Interviewed by Brittany Jakubiec
Dr. Celeste Pang is an anthropologist whose research, teaching, and community work focus on aging, disability, and care access and equity, with significant focus on 2SLGBTQIA+ issues. Celeste is currently an Assistant Professor in Women’s & Gender Studies at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta.
Q: Can you tell me about the Aging and Living Well Among LGBTQI Older Adults in Canada research project and its focus?
A: The Aging and Living Well research project started with the questions: “What does ‘aging and living well’ look like for LGBTQI older adults in Canada? What could it look like? And what social changes are needed to better enable LGBTQI older adults to live and age well, on their terms?”
Of central interest here was understanding how LGBTQI older adults themselves were thinking about aging and wellbeing, and identifying what is needed for our communities to live well into old age. What situations are people in? What do people want? What barriers are they coming up against?
We conducted interviews with 48 LGBTQI-identified older adults between the ages of 64-81. This participant group included people of a wide array of gender identities and expressions, sexualities, housing situation, income levels, and backgrounds from rural and urban areas in eight different provinces. The report lays out our key findings in the areas of Employment, Housing, Social Connection and Disconnection, Healthcare Access, and Death and End-of-Life Wellbeing.
Q: Can you tell me more about the issue of employment, and the challenges that our communities face?
A: Queer and trans people have faced, and continue to face, employment discrimination, un- and under-employment, and economic inequities. In a capitalist society employment is a main way in which worth and value is recognized; it is also an arena where oppression and discriminatory social norms are reproduced. This includes transphobia and homophobia, as well as sexism, ageism, and ableism, among other intersecting forms of oppression.
Among the LGBTQI older adults we interviewed for Aging and Living Well, many had directly experienced the effects of discrimination against them in their previous workplaces – including discrimination on the basis of identity, that was legal at the time. Even for those who hadn’t experienced overt discrimination, most were keenly aware of the potential of discrimination based on their gender identity, expression, or sexual orientation, and negotiated their working lives accordingly. These fraught experiences of negotiating work, and trying to stay employed, stayed with participants.
Moreover, anti-LGBTQI discrimination and the social sanction (or social acceptability) of such discrimination had effects on people’s financial situations, and their financial situation later in life. This was not the case for everyone. Many older LGBTQI people have had successful and profitable careers. But those who have had long careers often had to take measures –like not disclosing their identities or details about their family lives –to keep that employment. Others who did face direct discrimination or had jobs that paid less and did not have pensions are feeling that financially in older age, experiencing poverty or minimal fixed incomes that make it hard to pay the rent or meet other basic needs. To make ends meet, some were doing or looking for gig work. It’s critical to trace people’s financial situation later in life to what they experienced earlier in life, and recognize the way different systems and social structures are negatively impacting the economic wellbeing of 2SLGBTQIA+ people, and others.
Q: What are some of the recommendations you’d make for change to enable LGBTQI older adults to age and live well?
A: There are so many things! One big one when it comes to addressing economic inequities is immediate action to end the housing crisis and increase the availability of affordable housing, and to increase the financial programs that are available to help older adults and people with disabilities keep/make their homes accessible. Another one, when it comes to social belonging and to collective action, is more intergenerational connection, and really combatting the ageism and ableism that exists within our own communities. The LGBTQI older adults we interviewed characterized “wellbeing” in different ways, but this commonly included access to affordable housing, living in a safe and secure environment, having a solid social and community network, and being able to access healthcare when they need it. These are concerns that younger 2SLGBTQIA+ people have to. We could come together on these issues and shared priorities.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Right now, my major research project is focused on issues of capacity, consent, and substitute decision-making for people who are facing dementia alone. This means people – including 2SLGBTQIA+ older adults – who may be “alone” in the sense of not having any close family members of close friends, or alone in the sense that they don’t have someone trustworthy and reliable to confide in and depend upon. This matters a lot when our systems are set up around the idea of a heteronormative nuclear family, and the idea that family members will be there to provide care and to serve as substitute decision-makers. So, my research questions are: How do people who are not close family members or friends become substitute decision-makers for people who are facing dementia alone? How do ideas about consent, capacity, and decision-making affect people facing dementia who are “going it alone” and people who are not close family members or friends who become substitute decision-makers?
I am currently recruiting participants for this project, including people in Ontario and Alberta who (a) are facing dementia alone, (b) are healthcare and social service workers and other professionals who have tried to connect adult clients with a supportive or substitute decision-maker, and/or (c) have been supportive or substitute decision-makers for someone living with dementia who is not a close family member or close friend. More information about this project can be found here: celestepang.ca/stranger-than-family/
Q: Can you talk to us about a recent initiative or collaboration that you’re passionate about?
A: Yes! As you know, I’ve recently begun a new job as an assistant professor at Mount Royal University. This has meant getting to teach new courses to undergraduate students, including in 2SLGBTQIA+ Health, and getting to know new people from across the university. My colleague Corinne Mason and I have started a new hub called QriTical: queer + trans research hub , which we intend to be a connector and community space for MRU faculty, staff, students, and broader community. I’m really excited about this and what we can help make happen.
Q: What resources do you recommend people check out?
A: Check out the research and resources on this National Resource Centre on 2SLGBTQI Aging site! When it comes to broad ways of thinking about aging & living well and how we can enable 2SLGBTQIA+ older adults to do so, I’d also recommend getting inspiration from Catherine Hernandez’s new novel The Story of Us which features the care dynamic among a personal support worker, a trans woman living with dementia, and their families & communities.