I just finished reading about the suicide of a gay therapist Bob Bergeron. No one knows why he committed suicide—the author of the article and many of his friends are left to wonder about the reasons. But the irony left in the wake of his death is hard to ignore. He was about to publish a book on successful gay male aging and his suicide note suggests that we was struggling with the very issue he was writing about—a potentially difficult issue for many gay men as we grow older..
A closer consideration of gay male aging suggests why growing older might be a particularly tricky. First of all, a large component of gay male culture is focused on beauty, youth, and sexual attractiveness. Like their heterosexual counterparts, gay men respond and react sexually to visual stimuli, namely the physical appeal of their sexual partners. As a result, beauty is privileged and so are the men who have it.
Joan Collins once said that physical beauty is a gift granted in youth that is slowly taken away little by little over time. Thus, gay men who are lucky to live long enough to age must face the decline of their attractiveness. However, growing up gay in a stigmatizing society might leave them particularly ill-suited to face the challenges of this time of life.
Bob Bergeron is a case in point. According to an article in the Sunday April 1st New York Times, Mr. Bergeron grew up nervous and awkward, poor at sports and unable to interact with other boys. If he was like a lot of other growing up gay boys, he was probably scapegoated and physically harassed. Many of us, include me, were terribly bullied as children. We were called out for being gay before we even knew who we were. At the same time, we learned being gay was something shameful and disgusting needing to be hidden from the world, including the people closest to us. Many of my clients and research respondents who have experienced this stigmatization grow up with deep wounds and a profound sense of personally inadequacy and low self-worth. So perhaps we were vulnerable to some of the dark sides of gay male life, namely, its overemphasis on looks, youth, and sexual attractiveness at the cost of healthier and life sustaining values that can assist us as we age. MOREWhich, btw, may have nothing to do with the gym.