Healthcare and services Housing and long-term care Research

Reorienting Response: An Ethnography of Old Age, Disability, and Queer Lives in Canada


Celeste Pang




This dissertation is based on 16 months of ethnographic fieldwork among queer and trans older adults residing in long-term care homes and living with disabilities and receiving care for chronic conditions in Toronto, Canada. From 2016-2017, building on preliminary fieldwork in 2015, I spent my days with nine key interlocutors as they dwelt within sites of care, and sought to access and evade it, and with those around them. I further interviewed fifty LGBTQ people over 60ish about their experiences and perspectives on aging and care, and seventy surrounding people including friends, attorneys, care workers, and local activists and legal advocates involved in aging issues. The emergent ethnography is an examination of old age, disability, queer and trans lives, and relations of care in Canada, and a story about stories of them. Across seven chapters the dissertation explores key facets of queer aging and disability, namely: consent and capacity; senility, dementia, and gender-nonconformity; movement and mobility; voice and articulation; loneliness and social isolation; proximity and queer desire; and death and dying.

Much research exploring aging in relation to queer and trans older adults is focused in identifying unique aspects of these populations’ challenges and in suggesting interventions to existing care practices and structures. While providing insights into everyday life worlds of those positioned as “subject-objects” of care, this dissertation focuses its effort in forwarding an analysis of the complex social relations and norms—including of able-bodiedness, sanity, and proper gendered embodiment—that permeated interlocutors’ relations with and reception by others, including the reduction of lives lived in “care” to “care” itself. Rooted in sociocultural anthropology it engages in conversation with (a) interdisciplinary scholarship on aging and disability, (b) analyses and imaginations of gender and aging, and (c) examinations of how norms of care shape the lives and living conditions of older adults living with disabilities within and outside of institutional settings, and how they are contested. As a whole, the dissertation is oriented towards response: as a way of skirting overdeterminations of care; of attending to action in everyday life; and examining and questioning ableist norms of responsiveness and articulation.


Pang, N. C. (2022). Reorienting Response: An Ethnography of Old Age, Disability, and Queer Lives in Canada [Ph.D., University of Toronto (Canada)].

Open Access