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.