Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender ageing

Authored by: Yiu-tung Suen

Routledge Handbook of Cultural Gerontology

Print publication date:  June  2015
Online publication date:  June  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415631143
eBook ISBN: 9780203097090
Adobe ISBN: 9781136221033


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Non-heterosexual ageing has developed from an ‘unmentionable topic’ for academic study in the 1970s (Kimmel et al. 2006: 2), to a subject on which full-length books and special issues of journals have been published. The key to understanding non-heterosexual ageing is to interrogate the very meanings of sexual and gender identities. Research and theory that takes a biological approach to homosexuality focuses on why and how homosexual orientation develops ‘against the nature’ of reproduction. This differs radically from a socio-cultural approach that analyzes the historical and cultural contingencies of sexuality (Foucault 1978). This social constructionist approach ‘is about understanding the historical context which shapes the sexual’ (Weeks 2003: 18). Evidence from historical and anthropological research across times and cultures has revealed that same-sex sexual practices take a number of forms, and can be assigned very different meanings and hence be socially received very differently. Religious authorities, through defining sexual norms, and sexologists, through medicalizing sexuality, played crucial roles in the formation of a sexual hierarchy (Rubin 1984) that privileges heterosexuality as a dominant, all-pervading social category that is naturalized, universalized and absolved from scrutiny (Wilkinson and Kitzinger 1993: 3). This social organization of sexuality in turn influences the lived realities of non-heterosexual people (Plummer 2003), informally through social discourses and stereotypes, and formally through laws, policies and practice on an everyday basis. Sexual minorities, including but not limited to LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) people, are as a result Othered, stigmatized, marginalized, excluded and persecuted. These social and cultural configurations influence how sexual desires are expressed through different behaviours, and whether and how sexual identities are formed.

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