Colm’s Blog – “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64….”

As we approach the end of LGBTQ+ Pride month, I would like to follow up on the excellent Blog by Rares earlier in the month with a few thoughts about growing older as a gay man. My partner and I recently celebrated our joint 64th birthdays with some friends. We blew the candles out on our cake accompanied by the Beatles’ “When I’m 64” – written by Paul McCartney when he was a young man about the joys and pleasures of growing older. It’s hard to imagine he might have seen himself headlining Glastonbury at 80 and rocking out with the best of them! I find that annual events and celebrations like Pride seem to come around faster and faster these days. Pride month almost passed me by; until I read the Blog by Rares, reminding us of how far we’ve come in terms of equality and how far we have yet to travel.

I’ve written before about my experiences as a gay man, particularly as a young man growing up in Ireland in the 60s and 70s. I now have the experience of growing older – something that seemed unlikely to many gay men of my generation during the 80s when HIV took so many of us away. It wasn’t unusual for gay men of my generation to cash in their pension pots and life insurance policies as they didn’t expect to grow old. That’s very different now, thanks to the developments in antiretrovirals. Now, people fortunate enough to live in the UK can expect to live their entire lifespan.

Growing older is a privilege for all of us, and I celebrate the grey hairs and wrinkles as best I can – harder with the aches and pains! But it is a strange experience to start living with a different set of prejudices. A senior person in my previous organisation once said within my earshot that she didn’t believe anyone over 40 could ever learn anything new! As she is well over 40 herself, I’m sure she has changed her mind about that one. But another experience was harder to take. A few London Prides ago, I ended up with my partner and some friends in a well-known gay bar in London. We had only just arrived when a staff member asked us if we could leave as they didn’t want people to think it was “an old people’s bar” and they wanted to attract a younger crowd. I wish I could tell you I had a swift and witty response, but instead, we just left feeling more than a little diminished.

Then, of course, there is the casual ageism of people like my GP who says things like, “Well, you just have to expect things like this at your age”, when my knees are acting up again. And the increasing number of stories of LGBTQ+ people in Care Homes who feel compelled to conceal their sexual orientation. Or, as in the case of our friend, who was prevented from hosting a tea party for lesbian and gay friends in case it “upset the other residents”. I could go on.

However, we are approaching the end of Pride month, and I want to celebrate older LGBTQ+ people and all we have to offer. I would never claim to be a role model, but I accept that with great age comes great responsibility. I am so fortunate to work in an organisation where I never have, for one moment, experienced prejudice or discrimination, either because of my sexual orientation or my age. In fact, in recent months, I have been able to share my experiences in groups organised by Norman, our EDI Programme Manager and the EDI Ambassadors. That makes me feel very privileged to work for SIG and the people we care for.

So Happy Pride, everyone and if you celebrate next Sunday in London, have a great time.
I’ll toast you from the comfort of my garden after a nice lunch and a nap! Soundtrack: ‘When I’m 64’ by The Beatles from the album ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’.

Colm Keegan

Director of Innovation and Impact