Older gay men and active ageing: unpacking narratives

Christian Vella, Trish Hafford-Letchfield

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter illuminates the experiences of gay men living in Malta who are a marginalised community within the ageing population. There is a growing area of empirical evidence that highlights the unique perspectives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) older people. As a result of historical, social and cultural contexts the ageing LGBT community have, until relatively recently, tended to be wholly invisible in gerontological and geriatric research (Giunta & Rowan, 2015; Harley & Teaster, 2016). The research evidence demonstrates that the intersection of multiple identities in LGBT ageing are combined with risk factors which include significant health disparities, heightened exposure to discrimination and victimisation and the fear of and potential challenges in accessing culturally responsive environments (Higgins et al., 2011; Hafford-Letchfield et al., 2018). Despite these adversities, LGBT older people have shown remarkable resilience and strengths which can be harnessed when engaging in discourses of active ageing (Hash & Rogers, 2013; Vella, 2013). Substantial achievements in legislative and human rights within many states in Europe and the increasing visibility of LGBT older people have certainly softened attitudes and promoted their recognition. However, the life stories, relationships and culture of older LGBT people can often be overlooked by those with responsibilities for promoting wellbeing in later life and providing direct support. The use of narrative and biographical approaches to inquiry within research with LGBT older people can provide a useful tool for engaging with these experiences, and for meaning-making to try to understand in greater depth the complexities and cultural experiences of growing old, so that strategies can be developed at all different levels and for different communities (Ray et al., 2008). Within gerontology, for example, narratives are used as direct agents for achieving social change by drawing on humanistic and critical studies of ageing.The study reported herein drew on a biographical narrative approach to explore the experiences of five older gay men living in Malta aged 45-60 years old and in particular how they negotiated their sexual identity and exercised agency in their relationships with others. This approach is particularly relevant because it can be woven into public policy, as it responds to issues of ageing faced at a societal level (Clark, 2011). Research into lived experience of individuals facilitates our understanding of both the inner and the outer worlds of “historically-evolving persons-in-historically-evolving situations” (Wengraf, 2001 : 1). A narrative approach to researching with older gay men can provide a structure for exploring the stories and sub-stories in relation to Maltese and broader policy discourse and for identifying a better foundation for practice. This chapter reviews the broader literature for clarification of who LGBT older people are and how their sexual and gender minority status influences social relationships from an interdisciplinary perspective. It captures some key demographic and epidemiological factors contributing to LGBT ageing experiences including those specific to the Maltese context. This public picture enables us to move to the private realm of ageing in the gay community as seen through the five individuals who participated in this study. The chapter concludes by proposing a number of recommendations for policies, principles and practices which have the potential to engender a more inclusive approach to active ageing in Malta.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationActive and Healthy Ageing in Malta
Subtitle of host publicationGerontological and Geriatric Inquiries
EditorsMarvin Formosa
Place of PublicationMalta
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • gay men
  • ageing
  • Malta


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