OUR QUEER ELDERS HAVE ALWAYS
BEEN ISOLATED

Words By ALEXIS Caught 
Images By Suk Suk & Invisables


HERE'S HOW YOU 1CAN HELP.


How’s your head? No complaints?

But seriously - how are you feeling? Research from St John’s Ambulance has shown that a staggering 2 in 3 of us have struggled with our mental health over the past year as a result of lockdown and the on-going pandemic. Given that queer people are over twice as likely to experience mental health issues as our cis-het counterparts, the impact upon our rainbow community is likely to be huge. As both a crisis counsellor for Shout (just text SHOUT to 85258 for free, confidential and immediate support) and a trainee psychotherapist, I’m seeing the impact this is having daily - so, if you are struggling, know that you’re not alone.

One of the hardest parts of lockdown is how cut off and isolated we are. Losing access to the social scenes where many of us found homes and logical families has been tough. Seeing our community stripped away, much of our way of life deemed “non-essential” is going to have a huge blow. Getting existential for a moment - human connection, and a place of belonging are vital to our sense of self and mental health. Without a link to a community, we can feel rootless, unsupported - and for those of us who are having to live back in the covid-closet with our families, we can feel invalidated and repressed. But there is another way you can build yourself, get those roots going deeper and help you grow stronger - by volunteering. For me, when all my plans were ripped away by Covid, my income decimated, my routine upended, the regular and reliable reminder that I was connected to other people by a joint desire to make things better, when so much felt out of control and scary, was grounding and comforting.

In my opinion, the backbone of our community isn’t actually the clubs and bars - it’s the charities and volunteers who make up the gap between the state’s provision and our actual need. And you can be a part of that. Queer charities all over, are desperately in need of more volunteers - and much of it can be done during covid!

Once a week I call my adopted “gay granded” - an 84 year old gay man, who I was connected with by the charity Opening Doors London (a charity that fights loneliness and isolation for older queer people, the demographic of society most likely to be alone). We chat and catch up - not just about mutual interests and whatever’s going on in the news, but important social history too. In his warm and hearty voice, often brimming with laughter and a cheeky retort, he’s told me of life growing up as a gay black man in South Africa during apartheid, his move to London and his enjoyment of the hedonistic pre-AIDs years, saucy stories of how fun the underground scene used to be, his participation in moments of our civil rights journey - hearing his stories have added such a richness and enjoyable personal account to our community’s history. The life advice has been great too - given the queer community can all but write you off when you pass 28, it has been SO refreshing to get context, life advice and another perspective from someone almost three times my age. As I turned the big 3-0 milestone, another reason for volunteering with queer elderly hit me - we were robbed of role models, generations lost to not just to AIDS but to society’s cruelty too, so we have to treasure the few that survive and continue to blaze a trail for us, and set the bench mark for how we would like to be treated when we get to their age.

Volunteering for a cause you care about, is categorically, scientifically proven to improve your own mental health. Helping others, in fact helps you - it gives you connection, a purpose, a structure, a sense of achievement, belonging, all things that many of us have been robbed of during lockdown.


So why not get involved? Most of our hobbies aren’t possible right now, and we’ve all completed Netflix - so as we’ve all got a bit more free time on our hands, let’s use it to volunteer.

To find a cause you care about - just search “LGBT charity, volunteer” and add your location - or try some of the national providers of digital charitable services like ODL or Switchboard.

Alexis is crisis line counsellor and ambassador for Shout 85258, volunteer for Opening Doors London and trainee psychotherapist.