For the many ageing members of the LGBTQ community, a good listening hear makes a huge difference.
BY: Eleanor Yap
James Tan, who is a bisexual, had a very stormy relationship with his father but not as a result of his sexual orientation (he did not reveal it to his father). But before his father passed away in 2002, he reconciled with him and as result, Tan forgave and forgot.
“The final test of reconciliation was when I gladly took care of him in the last year before his eventual death. The evidence of true reconciliation was my tears at his funeral, something I could not even imagine years before,” said the 55-year-old.
A good relationship with parents
He is happy to share this experience and the importance of having good relationships with family, with others in the Mature Men Tea Sessions, a five-week programme under the Mature Men Project organised by non-profit, LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) organisation, Oogachaga. Tan also facilitates the sessions with other volunteers.
The Tea Sessions bring 10 to 15 mature men per session together to discuss issues ranging from self-awareness, positive self-perception and personal wellness, to issues about relationships within and outside the family. Tan explained: “It is basically a support group that provides a platform for mature gay men to discuss these issues with like-minded people.”
Through telling his own story of his relationship with his father, he hopes to help others – “My own experience brought to the fore became sort of catharsis for me and I was really hoping that it would bring hope to those participants caught in an estranged relationship.”
He added: “Relationships with parents are very important to gay men because they are often the ones left behind to look after their aged parents after their siblings have all gotten married and flown the nest. Estranged relationships can often take a toll on them when they become main caregivers. With reconciliation and good relationship, this important aspect of the gay man’s life will give them a sense of fulfilment and inner peace.”
Tan has been an active volunteer at Oogachaga for seven years. “I was looking around for some volunteer work to do as I have always felt that I have a social responsibility to society at large.” He quickly found solace with the organisation and “wanted to be a part of it”.
Besides the Tea Sessions, he also helps out in workshops ranging from personal grooming and self-confidence, to those about sexual health. He even helped co-write a free guide by Oohachaga for mature gay and bisexual men called “Living a Full Life”.
Support from like-minded people
The Mature Men Project was started in 2011 with a US$40,000 funding from cosmetics company MAC Aids Fund. Shared Oogachaga’s Centre Manager Bryan Choong said: “We know that mature men in Singapore have different needs than the young gay and bisexual men in the community. For many years, most of the programmes by community groups were non-age-specific but a lot of the content was planned for men below 40. We decided that there was a service gap which we needed to plug.”
The Project is mainly for mature gay and bisexual men in Singapore and is a platform for them to discuss about ageing as a gay person. Added Choong, “Mature men who are 40 and above today grew up as young men in the early 1980s and 1990s where there was less information on the Internet and lower social acceptance of the LGBTQ community. Many of them faced a lot of social pressures to be married (the same for heterosexual people in those days) or remain in the closet. As such, they have a smaller social network of gay or gay-friendly friends.
“Today, we see a sizeable number of them who are married in a heterosexual marriage or hold a lot of internalised homophobia. While internalised homophobia also exists in the young LGBTQ population, mature men have less opportunity to seek out help and support,” said Choong.
He also shared the organisation’s 2010 online survey on the needs of the mature men population where the main concerns in mature men included: Being mature and gay in a youth-focused LGBTQ environment, self-esteem and confidence, social networking and genuine friendship, finding a same sex relationship when mature, financial stability, and sexual and physical health. “They [mature men] are not too different from any non-LGBTQ mature men but some of the topics are definitely not on a younger men’s list,” said Choong.
He added that that is why the Mature Men Project came about and he envisions it as a starting point to a larger project that Oogachaga hopes to cater to the needs of a wider and ageing LGBTQ population. Currently, there are five core volunteers in the Project and they all are over 40 years old. They are all males and are either gay or bisexual.
Changes to come
For Tan, he feels the tide is turning and is optimistic that things will change for the better. “Society is changing and becoming more open unlike in the past where sexual orientation was hardly talked about in polite society less so its acceptance.
“With higher education and the increased positive profile of members of the LGBTQ community, it is my hope and belief that things will get better.”
** Another Oogachaga site to check out for more information: www.congregaytion.sg.
SIDEBOX: Tips on being mature & gay
1) Set a vision for yourself – Many find nurturing close relationships, managing career goals or maintaining household important. Others increase their commitment to family and parents, or getting involved in activities related to LGBTQ or straight communities.
2) Befriend the midlife – You may experience anxiety and apprehension at realising that you have lived half your life and you begin to re-assess what you have accomplished so far. This is the perfect time to revisit your original vision. Maybe you’ll find that it doesn’t fit you anymore and that it should be changed. Remember, it is never too late to start planning or adjusting your life direction so that you can enjoy mature age.
3) Maintain a positive outlook – What we say to ourselves can impact our mood and behaviour. You can start by removing that “monster in your head” through examining your self-talk. Take this opportunity to change the way you feel about yourself! You can either talk to a professional on how to enhance your life, or you can share it with someone who has overcome the hurdles through this part of life.
4) Build your support team – Invest in current and new relationships to give you that sense of connection that we all need. Try to look for other midlife gay men who can serve as role models or you could even become a mentor to someone else!
5) Enjoy your age – Your future is within your control and you can steer in the direction you want it to be! You are as young as you think, and resisting the fact that life changes will only keep you blocked in your development. Learn to accept all the physical and emotional changes that accompany growing older. Be proud of who you are and your story.
(These tips have been taken with permission from the free guide by Oogachaga called “Living a Full Life”.)