Facing the Dole with Dignity

As a young 20-something, I spent a lot of time doing two things: listening to Nina Simone, and staring mournfully at my frighteningly low bank balance. Back then, I’d graduated from university, my youth allowance was kaput, casual jobs weren’t paying much, and my writing career — if you could call it that — was paying me in CDs instead of cash. I’d do sums in my head, and wonder how I was going to break even. “In your pocket’s not one penny,” Nina Simone sang, “and your friends: you haven’t got any.” It was a sadistic soundtrack for a sad state of affairs.

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A Gay Old Time

If the huddled group of males gathered outside on the kerbside were teenagers, you’d say they were loitering: hanging out after dark; warming their hands in a circle; talking in low, conspiratorial murmurs. But as it happens, all of the men are in their late fifties and sixties, either already in their senior years or about to collide with them. When I approach them, they acknowledge me with polite smiles at first, until I get closer and they see I’m in my twenties. That’s when the jokes start. “You’re a bit young to be here, aren’t you?” they say. When I make a quip about simply using the right moisturiser, they all start hooting in response, mock-scandalised. “Oh stop,” one man drawls, before shaking his head and lighting a cigarette.

What these men have in common are two things: their age, and the fact that they’re all gay. Tonight, they’re also all waiting for the same thing to begin: a seminar called ‘Getting Ready for Retirement: Age Pension and Your Choice’. Tonight’s talk is one in a year-long series of similar sessions arranged by QAHC – the Queensland Association for Healthy Communities – that specifically caters for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people approaching their retirement years. Upcoming seminars have similarly informative-sounding but vaguely sad titles, such as ‘Wills, Advance Health Directives and Enduring Powers of Attorney’ and ‘Elder Abuse and Financial Exploitation’.