Shiel, Emma Victoria (2022) An Interpretive Phenomenological Investigation into The Identity and Experiences of Older Lesbians. Masters thesis, University of Huddersfield.

This research uses an Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA: Smith et al., 1999; Smith & Osborn, 2003), and photo elicitation, to investigate 10 older lesbian’s (aged 55 years and above) identity and experiences of aging. IPA was conducted using semi-structured interviews alongside five self-selected images, which generated three super-ordinate themes. The themes are as follows; “Identity and Belonging”, “Homophobia with a Side Order of Sexism” and “Leaving the Golden Years”.

The first theme ‘Identity and Belonging’, investigates participants sense of belonging in both their internal and external world, i.e., exploring self-acceptance and the impact on personal relationships. The majority of participants communicated that due to the conservative social climate in their youth, they had to live ‘falsely’ as heterosexual, causing particular ramifications for them – all of which will be explored in this theme.

The second theme ‘Homophobia with a Side Order of Sexism’ follows the integration of additional minority elements focusing primarily on the topic of sexism; investigating how being a woman impacts participants experiences of homophobia. Furthermore, this theme leans into feminist topics such as the sexualisation of women and same-sex female sexualities (i.e., lesbianism, bisexuality, pansexuality, etc.), the impact of the patriarchy and gender roles/constructs within society.

Finally, the theme ‘Leaving the Golden Years’ focuses on the experience of aging as a lesbian, exploring participants attitudes towards healthcare, self-expression in older age, retirement plans, and vulnerability. Participants shared their grievances regarding the unpredictable nature of their future, with many contemplating masking their sexual identity once more to achieve a sense of safety as they approach older age.

This study contributes to the literature by producing new, contemporary research, filling gaps in the knowledge, and contributes to an underrepresented sample within lesbian studies (Ristock, 1991). This research utilises a feminist perspective to understand participants in their correct socio-political context, understanding how social and political elements such as, being a woman in a male-oriented society, impacts their experiences.

This research found that discrimination against one’s biological sex, age, and sexuality were definitive factors in shaping participants identity and experience of aging; often being the reason behind the acceptance or rejection of the self, and one’s ability to retire safely and use healthcare services. Whilst aging is a universal issue, participants experienced unique concerns due to misogyny, lesbian phobia and agism, creating great stress and worry when visiting health services, a need that only grows stronger as one ages.

This study concluded that older lesbians tend to have a more negative aging experience than both their heterosexual and male counterparts, due to experiencing frequent prejudice across several domains. Participants felt torn when choosing between a safe retirement or their authentic identity, believing that in order to be safe one must conceal one’s identity however, in doing so, made one’s life a misery.

To conclude older lesbians’ identity and aging is greatly impacted by their minority characteristics, for that reason, older lesbians tend to endure an ‘unsuccessful’ aging process, often lacking the confidence to live authentically, feeling regret, and being ostracised. Finally, participants called for LGBT+ friendly facilities to alleviate the stress of aging as a sexual minority; believing that if one is secured a safer future, one could live more freely in their identity and therefore age successfully.

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