Off-campus UNL users: To download campus access dissertations, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your NU ID and password. When you are done browsing please remember to return to this page and log out.

Non-UNL users: Please talk to your librarian about requesting this dissertation through interlibrary loan.

Old, Gray, and Gay: Lesbian Aging and Identity

Rosalind Dara Kichler, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


The United States population is rapidly aging. By 2030, at least 20% of all adults are expected to be aged 65 or older. Many of these elder adults are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer-identified (LGBTQ), although exact numbers are unknown. Within their lifetime, LGBTQ elders in the United States experienced dramatic changes in both the material and discursive conditions surrounding gay/queer sexuality. The youngest of these elders witnessed Stonewall and the birth of the Gay Liberation Front as teenagers, the devastation of the early AIDS epidemic in their 30s, and the legalization of same-gender marriage at 60, followed closely by today’s anti-queer and anti-trans backlash. To explore the impact of these historical transformations and aging on lesbian/queer identity I ask: How do lesbian and queer women elders construct and reconstruct their sexual identity across the life course? To answer my central research question, I conducted multi-session life history interviews with 18 lesbian, gay, queer, and pansexual women elders. Life history is a method of person-centered ethnography. In addition to the life history, participants answered specific questions about sexuality and aging. My main objective for this dissertation project is to holistically understand the experience of lesbian/queer identity development and aging across the life course. In Chapter 1, I analyze participants’ coming out narratives to explore how participants transformed same-gender desire into a lesbian identity despite compulsory heterosexuality and rampant homophobia. Further, I consider how the historical context in which participants became lesbians, specifically “Second Wave Feminism,” helped white women to come out. In Chapter 2, I examine how participants’ participation in lesbian and/or queer communities changed after coming out. Here, I investigate how life course transitions, aging, and shifting LGBTQ acceptance shaped lesbian/queer identities in middle adulthood. The final chapter explores how participants experienced old age and how their lesbian/queer identities uniquely shaped these experiences. Findings advance knowledge in both the scholarship of aging and the scholarship of sexuality, and further develop the emerging field of queer gerontology.

Subject Area

LGBTQ studies|Aging|Sexuality

Recommended Citation

Kichler, Rosalind Dara, "Old, Gray, and Gay: Lesbian Aging and Identity" (2023). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI30487958.