay transitioning until both they and their children are older • For the parent, this can have negative effects on health and esteem
  17. 17. Transitioning and Children • White and Ettner (2004), however, suggest that other than adolescents, children of all ages in general cope relatively well with a parent transitioning – If the other parent is supportive – If there isn’t negative separation – If they are given clear information and not lied to or kept in the dark.
  18. 18. Transitioning and Children • Gendered nature of decisions about transitioning • People natally-assigned as male enculturated to provide for partners and children – In the 1960s and 1970s the scenario was very different from how it is now.You left school and did your duty.You didn’t query anything.You got your career and marriage and had children.You didn’t have time to think about what you were and that was the environment that I was in (Christine, in Hines 2007).
  19. 19. Children and Transitioning • For some people natally-assigned as female getting married and having children may be a way of avoiding transitioning – I didn’t start dealing with it, well, talking about it, until I was in my in 30s, but I went through lots and lots of denial in that time and I got married because I thought it would make it go away. One of the reasons for having a child was that it would make it go away, it would make me whole. You destroy all this stuff that was doing my head in, but it didn’t (Dan, in Hines, 2007).
  20. 20. Transitioning and Children • For some trans people transitioning can bring with it relationship breakdown • Re-partnering after transition thus brings with it the possibility that new partners will have children • Disclosure of previous gender identity to step-children can thus be a further challenge to the new relationship
  21. 21. Transgender Grandparenting • Documentary Southern Comfort • For Robert Eads, pregnancy was ‘the worst and the best at the same time’ • Grandparenting was a different experience of caring in an embodied sense for a child as a man seen as one • Having a grandchild post-transition provided the opportunity to have a caring relationship with a child who only knew him as a man
  22. 22. Conclusions • Specific histories and current experiences of older LGT parents and grandparents as compared to younger LGT parents and future grandparents • In cases where coming out leads to alienation, what does this mean for future care needs given the norm of kinship and care • Perhaps especially for trans people, what are the implications of this with regard to possibly reduced financial resources and health issues
  23. 23. References • • • • • Fruhauf, C.A., Orel, N.A., & Jenkins, D.A. (2009). The coming-out process of gay grandfathers: Perceptions of their adult children’s influence. Journal of GLBT Family Studies, 5, 99-118. Hines, S. (2007). Transforming gender: Transgender practices of identity, intimacy and care. Bristol: Policy Press. Orel, N. (2013). Lesbian and bisexual women as grandparents. In A.E. Goldberg & K.R. Allen (Ed.) LGBT-parent families (pp. 175194). New York: Springer. Patterson, S. (2005). Better one’s own path: The experience of lesbian grandmothers in Canada. Canadian Woman Studies, 24, 118-122. White, T., & Ettner, R. (2004). Disclosure, risks and protective factors for children whose parents are undergoing gender transition. Journal of Gay and lesbian Psychotherapy, 8, 129-145.