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Committed to Empowering Old Lesbians
Old Lesbians Organizing
for Change


Ageism and Lesbophobia: Overview for Panel
by Sharon Raphael, Ph.D., 65

Sharon RaphaelOLOC is in an unusual position to carry on the tradition of its founders and early pioneers, women like Barbara MacDonald, Baba Copper, and Shevy Healey, who saw prejudice toward Old people from the unique position of being feminists and Lesbians. Standing outside the traditional heterosexist fold, these women could see the importance of resisting stereotyped ideas of what Old women — and in this case what Old Lesbians — should be and do with their lives despite the great obstacles involved in living in an ageist and sexist society.

The purpose of this panel is to challenge and encourage all of us to continue to fight lesbophobic, ageist, and sexist thinking and behavior that might get in the way of our leading fulfilling and creative lives.

These are some of the traps we can fall into that keep us from being the Old Lesbians we would like to be, free to make our own choices about our destinies and purpose in life.

Invisibility. Old people in general are not seen as sexual beings. The ideas of sexuality and oldness do not sit well with younger people because they assume oldness and sexuality are mutually exclusive. Women with gray hair and wrinkles tend to be viewed as helpless grandmotherly figures.

Some Old Lesbians use this burden to their advantage, avoiding a kind of visibility that might make them, in certain situations, vulnerable to lesbophobia. On the other hand, consistently avoiding visibility as Lesbians can work at cross purposes with the identity we have about who we are and how it may affect what we want to do with our lives in later life. Each Lesbian must choose for herself how far up the visibility road she wants to go.

Ageism in the LGBT community. Although changes have taken place, in part as a result of the work OLOC has done, there is a need for Old Lesbians to resist the prejudices and fears among others about aging, which at times affect our lives in negative ways. In group settings we often are not treated as equals. Barbara McDonald, in Look Me in the Eye, drew our attention to younger Lesbians putting us on pedestals and using us as the mothers they would have wanted, a practice that keeps both young and Old from equal and healthy relationships.

Sexism in our society. This trap is hard to overcome but not hard to fight against and be aware of. Women have second-class status, and Lesbians even less status; therefore, if we add the category “Old,” that is a triple stigma. Add a few other categories — race, class, or disability — and we can see the stigmatization becoming very weighty, indeed. One reason we form groups like OLOC is to change the way society uses these stereotypical ways of classifying people.

Lesbophobia is an ism that affects us most profoundly as we grow Old. Many Lesbians avoid institutions that serve Older adults out of fear of being discovered or being mistreated or both. Not having the safeguards of marriage equality affects the security of those of us who have partners. Discrimination against Lesbians in assisted care and nursing facilities has been documented.

OLOC is a Lesbian organization that affirms aging and helps us identify in a positive way with the term OLD. This is a powerful idea, a very feminist idea, and one that is very unpopular out there in the so-called “real world.”

OLOC needs to affirm the term Lesbian in the same way as we affirm and take on the word Old. Just as Lesbians gave the muchneeded woman power to many aspects of the feminist movement, it is Old Lesbians who are intellectually in the vanguard of truly understanding what ageism does to Old women and who are acting as role models for what to do to avoid the pitfalls of ageism. But the problem is that Old women are not listening to us to any large degree, in part because of their own lesbophobia — which we must fight not only for our own self-interest but also in order to be heard.

OLD Lesbians Organizing for Change has a unique opportunity to share what we have learned, but we must educate and change ourselves, integrating these ideas on a personal level so we can reach out to the wider world and make a big noise collectively and as individuals.

To see the unedited version of this article on Ageism and Lesbophobia go to Sharon’s blog at

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