New Study Finds Gay Ageism Linked Depression Is Rampant in the Mature LGBT Community

older gay depression

A new study about “internalized gay ageism,” or the sense that one feels denigrated or depreciated because of aging in the context of a gay male identity, by Allen J. LeBlanc, Frederick A. Harig, Ilan H. Meyer, and Richard G. Wight claims to identify an unexplored aspect of sexual minority stress specific to midlife and older gay men.

Using a social stress process framework, they examined the association between gay ageism and depressive symptoms, and whether one’s sense of mattering mediates or moderates this association.

Their conclusion mirrors what many older gay men will tell you.  That despite the fact that they have traversed and helped make unparalleled historical changes across their adult lives and paved the way for younger generations of gay men to live in a time of less discrimination. they have become socially invisible and devalued in their later years by that very same generation.

Not discussed in the study above is another huge factor that lends to depression in older gay males today is AIDS Survivor Syndrome.

Dr. Robert Jay Lifton, a leading authority on survivor experiences who wrote the National Book Award-winning “Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima,” says, “The parallels between gay men who have escaped AIDS and survivors of Hiroshima and the Holocaust are striking.”

Described as  “a secondary epidemic”  of AIDS-related bereavement.  Experts say the most common symptoms of survivor’s syndrome include guilt–caused by a person’s unconscious sense that his survival was purchased at the cost of another’s–as well as depression and “psychic numbing.”

Survivor’s syndrome is not only limited to older gay men who have tested negative. But also to health care workers, lesbians, gay men who do not know their antibody status, gay men who have tested positive and others who were personally affected by the AIDS epidemic.

For these individuals, even today 30+ years after the plague began, “the subconscious mind’s irrational sense of guilt is telling them that they do not deserve to enjoy life while their lovers, friends, and community around them suffered and died,” said Dr. James Titchener, an authority on survivor’s syndrome at the University of Cincinnati.

Larry Kramer, playwright and AIDS activist, summarized the feeling in a Gay Pride Day speech  in Boston: “Don’t you ask yourself quite often the big question: ‘Why am I still alive? At some point I did something the others did. How have I escaped?’

How can the younger generation and others in our community to treat LGBT elders so badly after all they have done and all they have lived through.

The shame of this is on the community itself for not cherishing, respecting, and utilizing the courage and strength of the older LGBT generation that is still with us today.

 

Will Kohler

Will Kohler is a noted LGBT historian, writer, blogger and owner of Back2Stonewall.com. A longtime gay activist, Will fought on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic with ACT-UP and continues fighting today for LGBT acceptance and full equality. Will’s work has been referenced in notable media venues as MSNBC and BBC News, The Washington Post, The Advocate, The Daily Beast, Hollywood Reporter, Raw Story, and The Huffington Post

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8 Responses

  1. MIke says:

    I think this is absolute BS. Ask any aging male – straight or gay – and they’ll report feeling they have become “socially invisible and devalued in their later years” It’s a part of life.

    Why do so many gay men have this diva complex where they feel they are different or special. We all struggle with the aging process.

    If you want to avoid becoming depressed in your later years, you need to be proactive in finding ways to contribute to society and make a difference in people’s lives – to inspire and be inspired, and you’ll probably need to reinvent and realign your perspective to do this.

    No one owes you anything for having the courage to stand up for yourself. Younger folks are living out their lives as they should. You should however feel proud that you were able to help give them this gift. Pat yourself on the back and allow your contribution to fill you with inner pride.

  2. Dave says:

    Very well said, and completely true. I have drawn a lot of happiness in my later years by volunteering, finding a cause that matters to me, and helping others. If there’s anything I’ve learned in life, I’m responsible for the choices I’ve made, both good and bad.

  3. Bob in Chicago says:

    I completely agree with Mike and Dave. I personally have no more interest in a 25 or 30 year old man any more than I have interest in women, They exist and I respect them but do not matter to my happiness. I think the mature man (gay or straight) that feels isolated and ignored is the person who has refused to accept his vulnerability in the aging process. I actually get hit on by guys 30 years younger than me all the time. And guess what? I turn them down politely. Every once in a while one of these guys get angry and will call me names. Rejection works both ways.

  4. pauleky says:

    Sad to see all of minimize this real issue. I live it. The condescension and ignorance is appalling. How dare you guys act so superior. Fuck you for blaming me.

  5. Vida Deville says:

    “This is life’s ultimate cruelty. It offers us a taste of youth and vitality, and then it makes us witness our own decay.”

  6. Greg says:

    As a middle aged gay guy, I think the above story misses one significant point. In fact it is THE most significant point in the gay social arena:- Younger gay guys are not in clubs and pubs and tea rooms to meet middle aged and older age guys…period. No matter how desperate the older guys are to have a younger boyfriend, it simply is not programmed into the young gay mind to even remotely consider this situation. Whilst a very small number of young gay guys may seek an older partner, it is very far from normal, and highly unlikely when the entire gay population is considered as a whole group. Older guys are much better advised to seek men in their own age group, i.e. -10 or +10 years, which leads to much higher chances of striking a successful relationship up. In addition, almost all gay guys see their own self image as being more young and more attractive than they actually are. Older guys who are among the highest committers of ageism against guys their own age, invariably overlook their own shortfalls, thus develop a false sense of value to the eye of the younger guy. Take a hint, holding unrealistic and highly subjective views of self, invariably leads to loneliness and depression, as the unsuccessful older guy cannot achieve a relationship with a younger guy easily, they look and focus even harder on the very thing which prevents successful relationships, and possibly some friendships too. Lastly, lets not attribute the equal opportunity ideals of older guys as being done for the”next” generation of gays. The fact is they fought and lobbied for their own situation and benefit. The younger gay is simply fortunate the momentum of these actions largely continues. A reality check for older guys will lead to happiness. The inappropriate groping, staring, wolf whistling and heavy breathing directed at the younger guys by a very few older ones, has pretty much cemented the fate of the middle aged and older gay guy. Just accept it and move on towards happiness, instead of seeking that which is extremely unlikely.

What do you think?