OVER the last few years people have started to react to me as an older woman. Some of it is good — standing up on the bus to give me a seat mostly — but some of it makes me feel uncomfortable. People make assumptions about what I can and can’t do. I’m obviously a dodgy driver, hopeless at using technology, forgetful, vague, not aware of social networking, or popular music or fashion. Somehow getting older is making me much more conservative, or so some think. I need to take care of myself. Not take risks in my social life, my relationships, or physically. I certainly shouldn’t be having sex, or if I am, I shouldn’t ever mention it. And often I’m invisible.

This is ageism, and it needs to be challenged. 

But in reality, the issue that’s having the biggest impact on older LGBTI women is much more structural. It’s poverty. I know this from the interviews I do with older LGBTI women for my online project, 55Upitty. Living in poverty is the current and future reality for many of our older folk.

In Australia the average salary for a woman is almost 18 per cent less than for a man, making it less possible for her to accumulate funds for her old age. According to the Association of Super Funds of Australia, at retirement, men have an average super payout of $198,000, while women pocket over a third less at $112,600. Neither of these figures are adequate, but for older women, including older LGBTI women, it points to a precarious old age.

Poverty impacts our ability to access so many of the things that give us a comfortable old age. It makes finding suitable housing near impossible, and we are witnessing older women becoming homeless in increasing numbers. Many older LGBTI women who left conventional marriages may have never received a fair division of property.

Add to this the reality for many of entering the workforce at a time when it was still legal to discriminate on the basis of sexuality, moving from job to job, and being refused loans to buy a house. The difficulty of coming out into a hostile world may have resulted in an increased risk of abusing alcohol and drugs, alienation from family support, and consequent impact on health and the ability to earn and retain money.

You get the picture that many older LGBTI women are likely to struggle financially. For trans women, it’s even worse.

Because of this, an increasing number of us are never going to be able to retire in the conventional sense of the word, even if we want to changes in our health and strength prevent us from working. We’ll cobble together incomes from odd jobs and pensions, and live poorly. We’ll not get the care we need.

In recent years there has been a real growth in services aimed at supporting older LGBTI folk. But so many of these services are modelled around this concept of retirement. Events happen during the day, excluding those who still need, or choose to work. Assumptions are made about what old people like — bowls for instance, or horse racing — fluffy-slipper stuff. And so, so many focus groups that seem to go nowhere.

The thing is, we are not all the same.  Many of us have spent lifetimes rejecting patronising stereotypes and benevolent handouts. We want to decide ourselves what is in our own best interest, calling on our experience and history and everyday reality. Our support agencies should be facilitating ferocious campaigns for real and fair financial support for all our older people, now and into the future. That will involve agitating for pay parity, benefits beyond the breadline, affordable housing, superannuation reform, equitable division of assets and all the other legal and structural impediments to ensuring a safe secure old age for everyone in our community. Which means that the young also have a stake in this. We’ve mobilised together for marriage equality, now let’s do it to fight poverty.

And, going back to those ageist slurs — don’t ever call me cute. Cute is for children. The work needed to address the impacts of poverty on older LGBTI folk is serious adult business. 

**This article was first published in the November edition of the Star ObserverClick here to find out where you can grab your free copy in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and select regional areas. 

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