Ageing and Coping
Revd. David Horton
C of E Chaplain to Gendys Network
My thoughts have been directed by my current congregation, which I believe faces some similarity in their situation. My current congregation is mostly taken from a few hundred elderly residents of my parish. The current community has grown and changed around them, particularly over recent years. The bulk of that community are now Sikh, but there are also Muslims, Hindus, and asylum seekers from various countries as well. Other new arrivals include a number of problem families from various council estates. In essence the original residents now find themselves in a ghetto.
At the heart of the congregation is a group of women, almost all living alone, whose ages range from the early seventies to the very late eighties. They make great efforts to keep their daily routine and way of life going, and they have been an education and blessing to know. I have drawn on their experiences to offer the following points. In what follows I should also perhaps mention my own age.
According to my daughters, anyone born in the first half of the last century must already know all about being ancient!
The first lesson then that I wish to offer is the efforts made by these women to do things together. Rain, sun or snow they will still be visiting each other, or working at the church - cleaning, doing the flowers, or offering refreshments. Except
when ill, they seem to share the maxim of doing something new every day.
Many of my transgendered friends and contacts follow this same pattern. At my first Gendys Conference in 1992, ten years ago, I met a little old lady who was a church greeter or sidesperson, a flower arranger, and whose main concern about her transgendered past was an occasional temptation to lead when ballroom dancing! One of my dearest post-operative friends is part of a belly-dancing group, and shares in the making of the outfits, in exercising an amazing range of muscles, and takes a full part in the general hilarity. I find her extremely well-adjusted.
By contrast, other t-people retreat from life, and so find themselves losing enthusiasm and energy. There are many organisations committed to helping the older person to remain active and involved, and t-people should be encouraged to make use of them.
There are of course local authorities, Age Concern and Help the Aged, but I particularly want to draw attention to the internet as a source of contact and information. Costs have been going down, and there are many courses to help the older person
find their way around a computer and the World-wide Web. So can I commend:
idf50.co.uk (I don't feel fifty)
theoldie.co.uk (satirical magazine)
There are many other sites, often linked together for easy access. Surely it is better to cope with something than to cope with doing nothing. All things being equal, by 2026 half the population will be over 55, and by 2040 there will be seven times as many people over 100 as there are today. (And who can say where current research into our biological structures will lead?) My parish church school among its displays highlights an interview with a 90-year old. Her conclusions if she had to live her life all over again: she would take more risks and laugh more. Sound advice, I feel!
The second lesson I draw is to keep active. A recent Ceefax report suggested that those in the North and in large cities can expect on average 64 years of healthy life and 12 years of problems. For the South the figures are 74 and 6 years. As the number of older t-people increase can someone please fulfill a useful research project in finding out whether surgery and medications as balanced by greater inner harmony affect these figures?
What is clear is that it is in our own best interests to eat healthily and to exercise. It needn't be much: walking, swimming, gardening or dancing will all help. A study by Research into Ageing found that a group of women aged from 75 to 93 increased the strength of their thighs by 25% after only 12 weeks of regular exercise. It also helps memory, and most of my older people have a range of medications to take. I presume that t-people don't really want to face the difficulties of not remembering to take their HRT regularly.
One area that particularly concerns me is smoking, which seems more common in the t-community than in the wider society. T-people can face enormous inner pain and stress, but surely there is a safer way of handling this? Pets and exercise both seem to help, and there is always Quitline on 0800 002200.
And of course there is one particular benefit from working on fitness and good posture: it makes the t-person look better and slimmer. Beyond that, there are still battles to be won for this community, and our experienced warriors will need their energy for themselves, and to train and support their successors. As one example we all know both that there needs to be specific drug testing for preparations used in the treatment and support of t-people, and also that there is no way that the drugs companies will voluntarily expose themselves to the risk of legal action by carrying out those tests. Someone will have to fight that battle, which will need the skills developed in the legal battles of the last decade.
My third lesson is the importance of being positive. Many of the changes that have come to my parish are unwelcome, but my ladies continue to go forward, and continue to care for their neighbours, of whatever background and culture. I was deeply impressed at the variety of cultures represented at the diamond wedding celebration of one of my ladies whose husband is still around. I am also impressed and delighted at the way these conferences have so often been an encouragement to go forward and build a society which is able to find an everyday and fulfilling role for t-people. Much of the progress we have seen (perhaps all of it?) has been won by individuals prepared to help others and not to settle for anything less than full human rights.
There are likely to be specific issues facing older t-people. For example, at a time when 10 care homes a week are closing there may be problems finding places for those who are 'different'. It may be due to prejudice, or fear of unknown costs of treatment and support if anything goes wrong. But many t-people as part of their history have had to say goodbye to the family support which they will need which makes proper nursing support even more necessary. And even where the immediate family has made the effort, the following generation may be unwilling to take up that kind of support. For some people there may be a pushing back towards the 'closet'. Married TVs who have found a compromise may not like the different situation which exists when both partners are retired, particularly if secrecy has been kept. There seems to me to be no way of avoiding great hurt if disclosure is attempted, or happens, under such conditions. Those whose sexuality is less standard, or simply where a marriage has survived transition by one partner, may also feel the need to avoid social ostracism.
The ultimate problem that may need to be tackled is death itself. Whatever God may think about the situation, many relatives will wish for any 'strangeness', as they see it, to be avoided or glossed over. If the t-person wants to die in inner harmony, they may need to make that clear in writing perhaps as part of a living will.
As another area needing a positive approach, the TUC estimate that at least 12 million of those now living will have to rely on State support in old age. Surely many of them will be t-people? They need to be protagonists, not victims! Don't just use the CAB, join it! By being good citizens more than t-people will be helped. There are resources like ageresource.org.uk or est.org.uk (the Energy Saving Trust) to help themselves and others too.
The fourth point I wish to make is the importance of faith. My ladies believe that God cares and things will work out for good in the end. It gives them the strength to keep going forward. The August edition of the International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine contains the latest study to proclaim the advantage of a living faith in terms of health, resilience and life expectancy, and as a resource of energy, courage, and relaxation.
I have one final point to make. I don't know which is the longest lived profession, but I am assured that the clergy are in second place. I intend therefore to be with you for many years to come!
'Grow old with me: the best is yet to be.'
Citation: Horton, D., (2002), Ageing and Coping, GENDYS 2002, The Seventh International Gender Dysphoria Conference, Manchester England.
Web page copyright GENDYS Network. Text copyright of the author. Last amended 25.06.06