Queer ageing and social work

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Publication details

Hughes, M 2004, 'Queer ageing and social work', paper presented to Reclaiming civil society: the 32nd biennial Global Social Work Congress, Adelaide, SA, 2-5 October.


In making use of concepts like successful ageing, gerontologists have tended to normalise older gay and lesbian lives and have consequently reinforced heteronormativity. Although the ‘moment of queer’ may have passed, in this paper it is argued that social work perspectives on ageing would benefi t from engaging with queer theory ideas. A queer ageing approach is not about adding in homosexuality as another identity group, but challenging the way in which identities – ageing and sexual identities – are constructed through norms and stereotypes. This can be achieved by interrogating, subverting and sexualising a range of cultural practices and products, including policy documentation, social work assessments, and social work and aged care texts. Queer ageing challenges conventional and normalising recognitions of identity by eroticising ageing bodies. This involves a celebration of older people’s sexualities not as an expression of agelessness, with its youthful implications, but as a celebration of oldness. In this paper it is argued that in order to be useful to social work, a queer ageing approach should acknowledge the necessity of identities, albeit based on an awareness of their multiplicity, constructedness and exclusionary tendencies. The ideas of transformative citizenship are co-opted in thinking about how a queer ageing politics might promote coalitions across difference in achieving political goals.