As a LGBTQ+ caregiver, I found a huge amount of love and community support when I embraced the intersectionality of both identities, one as a caregiver and the other as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Caregiving is a service of love for another person. Expressing your authentic being as LGBTQ+ is love for yourself. Both identities involve love, commitment, and human connection. I believe no person should be alone on their LGBTQ+ caregiving journey.
I was a caregiver for my grandma for 10 years. She had diabetes, was incontinent, and used a wheelchair. Caregiving for her was physically exhausting and mentally challenging. I was in my mid-twenties when I started caregiving for her and I felt socially isolated because none of my peers were taking care of another older adult. Caregiving took time away from my personal interests and goals. Often, I felt lonely and emotionally frustrated.
I actually didn’t know the term “caregiver” until around 5 years into caregiving. I always thought I was just a granddaughter taking care of my grandma. When I learned the keyword “caregiver,” I was able to tap into a whole new world of resources by searching for caregiver books, workshops, tutorials, events, and support groups. I didn’t feel alone anymore. I found caregiver communities, both online and in-person, that shared similar experiences and they taught me life enriching tips and coping strategies. By self-identifying as a caregiver, I gained new strength, perspective, knowledge, and friendships.
Expressing my gender identity and sexual orientation during my young adulthood was challenging at home because of my family culture. I didn’t have any role models. At that time, I was the only one in my family that identified as LGBTQ+. My grandma was a traditional Chinese matriarch and she gave me endless speeches on marrying a proper man. As a lesbian, I disregarded her suggestions and I committed to my attraction to women. I found my chosen family and friends at LGBTQ+ community events, workshops, and festivals. I was able to connect with folks that experienced similar family interactions and they supported my desire to follow my heart and not cultural traditions. By connecting with the LGBTQ+ community, I felt a sense of social belonging and ownership in my lifestyle.
While I was dating women, I started caregiving for my grandma. It was emotionally difficult to share my dating lifestyle with her because she did not take my relationships with women seriously and dismissed my happiness with them. It was frustrating and heartbreaking to hear my grandma consistently tell me that I need a man to take care of me and that my female relationships won’t last. I kept telling her that what mattered to me was that I’m in a loving relationship with a person who will take care of me, just like how I am taking care of her. This conversation carried on for years. Grandma finally changed her perspective on my relationships when same sex marriage was legalized in California. She recognized my partner at that time and gave us a blessing before she passed away.
There are similarities in taking on the caregiver role and in expressing your true identity. Both take time, patience, and acceptance. It takes time to adjust your life to new responsibilities, to develop patience in providing continuous care, and to accept the uncertain timeline of caregiving. It takes time to explore your individuality as a LGBTQ+ person and to practice patience for the acceptance from your family and friends. Having multiple community support systems in place definitely helped my overall well-being as a LGBTQ+ caregiver.
Ultimately, caregiving is a human taking care of another human. Love for another person is love. Caregiving is love. Love is love.