25/02/2022 | Writer: Remzi Altunpolat
Turkey has to get rid of the Peter Pan Syndrome. While Turkey is getting rid of Peter Pan Syndrome, LGBTI+ Movement has to get rid of Peter Pan Syndrome even more.
It is possible to say that in recent years, a corpus has emerged in Turkey under the headings of "old age", "old people", "aging", "ageism", "age discrimination", "discrimination against the elderly”. In short, the studies in this field, which is called “aging studies”, are of course not limited to academic studies. In short, the studies in this field, which is called “aging studies”, are of course not limited to academic studies. An increase and diversification in the number of non-governmental organizations operating in the mentioned field is also striking; one of the main working field of the 17 Mayıs Association, which was established in 2019, is elderly LGBTI+s.
So, as an LGBTI+ activist, why does this issue interest me so much? This interest has a personal story to a certain extent; but in a way, it's our story, the story of all of us. First, I'm getting on in years or grow old now. It is necessary to open a parenthesis here. Until a while ago, a discourse that the word aging includes discrimination and that the concept of “get on in years” should be used had gained a lot of popularity. However, it is also debatable issue whether using this concept itself is discriminatory or not. Could the concept of getting on in years is used without questioning as if it does not produce discrimination, since negative perceptions of aging and growing old are internalized, the fear of aging, which is one of the basic foundations of discrimination against the elderly, is ignored.
Secondly, the pejorative language used in the queer community about aging and the elderly, and the ways in which it is practiced. As you know, "balamoz", which means old in lubunca, is actually not a very good type. In fact, if someone is attracted to old/aged people, they can be jokingly labeled with “balamozculuk". Alongside 'manticilik', which often means liking young men, balamozculuk may represent a discursively inferior position. As an extension of this, profiles such as "don't let uncles write" can be found in abundance in friend/partner finder applications. Yet as Yiğit Karaahmet emphasized in his interview about his last novel Deniz Ne Kadar Güzel: “… we pass a certain period of
our lives without ever thinking of the possibility of aging… There is a strange period when aging is noticed after a youth spent partying like crazy. Getting old, losing your youth, losing your beauty and being alone. To die alone at some point.” Only “…everyone will grow old.”
At this point, a third reason is that we, as activists who were involved in the LGBTI+ movement in the 90s and the first half of the 2000s, realized that we were getting older, we started talking between us about what will do and what should do after noticing that we did not have any savings on this issue. Accordingly, the 40+ Queer Initiative, which emerged as a result of a relatively long process of preparation and thinking, is an effort to carry out studies specific to elderly LGBTI+s as the thematic field of activity of the 17 Mayıs Association.
Fourth, my experience with my elderly, disabled and bedridden mother for nearly four years. The problems I encountered in this process; difficulties that I try to overcome and sometimes fail to overcome, and strategies to cope with all of them. As we age, our parents are getting older and we are faced with the duty of care. In the cis
heteronormative patriarchal family structure, we see that the care duty of elderly parents is largely left to girls or unmarried children. In my opinion, it should cannot afford to overlook that the care of elderly-disabled parents is tacitly assigned to LGBTI+s, as they cannot establish their own happy-warm heterosexual family home (!) as much as the gendering of the duty of care.
Finally, the fifth motive is discrimination against the elderly, which has become more apparent with the Covid-19 Pandemic. In the context of deepening existing inequalities and discriminations, the coronavirus epidemic can be taken as “inequality” and “virus of agism”. Moreover, it can be said that during the Covid-19 Pandemic period, a kind of necropolitics towards the elderly, that is, the political-managerial mentality that determines which lives/bodies are livable/worth living, and leaves not worth living lives to die. The transformation of the so-called measures taken to protect the elderly people into a complete closure and isolation, the old people being seen as the carriers of the virus and even as the virus itself, especially with the discourses circulating on television
and social media… Covid-19 has shown that we are not a society that "respects the elderly" as we talked too proudly, and how empty this discourse is. On the other hand, it can be assumed that the Pandemic has a beneficial function in one level: It has helped us to put old age on our agenda, to think more about ageism, and to talk more about discrimination against the elderly.
After this long introduction, let's try to explain the concepts of ageism and discrimination against the elderly. Ageism (age discrimination, ageism) can be defined as the classification, stigmatization, discrimination of individuals due to their chronological age/ calendar age, exposing them to acts that has discriminatory effects and results. Ageism is an ideology that legitimizes discrimination between groups, just like racism, sexism and heterosexism. In this sense, the ideology of ageism does not only cover the elderly, but also corresponds to the discrimination that young people or children face because of their age. However, the first thing that comes to mind when ageism is mentioned is discrimination against the elderly; the concept of ageism is used to problematize discrimination against older people, who are largely over a certain calendar age. The term was first coined in 1969 by Robert Neil Butler, President of the American National Institute on Aging. Butler emphasizes at that time, that racial discrimination and social class discrimination were too well known issues to need to be defined anymore, discrimination against the elderly, who were hardly be aware of, was a type of discrimination that should not be ignored. According to him, aging under ageism is a disorder caused by suppressed anxieties about getting sick and being unable to work; at the same time the fear of death, of being weakened, of becoming a useless person lies underneath. Butler revealed that the discrimination against the elderly operates both at the level of the individual (prejudices and stereotypes) and at the institutional level (legal regulations, media representations, representations in social life), and that people are exposed to discriminatory practices in employment, social relations and access to services due to their age. In summary, discrimination against the elderly is an ideology that has leaked and became invisible in all of social life, from the labor market to health services, from urban policies to social services, from politics to economy, from the media to cultural representations. It is a form of ideological discrimination that is became invisible or even denied, because the usual attitudes and behaviors towards the elderly
are assumed as if they are not discrimination based on the presupposition that they should be like that in their natural flow, and one does not bother to think about it. Ageism does not only appear in aggressive, hostile, marginalizing attitudes and behaviors towards the elderly. For example; It can also come to life in expressions that constantly mark the elderly as individuals in need of attention, affection and care, although they are bad intentions, such as "cotton, cute, soft, kissable elderly people”. When I say "I'm getting old now", expressions such as "No, don't think like that, you look so young" are also the projection of the mentality that rejects aging/old age.
Ageism ideology does not only result in the exclusion or discrimination of the elderly, but also brings along "gerontophobia", which means hatred and fear against aging, old age and the elderly. Undoubtedly, although the origins of negative perceptions about getting old and aging go back centuries, the institutionalization of ageism as an ideology of discrimination is parallel to the development of modern capitalist society. In modern society, the elderly are identified with being less prone to innovations, not being productive, being dependent, needing care, lack of autonomy, and helplessness. However, efficiency, productivity and success are the key concepts of the capitalist logic. Old/aged bodies that are not productive, efficient and contribute to the society naturally(!), and therefore cannot be considered successful, are seen as a burden for the productive world, where success is the highest value. For example, children are not efficient in terms of the system; but children are coded as investments for the future. Investments can be made for individuals who are assumed to live longer and actively participate in production processes in the future, and its costs can be afforded. On the other hand, demographic changes due to the decrease in birth rates, decrease in death rates and increase in life expectancy, especially in geographies called developed or developing countries within the capitalist system, have led to the development of a series of strategies on how to make the elderly more productive and generative by reconsidering old age. In this context, the discourses of "successful aging", "active aging" and "delaying/reversing aging (anti-aging)" take over the market: Age active, age healthy, age successfully, but do not suffer from aging disease… In this discourse, the elder is no longer a subject, but rather an object. It is strongly stated that the aging population brings with it some problems, but also opens the door to economic opportunities. In line
with the goal of turning the global aging problem into an opportunity by countries, the "silver economy" is built, ground on the production of goods and services according to the wishes and needs of the elderly, providing the expansion of the market for elderly individuals or revealing of a new market, thus aiming to preserve and increase the productive structure of the economy. In summary, an attempt to turn the aging of the population into an opportunity to create a new profit area within the capitalist system… It would not be wrong to say that all these discourses and strategies that claim to eliminate discrimination against the elderly have an apparent quality, and on the contrary reproduce discrimination. The myth of youth is constantly being fed while negative stereotypes about old age/old people are causing the elderly to step back from life, concepts such as "delaying aging" and "active aging" refer to an oxymoron at best.
In this framework, an intersectional perspective that problematizes how old age is constructed as a category of other on political, cultural, economic levels in modern capitalist society and its relationship with class, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation is imperative. The elderly cannot be considered as a homogeneous social group; social origins, belongings or positions influence the experience of aging and aging period deeply. For example; Based on the generally accepted criteria set by the World Health Organization (WHO), people over the age of 65 are considered old, but for some reason (!) the term old is not used for politicians or business people over the age of 65.
Gender, sexual orientation and sexual identities also differentiate aging experiences. For this reason, the aging experience of cis-heterosexuals and LGBTI+s should be analyzed separately. Similarly, the aging experiences of LGBTI+s cannot be handled with a reductionist perspective by melting them in the same pot. The experiences of trans and intersex people will differ from the aging experiences of lesbian, gay or bisexual individuals. Here, it would be fitting to refer to a concept used in researches on the intersection of gender and age: “double jeopardy”. LGBTI+s face with layered discrimination in their old age, both about sexual orientation/gender identity and age. The aging process can be experienced as a combination of isolation on the one hand and poverty on the other for LGBTI+s. Considering that the policy making processes in Turkey, let alone being LGBTI+ inclusive, are fed off a mentality that sees discrimination
against LGBTI+ people as legitimate, surely it is not possible to talk about social policies that will protect LGBTI+ elderly people and are suitable for LGBTI+ elderly subjectivity. Not being able to benefit from the rights of the spouse/partner (social security, legacy, etc.) because same-sex partnerships are not legally recognized, having low income or working in precarious jobs contrary to popular images and beliefs that "LGBTI+s are rich", lack of family solidarity based on blood relation, means that LGBTI+s face a double danger in their old age. This is not just an income poverty. For a trans person who is deprived of social security rights because they cannot take part in the formal labor market and cannot work in a job with long-term insurance, this means facing with both income poverty and medical poverty/care poverty in old age. In other words, for LGBTI+s whose health expenses are not covered by social security, they have to sell their movable/immovable properties in order to meet the treatment expenses in their old age, get into debt, and if these opportunities are not available, they cannot access treatment and care.
On the other hand, although there is not yet a detailed study specific to Turkey due to the difficulties of research, many studies conducted abroad reveal that LGBTI+s, who have to settle in a nursing home or an old age asylum in their old age, face discriminatory treatment in these spaces designed according to cis-heteronormative social service and care policies. These discriminatory attitudes and behaviors can come from health workers and experts working in the institution, as well as from cis
heterosexual elderly people. Considering that the vast majority of health workers, social workers or psychological counselors in Turkey do not undergo any training on LGBTI+ awareness, it is a mystery what the aging LGBTI+s will face in the future.
Everyone will grow old one day if they can live long enough. As long as the current system continues, almost everyone, except those occupying some privileged positions due to aging, will be in danger of falling into a spiral of fragility, vulnerability and precarity. Jewel gerontologist Özgür Arun says that Turkish society suffers from “Peter Pan Syndrome”. As known, Peter Pan is a child who never grows up, never gets old and will never get older. Turkey is a country that boast of itself on having a young population. In fact, if 10% of the population is over the age of 65, that society is now considered as
an old/aging society. When examined the distribution of the population by age groups in Turkey, it is seen that the rate of the population over 65 is around 9.5%. In other words, at point we are close to being an old society. Turkey has to get rid of the Peter Pan Syndrome. While Turkey is getting rid of Peter Pan Syndrome, LGBTI+ Movement has to get rid of Peter Pan Syndrome even more. The motto “The LGBTI+ Movement has always been a young movement and it will remain so” may sound good, perhaps it is an approach that emphasizes the dynamism of the movement and its ability to bring new breaths, but we have to accept that LGBTI+ activists are also starting to grow old. For this, we can start off by overcoming the old-young dichotomy from the queer's window; We can think more about the meanings of old age, not getting old and the problems it creates for LGBTI+s.
Translation: Merve Engür
*This article was prepared within the scope of Strengthening Advocacy for Equal Rights Project supported by the European Union. This does not mean that the content of the article reflects the official view of the EU.
Tags: human rights