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Exploring the lives of elder gay men Köth, Christopher A. R. 2001

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Exploring the Lives of Elder G a y M e n : A Framework for Social W o r k Practice by Christopher A. R. Kbth B.S.W. University of Victoria 1995 B.A (Gen.) University of Winnipeg 1989 A T H E S I S S U B M I T T E D IN P A R T I A L F U L F I L M E N T O F T H E REQUIREMENTS FOR T H E DEGREE OF MASTER OF SOCIAL WORK In T H E FACULTY OF GRADUATE STUDIES School of Social W o r k and F a m i l y S t u d i e s W e accept this thesis a s conforming to the required standard  T H E UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA A u g u s t 2001  © Christopher A. R. K o t h , 2001  In  presenting  this  thesis in  degree at the University of  partial  fulfilment  of  the  requirements  for  an advanced  British Columbia, I agree that the Library shall make it  freely available for reference and study. I further agree that permission for extensive copying of this thesis for department  or  by  his  or  scholarly purposes may be granted her  representatives.  It  is  by the head of  understood  that  copying  my or  publication of this thesis for financial gain shall not be allowed without my written permission.  Department of The University of British Columbia Vancouver, Canada  Date  DE-6 (2/88)  AiY^p^V V5 , 2 Q Q (  ABSTRACT  T h i s study explores the experience of growing older as a gay m a n . In an attempt to contribute to the gerontological social w o r k literature, three g a y m e n over the age of 65 participated in semi-structured interviews lasting from o n e to two hours in duration, in pursuit of a n a n s w e r to the question ' H o w has being gay informed the lives of m e n 6 5 y e a r s of a g e a n d o v e r ? Interviews w e r e transcribed a n d analyzed using a narrative approach to analysis in order to expand upon the mostly quantitative knowledge concerning sexual minority a g i n g . T h e findings of this study allow social w o r k e r s , gerontologists, a n d g a y m e n themselves to better understand the strengths a n d challenges that a c c o m p a n y the elder gay male experience of aging in our society. Principally w a s the finding that a g a y sexual identity v e r s u s a g e itself is a m o r e prominent feature of experience a m o n g the three elder gay m e n interviewed. T h e ideology , of heterosexism and ageism intersects in the life experiences of elder gay m e n , as e v i d e n c e d through the stories contained in this study. Further, it w a s found that the concept of developmental milestones is different from the perspective of elder gay m e n than has been a c k n o w l e d g e d in the gerontological literature. Finally, implications for social workers w h o strive for a practice that c a n be more inclusive of gay m e n are provided.  TABLE OF CONTENTS  ABSTRACT  ii  TABLE OF CONTENTS  iii  ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS  v  CHAPTER I - SETTING T H E STAGE  1  Introduction Challenging the Mythology of G a y A g i n g Enhancing Social W o r k with Elder G a y M e n Identifying Heterosexism and A g e i s m Situating Language T h e s i s Overview C H A P T E R II - C O N C E P T U A L C O N T E X T Introduction Social Constructivism and Sexual Identity H e t e r o s e x i s m , H o m o p h o b i a , and A g e i s m Situating the Study of Elder Gay M e n - a literature review T h e Reconstruction Focus T h e Critical Specialization Focus: T h e Current Research on G a y Aging G a y Aging and Health G a y Aging and Social Support Generational Conflicts With Elder G a y M e n T h e Identity Cohort Focus Theories of Development in Later Life Erikson's Psycho-social Stages of Development Levinson's S e a s o n ' s of a Man's Life Rosenfeld's T h e o r y of G a y Identity Cohorts Summary C H A P T E R III - M E T H O D O L O G Y Research A p p r o a c h Feminist Standpoint T h e o r y Hermeneutics Recruiting the Participants The Sample T h e Interview Process Data M a n a g e m e n t Data Analysis Credibility Summary  1 2 3 4 5 7 8 8 9 11 15 16 19 23 24 25 27 28 30 31 33 35 38 38 40 42 44 ..45 48 52 53 56 57  C H A P T E R IV - F I N D I N G S Introduction Edward's Story: Pushing Clouds A w a y Recounting Edward's Story.. Roger's Story: I have survived Recounting Roger's Story George's Story: Being Reborn Recounting George's Story  59 59 60 61 75 77 94 94  CHAPTER V - DISCUSSION Introduction Developmental T a s k s , Stages, and Milestones Identity a n d Life-satisfaction in Later Life Aging Social Support Social Policy a n d Services Implications for Practice Strengths a n d Limitations: Implications for future research Conclusion  115 115 116 122 126 128 132 135 145 148  REFERENCES:  149  APPENDIX I  A P P E N D I X II A P P E N D I X III  Interpretation of Rosenfeld's A c c o u n t of Possible Elder G a y and Lesbian 'Identity C o h o r t s '  162  INFORMED CONSENT FORM  163  R E C R U I T M E N T FLYER  165  iv  ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS  It w o u l d be impossible to conceive of having been able to complete this project without the unending support of a n u m b e r of individuals. M y sincerest thanks to A n d y Libbiter, M S W for supporting my m a n y requests to 'take time a w a y ' f r o m work. T h a n k s as well to my dear friend Louanna A t k i n s o n , M S W for her friendship, editorial assistance, and for charting the path a h e a d of m e . My thanks as well for the love and support of my family w h o include Dr. Karl K o t h , Charles K o t h , W e l d o n & Natalaya Koth-Bull, as well as Karly, Liam a n d E m m a . For my very g o o d friends Brian McDougall/Vincent Dunlop, Dr. J o s e p h Mondik, a n d Alyson Quinn my thanks for their enduring friendship and support. My gratitude is especially extended to the m e m b e r s of my T h e s i s C o m m i t t e e headed by Dr. Brian O'Neill, w h o s e patience with my histrionics w a s astounding, a n d w h o s e flexibility, e n c o u r a g e m e n t , a n d courage to set the standard for research into gay issues in social w o r k w a s always solid ground to walk o n . I would also like to thank Dr. Deborah O'Connor, my second reader a n d a consistent source of guidance and e n c o u r a g e m e n t throughout this process. T h a n k s as well to Mr. Hal G o o d w i n , M S W , my external reader for agreeing to support this project in more w a y s than I e x p e c t e d . I reserve special thanks to Patrick Carpentier w h o s e love and support at h o m e has been more than a n y o n e could e v e r hope for. Finally, my thanks to E d w a r d , Roger, and G e o r g e . Y o u r unique voice a n d courage in coming forward to share your stories will surely help social w o r k forge a more inclusive practice with elder gay m e n .  v  CHAPTER I - SETTING THE STAGE  Introduction Within mainstream gerontological literature, it would seem that if older people are portrayed as being sexual at all, they are certainly not homosexual (Quam, 1997). It has in fact only been recently that the reality of older gay lives has even been acknowledged within gerontology (Gallagher, 1996). Yet, gerontologists speak often of the need to understand the aging process as a heterogeneous spectrum of possibilities (McPherson, 1998). If gerontologists are to follow through with their recognition and commitment of the aging experience as a spectrum of diverse possibilities, it has much to do to inform itself of this diversity based on their lack of attention to elder gay men's concerns and experiences (Beeler, Rawls, Herdt, & Cohler; 1999). This study explored how being gay has informed the lives of three men over the age of 65. A central aim of the study was to use the narrative voice of elder gay men to challenge some of the key assumptions about aging contained in both mainstream gerontological literature as well as the paucity of gay aging studies that exist. A second goal relates to my commitment to encourage social work as a profession to become more inclusive of the needs of elder gay men in both research and practice. Finally, as a gay man myself I wish to advance the presence of the subjective voice of elder gay men into the field of gerontology  1  w h i c h at times s e e m s fraught with supposition, inference, and replete with gross generalizations about the reality of elder gay men's lives.  Challenging the Mythology of Gav Aaina  A s will be discussed in chapter t w o , s o m e researchers w h o have sought to explore gay aging in the past have a d v a n c e d a ' m y t h o l o g y ' of the gay aging experience as mostly joyful, crisis-free, a n d quite rewarding. T h i s is providing that the elder gay m a n is attached to gay c o m m u n i t y institutions a n d causes throughout the aging process (Lee, 1991). T h i s mythology is seen as resulting from an inadvertent effort to o v e r c o m p e n s a t e for the heterosexist and homophobic stereotypes that have persisted in the past which s a w elder gay m e n as o v e r s e x e d , lonely, a n d sad (Lee, 1991). T h e result has been a swing from one extreme view of the elder gay m a n to another with no representation of the diverse nature of elder gay lives that actually exists. Choosing to conduct a qualitative study into h o w being gay can inform the lives of elder gay m e n helps to challenge the mythology that Lee alludes to. T h i s is m a d e possible by surfacing the subjective m e a n s by which elder gay m e n 'construct' their lives, something that is not possible through  quantitative  methods alone. In fact, Hostetler & Kohler (1997) suggest t h a t ' r e s e a r c h must take seriously the subjective meanings of lived experiences or risk being completely irrelevant to the lives of older g a y s ' (pg.312).  2  Enhancing Social Work with Elder Gav Men  A s m e n t i o n e d , the second goal of this study is related to the profession of social w o r k itself. Gallagher cites O'Neill & Naidoo ( 1 9 9 0 ) , in suggesting that gay m e n could make up potentially 1 0 % of all clients within senior serving organizations. Y e t there appears to be a conspicuous absence of programming around elder gay male concerns throughout our country. In fact, w h e r e in C a n a d a is there any government funded program that directly aims to provide services to an elder gay male population? If there is such a service, what practice framework exists that would assist in providing for as effective a n d inclusive an approach to the needs of elder gay m e n as possible? T h e C a n a d i a n Association of Social W o r k C o d e of Ethics (1994) supports a policy of non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Y e t , while this may be true, Q u a m (1997) a n d Ehrenberg (1996) note that the helping professions, including social work, have not w o r k e d hard e n o u g h to address the homophobic reality of service delivery that exists in practice with gay populations. T h e y particularly note a lack of attention to gay concerns within social work literature, training programs, a n d public policy. If social work d o e s not make a concerted attempt to b e c o m e more inclusive of potentially l / 1 0  t h  of  the c o n s u m e r s of its services, then it risks reinforcing the invisibility of elder gay m e n that persists within the domain of service delivery.  3  Identifying Heterosexism and Ageism  T h e third goal of m y study is to increase t h e voice of elder g a y m e n in t h e gerontological literature a s a w a y o f challenging t h e presence of heterosexist assumptions about the m e a n s by which m e n c a n age. This interest is informed by my o w n experiences a s a white, middle-class, university educated g a y m a n w h o has felt the impact of heterosexism a n d homophobia in m y o w n life, particularly within the areas of health care a n d social policy. A s a geriatric social worker e m p l o y e d in a long term care facility, I have also witnessed t h e systemic a n d personal effects of ageism a m o n g t h e senior population I work with a n d the individuals w h o serve t h e m . T h e s e t w o sets of experiences led to a concentrated focus o n g a y aging that I undertook a s part of m y graduate study in social work. In reviewing t h e literature into g a y aging throughout this process, m y curiosity grew w h e n I noted the scant attention paid to the w a y in which g a y m e n presently over t h e a g e o f 6 5 have constructed their identities in response to a different set of social a n d historical conditions than I grew up with. I b e c a m e aware that to s o m e extent the literature has not gone far e n o u g h to understand how various discourses of g a y identity that develop over time c a n c o m p e t e with o n e another in shaping t h e diversity of aging experiences that have been noted a m o n g older g a y m e n , yet remain unaccounted for. T h u s there a r e t w o fundamental questions that remain unanswered in t h e literature w i t h respect to elder g a y m e n that constituted t h e focus of this study. H o w c a n a n understanding of g a y identity account for discrepancies in the  4  literature a m o n g the s a m e generation of elder g a y m e n w h o report at o n c e being both satisfied and dissatisfied with their lives? A n d finally, w h a t can social w o r k learn from the subjective voice of elder gay m e n that might better inform social work practice with this population as a result?  Situating Language In approaching this study there are a few qualifications that are worth making at the outset regarding language. While a great deal of research has attempted to confront and challenge negative stereotypes of g a y s a n d lesbians, s o m e have found that sexual orientation has rarely b e e n defined with a n y consistency or reliability between these studies ( C h u n g a n d K a t a y a m a , 1996). T h i s has led to criticisms that the methodological a b s e n c e of a consistent effort to define sexual orientation has w e a k e n e d research in this area (Sell & Patruillo, 1996). However, dependent upon whether one operates from 'essentialist' or 'constructivist' approaches to sexual orientation, how would one determine which definition of sexual orientation to best adopt? Can consensus a m o n g researchers a n d participants ever be reached in this regard? A n d further, if it is thought that it should be, how would one know that consensus has been achieved? In addressing the need to define sexual orientation in his study of the sexrelated counselling experiences of 5 m e n , Cave (1999) adopted Hart's (1984) definition of sexual orientation as 'the object of one's affection and sexual desire' (pg. 4). Further, this definition of sexual orientation is conceptualised as the interaction of'physical activity, interpersonal affection, and erotic fantasies'. For the  5  purposes of this study then, a gay sexual orientation will be defined as a man's self-identified desire for, a n d / o r engagement in a combination of physical, interpersonal, and erotic activity/relationships with other m e n . A s will be further explained in chapter two however, the goal of this study is to explore how gay identity, as opposed to a 'sexual orientation' informs the lives of elder g a y m e n depending upon how each has chosen to construct their identities as such. A n assumption is that identifying how an individual has constructed their gay identity will yield far more in understanding the experiences of a n elder g a y m a n , than simply focussing on that man's sexual orientation. In summary t h e n , sexual orientation and gay identity are viewed as two separate components to the lived experience of the individual, the latter of which is a more fruitful locus of exploration. W h e n I refer to ' g a y a g i n g ' , I will specifically be referring to the process of a g i n g a s it applies to m e n w h o self-identify a s gay. T h e w o r d 'older' or 'elder' is being used to conceptualise the age of participants as 65 years a n d over. T h i s appeals to the conventional use of the term in the gerontological literature ( S w a n s o n , 1998). Contrary to ageist m y t h s a n d stereotypes that h a v e influenced the definition of the w o r d ' o l d ' or 'elder' h o w e v e r , their use throughout this study is not meant to reinforce or support these stereotypes. Instead the w o r d s are used to refer to a population of m e n associated by a g e , a n d considered worthy of r e s e a r c h , exploration and d e e p e r understanding.  6  Thesis Overview T h i s qualitative study d o c u m e n t s the results of interviews that w e r e conducted with three m e n over the age of 65 w h o self-identified as being gay. T h e interviews w e r e designed to secure data that w o u l d speak to the question ' h o w has being g a y informed the lives of m e n over the age of 6 5 ? T h e results of the data build on our understanding of the m e a n s by which age a n d sexual orientation converge upon one another to inform each of the participant's identities and experiences. T h e s e findings also set the stage for a discussion of how social w o r k can develop an inclusive approach to practice with elder gay men. Chapter t w o  presents the theoretical a n d conceptual foundation upon  w h i c h this study is based. T h i s includes a review of the literature to date as it relates to key t e r m s , ideas a n d concepts concerning gay a g i n g . I also represent s o m e of the key issues that exist in the literature in its ability to represent the reality of elder gay lives, concluding with a review of social w o r k practice in this area. Chapter three provides a description of the methodology used throughout this study. In chapter four I provide the findings from my interviews with three elder gay m e n a n d the stories they shared about h o w being gay has informed their lives. Finally, in chapter five I provide a discussion of the results of my findings in relation to the literature discussed in chapter t w o . I conclude with a r e c o m m e n d a t i o n s for social work practice, a s well as suggestions for future research in this area based upon the findings.  7  CHAPTER II - CONCEPTUAL CONTEXT  Introduction Maxwell (1996) suggests that the purpose of a conceptual context is to review the system of concepts, assumptions, expectations, beliefs, and theories that support a n d inform the research to take place. He also suggests that the literature that is reviewed should not be deferred to as an 'authority' on a given subject, more so than as a 'fallible source of ideas' open to interpretation. T h e function of the researcher therefore is to use the conceptual context as an opportunity to present 'alternative w a y s of framing the issues' based o n previous research ( M a x w e l l , 1996). In exploring how being gay c a n inform the lives of m e n 65 years of age and over, this chapter provides a review of key concepts, ideas, and theories emanating from the gay aging literature.  First I will explore the concept of social  constructionist v e r s u s essentialist views of gay identity. T h i s leads to a discussion of heterosexism, h o m o p h o b i a , and ageism within the context of older gay m e n . I then review the literature on gay aging to date with the aim of reflecting not just on the content, but o n the development of this area of research as it relates to the research question posed in this study. Finally, I present a review of those theories of life-stage a n d gay identity development that helped to inform this study.  8  Social Constructivism and Sexual Identity As alluded to in chapter one I believe that how a man incorporates the reality of being gay into his life is specific to the socio-historical context in which that man will claim and develop that identity. This reflects an adherence to a 'social constructivist' approach to sexual identity. Stemming from the postmodern ideas of Foucault (1981) social constructivism suggests 'that sexual functions and feelings have no intrinsic or essential meaning of their own, but are given meaning by the ideological systems developed for their explanation' (cited in Friend, 1991, p. 100). Constructivists believe that culture, history and circumstance will produce many different meanings of the same sexual activity (Jagose, 1996). The argument is summarized as follows. If an individual's identity is based on the meaning(s) he attaches to a sexual activity, and competing meanings can arise according to the fluid forces of history and context, then many different constructions of identity will be possible based upon that same sexual activity. Thus it is noted that despite the fact that sexual activity between men has and continues to occur in many different cultures throughout the world, this activity does not equate with the participants having necessarily constructed the same identity (Halani, 1999; Weeks, 1981). This is contrasted with an 'essentialist' view of sexuality which suggests that sexual identity, gay or otherwise, is fixed, natural, acultural and ahistorical (Halani, 1999; Jagose, 1996). Essentialists view the emergence and meaning of an individual's sexual identity as a reflection of the physical and genetic make-up  9  of the individual (Jagose, 1996). In this way sexual identity and sexual orientation are seen as one and the same and are viewed as having existed throughout all of history and across all cultures. At its extreme, essentialists would see no difference between the sexual identity of a man living in modern day San Francisco who openly declares to others that he is gay, with that of a man living in a Welsh Mining village in the 1700's who desires sexual activity with a member of the same sex. In this way it is assumed that there is 'a' gay identity. I reject the essentialist view and suggest that the 'identities' of each man in the above cases would be qualitatively quite different from and should not be equated with one another. This follows a social constructivist view which does not see gay identity as fixed, and challenges the dichotomy of gay/not gay as an 'either/or' identity. Instead, social constructivists view gay identity as but one aspect of a persons identity and dependent upon more than just the individual. As a category of sexual identity, the 'gay' identity as we know it in North America has been constructed as more than a simple description of an individual's primary sexual orientation for members of the same sex. According to the social constructivist view, the gay identity is in fact fairly new to the human experience, surfacing as a by-product of the modern age, and mostly confined to the Western world (Weeks, 1981). One view is that it emerged first as 'homosexuality' in response to the rise of capitalism in the mid 19  th  century,  (D'Emilio, 1993) and then later as 'gay' in resistance to the medicalization and  10  criminalization o f ' h o m o s e x u a l i t y ' in the 1960's ( W e e k s , 1981). Unlike that proposed by the essentialist v i e w , a gay identity therefore cannot be a n indication of what s o m e o n e is. It is instead a fluid and dynamic view of self a n d others informed by the ideas, v a l u e s , and forces of the particular historical epoch in w h i c h that identity has developed ( J a g o s e , 1996). T h o s e men w h o are now 65 years of age or older represent a group w h o claimed their gay identities either prior to or after the advent of gay liberation in the 1960's - two very different historical periods, a n d therefore two competing contexts in w h i c h gay identities w e r e shaped and constructed. Interestingly, the literature into gay aging itself developed across the divide of t w o separate historical eras for gays and lesbians a n d represents a collision between essentialist a n d constructivist a p p r o a c h e s to the study of elder gay life. I assert that it is the latter approach that will help to further our understanding of elder gay m e n . T h i s is because w h e n w e talk about h o w being ' g a y ' c a n inform the lives of m e n over the age of 6 5 , w e cannot really achieve this unless w e are able to articulate in what w a y that individual has c o m e to construct their gay identity.  Heterosexism, Homophobia, and Ageism Most references in the literature into gay aging are clear that both the development of a gay identity as well as the aging process itself are dramatically impacted by the ideological systems of h e t e r o s e x i s m , h o m o p h o b i a , a n d a g e i s m (Jacobs, R a s m u s s e n , and H o h m a n , 1 9 9 9 ; Rosenfeld, 1 9 9 9 ; H u m p h r e y s and  11  Q u a l m , 1 9 9 8 ; Hunter, S h a n n o n , K n o x , and Martin, 1 9 9 8 ; Boxer, 1 9 9 7 ; G e t z e l , 1 9 9 7 ; E h r e n b e r g , 1996; D'Augelli and Patterson, 1 9 9 5 ; D o r f m a n , 1 9 9 5 ; A d e l m a n , 1 9 9 1 ; G r u b e , 1 9 9 1 ; Cruikshank, 1 9 9 1 , Friend, 1 9 9 0 ; L e e , 1 9 8 7 ; Berger, 1 9 8 2 ; K i m m e l , 1978). If an exploration of gay identity is the foundation upon which our understanding of elder gay male experiences are built, then it is necessary to define these terms. H o m o p h o b i a has been defined as heterosexual persons dread of being in close quarters with homosexuals or homosexual's self-loathing (Herek, 1996; W e i n b e r g , 1972). T h e use of the term homophobia is avoided by s o m e d u e to the fact that the hostility that is expressed to homosexuals by others d o e s not mimic the reactions experienced with other phobia's per se (Herek, 1996). It is also felt that homophobia implies that anti-gay sentiment and actions occur at the level of the individual, ignoring w h a t is perhaps better understood a s a 'social p h e n o m e n o n rooted in cultural ideologies and intergroup relations' (Herek, 1996, pg. 102). Heterosexism is defined as 'the ideological system that d e n i e s , denigrates, and stigmatizes any nonheterosexual f o r m of behavior, identity, relationship, or c o m m u n i t y ' (Herek, 1996, p g . 101). Herek (1996) notes two forms of heterosexism including cultural heterosexism and psychological heterosexism. Cultural heterosexism is likened to racism and sexism and ' p e r v a d e s societal c u s t o m s and institutions'. T h e refusal to legalize gay marriage, the ban on gays in the A m e r i c a n military, and the lack of access to survival benefits w h e n  12  partners die are e x a m p l e s of h o w heterosexism will manifest itself culturally. In this w a y , cultural heterosexism gains expression through public policy and the institutionalizing of heterosexist norms and v a l u e s . A s well the presence of heterosexism can also be s e e n culturally through the historically negative depiction of s a m e - s e x relationships in nearly every media representation available (Metz, 1997). S o m e have noted h o w social w o r k itself participates in the perpetuation of heterosexism through 'heterocentrically' oriented training programs (Morrow, 1996). According to Herek (1996) this is ultimately expressed a n d experienced at the level of the individual through psychological heterosexism. Psychological heterosexism is seen as the 'individual manifestation of cultural h e t e r o s e x i s m ' a n d is 'reflected in heterosexual's feelings of personal disgust, hostility, or condemnation of homosexuality a n d of lesbians a n d g a y m e n ' (Herek, 1996, p g . 102). It is also e x p r e s s e d behaviorally in reports of g a y s and lesbians having been the direct victims of physical and verbal assault, while also facing discrimination in h o u s i n g , e m p l o y m e n t , health c a r e , or social services. For e x a m p l e , 9 % of g a y s a n d lesbians have reported having been assaulted with a w e a p o n d u e to their sexual orientation, 1 9 % have been the victims of threats of violence, while 8 0 % stated that they had b e e n the victims of verbal harassment (Hunter, S h a n n o n , K n o x , a n d Martin, 1998). G a y s a n d lesbians have been s h o w n to receive inferior treatment w h e n attempting to access a d e q u a t e health care due to their sexual orientation ( P e t e r s o n , 1996).  13  T h e ultimate tragic expression of psychological heterosexism is expressed through the internalization of m e s s a g e s of self hate or loathing o n the part of the individual w h o is gay. T h e c o n s e q u e n c e s of this f o r m of heterosexism has been explored extensively in the literature. For e x a m p l e , according to Hunter, S h a n n o n , K n o x , and Martin (1998), recent studies s h o w that 4 0 % of A m e r i c a n and Canadian gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth have attempted suicide at least o n c e . A l s o , gays and lesbians have far higher rates of alcoholism and drug use than the general population ( A n d e r s o n , 1996). A g e i s m is a t e r m that w a s coined by Butler (1969) to describe the ' p r o c e s s of systematic stereotyping of, and discrimination against people because they are old', (as cited by M c p h e r s o n , 1998 p g . 140). With ageism surfaces policies and practices that ascribe ability and character according to chronological a g e , as o p p o s e d to functional or demonstrated ability and characteristics. S u c h is the case with mandatory retirement policies, or stereotypes of older people as having increasing problems with m e m o r y , physical functioning or utility in most spheres of life ( M c P h e r s o n , 1998). A s m e n t i o n e d , at the intersection of a g e i s m , heterosexism and homophobia lie the potential for stigmatized gay m e n to face added dimensions of oppression that are seldom recognized or discussed in the context of their later life. In fact, confronting and ridding oneself of the internalized m e s s a g e s of self-loathing many gay men learn to live with, is seen as a key to the challenge of aging successfully as a gay m a n ( A d e l m a n , 1 9 9 1 ; Berger, 1 9 8 2 ; Kelly, 1977).  14  While gay aging studies have highlighted the ability of elder gay m e n to o v e r c o m e the forces of oppression in their lives, it still tends to reflect a limited v i e w of elder gay m e n as either succeeding or failing in this regard ignoring other m o r e salient features to the lives of elder g a y m e n .  Situating the Study of Elder Gav Men - a literature review A n important concern of mine in reviewing the literature into g a y aging w a s the risk of duplicating the observations or ideas of various scholars w h o have already reviewed the small a m o u n t of literature available on this subject. T h e s e include previous reviews by Hunter, S h a n n o n , Martin, and K n o x (1998), Boxer (1997), B r o w n , Saroksy, Cook, and Quarto (1997), Christian a n d Keefe (1997), Getzel (1997), Herdt, Beeler, and Rawls (1997), K o c h m a n ( 1 9 9 7 ) , Ehrenberg (1996), Q u a m (1996), Daugelli & Patterson (1995), D o r f m a n , W a l t e r s , Burke, Harding, a n d Karanik (1995), Cruikshank (1991), a n d Lee (1987). T h o u g h I w a s able to access most of the original sources of research referred to in the a b o v e - n o t e d reviews, my thoughts and understanding of gay aging are still chiefly the result of having been informed of this early w o r k via these other reviews of the g a y aging literature. I have c h o s e n to conceptualise gay aging research to date as having developed according to the e n g a g e m e n t of three distinct focuses within this area. Each focus appears to have initiated around important social a n d / o r scholastic turns that I argue have dramatically informed the construction of gay politics and g a y - f o c u s e d a c a d e m i c w o r k as a result. I have titled e a c h of these as the Reconstruction f o c u s , initiated  15  around 1 9 7 0 , a Critical Specialization focus initiated at about 1987, a n d most recently w h a t appears to be an emerging 'Identity' focus beginning around 1997. I refer to these as ' f o c i ' rather than stages or p h a s e s , because it is clear that once e n g a g e d , the influences, intentions and values guiding each focus intersect a n d build upon one another as gay aging research continues to evolve. I use the following discussion of h o w each focus has e m e r g e d as a m e a n s of presenting a review of the literature. T h e following review of the literature is framed alongside the historical d e v e l o p m e n t s that have affected the growth of gerontology itself, as a unique field of inquiry.  The Reconstruction Focus A focus on 'reconstructing' the image of the elder gay man began with the first direct attempts of researchers to specifically target elder g a y m e n as a subject of study. T h e s e studies include contributions primarily in the 1970's a n d early 1980's by Berger (1982), Friend (1980) Kimmel (1978), Kelly (1977), Minnegrode (1976), W e i n b e r g & Williams (1975), Francher & Henkin (1973), a n d W e i n b e r g (1970). Following the rise of g a y liberation in the latter half of the d e c a d e , the early research into gay aging that followed focused on an attempt to dispel the variety of negative stereotypes about older gays a n d lesbians as isolated, lonely, prone to depression and oversexed (Beeler, Rawls, Herdt, and Cohler, 1 9 9 9 ; E h r e n b e r g , 1 9 9 6 ; Q u a m a n d W h i t f o r d , 1992). T h i s research also attempted to address the a b s e n c e of any focus at all on gay aging in the gerontological literature of the time (Berger, 1 9 8 2 ; Friend, 1 9 8 0 ; K i m m e l , 1978; Kelly, 1977; Minnegrode, 1 9 7 6 ; Francher 6k H e n k i n ,  16  1973). T h e s e efforts w e r e part of a m u c h larger attempt to upset previously held beliefs of the ' h o m o s e x u a l ' as perverse, mentally ill, criminal, or spiritual a b o m i n a t i o n . Results from this intial set of studies generally s h o w e d that " g a y m e n w e r e as successful with aging a s their heterosexual counterparts" (Beeler et. a l , 1 9 9 9 , p g . 33) though these w e r e broad generalizations at best. Social support from other gay m e n a n d participation with g a y organizations a n d institutions w e r e also linked with greater levels of satisfaction in later life (Berger, 1 9 8 2 ; Friend, 1 9 8 0 ; K i m m e l , 1978; Kelly, 1 9 7 7 ; M i n n e g r o d e , 1976; Francher & H e n k i n , 1973). Further, w a s the proposition that as a result of being gay, gay men a p p e a r e d to develop critical coping skills that helped w a r d off the effects of storms a n d crises associated with d e v e l o p m e n t , including the task of managing the stigma of a g i n g . In particular Berger (1982) referred to this as ' M a s t e r y of S t i g m a ' while Friend (1986) developed his o w n 'Crisis C o m p e t e n c e T h e o r y ' to describe what a m o u n t s to the s a m e idea. Major c o n c e r n s with these initial studies involve issues that have been raised with respect to sample composition, methodology, and ' m y t h - m a k i n g ' . In t e r m s of s a m p l e composition, it is noted that most of these researchers w e r e reliant on very small s a m p l e s that t e n d e d to be m a d e up of white, middle to upper-middle class, u r b a n , c o m m u n i t y a t t a c h e d , a n d 'out' gay m e n (Christian & K e e f e , 1 9 9 7 ; Boxer, 1 9 9 7 ; Beeler et. a l . , 1 9 9 9 , Q u a m et. a l . , 1 9 9 2 , H u m p h r e y s & Q u a m , 1998). A few studies had mixed samples of gay m e n a n d lesbians, or samples that ranged in age from 16 to 79 (Kelley, 1977) but w h e r e most of the participants w e r e under the age of 4 0 .  17  Christian and Keefe (1997) observe that grouping m e n of different a g e - g r o u p s into a n h o m o g e n o u s whole ignored important 'cohort' effects that could have further illuminated various aging patterns. Cohort effects are represented by the impact of socio-cultural events on a particular cohort ( M c P h e r s o n , 1998). For e x a m p l e , increased inflation in the 1970's had a low effect on y o u n g e r cohorts of working people w h o had flexible incomes but had a high impact on the elderly w h o lived with mostly fixed i n c o m e s ( M c P h e r s o n , 1998). Methodologically, the h o m o g e n i z e d classification of age cohorts w a s equally c o m p o u n d e d by a lack of diversity a m o n g samples recruited for these studies. For e x a m p l e , it is strongly felt that most of the participants in these early samples w e r e already politically active m e m b e r s of the gay c o m m u n i t y w h o w e r e heavily influenced and informed by the launch of gay liberation politics and initiatives arising out of the 1960's (Lee, 1987; A d e l m a n , 1981). In contrast, the voice of those m e n not attached to the gay c o m m u n i t y , considered to be leading 'invisible' lives, w e r e absent. T h e issues of representation in sampling has been a n ongoing challenge to those studying gay populations ( Q u a m , 1997). In reflecting back on his and other's earlier r e s e a r c h , R a y m o n d Berger (1996) argues that it is in fact impossible to adequately represent the 'older gay m a n ' at all in research. T h e problems inherent in defining ' o l d ' , gay', and ' h o m o s e x u a l ' discussed in the introduction to this study, the difficulty of ever knowing whether one has a 'representative' sample d u e to not knowing h o w m a n y gay m e n are invisible within a given population, coupled with the social a n d cultural diversity that exists in and a m o n g s t g a y men preclude this from occurring.  18  T h u s , this earlier research is s e e n as having helped to 'reconstruct' the image of the older g a y m a n a w a y f r o m the negative stereotypes of the past, into a m a n w h o w a s generally seen to be no more or less challenged by the aging process than their heterosexual counterparts. A s w a s alluded to however, this w o r k did little to reflect those w h o s e voice a n d standpoint, as multiply affected by opposing levels of class, race, ethnicity, ability, geographic location, a n d detachment from the 'institutionalized' gay c o m m u n i t y , still remained invisible (Getzel, 1997). A s w e l l , given that a majority of samples involved men under the age of 6 5 , w h o s e results w e r e generalized to m e n over the age of 6 5 , it would appear that m a n y of these earlier studies represent more accurately, a portrait of gay mid-life than later life.  The Critical Specialization Focus: The Current Research on Gav Aging  A s i d e from the Stonewall Riots of 1 9 6 9 , 1 w o u l d argue that in the early 1980's 1  A I D S e m e r g e d as the second most powerful organizing force in m o d e r n gay history. It is interesting that the gay aging literature d o e s not really start to speak about the impact of A I D S until the late 1980's a n d early 1990's. If it d o e s , it t e n d s not to recognize the impact of A I D S on aging gay m e n beyond the issues of bereavement a n d loss that w e r e being keenly felt at that time. T h e impact of A I D S however, most assuredly affected the perspective of a n y o n e w h o possessed an interest in exploring  The Stonewall Inn is a popular gay bar located on New York City's Christopher Street. On June 29 , 1969, during what was by then a routine police raid of the premises bar patrons resisted police attempts to arrest them. The resistance.sparked rioting that eventually spilled out into the streets and lasted throughout the rest of the following weekend. The wide-spread publicity marking the event around the world led to this event being seen as the start of the Gay Liberation Movement (Jagose, 1996). 1  th  19  the lives of gay m e n through research. It also threatened to reverse at least two d e c a d e s of a d v a n c e s in gay rights. In the context of North A m e r i c a a n d other W e s t e r n industrialized nations, a n d in the w a k e of the t r e m e n d o u s fear and panic that spread due to the growing stigma of A I D S , being openly gay w a s once again a possible threat to e m p l o y m e n t , housing, health c a r e , a n d general social tolerance (Patton, 1986). S o m e gay m e n w h o had bought into gay liberation politics surfacing out of the late 1960's either felt more compelled than e v e r to declare their gay identity to others, or conversely, as a result of a new stigma d u e to A I D S , found new reason to adopt invisibility as a key strategy to the m a n a g e m e n t of there identity. Given that the focus of reconstructing the image of gay m e n w a s the foundation upon which gay aging research b e g a n , it would appear that the e m e r g e n c e and devastating impact of A I D S allowed for a m u c h d e e p e r level of analysis and critical reflection to occur regarding the reality of gay lives. T h e analysis of gay lives now sought to g o beyond finding support through research for basic h u m a n rights for gays a n d lesbians, to a surge in interest with respect to the psychological a n d emotional impact of living as gay people in a heterosexist social context.  Particular interest began to e m e r g e with respect to  the impact of heterosexism on health a n d wellness. A s a result a n e w focus s e e m e d to find its w a y into the next generation of gay aging studies to e m e r g e . Alongside the arrival of A I D S , by the mid-1980's mainstream gerontology w a s also changing and had e m e r g e d into a period o f ' s p e c i f i c i t y ' w h e r e increased  20  focus in research w a s placed o n 'social context' a n d its' influence o n the aging process. T h i s included the 'discovery' a n d recognition of a multitude of s u b populations a n d aging sub-cultures that had yet to be represented in the literature ( M c P h e r s o n , 1998). T h e Critical Specialization focus with gay aging studies e m e r g e d as attempts began to both critically reflect and build upon the w o r k of initial gay aging studies that had taken place. Researchers began to explore the heterogeneous reality of g a y aging as informed by varying levels of race, class, ethnicity, g e o g r a p h y , ability, spirituality, sexual fluidity (not just g a y , but pansexual cohorts). T h e y include research by C h a p p i e , Kippax, & Smith (1998), Witford (1997), V a n De V e n & R o d d e n (1997), G r u b e (1996), D o r f m a n , Walters, Burke, H a r d i n g , and Karanik (1995), Q u a l m and Whitford (1992), Pope & Shultz (1991), A d e l m a n (1991), G r u b e (1991), and Lee (1987). Beginning in the mid to late 1980's, this period includes the publication of research by Canadian Sociologist John Allan Lee (1987), the only researcher to date to have launched a longitudinal study specifically aimed at a sample of elder gay m e n . Lee became concerned with the pervasive 'Pollyanna' approach to gay aging he felt had emerged through initial studies in the area that specifically aimed to combat the negative stereotypes of older gay m e n . He called this a new 'mythology' of gay aging. A s mentioned earlier, with the first studies into gay aging that had e m e r g e d , Berger (1982), Friend (1980), Kimmel (1978), Kelly (1977), Minnegrode (1976), Francher & Henkin (1973), results generally s h o w e d that gay men t e n d e d to report being satisfied with aging if they w e r e involved with gay c o m m u n i t y organizations, a n d w e r e o p e n to  21  others about their gay identities. In contrast, Lee (1987) found that s o m e of his 57 participants reported being satisfied with their lives t h o u g h they w e r e still quite ' c l o s e t e d ' and had few if any enduring attachments to other g a y m e n or organizations. He also observed that in contrast to Berger (1982) and Kelly (1997) in particular, it w a s not having to cope with the ' s t o r m ' of challenges to being g a y in earlier y e a r s that m a d e gay m e n more c o m p e t e n t and skilled in dealing with the aging process. I n s t e a d , Lee proposed that in the case of s o m e of his participants it w a s m o r e their ability to successfully 'steer a w a y ' from and avoid these storms related to g a y life that constituted a feeling of satisfaction with the aging process. A s with Lee (1987), A d l e m a n (1991) found that psychological adjustment w a s not associated with levels of disclosure about being gay or attachment to gay c o m m u n i t y institutions in her study of gay m e n a n d lesbians in California. A d e l m a n found that those w h o waited to ' c o m e out' in their mid-life or later, after having experimented sexually previously with others of the s a m e s e x , reported far higher levels of satisfaction in later y e a r s (1991). S h e suggests that by experimenting first, individuals take the time n e e d e d to disenfranchise t h e m s e l v e s f r o m a s t i g m a - b a s e d definition of w h a t it m e a n s to be g a y prior to actually c o m i n g out. A s previously noted a focus on the heterogeneous nature of aging for gay m e n has been expressed in a variety of studies throughout the 1980's a n d 1990's. T h e s e have primarily focused on issues related to health a n d social support. T h e findings of these studies now constitute what is generally k n o w n about gay aging through the literature to date, a n d will be s u m m a r i z e d below.  22  Gay aging and health. T h e r e are very few health care services that are specifically tailored to the needs of elder gay m e n (Schwartz, 1 9 9 6 ; C o n n o l y , 1996). It has been demonstrated that because aging is a c c o m p a n i e d by a greater reliance on health care providers to assist with the multitude of physical changes that take place, there is a t r e m e n d o u s fear on the part of older gays a n d lesbians as to h o w they will be treated by their health care providers (Appleby & A n n a s t i s , 1996). For this population the reluctance to visit physician's offices or share information with respect to their identities m e a n s decreased levels of medical screening and testing that w o u l d otherwise assist in the treatment of diseases that go unreported (Schwartz, 1996). It is suggested therefore that elder g a y m e n m a y be at greater risk for untreated d i s e a s e s of aging than n o n - g a y s . T h e availability of gay and lesbian 'only' nursing h o m e s are next to none ( Q u a m & W h i t f o r d , 1 9 9 2 ; Whitford, 1 9 9 7 ; E h r e n b e r g , 1996). Should an individual require admission to a care facility, the ability to control a n d m a n a g e their identity through strategies of social d e t a c h m e n t are instantly eroded b e c a u s e of the rampant homophobia in these institutions. O n c e a d m i t t e d , gays a n d lesbian persons m a y face the challenge of battling increased psychological isolation as t h e y struggle to relate with others w h o are socially free to talk about the lives they have lived, the families they have raised, a n d the children and opposite sex partners for w h o m they have cared ( Q u a m & W h i t f o r d , 1992).  23  I n d e e d , there are very few institutions w h o are set up to record a n d a c k n o w l e d g e through their admission f o r m s , policies, and data bases the identity of gay residents ( E h r e n b e r g , 1996). S o m e researchers have also o b s e r v e d that while nursing h o m e staff are generally reluctant to allow sexual relations between older residents at all, they are m u c h less likely to tolerate let alone allow sexual relations between gay residents ( Q u a m et. a l , 1 9 9 2 , H u m p h r e y s & Q u a m , 1998). While the need for gay-specific formal health care supports have been a d d r e s s e d to s o m e extent as a result of A I D S , the value shift that is required for a greater sense of inclusion of gay aging needs has probably not been realised in long term care/geriatric settings. Dorfman et. al's (1995) study of depression rates a m o n g a s a m p l e of 108 homosexual and heterosexual m e n and w o m e n is important because it directly addressed the myth that sexual orientation is a predictor for d e c r e a s e d mental health a n d / p r social support in later years. Of significance is that elder gay men (and lesbians) w o u l d appear to be no more likely to be depressed than non-gay m e n .  Gay aging and social support.  Q u a m & Whitford. (1992)  highlight  how loneliness in later years is a chief concern of aging gay m e n . Others highlight research that affirms that social support for older adults is related to their overall level of health, psychological well being and mortality (Charles, 1996). T h e y also note that men a n d w o m e n without children tend to be closer to a n d more reliant on their siblings than those with children. T h i s is s e e n to suggest that biological family ties are important to aging gay m e n across the life  24  s p a n . Older gay m e n tend to rely primarily on friends first before family in later y e a r s for their primary social support n e e d s . (Dorfman et. a l , 1995). A s mentioned earlier, involvement in gay c o m m u n i t y organizations has been linked with greater life satisfaction (Berger, 1982) although this w o u l d appear to be m o r e the case for g a y m e n B E L O W the a g e of 60 (Whitford, 1997). In fact Whitford has found that it is not so m u c h an attachment to gay c o m m u n i t y organizations more so than 'informal relationships' that w e r e of v a l u e to aging gay m e n over the age of 6 5 . Whitford has also found that the issue of loneliness w a s consistently rated highest of all c o n c e r n s about aging for gay m e n . Chappie, Kippax, a n d Smith (1998) note that attachment to social support via the gay c o m m u n i t y predicts for greater levels of adherence to safer s e x practices a m o n g elder gay m e n . Critical of the research into social support, Ehrenberg (1996) again notes that most studies concerned with social isolation t e n d e d to have representation only from those w h o w e r e attached to established gay c o m m u n i t y institutions or services. S h e points out the lack of attention to the coping strategies or perceptions of gays (and lesbians) w h o live in rural communities. S h e also highlights how a g e i s m is as m u c h e n d e m i c to the experience of social support a m o n g a n d between g a y m e n , not just b e t w e e n gay a n d non-gay communities.  Generational conflicts with elder gay men. C a n a d i a n J o h n G r u b e (1991) in his study of 35 g a y m e n a g e d 40 - 92 identified a divide between what he conceptualised as two groups of elder gay m e n , the pre-sixties 'traditionalists' versus the post-sixties 'liberationists'. He notes specifically that there has been  25  s o m e resentment on the part of the 'traditionalists' toward younger 'liberationists' of modern gay life, for not respecting the realities and choices faced by their older cohorts. T h e traditionalists, a mostly 60 years of age and older cohort, found great difficulty in being open about their identities as gay men because the social consequences of doing so were far greater in terms of job loss, housing problems, harassment, criminal entrapment, etc. For these older gay m e n , success in aging w a s in part measured by their ability to ' m a n a g e ' their same-sex identities by invoking strategies of silence and invisibility (Grube, 1996). In contrast, the younger cohort of'liberationists' embraced the values, beliefs, and politics that d e m a n d e d that to be happy meant to be 'out' and free of the need to live in silence with respect to a same-sex sexual orientation. Grube (1996) proposes that the differences between these two cohorts of gay m e n , and the context within which each developed their homosexual identities, accounts for what has been perceived as conflicts in the literature around definitions of life satisfaction. T h e focus on identity in Grube's study is an important one as it set the stage for the development of further clarity through research around cohort differences in gay aging. A key d e v e l o p m e n t out of the critical specialization focus in g a y a g i n g , has been that which identifies the existence of specific 'contexts' that account for different reports of life satisfaction, social support, and health needs of elder g a y m e n . A g a i n , Lee (1987) and A d e l m a n (1991) w e r e able to s h o w that not all older gay m e n j u d g e their lives successfully according to w h e t h e r they are 'out of the closet' or not in their  26  later years. While differences between these reports have been explained o n the basis of conflicts between generational cohorts of pre-sixties a n d post-sixties elder gay m e n , as w a s the case with the work of G r u b e (1996), gay aging research has still not accounted for differences in life satisfaction that have been reported from within the s a m e generational cohort. T h e need to further account for these differences has informed the e m e r g e n c e of a third focus within gay aging research w h i c h has shifted to a focus o n gay 'identity' as the locus of investigation.  The Identity Cohort Focus In what may be the most integrative work on gay aging to date in terms of the integration of theory a n d applied research, sociologist Dana Rosenfeld (1999) appears to pick up w h e r e most others in gay aging research have left off. Following observations by Lee (1987) Rosenfeld asserts that researchers have ignored the intersection of history, generations, and life-course on the one h a n d , and the local production of identity on the other (pg. 121). Using qualitative data from her study of 37 elder gay men a n d w o m e n she explored the m e a n s by which an adherence to the discourse of homosexuality as ' s t i g m a ' or 'status', influenced reported definitions of success or dissatisfaction with the aging process. Rosenfeld concludes that understanding h o w an elder gay individual will report being satisfied or dissatisfied with the aging process is located in h o w e a c h constructs their gay identity. T h e significance of this new focus exists in understanding that sexual orientation d o e s not act alone in creating a context within which an individual will experience the world. With respect to gay m e n , because the meaning of a s a m e - s e x  27  sexual orientation differs across cultures a n d time, so too will the impact of these diverse meanings on the individual's perception of w h a t they are experiencing. Understanding the p o w e r of identity to influence lived experiences also shifts the focus of research in gerontology a w a y from essentialist notions o f ' a g e ' as a defining variable of experience across different populations, for age too is s e e n as a social construction that differs across cultures and history. T h u s , Rosenfeld (1999) introduces a new opportunity for gay aging research to a d v a n c e its understanding of elder gay m e n by seeking to identify how they themselves make sense of their experience according to at least two different discourses of homosexual identity. I present her theory in the next section of this chapter in greater detail, which is devoted to a general discussion of those developmental theory's that have thus far been considered within the gay aging literature.  Theories of Development in Later Life A consistent critique of the literature relates to the lack of attention to a n d integration of developmental 'theory' (Jacobs, R a s m u s e n , a n d H o m a n , 1999) with gay aging studies. Especially rare has been the application of social theory to gay aging with the exception of one sociological treatment of the subject produced by Lee (1987b). He applied the results of his original longitudinal research to d i s e n g a g e m e n t theory, attachment theory, continuity theory, social e x c h a n g e theory, conflict theory, subcultural theory, symbolic interactionism, stratification theory, as well as the aforementioned 'crisis c o m p e t e n c e ' a n d  28  ' m a s t e r y of s t i g m a ' theory's. He concluded that it is 'obvious that social e x c h a n g e , stratification, a n d conflict a p p r o a c h e s produced a more insightful explanation of h o m o s e x u a l aging than functionalist -  interactionist  disengagement/continuity models hitherto e m p l o y e d by most researchers of h o m o s e x u a l a g i n g ' (Lee, 1987b, pg. 59). A s w e l l , there have been attempts at conceptualizing the ' c o m i n g out process' as a unique developmental feature of gays and lesbians (Sophie, 1 9 8 5 ; McWirter a n d Mattison, 1984; C o l e m a n , 1 9 8 1 ; C a s s , 1979). T h e s e would appear to have not g o n e far e n o u g h however in accounting for the impact of the c o m i n g out process on aging as a separate concern f r o m the processes leading up to disclosure of sexual orientation to others. T h e r e has been s o m e attempt to pursue the application of psycho-social theories of development to elder gay m e n . T h e s e include references to theories proposed by Erikson ( B r o w n , S a r o s k y , C o o k , a n d Q u a r t o , 1 9 9 7 ; A p p l e g a t e , 1 9 9 7 ; E h r e n b e r g , 1 9 9 6 ; Cornett & H u d s o n , 1 9 8 7 ; K i m m e l , 1978) a n d Levinson (Quarto, 1997; Applegate, 1997, D'Augelli a n d Patterson, 1995). Following a review of both Erikson a n d Levinon's theories of d e v e l o p m e n t , Dana Rosenfeld's theory regarding the influence of identity on gay aging in later life will be discussed below.  29  Erikson's Psvcho-social Stages of Development  Erikson believed that h u m a n d e v e l o p m e n t is d e p e n d e n t upon w h a t he called the 'epigenetic principle', w h i c h states that everything that grows d o e s so according to a blueprint, w h e r e at various stages there is a task that surfaces. T h e s u m total of h o w w e resolve e a c h of eight developmental tasks or ' c r i s e s ' constitute the nuances of our development through time (Cornett & H u d s o n , 1987).  T h e first six stages of Erikson's theory include trust v e r s u s mistrust,  autonomy  versus shame  inferiority,  identity  &  doubt,  initiative  versus guilt,  generativity  retirement  versus  versus confusion, a n d intimacy v e r s u s isolation. Erikson  proposed that at the latter stages of the life span the 7 'crisis' of  industry  v e r s u s stagnation, which  a g e , followed  in  our  latest  years  takes by  an  stage involves the  t h  place shortly 8  t h  and  final  before stage  characterized as the crisis of integrity versus despair (Erikson, 1968). With the stage of generativity v e r s u s stagnation, Erikson postulated that our goal is to find s o m e w a y to assist the next generation in learning h o w to lead a productive life.  Should w e feel however that w e have d o n e nothing  to  contribute to or help the next generation the result can be a n enduring feeling of 'stagnation'.  The 8  t h  and final stage of our d e v e l o p m e n t involves the task of  reviewing the life that w e have led, and resolving within ourselves w h e t h e r w e look back with a feeling of satisfaction, or 'integrity', or feel negatively about our lives such that w e e m e r g e into a predominant feeling of despair.  30  Levinson's Season's of a Man's Life Psychologist Daniel Levinson a n d his t e a m of researchers at Yale University conducted biographical interviews with 4 0 m e n w h o represented 4 occupational categories including hourly workers, business executives, a c a d e m i c biologists, a n d novelists. T h e resulting theory that w a s generated out of these interviews w a s published in the book T h e Season's of a Man's Life'. Out of this data he proposed that from their mid teens to their mid-sixties and b e y o n d , most m e n progress through an orderly s e q u e n c e o f ' e r a s ' or ' s e a s o n s ' that are m a r k e d by 4 to 5 year periods of 'transition' (Levinson, 1978). Beginning at age 17 the stages include childhood & adolescence, early adult transition, entering the adult w o r l d , age 30 transition, settling d o w n , mid-life transition, entering middle a d u l t h o o d , age 50 transition, culmination of middle a d u l t h o o d , late adult transition, a n d late adulthood. Similar to Erikson, periods of transition are m a r k e d by phases of g r o w t h , stability and c h a n g e , a n d involve the resolution of key tasks throughout the lifespan. T h e form with which e a c h of these tasks is resolved, constitutes a dynamically evolving 'life structure' for each man until his d e a t h . During the last season of man's life, there is an effort to integrate both the positive and negative aspects of that life in order to achieve a sense of piece with the life that has been lived. Not doing so according to Levinson runs the risk of a profound feeling of depression or fear of death (Levinson, 1978).  31  Some  have been critical of traditional  'stage m o d e l ' a p p r o a c h e s to  d e v e l o p m e n t , such as those proposed by Erikson and L e v i n s o n , as they have been applied to gay aging (Applegate, 1 9 9 7 ; Hostetler & Cohler, 1997). T h e y suggest that these models are not relevant heterosexual  life  context  (i.e.  growth  because they are based o n a  within and  out  of  a  nuclear  family  structure) that sees non-heterosexuals pre-determined a n d set up to 'fail' in terms of developmental ' t a s k s ' (Applegate, 1997). In the case of L e v i n s o n , Applegate (1997) notes that the sample used to generate this theory only ranged in aged from 17 to 65 and has very little data that would ground the 7 pages of text he devoted to later life issues. Levinson also did not interview any selfidentified gay m e n that he knew of, so it is difficult to extrapolate his ideas to the unique context of gay aging that exists. Finally, it is also felt that there is little evidence to support the validity of a phase model to d e v e l o p m e n t across all cultures, g e n d e r s , a n d contexts in general not just in terms of sexual orientation. While a number of gay aging studies have tried to use these arguments to dismiss the utility of theories such as those proposed by Erikson or L e v i n s o n , others have attempted to explore h o w these theories of development instead have relevance to gay aging.  might  For e x a m p l e , D'Augelli a n d Patterson  (1995) suggest that despite its short-comings, Levinson's model is thus far the most effective in capturing the dynamic versus static nature of d e v e l o p m e n t as it m a y affect g a y lives. Ehrenberg (1996) highlights s o m e of the possible insights to be gained by understanding gay aging through Erikson's m o d e l . S h e o b s e r v e s  32  that for elder gays (and lesbians) the challenge of finding a sense o f ' i n t e g r i t y ' in our later y e a r s is not just d e p e n d e n t upon a simple life review as Erikson suggested: Obviously gays and lesbians may stay closeted as they grow older for the same reasons they remained so while younger, fear of alienating others, losing a job, etc., but to the extent that gays and lesbians stay closeted they may experience a sense of self-betrayal. This, in turn, makes it difficult to reconcile oneself to the end of life if one feels it has not been openly lived, (pg. 201)  T h e suggestion is that a key focus of practice with elder gay m e n m a y involve a concerted attempt to assist with the development of a sense of integrity given the challenges of living with a g a y identity that exist across the life s p a n .  Rosenfeld's Theory of Gav Identity Cohorts A s mentioned earlier Rosenfeld's (1994) analysis is the basis upon which she accounts for w h y individuals from within the s a m e generational cohort construct different definitions of successful aging observed previously within the literature.  Her  theory is insightful because it a d v a n c e s our theoretical understanding of g a y aging through an appreciation of past and e m e r g e n t historical constructions of homosexuality. I present her theory here because it is foundational to this study in a n s w e r to the question ' H o w does being gay inform the lives of m e n over the age of 65'. Rosenfeld  identifies  two  discourses of  homosexuality that  different constructions of gay identity through time.  represent  two  In each c a s e , an individual  achieves social ' c o m p e t e n c e ' or ' i n c o m p e t e n c e ' based on their a d h e r e n c e to either of  33  the t w o  prevailing discourses of homosexuality. T h e first reflects the  pre-1960's  discourse of homosexuality as ' s t i g m a ' . In this c a s e , homosexuality is understood as a negative aspect of one's character, associated with perversion, pathology, a n d m a d e subject to criminal prosecution. This feature c a n be potentially 'discrediting' of the individual. Homosexual c o m p e t e n c e can be attained  h o w e v e r through  concerted  attempts a t ' p a s s i n g ' as heterosexual, a n d maintaining invisibility as a h o m o s e x u a l . In contrast, one w h o adheres to the stigma based discourse on homosexuality attains homosexual incompetence due to having been 'discredited' through  overt  displays of the 'stigma-associated behavior', a n d failure to conceal homosexuality as a feature of the individual's identity. T h e latter are doubly-stigmatized because they are not just rejected and frowned upon by mainstream society, but are also rejected by the not-yet-discredited  homosexual w h o  needs to avoid contact in order to  not  c o m p r o m i s e their homosexual c o m p e t e n c e . According to Rosenfeld t h e n , there are two identities that e m e r g e out of the discourse of homosexuality as stigma 'discreditable' v e r s u s the 'discredited'. A n adherence to the post-1960's discourse of homosexuality as 'status' offers the surfacing of two different competencies. In this case homosexuality is reconstructed f r o m ' s t i g m a ' to 'status', a feature to be celebrated as a visible, legitimate, and credible feature of identity. It is the basis upon w h i c h gay liberation rejected previous strategies of invisibility a n d discretion in the m a n a g e m e n t of a homosexual identity. In this case c o m p e t e n c e is attained by those w h o view homosexuality as a credible characteristic and m a k e their  34  the  homosexuality visible in all areas of their life, w h e t h e r at work, at h o m e , or within the c o m m u n i t y at large via disclosure. In contrast, the status based discourse v i e w s incompetence as resulting w h e n one views their homosexuality as a credible characteristic, but is selective about w h o one discloses this characteristic to (ex. family only, but not work or community). I have produced a graphical representation of these identity constructs in Appendix 1. Rosenfeld's research bridges the work of past gay aging studies and their t e n d e n c y to j u s t describe various aspects of g a y aging. Her work begins to help develop a d e e p e r understanding of how the construction of gay identity can inform the choices a n d experiences of elder gay m e n through time. T h e focus o n identity e m e r g e s a s a key conceptual tool in understanding the diversity of gay aging experiences that can exist, as well as the m e a n s by which history will inform a n d transform these experiences on an ongoing basis. Social work itself w o u l d benefit f r o m a m o r e holistic understanding of the role that identity plays in 'constructing' issues for practice with gay aging m e n .  Summary  T h i s conceptual context reviewed the concepts of social constructivist versus essentialist approaches to gay identity. This w a s then followed by a definition of heterosexism, h o m o p h o b i a , a n d a g e i s m . A review of both the content and the development of gay aging research w a s concluded with the  35  presentation of three theories that have been introduced to the literature in this area. After reviewing the literature, and understanding that it reflects an evolution of thinking about elder gay lives, there is revealed a gap in the literature that calls for further research. Specifically is the lack of attention to how the aging process for elder gay men is lived and experienced from the point of view of elder gay m e n themselves. While there are references and suggestions that heterosexism, homophobia and ageism influence their experiences, there is little by w a y of concrete evidence that would account for this. T h e r e remains therefore a need to explore how the stories of elder gay m e n in their o w n w o r d s , might help us to d e e p e n our understanding of the reality of gay identity and aging in later life. A l s o , is it possible that as o p p o s e d to phases and stages that are prescribed as a 'typical' process through w h i c h m e n can a g e , a focus on how a gay man constructs his gay identity will make better sense of how he and therefore w e can account for their experiences in later life? From the practice perspective, social workers have little to draw on in seeking to understand more fully w h y an elder gay man may m a k e the choices he d o e s , or voices satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the aging process. T h i s is especially challenging given my earlier reference to those w h o suggest that elder gay m e n cannot be understood according to traditional developmental models of the aging process. By focusing o n the subjective constructions of gay identity that exist, this study helps to  36  identify h o w an elder gay man might make sense of the aging process from his o w n social location, positioning the participant as rightly the expert of his o w n experience. It begins to address the disconnect between what traditional approaches to gay aging research a s s u m e s is a Yeality' of gay aging that exists, as o p p o s e d to the multitude of realities that actually can exist a m o n g s t elder gay m e n . In pursuit of research that would begin to address this gap in the literature, the next chapter presents a discussion of the methodological design that w a s e m p l o y e d in conducting this study.  37  CHAPTER III - METHODOLOGY  T h e following is a discussion of the theory, design a n d methodology I used in seeking an a n s w e r to the question ' h o w has being gay informed the lives of men 65 years of age and o v e r ? Based on this research q u e s t i o n , this chapter first provides a rationale for having selected a qualitative approach to this study. I then describe those theoretical principles that helped underscore my o w n orientation to the research process, the m e a n s by which I proceeded with the selection of participants, as well as the gathering, m a n a g e m e n t a n d analysis of the data that was collected.  Research Approach T h e decision to use a qualitative research approach in this study w a s informed by my need to go beyond being able to identify experiences for the sake of description alone. More importantly, I chose this method because it is most suited for identifying a n d making explicit the perspective of the participant as a w a y of challenging dominant discourses of experience (Morrison, 1993). Minority experiences constitute an important c o m p o n e n t of w h a t is ignored as 'reality' within dominant literature and subsequently the ' k n o w l e d g e ' that is m a d e available to us about minority experiences (Morrison, 1993). T h i s includes elder gay m e n w h o while living a m o n g us, are rendered almost invisible within the gerontological and social work literature. A s mentioned this is because the  38  dominant discourse of aging within the literature is based upon normative heterosexual paths of development that do not acknowledge the experiences of elder gay m e n . Kirby and M c K e n n a (1989) suggest that if the goal of research is to challenge a dominant discourse, then the choice of methodology should ensure that this would take place. T h e y suggest that qualitative research, w h i c h allows for the surfacing of the participants voice, helps to meet this challenge, especially if it is the voice of the participant w h o s e experience is lived on the ' m a r g i n s ' of the status quo. Elder gay m e n live on the margins of the aging experience in so far as their unique issues and challenges are rarely if ever d o c u m e n t e d or a d d r e s s e d . Kirby and M c K e n n a (1989) further suggest that research w h i c h is experientially based leads to greater descriptive power in the resultant analysis. Using a qualitative approach to this study has produced a rich body of narrative that speaks to the aging experience f r o m a standpoint that while alluded to, is rarely discussed in the dominant  literature.  In order to seek answers to the research question, this qualitative research design w a s based upon three lines of philosophical thought. T h e s e include the post-modern idea o f ' s o c i a l constructionism', feminist standpoint theory and the concept of hermeneutical interpretation. I have already discussed social constructionism as the basis upon w h i c h I conducted my literature review in chapter two. Here I also attempted to convey my o w n feeling that how each of us 'constructs' our social world speaks more accurately of how w e therefore  39  experience and make sense of w o r l d . T h i s w a s in contrast to the notion of 'essentia lism' w h i c h would ignore the role that socio-historical forces play in shaping our experience of self a n d others. With respect to elder g a y m e n , understanding how they have c o m e to construct their gay identities is a pivotal goal of the research process. T h e ability to delineate gay identity constructions in accordance with Rosenfeld's (1999) notion of the competing discourses of ' s t i g m a ' versus 'status' is therefore central to this research d e s i g n . A s well as a focus on social constructivism the principles of feminist standpoint theory and hermeneutics w e r e also central to the research process and will now be discussed below.  Feminist Standpoint Theory  Feminist standpoint theory asserts that one's social position, or standpoint, influences that which one experiences and interprets as reality (Swigonski, 1993). This is reflected most often by those w h o s e standpoint dominates or exerts control over w h a t is considered 'the literature'. Feminist standpoint theory is r e c o m m e n d e d for use in social w o r k research 'particularly in understanding the needs of marginalized populations (Swigonski, 1994, as cited in O'Neill, 1998, p g . 128). A s w a s mentioned earlier evidence that speaks to the experiences of elder gay m e n appears to elude the mainstream gerontological and social w o r k  40  literature. T h i s is because their voice has been marginalized by the dominant heterosexist bias that exists within this literature. T h e reality of aging as presented in the literature is a reality that reflects the values, ideas, a n d experiences of a dominant group to which elder gay men are marginalized a n d e x c l u d e d . W h a t w e know of aging is therefore incomplete a n d informed by a limited range of experience. A central purpose of this research is to challenge the d o m i n a n c e of heterosexist knowledge in the gerontological & social work literature and the reality of aging that is therefore portrayed from this perspective. O'Neill (1998) notes that feminist standpoint theory "posits that a better understanding of reality can be achieved by conducting research from the social locations of marginalized groups than from the positions of dominant g r o u p s " (pg. 131). Exploring aging from the standpoint of elder gay men may help not only to further our understanding of elder gay m e n themselves as a marginalized group. By virtue of their social location as s u c h , surfacing the standpoint of elder gay m e n may in fact help to expand our understanding of aging as a w h o l e . T h e standpoint of elder gay men will involve more than just the identification of a 'perspective' per s e . Instead, their standpoint will be reflected in identifying the presence of heterosexist and ageist ideologies as they have impacted the experiences of the participants. T h i s is not to suggest h o w e v e r that there is an 'essential' standpoint that reflects the location of elder gay men in society. W h a t is considered here however is that as a g r o u p , there is a n essential  41  m a s s of individuals k n o w n as elder gay m e n , w h o s e age a n d sexual identity converge upon one another to inform w h a t they experience a n d how they m a k e sense of themselves a n d others. A s Rosenfeld (1999) has alluded to the standpoint of elder gay m e n may also represent a diversity of constructions that are based o n the essential ideologies of heterosexism a n d a g e i s m . Exploring this standpoint will assist in the d e v e l o p m e n t of knowledge that can only further our understanding of aging as a social process.  Hermeneutics T h e research design used in this study has a s its basis the interpretation o f ' t e x t ' produced in part as a result of the interviews that took place with three m e n . T h e concept o f ' t e x t ' however is extended to mean not only the recorded words of e a c h participant, but as well evidence of a ' d i s c o u r s e ' with w h i c h e a c h participant appeared to interact, enact, a n d duplicate through the presentation of their experiences. Hermeneutics is the study of the interpretation of this text (Kvale, 1996). It's goal is to allow for a greater understanding of the meaning of lived experience, beyond just description alone. A philosophical a s s u m p t i o n of hermeneutics is that experience a n d the m e a n s by w h i c h w e c o n v e y experience to others has meaning that can be studied a n d interpreted.  Hermeneutics is  therefore at once both a philosophical idea a n d a methodology (Kvale, 1996). A s a m e t h o d , hermeneutics involves a n iterative process of identifying the story of a participant as a ' w h o l e ' as a basis of making sense of, and d e e p e n i n g  42  a n understanding of the individual part's of his story. A ' s p i r a l ' of activity is e n g a g e d as questions are asked of e a c h part of the story which therefore contributes to the overall understanding of the story as a w h o l e . In other w o r d s in order to appreciate any single part of the narrative as a story, a n d its' m e a n i n g to the experience of the individual, it must be interpreted in 'context' with the narrative as a whole (Kvale, 1 9 9 6 ; V a n M a a n e n , 1997). A g a i n , this requires a constant immersion in the data a n d a back a n d forth process of m o v e m e n t in analysis w h e r e the researcher m o v e s in and out of the d a t a , constantly linking different sections of the story to the narrative as a w h o l e . In e n g a g i n g this iterative process, or the hermeneutic spiral, contradictions are sought and inform the validity of interpretations through the analytic process. A hermeneutic 'explication' of the text can be an infinite process though it tends to e n d w h e n a meaning has been determined that is free of contradictions from any part of the text (Kvale, 1996). T h e influence of hermeneutics supported my ability to focus on the construction of identity as a unit of analysis throughout the narratives of e a c h participant. In order to identify the general overall t h e m e of e a c h participants story, it b e c a m e necessary to identify evidence of the competing discourses of stigma v e r s u s status-based gay identity. T h e interpretation of each participant's story e m a n a t e d from the presence of the identified discourse. T h e meaning of their experiences w a s then attached to the prevailing discourse that a p p e a r e d to  43  ground their gay identity. A n understanding of h o w each constructed their experiences as elder gay men w a s t h e n possible.  Recruiting the Participants  This study w a s conducted throughout the Lower Mainland of British Columbia. T h r e e participants w e r e recruited using a ' s n o w b a l l i n g ' technique in w h i c h the author sent email correspondence to friends and acquaintances w h o it w a s felt might have contact with m e n required and suitable for participation in this study. Kirby a n d M c K e n n a (1989) suggest that use of the snowball technique, especially through the use of friends a n d colleagues w o r k s well with researchers trying to access gay and lesbian s a m p l e s without having to rely on the poor response rates found as a result of advertisements and posters. T h i s corresponds to others w h o have previously found success with this approach in conducting research with elder gay m e n ( Q u a l m & W i t f o r d , 1 9 9 2 ; A d e l m a n , 1 9 9 1 ; Bennet & T h o m p s o n , 1 9 9 1 ; K i m m e l , 1979) In all cases cited, the snowballing technique e m p l o y e d with each pre-dated the availability of electronic mail. Email correspondence notified friends a n d colleagues of the purpose of the study, the criteria for participation, along with a request to approach a n y o n e w h o they felt might be suitable a n d / o r interested in participating. In order to contribute to the confidentiality of the participants, it w a s m a d e clear to the  44  recipient of the email correspondence that the author w o u l d not indicate w h e t h e r o r not a prospective participant c h o s e to contact the author o r p r o c e e d e d to participate in the study. A 'criterion-based' sampling method w a s employed for selecting candidates for participation. T h i s m e t h o d w a s c h o s e n a s it is s e e n as working best w h e n trying to recruit m e m b e r s of a population w h o have all experienced the p h e n o m e n o n being studied (Creswell, 1998). In this case the criteria specified that participants had to be 65 years of age or over, self-identified as 'gay', a n d be willing to share what experiences they considered significant in v i e w of these two characteristics. T h e choice to concentrate on m e n v e r s u s w o m e n w a s informed by the knowledge that g e n d e r has been s h o w n to be significant in the experience of gay aging ( A r o n s o n , 1 9 9 9 ; B r o w n , 1 9 9 8 ; Morris, 1 9 9 7 ; Whitford, 1 9 9 7 ; Gallagher, 1 9 9 6 ; Y o u n g , 1 9 9 6 ; Q u a m , 1992).  Further,  S w a n s o n (1998) noted that 'qualitative research that is g e n d e r specific can assist in providing a better understanding of the aging experience for senior m e n ' .  The Sample  T h r e e m e n in total w e r e recruited for this study. T h e choice of three m e n represented the c o m m i t m e n t of the author to accept as a ' g i v e n ' that an exploration of elder g a y male experiences w a s worthwhile, in s o far as it w o u l d help illustrate how practice with this population could be m a d e more effective. By  45  virtue of the size of the sample u s e d , it is not implied nor suggested that these stories should be considered representative of the general population of elder gay m e n . Further, the choice of a s a m p l e size of three w a s appropriate as the intent w a s not to generalize findings ( S a n d e l o w s k i , 1995). A g a i n , Berger (1982) has noted that it is in fact impossible to ever find a representative sample d u e to the difficulty of ever knowing with absolute certainty h o w many elder gay m e n exist. T h e r e f o r e , as opposed to representation a n d an ability to generalize, the intent of this study w a s to offer social work a portrait of the elder gay m a n beyond what mostly quantitative studies of yet been able to reveal with any depth . Participants ranged in age from 65 to 74 a n d reside within the Lower Mainland of British C o l u m b i a . Only one participant o w n e d his o w n h o m e . O n e shared a rented apartment with a partner, while the other lived in subsidized housing for senior citizens. Of the three m e n interviewed, two had been married for at least 20 years. Of these t w o , one w a s still legally married, though having not lived with his wife for almost 15 y e a r s , while another had been amicably divorced from his wife for over 20 years. T h e s e s a m e two e a c h had three children. T w o participants felt that they had been gay all their life a n d had explored s a m e sex activity during their childhood a n d a d o l e s c e n c e . A third participant had not acted on his s a m e sex desires until well into his adulthood. O n e participant contacted the author after having been referred by a friend w h o  46  had forwarded the author's original email notification. T w o participants g a v e permission to a referring source to be contacted directly by the author. In e a c h c a s e , a first contact with the individuals w h o e x p r e s s e d an interest in participating in this study w a s m a d e by phone. During this first conversation I reiterated the focus of the study, the criteria for participation, the data collection and data analysis methods to be u s e d , as well as the confidentiality provisions that w o u l d be o b s e r v e d throughout the duration of the study. T h i s offered the opportunity for participants to confirm their a g e , a n d w h e t h e r or not they self-described themselves as being 'gay'. Participants w e r e then invited to negotiate a time a n d location in which to conduct o n e - t o - o n e interviews. All participants requested that the interviewing take place in their h o m e , which I w a s comfortable with. A date and time w a s set for this interview along with an a g r e e m e n t that the interview w o u l d be tape-recorded and later transcribed. It should be noted that aside from the three m e n w h o actually w e n t o n to participate in the study, three other m e n contacted the writer to express an interest in participating. In two c a s e s , the author declined participation d u e to these individuals existing below the age requirement of 6 5 . In the third c a s e , an individual had initially agreed to take part in the study, but later declined to participate as he expressed concern that as he w a s married and living with his wife he did not feel that the study could safeguard his anonymity, despite the m e c h a n i s m s for the e m p l o y m e n t of confidentiality that w e r e used.  47  The Interview Process O n c e at the interview location I proceeded through a 'check-list' of tasks to be completed a n d information to be shared prior to engaging in the actual interview itself. This w a s important in order to ensure that the t e r m s of participation in the study w e r e completely understood by e a c h participant, as well as to familiarize e a c h with process that w o u l d unfold following that interview. This 'pre-interview p h a s e ' included reviewing a n information letter that reiterated the purpose and goal of the study, as well as the review a n d signing of a consent form (See A p p e n d i x 1 a n d 2 respectively for a sample of e a c h ) . In order to verify that the contents and implications of the consent form w e r e understood by e a c h participant, the author required e a c h to state in their o w n words the contents of the consent form they had just read. T h e author agreed to clarify any area of the consent form that had not been recalled by the participant or understood though this w a s not necessary in e a c h case. O n agreeing with the t e r m s of the consent letter, copies of the consent form w e r e each signed by the author and the participant. A copy w a s provided to the participant for their records, while the author retained a separate signed copy. T h e information letter w a s to e n s u r e that aside from our initial telephone contact, e a c h participant had as m u c h opportunity as possible to ensure that they w e r e acquainted with the focus of the study.  48  A s well as reviewing a n d signing the consent f o r m , participants w e r e familiarized with the actual interview process that w a s about to take place. A s mentioned earlier, this also included a discussion of the author's follow-up process with respect to the transcribing a n d analyzing of the data collected. Participants w e r e informed that they w e r e free to not a n s w e r any question during the interview that they might feel uncomfortable w i t h , and that they could terminate both the interview and their participation at any point throughout the entire duration of the study. Participants w e r e also reminded that in transcribing their interviews, p s e u d o n y m s would be used in place of any real n a m e s . It w a s also agreed that any other identifying characteristics such as city n a m e s , family n a m e s , or w o r k - p l a c e locations w o u l d be disguised in their transcripts to the satisfaction of e a c h participant. Each w a s a s k e d to consider receiving a copy of their transcript as well as a copy of the final report and all agreed to e a c h . Further, e a c h participant agreed that following an initial review of their transcript, the author could contact t h e m for a follow-up interview in order to review preliminary findings, as well as to a d d , delete, or a m e n d any part of the original transcript requiring alteration. Finally, participants w e r e invited to clarify concerns they might have h a d . T h e r e being no further issues that required review or clarification at that point, the interview then p r o c e e d e d . A s stated earlier, o n e - o n - o n e interviews w e r e conducted in the h o m e of each participant and recorded using a hand-held S o n y cassette-recorder. A o n e -  49  to-one interview allowed for a free e x c h a n g e of ideas, w a s more p e r s o n a l , a n d in the case of m e n is found to be ' s a f e r ' ( S w a n s o n , 1998). Further, interviewing allowed for an o p e n a c k n o w l e d g e m e n t of the researcher's experience a n d its ability to contribute to the d a t a , a principle advocated by Kirby a n d M c K e n n a (1989) that honors the authors preference that the researcher not exist as a distant, objective force in the research process. Data w e r e generated as a result of four main questions. T h e y included: 1. C a n y o u describe h o w it w a s that y o u c a m e to identify yourself as ' g a y ? 2. C a n y o u describe your experience as an elder gay m a n n o w ? 3. H o w d o e s your age a n d sexual orientation contribute to y o u r hopes a n d fears as y o u grow older? 4. Based on your experience, w h a t should social workers or other health care professionals learn about w h a t is most significant to y o u in your life?  A s Denzin (1989) notes, the interview situation is an opportunity for the research participant to enact the 'fiction' that is their story. In this w a y the suggestion is that no matter what the questions that are a s k e d , especially in the context of a semi-structured interview, participants will tend to tell their story as they have created it regardless. T h i s is not to suggest however that no specificity in the design of research questions should exist. T h e first question w a s used to understand h o w the participants m a d e sense of their gay identity in the past and at this time in their life. A g a i n , the  50  need to identify the discourse of g a y identity that each has a d o p t e d , as a m e a n s of understanding h o w e a c h made sense of their experiences w a s a basis for having each participant provide an a n s w e r to this question. T h e second question w a s to ensure that as age w a s a focus of this study, that those issues a n d experiences that w e r e reflective of their current life stage could be revealed. T h e third question w a s asked in order to determine whether not just the past or present, but as well the future w a s relevant to the m e a n s by which e a c h participant constructed what w a s relevant to their experiences. Finally, as this research w a s directed at enhancing social work practice, the fourth question w a s posed in an attempt to specifically tie the stories of e a c h participant to social work practice directly. At t i m e s , instead of asking a question exactly as w o r d e d a b o v e , I w o u l d reword the questions in a w a y that suited the context of dialogue that h a d preceded its introduction. Probes w e r e used to illicit further data w h e n it w a s felt that either the participant did not understand a question that had b e e n a s k e d , or w a s not able to a n s w e r . Examples of probes w e r e ' c a n y o u say a little more about that' or ' h o w do y o u make sense of t h a t ? At the conclusion of e a c h interview, participants w e r e a s k e d to s h a r e a n y thoughts they felt h a d not b e e n covered by the interview up until that point prior to the tape recorder turning off. Participants w e r e e n c o u r a g e d to discuss any aspect of their life they felt had relevance to the question of how being gay had informed their lives. A g a i n , I began by reviewing the process of h o w e a c h experienced the evolving  51  a w a r e n e s s of their gay identity a n d w h e r e they e a c h felt they w e r e at with this today. My assumption w a s that the presence of a gay identity w o u l d inform their experience a n d outlook, though I w a s o p e n to hearing, as I d i d , that for s o m e the dimension of age itself had far more bearing on their day to day experiences than that of their gay identity. Follow up interviews took place again in the h o m e of e a c h participant. Prior to this interview, I provided a copy of a transcript from the first interview with a request for any feedback, additions, or deletions they w i s h e d to m a k e . A s is discussed in the section on 'credibility' this offered a w a y to strive for increased validity in the interpretation of the d a t a . T h e interview format for the s e c o n d interview consisted of my asking the participant to state anything that appeared to be 'left over' from t h e first interview, while also clarifying any information that w a s absent from the original transcript.  Data Management  Following e a c h interview one duplicate of e a c h tape-recording w a s prepared in the event that the original w a s accidentally destroyed or misplaced. Each of the interviews w e r e t h e n transcribed by the s a m e , paid transcriptionist.  Instructions  to the transcriptionist w e r e to transcribe the recording v e r b a t i m , including any pauses, 'false starts', or other notable utterances like 'uh's or uhms'. T h e purpose of this verbatim transcription w a s to ensure that w h e n reviewing the  52  transcript, any unusual points of hesitation, reflection, or stagnation could be noted. O n receiving copies of the transcribed interview, I reviewed the transcript while listening to the audio-taped recording several times to verify that the recording w a s v e r b a t i m . In one c a s e , due to the nature of the participants v o i c e , there w e r e s o m e areas that w e r e not audible by either the transcriptionist myself a n d w e r e left blank as indicated by a straight underscore of approximately 7 to 9 characters in length. A n y identifying information w a s omitted or c h a n g e d . T h e second interview offered an opportunity to receive direct feedback from e a c h participant with respect to any additions, deletions or a m e n d m e n t s e a c h m a y have w i s h e d to m a k e .  Data Analysis  A 'holistic-content' a p p r o a c h to narrative analysis w a s u s e d in this study based upon the ideas of Lieblich, T u v a l - M a s h i a c h , & Zibler (1998). T h i s supported my belief that it is only through a study of the narrative that w e c a n gain access to how the 'inner w o r l d ' of the individual might be informed by their experience in the larger world around t h e m (Lieblich, T u v a l - M a s h i a c h , & Zibler, 1998). T h i s also reinforces my belief that the search for 'identity' is the primary center of analysis in understanding how individuals will c o m e to construct their experiences. Lieblich et. al (1998) state " T h e story is one's identity, a story c r e a t e d , told, revised, and retold throughout life. W e k n o w or discover ourselves,  53  a n d reveal ourselves to others, by the stories w e t e l l " (pg. 7). T h i s is not to suggest however that the story that is told a n d t h e n interpreted represents an 'essential' portrayal of a point of v i e w , nor that it is impossible to organize conceptually ideas across stories from individuals like elder gay m e n , w h o have s o m e experiences in c o m m o n . Instead, the story is seen as a construction m a d e around a 'core set of facts or life e v e n t s ' that still allows for individuality to surface in the w a y in w h i c h it is expressed (Lieblich et. a l , 1998 p g . 8). Employing the use of a holistic-content based narrative analysis allows for an explication of both the unique standpoint of a group while at the s a m e time honoring the n u a n c e s of the individual w h o exists a n d constructs himself as a result of the unique context of that group. In accordance with this approach to narrative analysis I reviewed e a c h transcript several times in order to generate an understanding of the ' f o c i ' of the story, looking for a global pattern, t h e m e , or issue to e m e r g e , that in s o m e w a y represented e a c h participants story as a ' w h o l e ' (Lieblich, T u v a l - M a s h i a c h & Zilber: 1998). I then reviewed the transcript to determine contradictions as they e m e r g e d by w a y of departure points from the main foci, as a m e a n s of challenging the authenticity of my interpretation of the main foci itself. T h e foci w e r e t h e n ' p o s i t i o n e d ' in reference to the research question ' h o w can being gay inform the lives of m e n 65 years of age and over'. At this point I attempted to draw out those dimensions of each participant's experience that might speak to the research question via the 'context' of the stories from which they surfaced. I w a s interested in allowing for  54  the stories of the participants to be h e a r d , while at the s a m e time setting the stage for a discussion of relevant issues related to practice with this population later o n . Large bodies of text w e r e isolated that in any w a y spoke to the four main questions of the interview. I recorded w h e n they e m e r g e d with respect to the global context of the interview itself. I w a n t e d to both appreciate a n d give voice to the experiences of the participants 'within context' to the story that e a c h told. T h e relevance that specific experiences had for e a c h participant w a s given more weight w h e n it w a s allowed to be presented in its original context. Following an analysis of the d a t a , I e n g a g e d in a 'retelling' of e a c h participants story in order to convey a s e q u e n c e of events in the chronological order in which they occurred. T h i s w a s to provide the reader with an understanding of the general set of life events experienced by each participant. T h i s then allowed for the identification of significant experiences in context to w h e n and w h e r e they a p p e a r e d . Following the second interview, e a c h participant w a s provided a copy of the 'retelling' of their story, a n d c h a n g e s w e r e m a d e according to any feedback they g a v e in response to this. Finally, t h e m e s emanating from e a c h story w e r e identified. Each t h e m e w a s identified w h e n it a p p e a r e d that within the overall story of e a c h participant, a thread or pattern of experience e m e r g e d as central to that participant's overall story. For e x a m p l e , w h e n it appeared that religion a n d the language of religion w e r e a recurring presence in the w a y that R o g e r c o n v e y e d himself a n d his story, it w a s decided that this represented a t h e m e a n d w a s therefore discussed as  55  s u c h . T h e s e t h e m e s w e r e also discussed with respect to their relationship with the literature o n g a y aging that exists, as well as for the implications for social work practice that e m e r g e d . T h e latter will be discussed in Chapter Four.  Credibility Maxwell (1996) describes several risks to the validity of analysis in qualitative d a t a . O f these he mentions the risk to 'interpretation' w h e r e b y the author imposes his/her a g e n d a on to w h a t has been said. A s a strategy to guard against this, s o m e suggest conducting ' m e m b e r c h e c k s ' (Creswell, 1998; M a x w e l l , 1996). M e m b e r checks involve 'systematically soliciting feeback about one's data a n d conclusions from the people y o u are s t u d y i n g ' ( M a x w e l l , 1996 p g . 94). A s mentioned earlier, I conducted a follow-up interview with e a c h participant, w h e r e their original transcript w a s r e v i e w e d , a s well a s m y preliminary findings. Further, as w a s also m e n t i o n e d , I provided e a c h participant with a copy of 'their story' in order to check that the interpretations contained within each w e r e seen as valid for e a c h participant. T h e ability to ' m e m b e r check' assisted greatly in determining w h e t h e r my interpretations of their data w e r e correct or not. In order to review specific findings within each transcript, the author b e c a m e c o n c e r n e d that there m a y have b e e n limited opportunity to assess the value of these findings reliant purely o n the author's thoughts a n d m e m b e r checking alone. T h e author therefore e m p l o y e d the use o f peer review a n d  56  debriefing' in order to provide an external c h e c k of the research process that w a s used (Creswell, 1998). In this case the author consulted regularly with a peer conducting qualitative research in another a r e a , to review ideas g e n e r a t e d from the analysis, and to seek alternative explanations for these ideas, or alternative w a y s of viewing the results other than w h a t the author had presented to this peer. T h i s w a s helpful in keeping the author focused on the research q u e s t i o n , instead of falling vulnerable to the distractive merits of wanting to deconstruct areas of each transcript not relevant to this study. Finally, with respect to another aspect of validity, the writer has e m p l o y e d the use of a ' r i c h , thick description' (Creswell: 1998) to ensure that the reader has the opportunity to consider w h e t h e r this research is 'transferable' to other settings. In keeping with the author's c o m m i t m e n t to introducing the V o i c e ' of elder gay m e n into the gerontological literature, verbatim quotes have been used in large quantity with ample opportunity to hear directly from the participants themselves about their experiences. T h e hope is that the stories that are contained are not merely just d e s c r i b e d , but organized in such a w a y as to promote a deeper level of understanding with respect to the experience of living as an elder gay m a n .  Summary  T h e Methodology used for this study allowed for an analysis of h o w being gay can affect the lives of m e n 65 years of age and over. Feminist standpoint  57  theory supported my n e e d to appreciate the unique social location of e a c h of the participants of this study, in so far as this standpoint spoke to the experience of a g i n g . T h e use of a holistic content approach to narrative analysis, aligned with the hermeneutic process of circling in a n d out of the data ensured that the t h e m e s that w e r e identified within a n d across all stories w e r e not devoid of the context in w h i c h they w e r e c o n n e c t e d . Finally, by engaging the participants in more than o n e interview, and providing t h e m with the opportunity to review my findings related to their stories allowed for a higher level of credibility with the findings that w e r e g e n e r a t e d . T h i s ultimately supported the authenticity of the stories told from the standpoint of each participant, as well as the results of the findings that are offered in the following chapter.  58  CHAPTER IV - FINDINGS  Introduction T h e following is a presentation of findings based on the three interviews conducted for this study. For e a c h story, I introduce the participant with a brief description of their chronological life history. A s part of this introduction I attempt to orient the reader to the general focus of their story. Following this, I present a Y e - t e l l i n g ' of the stories in order to provide a contextual understanding of how e a c h participant has c o m e to construct their respective identities as gay m e n . T h r o u g h the re-telling of these stories, I include the identification of key t h e m e s that speak to the means by w h i c h the construction of e a c h identity has informed their lives as m e n 65 years of a g e a n d over. In this w a y , the salience of gay identity is m e r g e d with an understanding of aging as a c o m p l e m e n t a r y force in the construction of e a c h participant's identity as an elder g a y m a n . Direct quotations are used frequently throughout e a c h story. W h e n e v e r I have included t h e s e , their quotes a p p e a r verbatim in the form of indented italics. Should the nuance of a w o r d or phrase within a particular quote run the risk of being a m b i g u o u s or s o m e h o w not immediately apparent, I have attempted w h e r e possible to use non-italicized ' s q u a r e - b r a c k e t s ' in order to provide clarity for the reader. T h e following then are the stories of E d w a r d , R o g e r , a n d G e o r g e .  59  Edward's Storv: Pushing Clouds Awav  Edward is a 71 y e a r old m a n , born in the 1930's within the racially segregated south of the United States. His mother w a s a laborer w h o w o r k e d m a n y j o b s to support E d w a r d , his y o u n g e r brother, and his alcoholic father. T h e family w a s heavily entrenched within the Southern Baptist religious c o m m u n i t y in w h i c h Edward w a s raised. At the age of 18 he joined the Air force w h e r e he met and married his wife with w h o m he later had three children, including a son and two y o u n g e r daughters. After leaving the Air Force, Edward w o r k e d as the m i d d l e - m a n a g e r of a communications c o m p a n y prior to retiring at the age of 6 5 . Just prior to retiring Edward a n d his wife separated w h e n Edward decided to fully claim his gay identity.  In the early 1990's Edward met Mark, n o w a g e d 4 5  w h o has been his partner ever since a n d with w h o m he now lives. Both of our interviews together lasted approximately 2 V i hours. I w a s struck by t w o things w h e n I arrived at Edward's h o m e for the first interview. First w a s an e n o r m o u s photographic portrait of a U S Marine that hangs immediately inside the doorway to his apartment. It is unavoidable to a n y o n e w h o enters. S e c o n d , w a s the noticeable southern drawl in Edward's speech as he spoke to m e , and the fact that this s e e m e d to inject a unique sense of character into the story that he shared with m e . Edward's j o u r n e y from the harsh social climate in which he first b e c a m e aware of his s a m e - s e x orientation, to his present day life as an openly g a y m a n allows us to witness the transformation of a sexual identity from that of a  60  ' s t i g m a ' to a 'status'. T h r o u g h o u t the course of our t w o interviews, I w a s t a k e n with the extent of the cultural a n d psychological heterosexism that E d w a r d w a s forced to deal with at such an early age. I w a s also made aware of the resilience of Edward's spirit in finally being able to claim his identity as a g a y m a n in later life. A s an elder gay m a n his experience of aging appears to be secondary to that of his life as a g a y m a n . He shared m a n y thoughts about h o w being g a y has informed his life, particularly with respect to health care, religion, life satisfaction, family, and his relationship with Mark.  Recounting Edward's Story-  At the beginning of our first interview,  Edward had trouble talking about his childhood stating "I really didn't have a childhood. Terrible things happened that I w o u l d just as well like to forget". He m a d e sense of this by agreeing to reach back to w h a t he could r e m e m b e r a n d felt comfortable sharing with m e . His story begins with an early a w a r e n e s s that something w a s 'different'. Edward recalls being aware of his attraction for other males quite early in his life. He r e m e m b e r s first interpreting t h e s e feelings as ' n o r m a l ' . I knew that I was gay when I was probably seven or eight years old. I didn't know what gay meant then, but I knew I was different and I knew that I was attracted to other boys. And during that time of course I participated in activities that are normal for boys at that age, to experiment with each other [sexually] and play with each other and this type thing.  61  Edward recalls how he gradually internalized the negative stigma attached to his s a m e - s e x orientation. It is interesting to note that during the interview, as Edward increasingly reconnected with this experience, he actually changes the terminology he uses to refer to himself f r o m ' g a y ' to 'queer', the latter t e r m carrying a negative connotation.  I began to have lots of feelings about being uh, broken or defective and, you know, having something wrong with me instead of accepting it as who and what I was. So, I just knew that it meant I was queer, but didn't know how to deal with it other than to keep it internalized in myself, knowing it myself but not being able to discuss it or tell anyone else. I was just a kid, you know?.  C o m p o u n d i n g the early need to guard against a n y o n e finding out that he w a s queer, w e r e other pressures in his childhood that he recalls vividly.  My dad was an alcoholic, so we grew up in a malfunctioning home. You know a home that was full of controversy because of my Dad's drinking. My mother had to work all the time to support the family and bring money into the house in order for us to have a place to live, have food and clothing.. . Consequently I had to become like a father to my brother. I was responsible for him, and had to look after him. And if he got into  62  trouble I was the one who was punished, not him. So it was my responsibility to monitor his activities and keep him out of trouble.  Edward's need to protect his mother f r o m any more s h a m e than she had already suffered due to Edward's father, c a m e to echo the personal anguish he experienced in needing to hide the s h a m e that he felt within himself.  The reason why I never got in trouble was I never wanted to embarrass my Mother. I was embarrassed to bring people to my home because we were poor and I didn't, you know want people to see where I lived. I was afraid to do things or take chances, or do things that other kids did because I didn't want to embarrass my Mom or be an embarrassment to the family in any way. So I did everything I could to avoid people, or having them come over or seeing how everything really was inside our house.  Feeling ' b r o k e n ' , 'defective', and living in a 'malfunctioning h o m e ' consolidated within Edward the nurturance of a negative self-concept. In an emotional part of our second interview, I w a s taken aback by the extent to which this negative self-concept e v e n projected itself onto the feelings Edward had about his appearance at the time.  I thought I was ugly, I thought I was unattractive...  I had these negative  feelings about myself. I just felt I was not a nice person to be around,  63  afraid to smile even because when I grew up as a young boy my teeth were all rotten in the front. I felt ugly inside and I know it showed.  I asked Edward if looking back he r e m e m b e r e d how he learned to feel badly about being 'queer'. He answered almost immediately, citing the c o m p o u n d i n g influences of the Southern Baptist Church within which he w a s raised, the psychiatric profession, as well as his exposure to the heterosexist behavior of his peers and c o m m u n i t y . Well, to me, its because I attended church regularly that it became issue that I was queer, and it was not normal.  an  Back when I was a young  man, if they found out you were gay they would send you to the psychiatrist  or whatever and they would run you through these shock  treatments  and everything and they were all set to change you, and say  you know, this is a problem you are sick in the head, and we, we got to cure this...,  So, I just knew I was queer and I put up with all the jokes  and remarks they used make.  Edward's exposure to the forces of cultural heterosexism began to express itself as well after joining the military at the age of 18. J was extremely afraid of being discovered I been discovered  that I was queer, because  when I was in the Air Force I of course would  64  have  had  been given a dishonorable discharge and it probably would have ruined my life. So I just didn't do anything all that time with anyone. Not once.  T h e stigma attached to being q u e e r led to Edward's decision to marry shortly after joining t h e air-force. H e tellingly portrays t h e conflict h e e x p e r i e n c e d with the decision, a clear divide between the need to a n s w e r to the cultural pressure to be married, versus living according to the truth of w h o he really felt he w a s . I met her at First Baptist Church and at that point in time I knew I was queer and I felt that I shouldn't get married. I was torn between what I should do for myself and what I should do for the rest of the world.  He rationalized his decision to marry by hoping that marriage w o u l d put an e n d to his s a m e - s e x desires. I said to myself you know, I guess I'll fall in love with my wife. You know, I'll get married and these feelings will go away and I can be straight and live a normal life.  Edward recalls that he w a s faithful throughout his marriage until all three of his children w e r e full grown a n d had m o v e d out of the house. At that t i m e , he describes h o w " t h o s e feelings I had suppressed j u s t gained in intensity a n d I couldn't ignore t h e m a n y m o r e " . W h e n a reassignment at work allowed him to  65  travel to different cities, he began to explore his sexual desire for other m e n .  In  his mid-50's Edward fell in love with a man w h o quite soon after rejected him. His anguish at this rejection, and the obvious change in his m o o d at h o m e that resulted culminated in the eventual disclosure to his wife that he w a s gay. T o his surprise, his wife only asked that he not leave her, and that they carry o n as before as if they w e r e a typical married couple. T h e effect of having married a m a n that she thought w a s heterosexual m a y have had more of an impact on Edward's wife than her initial response to his disclosure w o u l d have indicated. In J a n u a r y of 1983 she unsuccessfully attempted suicide through an overdose of medication. It w a s on this occasion that he found c a u s e to disclose to his children that he w a s g a y in a n attempt to account for w h y his wife had been so unhappy. Edward helped her in her physical recovery from the suicide attempt. With an a g r e e m e n t that things w e r e simply not working in their marriage, Edward m o v e d out of their h o m e shortly after this incident, only to return again a n d not m a k e a final m o v e to leave his marriage until 6 years later in 1989. T h e final decision to m o v e in 1989 arrived after Edward decided to explore w h y he s e e m e d to continually c o m p r o m i s e his o w n happiness by trying to meet the needs of others in his life.  I began to seek ways of dealing with what I was going through and I joined a support group for codependency which I attended every week. I found out there were a lot of other people who were just like me that had  66  the same feelings. Some were gay, some were straight, some had other issues in their life and uh, it was an intense recovery program that helped me deal with my sexuality, with my marriage, with the fact that I was a codependent who was attracted to people who were users...  I realized  that because I was gay, things had to change if I was going to be happy, it gave me the courage to make the final decision to move out and separate myself from my wife.  By this time, E d w a r d , w a s in his mid-sixties. T h r o u g h the support g r o u p he realized that his need to always focus on pleasing others w a s b a s e d in part on his earlier decision a s a y o u n g m a n to prevent people f r o m focusing o n himself, a n d the truth of w h o he really w a s . T h e support group w a s also a turning point for Edward as it w a s the point at w h i c h he began to challenge the stigma of being 'queer'. W e s e e this again through the subtle but significant choice in the above quotation w h e r e Edward now starts referring to himself as ' g a y ' , not queer. His contact with m e n w e r e through friendships he had d e v e l o p e d , as well as through casual sexual contacts he w a s able to m a k e , though he no longer felt guilty about the latter. In trying to protect himself from any further c o n s e q u e n c e of 'living for others' he lost interest in his desire to s e e k a significant relationship with another m a n .  67  I had reached the point where I had put up fences, I had put up space, I had put up alarms systems and nobody was going to get close to me again unless I wanted them to be close. I was tired of hurting myself and everyone else. So that's another thing I had done. I put up all these defense systems to keep people from getting too close to me. .  It w a s t h r o u g h his introduction to Mark that Edward for the first time w a s able to safely assert his o w n needs within the context of a relationship. After several m o n t h s together Edward discovered that Mark w a s f r o m C a n a d a , temporarily on a student v i s a , and w o u l d eventually have to leave to return to C a n a d a . It gave Edward a sense of urgency in considering w h a t place Mark should have in his life, and given all that he had g o n e t h r o u g h , the decision understandably did not c o m e easily.  It was difficult for me to make the decision to move to Canada. I mean I had to do a lot of thinking about that. And I had no idea what lay ahead. It was like uh, a mystery out there. You know here was someone who wanted me in his life, and I wanted him in my life, and the only way that could happen was for me to come here and live.... I finally realized that I had found someone in my life who wasn't a user, who didn't want to take me for everything that I had, or steal from me, or take whatever they could get and run. I had somebody in my life who really cared for me and loved me. And that's who I had been looking for all those years that I got  68  involved in the unhealthy relationships with other gay men, while I was still living with my wife, and after I had left my wife.  If one w o n d e r s w h y a man in his late 60's chooses to leave not only his family, including three children, and several grand children, as well his country in order to live with another m a n , Edward helps us understand this in reflecting on the meaning that his relationship with Mark has for him. In this, w e see that the decision to m o v e to C a n a d a w a s not only an answer for his longing for a loving relationship, but also served as the opportunity to affirm how he had c o m e to reconstruct a stigma-based homosexual identity, into a newly claimed gay identity that could express itself positively in his life.  What I have discovered is that I am Jim. lama  very loving, caring  person, that I am a giving person, that I am gay, I have accepted the fact that I am gay. And that is the, I guess the one step that I had to take was to admit to myself that I was gay, and take responsibility for that, and also live my life as a gay person and that is what I am doing now is living my life as a gay person...  I have someone in my life who loves me, and I  love him. And I'm completely comfortable with who I am, and I have no more of those guilt feelings that I used to have. I have no more shame or anger about things that happened in my life that I had no control over, that I had to deal with and set aside and get on with the here and now.. .  69  J am comfortable with who I am, and what I am, and who I am with, and where I am. I am happier than I have ever been.  T o d a y , Edward s e e m s to spend a lot of time looking back on his life. A t t i m e s he connects with the impact that growing up in a heterosexist a t m o s p h e r e had on his d e v e l o p m e n t as a gay m a n . In having positively reconstructed his identity, Edward's review of his life appears also to involve an ongoing reconstruction of those forces that had initially had a negative impact on him. He sees a different ' E d w a r d ' now than he w a s able to in the past.  When I look back on pictures of myself as a young boy and a young man, I think I was actually a really nice looking, attractive young man, but I just never felt that at the time because I had all these negative feelings about myself I couldn't get rid of.  He reflects back on the choices that he m a d e in his life, and w o n d e r s how things might have been different w e r e he to have claimed his gay identity earlier. It is as if he is searching for a sense of integrity with the choices he made.  There are a lot of things that I would like to have done as a gay person when I was younger. In other words, had I been able to come out and find another gay person in my life and establish a relationship even before my children were grown. You know I may have been willing to do that. I  70  don't know. I look back and I wonder why did I wait until my kids were gone and it was just my wife and me before I decided to make a change in my life? So you know I took the responsibilities that I had assumed and did the best that I could with them and all my kids did grow up to be beautiful people and have beautiful families. So I feel that I was a good Dad, even though I was secretly a gay Dad. I was still a good Dad and took care of my family and provided for them and saw that they got an education and, and uhm assumed my responsibilities. But in so doing, I lost sight of who I was and at a very late age in my life had to deal with that and face the issue and do something about it which I consider that I had the courage to do that, you know it took courage for me to do that. Cause I knew that it was going to hurt someone and most assuredly would hurt my wife, you know and, and I am sure it did. I feel bad about that, but that is just the way it was.  He has also found time to reconstruct t h e place of religion a n d the Bible in his life. He is especially vocal about this with his daughters about their faithbased v i e w of homosexuality.  My daughters still have a great deal of difficulty with my being gay, uh, because they are involved in a very devout charismatic religious group and urn, so to them they're the type of people that say you know, the bible says you will go to hell because you are gay. One thing I have come  71  to believe is that although about homosexuality  Paul the Apostle had a lot of things to say  and there are some things in the old  testament  about it, Christ himself never said a word about it, not a word.  Never  dealt with the issue, never came up. And so I just tell them you  know,  you believe what you believe, I believe what I believe. I'm happy, and you can be happy, but you know, don't be judging are all screwed Christianity  up and they need to get their act together  and live a Christian life according  forget about religion. which it is.  me. These religious  and get back to  to Christian principles  And I tell them, religion is a blight on the  What's all the fighting about in the world?  It's  and  world,  religious  groups who hate each other and they have been taught to hate other ever since they were  groups  each  children.  T h o u g h he loves t h e m very m u c h , Edward's relationship with his daughters have been strained d u e to their difficulty in accepting his identity as a gay m a n . A s well as with his partner Mark h o w e v e r , it is Edward's son w h o has affirmed that at 7 1 , E d w a r d still has a role as a Father a n d is a part of his family. E:  My son and his wife are very accepting  of Mark and me and we can  go and spend a week or two weeks at their home and they treat both of us just like we are family  We're welcome in their home  they accept me as a gay dad who has a partner Mark as like part of the family.  72  and they  and  accept  I:  What does that mean to you now?  E:  It means a hell of a lot. It means a hell of a lot. And, it makes my son very special to me, not that my daughters aren't, because they both are, but uh, my son is very special because he has accepted me the way I am.  It w a s at this point that Edward informed me that the prominent photograph of the US Marine that hangs in his hallway, is in fact a portrait of his s o n , w h o is now the married father of t h r e e , working as a State Patrol Officer in the northwestern United States. T h o u g h he has found a positive sense of self in his later y e a r s , Edward in s o m e w a y s shows that he is still very much concerned about the negative impact he might have on others. He expresses this through his thoughts about the future of his health and its implications for his relationship with Mark.  I don't want to be burden to Mark and I don't want to be a burden to anybody else. You know, if I lose my mobility, and end up in a wheelchair, urn, I would just as soon, you know they stick me someplace where I'm away from everybody I know and I'll just deal with it on my own so that I don't, I don't cause pain or problems with people I love or what have you.  73  Edward's happiness today is very m u c h tied to the relationships in his life, his security as a gay m a n , and the ability to maintain his health.  I'm happier than I have been in my whole life. Because I'm content with who I am and happy with who I am and happy with who I am with, happy with my life. I've got a good income, I have my health, and I have friends and family who love me, you know for who I really am.  Based on all that he has been t h r o u g h , Edward is clear about w h a t is essential to being content in his life.  To me, it's the acceptance of being gay and being able to live your life as a gay person, instead of living your life the way somebody else or some other group wants you to live it even though you are gay. Because I did that for years and it was so stressful...  I can't tell you how much it  meant when I finally just accepted who I was because it was like everything became clear, there were no more clouds, it was like pushing clouds away. When you can be yourself, be who you are and what you are that to me is what makes life livable.  W h a t is interesting about Edward's story is that ' a g e ' or ' a g i n g ' s e e m s to elude how he makes sense of his experience. This is perhaps due to Edward's not feeling that he has yet to experience himself as ' a g i n g ' and of equating being ' o l d ' with an experience of physical changes that he has begun to  74  experience.  I don't feel old, I know I'm older and I hate to use the word old because old is just not what I am. I know I'm older than I was ten years ago, but I, I don't feel older other than I don't have as much energy, I don't have as much spring in my step as I used to have. I can't take off running like I used to. But, I still feel good about myself and good about my life and my health.  T h e s e d a y s , Edward s p e n d s his time keeping h o u s e , running errands, while also finding time for socializing with friends, mostly through a local g r o u p for senior gay m e n . E d w a r d also finds time once a w e e k to volunteer in the library of a local G a y and Lesbian Center, w o r k that is important in helping him 'give back' to others w h o are currently struggling with their o w n identities. T h i s y e a r Mark graduates from a training p r o g r a m . T h e y plan to m o v e d o w n to the US together so that J i m can be close to his children a n d grand-children.  Roger's Story: I have survived Roger w a s born in a small town in Eastern C a n a d a , the y o u n g e s t of 7 children. He had two sisters and allows 4 brothers, t w o of w h o m w e r e gay. His mother died w h e n he w a s six years of a g e . T h e only m e m o r y that he w a s able to offer of her w a s that he w a s devastated w h e n he lost her. It w a s his father w h o raised the family as a single parent, a n d of f e w individuals is Roger so emphatic his father w a s 'the single most important person I ever met in my entire life'.  75  At the age of 19, Roger joined the Air Force. He left a few years later a n d relocated to V a n c o u v e r . H e has held a variety of j o b s , the last of w h i c h involved co-ownership of a business with his partner at the time Danny. T o d a y , Roger lives in a d o w n - t o w n senior's residence and s p e n d s m u c h of his time g a r d e n i n g , a n d socializing with a n u m b e r of y o u n g friends. At the time of our interviews, Roger had just turned 6 5 , and w a s anxiously awaiting receipt of his first C a n a d a Pension c h e q u e . His friends held a party for him recently in anticipation of its arrival. Both of our recorded interviews together lasted approximately 3 1/2 hours. T h e y w e r e held in the privacy of his apartment. During the first of t h e s e , I was informed within the first 15 minutes that Roger is now in his 2 5  t h  y e a r of  recovery from A l c o h o l i s m . Both his Father a n d D a n n y , his lover of 22 y e a r s , died within months of each other. I also learn that he suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder w h i c h forced an early retirement at age 6 0 , and that one of his brothers w a s murdered in 1996. A s well he shares that another one of his brothers and that s a m e brother's son had both died in the w e e k prior to our interview.  His  story is as m u c h about learning to cope with psychological isolation that results from heterosexism as well as learning to survive multiple losses, as it is a reflection of how being gay c a n inform life at the age of 6 5 . Roger demonstrates how it is that the construction of a gay identity as stigma serves as a valid path to adapting to the m a n y struggles he has had to face as a gay m a n . His story also allows us to understand that the support of  76  family a n d parents alone, are at times not e n o u g h to mitigate against the long term effects of having to live within a heterosexist a n d ageist society. But the real m e s s a g e of Roger's story w a s difficult to identify. It wasn't as e a s y as simply accepting, as he said, T h e three most important events in my life w e r e meeting my Father, joining A A , a n d reading the book S e r m o n on the Mount. T h i s is because unlike E d w a r d , Roger's story w a s fractured, completely circular in structure, moving back and forth through various time periods and events in his life. He w a s tangential and placed an e m p h a s i s o n a n u m b e r of smaller 'stories' that at first a p p e a r e d to have little to do with the three events that w e r e most important to h i m , nor with the questions I a s k e d of him given the focus of this study. It w a s through Roger however that choosing to actually listen to a n d focus on what he w a s actually s a y i n g , v e r s u s what I w a s looking for, held important a n s w e r s to how being g a y had in fact powerfully informed his life.  Recounting Roger's Story. A s with E d w a r d , Roger w a s aware that he w a s attracted to other boys at an early a g e . He similarly framed this a w a r e n e s s as ' n o r m a l ' .  I have been gay all my life. Oh God, since I was about seven. Well, I always, I thought it was a normal part of growing up. The sexual experimentation started in about grade seven or grade eight and went on from there.  77  Roger recalled that as he g r e w up, there w e r e times w h e n he w a s the target of heterosexist insults, mostly because he w a s effeminate and " n o t like the other b o y s " . Y e t , while knowing that he w a s being insulted because he w a s perceived to be g a y , he did not k n o w w h a t the actual w o r d s used to insult him meant. R:  When I was a teenager  I:  Gear box?  R:  And I have no idea why, but you know, if somebody say 'he's a gear box'.  I was called a 'gear  box'.  was gay  they'd  I don't know what that meant.  I:  That was the common  term?  R:  Back in the late 40's, early 50's you were a 'gear  I:  Any idea of why 'gear box' was used?  R:  N o n e whatsoever.  J;  Was it considered  R:  Oh, it was very derogatory,  box'.  derogatory? oh yeah.  T h e hostility that Roger w a s e x p o s e d to in his c h i l d h o o d , followed him as he c h o s e to join the Air Force at a g e 19. A g a i n , as with E d w a r d , the decision w a s practical b e c a u s e he could not afford a university education on his o w n . A w a y from his family for the first time in his life, he clearly felt alone a n d looks back with s o m e regret at the decision to j o i n , and the personal c o n s e q u e n c e s of having done so.  78  Uh, when I was in the Air Force it became really, really tough. I mean it was the dumbest move I ever made because here all of a sudden I am it, the only one [gay man] among hundreds and hundreds of men, Hello??!!??.  Uhm, I know they knew [that he was gay], and uh, it was  like 'keep that one [Roger] away from me'. Yeah, and for me it was a form of purgatory. It was really awful...  I never had one drink or smoked  one cigarette before that. When I left I was a chain-smoking alcoholic (laughter).  I explored w h y it w a s specifically that Roger felt he drank. It is clear that he felt isolated from a tangible support s y s t e m , a n d had no place to turn that could a c c o m m o d a t e his life as a gay m a n .  i":  You mentioned alcohol was a mask and I am wondering what it was that that mask needed to cover up.  R:  Loneliness. Incredible loneliness. That uh, it was only after I really sobered up that I looked at just how lonely I was. It was incredible loneliness. Look where I was [Air Force] uh, it was the, people really could not understand someone like me.  After leaving the Air Force, Roger relocated to V a n c o u v e r w h e r e he has lived ever since. A s he settled into his n e w h o m e , the verbal insults in his childhood a n d the hostile a t m o s p h e r e that Roger w a s e x p o s e d to while in the Air  79  Force w a s gradually a c c o m p a n i e d by the realization that there w e r e practical dangers associated with being gay.  Out here in the, in the well 50's and early 60's you got killed very easily if you were gay. I had friends beaten up, one brutally murdered, stabbed a zillion times with a butcher knife. No one was ever convicted. A fellow got beat up while walking his little poodle on Kitsilano beach and lost an eye and the perpetrators were fined $25 for 'disturbing the peace'.  It also appears that for Roger, there w a s also the need to be w a r y of the zealous anti-gay sentiment on the part of the V a n c o u v e r police in the 1960's.  J know that I was in the police 'blue book', as it was, which was a list of all the perverts in town. We were considered perverts at that time and I was listed in there because when this man was murdered, they found pictures of me sitting on his knee. So I was immediately put into this, uh, blue book. Yeah, in those days they kept track of the perverts.  He met his partner ' D a n n y ' in the early 1960's, after w h i c h they lived together for the next 22 years. It w a s t h r o u g h Danny that Roger confronted his alcoholism a n d initiated his recovery through A A . But it w a s also through a unique feature of D a n n y that Roger w o u l d have to confront the overt presence of heterosexism within their relationship.  80  Following an admission to a psychiatric unit, D a n n y w a s diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. T h e y had only been together a few y e a r s . Roger recalls the impact of Danny's illness a n d the unique d y n a m i c that entered their relationship as a result.  R:  The longer he was off his medication, the crazier he got and the harder it got on me. He was dual personality so I distinguish between 'Danny', who I love, and 'Daniel' who was the other personality. Daniel didn't like me at all. He hated me.  I:  He actually was somebody else?  R:  Oh, totally, the eyes changed, everything. He could clear a room when he changed  (laughter).  I:  Was Vaniel'gay  like Danny?  R:  No. That was the problem. And that's why he hated me (Laugh).  Roger for the most part c o p e d alone with Danny's illness. A s he notes, many of their friends ' b e c a m e afraid, a n d stopped calling after awhile'. C o m p o u n d i n g this w e r e subtle hints that h o m o p h o b i a m a y have interfered with the ability of the mental health workers assigned to D a n n y to take seriously Roger's role as his primary caregiver a n d partner.  They took him off his medication and refused, literally refused to assist him. I told them you will kill him and they treated me as if I was just a  81  bother.  They did not acknowledge our relationship, they did not  acknowledge 22 years of partnership.  Roger recalls that after taking Danny to the hospital with slashed wrists resulting f r o m w h a t h e described a s a 'routine psychotic break' in M a y o f 1 9 8 6 , he had pleaded with t h e t e a m to keep Danny in hospital for longer than they w e r e willing to. A s he recalls, his advice to t h e t e a m not only appears to have fallen o n deaf ears, but a s well w a s ignored by t h e attending psychiatrist. T h e resulting decision w a s fatal. Got him to the Psych Ward, told them don't give him his clothes, he'll run away, he's done it before...  the doctor phoned me and said he had been  given his medication and it was his clinical decision not to have him return to the [Care Team]. So, he left and ran away. They all had degrees, all I had was experience.  T h e d a y that D a n n y disappeared w a s only t w o months after the death of Roger's father, from w h i c h he w a s still recovering. Danny's body w a s not found until four months later in S e p t e m b e r . A n inquest revealed that D a n n y h a d committed suicide a n d died in a park. Roger w a s understandably grief stricken a n d deeply a n g e r e d as a result o f his feeling isolated, ignored a n d invalidated a s D a n n y ' s partner a n d caregiver. For t h e next 4 y e a r s , he s o m e h o w continued however to m a n a g e t h e business  82  he a n d Danny had established until a critical episode in 1991. H e had fallen into a severe depression which by t h e n had completely incapacitated h i m . H e described himself a s having reached 'the e n d ' . Roger is s o clear in his narrative that based o n t h e description of t h e experience alone, it w a s a s if he himself had died. I went in the space of a year, from President of a successful, respected company to welfare. I just gave up. And what my doctor couldn't understand, when the suicide and everything came in '86 [4 years prior] was that I never got sick. Well, it hit me in 1991 and I ended up in a clinical depression. I would wake up in the middle of the night and I couldn't move. I couldn't move. My entire body was locked and I just had to meditate.  Like every muscle, I couldn't move my legs, it hurt too  much and I had to meditate to get to sleep. For almost a year I flat-lined.  Making matters w o r s e , a s a result of losing his business a n d not being able to work, his monthly income w a s reduced to just under $500.00 a m o n t h , he lost his h o m e a n d w a s living ' h a n d to m o u t h ' . For Roger, 'there w a s no lower than this'. H e m a n a g e d to maintain his sobriety throughout. A year later brought what Roger describes as t h e m o m e n t of his 'rebirth'. Roger said that it arrived after reading ' t h e most important book I have ever read in my entire life'.  83  It was called the Sermon on the Mount by Emmett Fox and it is a word by word analysis of Matthew 5, 6 and 7, Sermon on the Mound. I have never even wanted to be religious, never been a church-goer. But as I read this, everything became very clear to me, who I was, what my purpose was. Everything I had heard atAA, the 12 steps became perfectly clear what I was supposed to do, how I was supposed to do it, everything.  And in the  back of it is a word by word analysis of the Lord's prayer and what it really means and my only comment was, why didn't somebody tell me this a long time ago?  W i t h the help of medication, a n d a new outlook on life, he w a s able to climb out of his depression. H e states that with the help of this book he first c a m e to grips with his past, a n d then decided on a strategy for m o v i n g on with the present.  I suddenly realized after 22 years that I was half a person. The other half, being Danny, uhm, I finally had an invitation to be human.  Where  before concentrating on career, success, and money and all those things has a cost to your humanity...  You've got to be reborn with everything  that was. You are reborn by the renewing of your mind. Let go of all your old ideas, let go of all your resentments, get rid of all that anger.  84  But has Roger really b e e n able to get 'rid of all that a n g e r ? W o u l d a n y o n e be able to? In as m u c h as Roger cherished his father's early acceptance that he w a s g a y , it appears instead that Roger still lives with the effects of feeling stigmatized both in t e r m s of his sexual identity a n d n o w as a result of his a g e . This w a s not immediately apparent throughout either of our interviews together. Perhaps this w a s because e v e n as Roger discussed the most painful aspects of his past, he did so with laughter, almost making light of himself a n d all that he has b e e n through. H o w e v e r , after reviewing the transcripts a n u m b e r of times I noted that Roger w a s quietly conveying that he in fact still very m u c h lives with the experience of feeling stigmatized by others. I first o b s e r v e d this w h e n he spoke of h o w he feels other tenants in his apartment building perceive him.  Some of these people in here think I am a dirty old man. Goes with the territory I guess (laughter). And I tell them I got the job because I am so good at it (laugh).. .1 mean someone has got to do it, uhm, you know 'we got to have one of those', right (laugh).  S o m e w h e r e deep within R o g e r , the 'territory' of being older a n d g a y in his c o m m u n i t y m e a n s that he is p r e s u m e d to o c c u p y the role of 'dirty old m a n ' . Further is the idea that s o m e h o w it is expected that every c o m m u n i t y requires a dirty old m a n , a n d that he s o m e h o w fits the bill as ' o n e of those'. But perhaps e v e n more distressing is that Roger's feelings of isolation throughout his  85  c h i l d h o o d , in the Air Force, in his relationship with D a n n y , a n d n o w is also e c h o e d through his feeling stigmatized by the gay c o m m u n i t y as w e l l :  Well, none of them [other gay men] are going to look at an old queen like me. What for? The image of me out there is it's a dirty old man who is sleeping with all the most beautiful young men in town and I'm not sleeping with any of them. But you know how they are [gay men]. There are times when I think I'm going to be pushed under a bus for Christ sake. And you can bet there are bids out on my little black book.  A s with E d w a r d , it is interesting to note here h o w Roger implies an attachment to h o m o s e x u a l stigma through the use of the w o r d s ' q u e e r ' or q u e e n , w h e r e elsewhere w h e n talking about himself positively, he refers to himself as 'gay'. In his c a s e , Rogers use o f ' q u e e r ' or ' q u e e n ' are used to imply stigma, not status i.e. to be seen as q u e e r or a q u e e n is negative. Also interesting to note h o w e v e r is that it a p p e a r s that Roger has f o u n d a w a y to use ' s t i g m a ' as a m e a n s of protecting himself from others.  They [the other tenants] know not to cross me. A couple of them have and you just don't cross me. Don't fuck with me. I have been through too much, too old to put up with this shit from anybody. I just say to them Tm here, I'm queer'and that's it. I don't have another problem again.  86  I frighten people because I am just so open, so out there and in your face with it. .. You know, and I do the same thing with straight people. I was here first, I ain't going anywhere, so you might as well get used to me. I'm here. I'm queer, it's that simple.  Ironically h o w e v e r , Roger reinforces an a t t a c h m e n t to the stigmatized nature of his identity w h e n referring to h o w potentially 'discrediting' s o m e of his friends can be for h i m , as a result of these friends behaving ' s o g a y ' in public.  J said to my young friend Ben here the other night when we were having a discussion, why do you insist on being so gay? What is it about you that makes you want to be so gay? Because he is a very good looking young man from Prince Edward Island urn, and I find that with young people, many young people they just want to be so gay. Why?  T h e t h e m e of isolation due to s t i g m a , that runs throughout Roger's story made sense of his response to m y question concerning w h e t h e r or not he felt attached to the g a y c o m m u n i t y .  R:  I have avoided the community. I have never been a member of the community. I haven't rushed out to drag shows, or I, I mean I will go to the gay pride parade every year  I:  What's that about?  87  R:  You mean my non-involvement? I don't think that's what being gay is about. I just don't think that's what being gay is about. You know running around to drag shows and helping the queens get their shoes on, their wigs on and all that horseshit. I mean it just seems so silly but, I mean its fine I guess. I took Bruce [a friend] to a drag show - to Doll and Penny's, he's never been. Luckily they sat us back where the drag queens couldn't get at us (laugh)  i  A s i d e from the heterosexist climate that Roger w a s e x p o s e d to in his  y o u t h , in the Air Force, as well as through his contact with the mental health s y s t e m , I searched for other possible reasons w h y Roger felt so stigmatized. This w a s especially given what he constantly described as such a supportive father and family. By far, Roger w a s no more vocal with this than w h e n he shared with me how Religion has failed h i m . While using the language of religion as a comfort, as w a s s e e n in his description of his 'rebirth', Roger, as with E d w a r d , reveals how religion has served as a source of o p p r e s s i o n .  My god the damage that organized religion has done to people. I have never seen so much guilt and shame in my life. And why because I'm gay? I don't think so uhm, there is a program on tonight, Sex in the Bible. It started off, Adam and Eve, Cane and Able, Cane kills Able, so we've got our first murder and within a year or so, he's married. sister.  So we've got incest now.  88  To who?  His  And the bible hasn't even started and  these, the Christian right, are the most dangerous group in our society. Hateful, they are hateful.  .  .  I've just dismissed  whole  organized  religion.  During our first interview, shortly after Roger had described the multiple losses in his life, his struggle out of d e p r e s s i o n , and various m e m o r i e s related to his recovery from alcoholism, Roger s h o w e d me one of the wall's in his bathroom. Adorning the w a l l , from top to bottom w e r e several photographs of all the y o u n g m e n (from approximately age 19 to 27) that are in Roger's life. T h e y are his friends, a n d gather regularly at his h o m e for social visits. H e has very few friends his o w n a g e , with the exception of o n e , a fellow alcoholic w h o is dying of A I D S . I w o n d e r e d allowed about the significance of Roger's friendship with these y o u n g m e n .  I:  What would it be like if younger people were not in your life?  R:  I'll tell you one thing, if it wasn't for the young people around me, I'd be destitute.  I:  Why?  R:  These are my children.  These are my children, like little Paul'.  I met  him when he was 19 and possibly the most beautiful child I have ever come across, blond, blue eyed, good little Catholic boy. And little Bruce is very much like that too. I:  So their friendship with you is important.  89  R:  Oh, vital to me, absolutely vital.  I:  Its vital.  I:  How would your life be different if they weren't in your life?  R:  O h it w o u l d be dreary, o h , it w o u l d be dreary. I, I couldn't e v e n imagine it.  T h e y o u n g g a y m e n with w h o m he has surrounded himself have provided not only c o m p a n i o n s h i p . T h e y also provide Roger with the sense of recognition, a c k n o w l e d g e m e n t , a n d inclusion that in previous years had eluded h i m . The young people around me validate my existence. They validate it in every way, you know in the caring and the love and the sharing and all of that. That is what, they are my family. These children are my family.  For Roger, validation he receives from his y o u n g friends w o u l d appear to provide him t h e opportunity to feel vindicated for the years in w h i c h he felt rejected because he w a s g a y , by ' D a n i e l ' , or t h e people o n w h o m he counted to care for ' D a n i e l ' . T h a t he is able to receive this validation f r o m y o u n g e r g a y m e n , w h o other-wise m a y have dismissed him as a 'dirty old m a n ' only heightens the value of his friendship with t h e m . His impact o n t h e y o u n g m e n a r o u n d him also appears to constitute his primary sense of purpose today.  90  R:  I have young friends who have totally changed their lives. I just remember...I had a young man come to me, five years ago I guess it was, totally on the dark side.  I:  Totally on the dark side?  R:  Involved in white supremacy, everything. And I hadn't seen him for six months and he called me and he came over and we talked and I said, if you read that book [The Sermon on the Mount] and you think you understand it, then you and I can really talk. 24 hours, 48 hours later he came back and said this I can understand. I changed his life. He is the most delightful, the most prosperous in every sense of the word. He has a prosperous attitude, he has a prosperous little business and he is just a joy to be with and none of it in your face, it's just there. He glows, he glows. The, the real light of my life I would have to say would probably be my young friend little Bruce. The transformation that came after he and I talked and he read the book, the transformation of his whole attitude and his whole life was one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had. That's what life is about.  In considering the t h e m e of validation throughout his story I finally realized too w h y it w a s that Roger cites repeatedly that the three most important events in his life w e r e meeting his father, joining A A , and reading the book  91  S e r m o n o n t h e Mount. It is clear that as with his y o u n g friends today, e a c h of those three other events mark a n o c c a s i o n , perhaps the only o n e ' s , in w h i c h Roger has ever meaningfully felt validated a n d recognized for w h a t he has b e e n t h r o u g h . His cry to be listened to a n d a c k n o w l e d g e d for w h a t he has had to experience, explained his interest in this study in fact, as he said ' Y o u have not heard anything a s unique a s m y story, I c a n g u a r a n t e e y o u that. . . . I a m a very unique m a n a n d not a lot of people w o u l d k n o w that by just looking at m e . ' . At this t i m e , Roger's need for validation is n o w slowly being j o i n e d by a growing focus o n the legacy he will leave behind. It also accounts for his connection with y o u n g e r m e n a n d w h y he feels s o drawn to t h e m at this time. To help them avoid what I went through. To change the world if you will, one person at a time. Because with all of them behind me that will be my legacy. I can die knowing that at least that part of me will be carried on. I don't have children, I don't have all that to do, but at least a positive attitude. I will leave behind a positive attitude. More so than just, just being famous, you know when you have had an impact and participated in that and watched the cocoon to the butterfly process is a true wonder.  T o d a y , Roger s p e n d s a s m u c h time as possible tending to t h e garden that adjoins the seniors housing complex w h e r e he lives. His devotion to t h e g a r d e n serves as a metaphor for his current outlook o n life a n d t h e meaning that his friendships have for h i m .  92  This is the age of the gardener, the cultivator, and that's what I am doing. I cultivate in the garden and I cultivate in society. This garden used to be overgrown and was a disaster. Now look at it. They [other tenants] love it, and it proves to them that I am not so bad, right?  A s mentioned in the introduction to this narrative, I for the longest time felt I could not make s e n s e of Roger's story. H o w could I possibly know what to include given all that he had s h a r e d . I also implied that it s e e m e d no matter how m a n y times w e spoke with o n e another, I always felt that I just did not connect with what he w a s actually sharing with m e , nor with the depth that a c c o m p a n i e d that sharing. A n d yet Roger w a s absolutely clear that he n e e d e d to be interviewed for this study, and that he had something to say. I shared my frustrations with Roger during our second interview. I have since c o m e to understand that the social and psychological isolation that Roger experienced as a gay man has led to the unique a n d individual path of adaptation that he feels serves him well today. I have also c o m e to understand that the presence of so m a n y y o u n g g a y friends offers Roger the opportunity to experience the validation a n d recognition that he otherwise has been without all his life. O n e c a n w o n d e r what life for Roger would be like t h o u g h , w e r e he to have been spared the intense heterosexism a n d stigma that has so often challenged h i m . Roger H A S survived these challenges h o w e v e r , a n d as a g a y man at the a g e of 6 5 , that is in fact w h a t he w a n t e d us to know.  93  George's Storv: Being Reborn  George begins his story at the time in w h i c h he w a s in his early 4 0 ' s , the period that immediately led up to G e o r g e claiming a h o m o s e x u a l identity.  While  G e o r g e structured his story in a chronologically linear w a y , it w a s n ' t until our s e c o n d interview that I learned about G e o r g e ' s origins. He w a s born in the Maritimes in a small conservative c o m m u n i t y a n d w a s the only boy of  two  children. After marrying in his early 20's G e o r g e a n d his wife raised 3 boys. T h e y relocated to V a n c o u v e r in the 1970's w h e r e G e o r g e continues to live today. At 74 G e o r g e is n o w well into his retirement. He lives with ' L i a m ' , a m a n half his age w h o while not a romantic partner, is very m u c h a constant and endearing c o m p a n i o n . walks, watching  Typically, G e o r g e s p e n d s his days reading,  m o v i e s , shopping daily for groceries, as well as  going for pursuing  c o m m u n i t y w o r k through volunteerism at a local c o m m u n i t y housing project. Occasionally he finds time to provide assistance at the college w h e r e he w o r k e d for many years prior to his retirement a n d has been a n active m e m b e r on the Strata Council that m a n a g e s his c o n d o m i n i u m residence.  H e is an engaging  conversationalist, incredibly well r e a d , and absolutely o p e n a n d proud of the fact that he is gay.  Recounting George's Story. G e o r g e never actively explored his interest in other men until well into his marriage in the late 1960's. It w a s his  94  wife Betty in fact w h o first a p p r o a c h e d G e o r g e , then 4 2 , about exploring w h a t she intuitively sensed w a s an unrealized attraction he had to other m e n . H e states in fact that w e r e it not for his wife's ' p e r m i s s i o n ' he m a y never have explored his g a y identity.  J really wonder if I ever would have come out because I was quite comfortable in the life style we had. We traveled together, we had a nice home, had the kids, and sex was good. I enjoyed sex with her. It wasn't as if I was having sex thinking I was making out with some guy...  I  wasn't like buying gay magazines or renting a gay movie or that kind of thing. I didn't know anybody at that time that was gay and I didn't have any so-called gay friends. I guess it was Betty saying have you ever thought you were gay? And then I thought, yes.  This is not to suggest h o w e v e r that G e o r g e had no ' s e n s e ' that he w a s attracted to m e m b e r s of the s a m e sex. A s he explained, while being raised in a small c o m m u n i t y in the Maritimes he had no concept nor a n y reference point that might help m a k e sense of his s a m e - s e x feelings. W h i l e having an a w a r e n e s s of his attraction to m e n , George w a s not feeling driven to act on this a w a r e n e s s .  Growing up in a small town in the Maritimes of 8,000 people, it was wrong. This whole issue of being sexual was wrong, not only being gay. In fact there was never any word called gay that I knew of. . . It's interesting, all through high school I never dated a girl. It was always a  95  guy that I used to notice I liked. It was like my high school chum, but we never had sex. We never played.  But we'd always be something.  I  liked him. He was my best friend. I would like to be near and him, but there was never any touching  really around  or any, you know.  A s he alluded to earlier, it b e c a m e clear that the extent to w h i c h G e o r g e resisted his attraction to other m e n , reflected his response to a climate of h o m o p h o b i a that existed throughout his c h i l d h o o d , his high school years a n d throughout his university education. T h i s a w a r e n e s s surfaces w h e n he reflects on w h y after understanding he had s o m e kind of attraction to other m e n , he m a d e the decision to proceed with his marriage to Betty. A friend used to say, looking gay?  back why did you ever marry  And I would say, well I didn't know.  just never occurred university  were  I had no idea it was there.  It  to me I was gay. You know in high school or even at  to be gay was wrong and really was disgusting.  heard anybody  if you  And you  never  tell you he's a faggot, cause around college dorms in those  days to be gay or openly gay was a real put down and you would be really ostracized.  With George's a w a r e n e s s that he w a s attracted to other m e n c a m e the need to actively suppress these feelings, explained in part by associating being  96  gay with ' s o m e t h i n g disgusting'. H e routinely guarded against a n y possibility that he might actually act o n his feelings.  If I was at a party, it was often the men there that I was aware of, but in fact I would never acknowledge it. And I would watch how much I drank. I was always in Toronto or Montreal at sales conventions and you always had someone you'd share a room with. Again, in that kind of situation, I would watch exactly how much I drank, so there was never any chance I would slip up or say something. And so I never did all those years. Right up until, right through that whole marriage in 1968,1 had never had a gay experience.  In reflecting on his feelings G e o r g e looks back a n d recalls that while not aware of it at the time, he invoked a strategy of denial as a m e a n s of coping with his feelings. T h e denial w a s facilitated in part by George's a w a r e n e s s that while he had the feelings he did for other m e n , he had never actually acted on these and therefore w o u l d have no reason to consider himself gay.  He shared  this w h e n I a s k e d him if prior to c o m i n g out, he ever actually defined himself as s o m e o n e w h o w a s gay prior to his wife's suggestion that he might be.  No, no, never.  To me I guess it was a lot of denial, massive denial. So, it  was just buried and kept away and never looked at or  acknowledged.  There was no need to call myself gay because I had never actually been with a man.  97  But as w a s alluded to a b o v e , at his wife's suggestion a s u m m e r trip to Chicago began the process of George acknowledging to himself that indeed he w a s attracted to other m e n . Betty had inquired if George ever felt he w a n t e d to be with a m a n to w h i c h G e o r g e had affirmed that in fact he d i d .  So we talked about it and she said well you are going to be in Chicago for ten weeks, you should find out  And I sort of looked at her and said well,  why, because if we go down that road there is no guarantee we will come back up together. She said yes I know that and I just think you need to find out more of who you are and what you are.  For the time that he w a s a w a y , he still had not acted on his feelings during this trip, t h o u g h the time alone allowed him to fully a c k n o w l e d g e d that the attraction to other m e n w a s there. T h i s a c k n o w l e d g e m e n t w a s a powerful turning point in George's life. He recalls how Betty had taken note of this on his return h o m e that fall.  J remember her saying when I walked in, she looked at me and she said you didn't really want to come back, did you? And I said no, actually I was quite enjoying Chicago. There was just this incredible sense of being free, not responsible, you know? It was just that I liked that sense of being you know, free.  98  George describes that it w a s n ' t the f r e e d o m to be gay w h i c h felt so e m a n c i p a t i n g , more so than the opportunity to be a w a y from the routine of his married  life that  had unexpectedly meant so m u c h to  h i m . Despite this  experience, Betty a n d George m a d e the decision to continue with their marriage, partly for practical reasons.  We agreed that well I'm back so let's make it work. And why bother at my age of 42 or whatever? Why get into this whole gay thing now anyway? And she said okay fine. Life carried on as usual then.  A year later, in 1969 Betty disclosed to G e o r g e that while he had been a w a y in C h i c a g o , she had b e c o m e involved in a relationship. Ironically, the n e w s served as the catalyst for Georges first sexual experiences with other m e n .  Over the past year she had been involved in a relationship.  I was  surprised and shocked and partly hurt. I said well I thought we were going to make this thing work, and she just said, well you know, I was thinking. But then I remember I was so angry. I remember getting up, putting on my coat, and going downtown to a hotel, sitting there drinking. I picked up the first man, it didn't matter who. There were a whole bunch of skid row hotels there so I did this night after night.  A s time w e n t on G e o r g e and his wife separated and later d i v o r c e d .  In  doing s o , G e o r g e and Betty a p p r o a c h e d their then t e e n - a g e d sons in order to  99  account for t h e reasons for t h e divorce. Interestingly, t h e reason given w a s George's having realized that he w a s gay, a s o p p o s e d t o his wife's extra-marital affair. T h i s constituted G e o r g e ' s c o m i n g out t o his son's. And they said, well we kind of knew that things weren't great with you guys.  So then I said yup, we want you guys to know why. The reason  Betty and I are separating is because I'm gay. And they kind of looked at us. Both were part of that your own thing. you both.  hippie era and they said, well you gotta do  And they both kind of laughed and said, look, we love  I can still see them sitting on the couch saying don't ever ask  either one of us to go into court to take sides because we'll never do that. If the two of you are going separate, then make sure that that is what you want. But don't get us caught in the act.  Perhaps, G e o r g e a n d Betty interpreted that being g a y w a s a far greater infraction than a break in m o n o g a m y a n d therefore w o u l d constitute more of a reason t o proceed with a divorce. G e o r g e never explained this however during his interview, a n d no follow-up interpretation w a s g i v e n . It m a y be that Betty's extra-marital affair w a s hurtful for G e o r g e , a n d that in s o m e w a y he w a s sent off to explore his g a y identity as a m e a n s of providing t h e justification for t h e affair to take place. Either w a y , fidelity w a s and w o u l d remain important to G e o r g e . After separating from Betty, G e o r g e grew in his experiences with other men a s well as with his knowledge about t h e g a y w o r l d .  100  N o t soon after t h e  decision to e n d t h e marriage, he m e t a y o u n g m a n n a m e d 'Phillip', 16 years his junior, with w h o m he w o u l d share the only long-term  romantic  relationship  George has had with another m a n . T h e relationship e n d e d after 11 years w h e n similar to his wife, G e o r g e accepted that Phillip w o u l d be unable to a d h e r e to George's value for m o n o g a m y within their relationship. Sadly, s o m e years later after he had left h i m , G e o r g e learned that Phillip w e n t o n to develop A I D S , only to find out s o m e time after that, that Phillip w a s found d e a d in his h o m e as a result of a murder.  T h e r e w a s a n inquest a n d  G e o r g e w a s called to testify, though to this d a y t h e murder remains unsolved. George reflected back o n the relationship with mixed feelings a n d of the process of healing from both t h e positive a n d negative experiences he h a d as a result of Phillip having been in his life. There's still a sadness at times of what I could have had with him. Equally though there's a lot of good times with Phillip you know. But I was so in love with him at the time and he gradually destroyed that love through his affairs and flings on the side, that kind of thing. So it used to be I would get sad or emotional when I talked about him, whereas now I generally talk without all of those feelings of sadness I once had.  While there w e r e others after Phillip, G e o r g e has not found a s m u c h happiness as he enjoys n o w through t h e c o m p a n i o n a t e relationship that he has with ' L i a m ' . A t 37 years Liam c a m e into his life after needing a place to stay a n d  101  renting a room from G e o r g e . His active pursuits with everything from boating to flying, as well as his evolved sense of caring for G e o r g e have forged between t h e m a bond that is directly tied to G e o r g e ' s present day-to-day s e n s e of happiness as a n elder g a y m a n .  J think it confirms that I am someone worth while. meaning.  That it gives me a  For me for instance, with Liam, the fact that I have this  relationship with him, it gives me an identity, that when I'm out with him I'm proud. . . . I guess it's the fact that he pays attention to me. very attentive.  He's  Like if we're out anywhere walking, Liam tends to walk  faster than me, and he'll get ahead of me and he'll always stop and look back and wait. Or, if we're out walking he'll say 'Are you feeling tired?' So he keeps an awareness of me. If I'm not feeling good, he's very quick to put pressure on and say I want you to go to the doctor. . . There's that feeling that you're important, and you're special.  While not a romantic partner, Liam's physical y o u t h , as well as his friends w h o are also y o u n g are important to G e o r g e .  It is through his discussion of L i a m ,  that I observe that ' a g e ' e m e r g e s as a significant d i m e n s i o n to w h a t G e o r g e considers significant in his life at this time.  With somebody so much younger, I got to know all of his friends. He was always dating guys that were five or six years younger than he was so there was always a crowd of young guys going through the place.  102  And  they were great. They always included me. We were friendly. And if they got to seeing more of each other, we'd go out to movies together, the three of us, or go out for dinner and do all these kinds of things.  George relays that as with Phillip, he w a s always attracted to m e n w h o w e r e m u c h y o u n g e r than himself.  A n d while he a c k n o w l e d g e s this, he also  c o m m e n t s on the reality that for him as an elder gay m a n , there is an entrenched focus on y o u t h resulting in ageism a m o n g s t gay m e n that can be alienating for him now.  7 was so naive, had no realization of how important youth was in the gay world. It never occurred to me, you know, and it took me a while to learn that because you're over 40, it doesn't make you attractive to a 22 year old, for the simple reason that they know you are over 40.  For G e o r g e , the different experiences he has had with y o u n g e r or older gay m e n has carried over into experiences with groups like Primetimers, the s a m e g r o u p for elder gay m e n that our first participant Edward attends as a m e a n s of support and socialization.  Primetimers I found for me personally, I enjoyed the monthly meetings, but I found mostly the older men I wasn't interested in. So, I kind of slowly dropped out. Didn't bother.  None that I met interested me which was my problem.  I  wasn't really wanting to get to know older gay men so I think I just didn't put  103  out any interest when one would say you know, do you want to go out coffee or come by for a drink?  I'd make some excuse and say, well, maybe  later I'll give you... So I just avoided it.  I a s k e d G e o r g e h o w he m a d e sense of the fact that he s e e m e d to be more  comfortable  around  younger  for  gay  men  rather  than  older  gay  men,  especially because he had observed that there s e e m e d to be s u c h a ' y o u t h oriented' focus within the gay c o m m u n i t y that he had found uncomfortable. I guess younger people, I always feel they keep you  young  because  they're more involved in life and doing things. Whereas so many of  the  older men I used to meet with Primetimers were much more set in their ways or not as active in doing things or having new ideas or just in talking about issues. Not just gay issues, but just life. And they seemed to be the ones I met. George feels that a dimension to his sense of well being is his acceptance about w h o he is as a gay m a n , something he recognized had not occurred for all of the m e n he c a m e into contact with at Primetimers.  Part of his ability to  secure happiness in his life today is related to his ability to socialize more with other gay m e n w h o have adopted the s a m e positive definition of their sexual orientation that he has. But it is not unnoticed that these m e n a r e , as in the case of Roger, y o u n g m e n . Both G e o r g e a n d Roger suggest that the presence of y o u n g e r m e n has as m u c h to do with a need to counter the a g e i s m that exists  104  within the gay c o m m u n i t y as it does with the ability to find like-minded companions.  There is something about younger men which is much more accepting, much more open and honest than older men that I am somehow attracted to which the guys at Primetimers didn't always have. I do think that a lot of older gay men or older men are less accepting of the gay life than younger men, whereas I have always been proud of the fact that I am gay.  G e o r g e elaborated on the impact that finally accepting his sexual identity has had for h i m , and of the role that it plays in his sense of happiness.  I think, all I can say is once I acknowledged that I was gay, going way back, and recognized it, openly admitted it to myself, I suddenly felt a freedom, a weight off of me. For me, it's a sense of being almost reborn. I was alive. I was vibrant. I was just exciting.  You know, it's just  tremendous freedom.  For social w o r k e r s w h o w i s h to understand the m e a n i n g that f r e e d o m through self-acceptance can have for elder gay m e n , G e o r g e serves as a clear point of reference. He is specific in helping to guide a practice a p p r o a c h that would be explicitly inclusive of the needs of elder gay m e n w h o adopt the 'homosexuality-as-status'  perspective. T h i s begins with  105  his a w a r e n e s s that  ageism and h o m o p h o b i a intersect to the d e g r e e that it renders not only his homosexuality, but his ability to b e s e e n a s a sexual p e r s o n , invisible.  / would think that a lot of people don't associate age or aging or elder men with being gay.  I think they would meet me and just assume well  now. They might assume that I am married and construe things if I was younger, but I think they would meet the older person and it would never occur that person, being man or woman, could be gay, or have a sex life, and that sort of thing.  This is further e m p h a s i z e d by the fact that o n e of the significant d i m e n s i o n s to his life is that he is still v e r y m u c h a sexual person with a n active s e x life. But it is the emotional a n d social relationships that he has created that are most important to h i m . George states that his life is m a d e meaningful because he is still s e e n a s important in t h e lives o f others. T h i s helps m a k e further s e n s e o f his relationship with L i a m , as well as the importance of his relationship with his 3 son's a n d their families.  To me, certainly having one single person, much like Liam in my life, would be, is really important.  I need people.  I think that expands into  the relationship with my three boys, the fact that I'm not cut off from them. Life could be very unfortunate. Like some men are totally cut away from their family of origin or family.  106  Understanding the role that both a family of origin as well as a ' c h o s e n ' family can have, c o u p l e d with the need to maintain an e n v i r o n m e n t that helps to celebrate a n d a c k n o w l e d g e w h o G e o r g e is a n d needs to be as a gay m a n , also involves s o m e thoughts about those w h o have yet to consider the presence of elder g a y m e n in their practice. George feels that for professionals, learning to respond to the needs of elder gay m e n should begin within the context of their formal e d u c a t i o n .  I think that it has to start with, at least it can be started or encouraged somewhat by the faculty member himself whether it's research or policy. It's how honest, how open, how real they are as people.  Because I  always felt my biggest asset to teaching was trying to show a class that I could be genuine and real and honest and say this is me.  Should social w o r k e r s w i s h to b e c o m e m o r e inclusive of the needs of elder gay m e n in their practice, G e o r g e questions the extent to w h i c h there are resources available for his cohorts.  The other thing that I've always been interested in, is where do gay men go for counseling? 25 years ago, when I was doing some work at in the community that always intrigued me. We never had or never knew of any gay clients....  They may have come in for a marital problem, or  depression or something but eventually they got into something. But they didn't phone and say I'm in a relationship that's gay and we're having  107  trouble..  .. And I don't think every gay man needs to see a psychiatrist.  I  guess my feeling would be I would, well I was going to say well I would prefer to see a gay psychiatrist.  I guess it's the degree of comfort....  I'm  sure that there's a lot of older gay men that could benefit from some counseling of some kind. I may be wrong, but where could they go?.  A s w e a p p r o a c h our final thoughts on the subject, G e o r g e reflects on his o w n w o r k as a t e a c h e r in the social sciences, a n d of his o w n strategy for promoting within his students a m e a n s by w h i c h they could b e c o m e inclusive of the needs of sexual minority clients. He used to administer a questionnaire that encouraged students to look at their o w n level of h o m o p h o b i a . His motivation w a s not so m u c h to ' c h a n g e ' a n y o n e , m o r e so than to e n c o u r a g e a level of respect for the needs of the client.  Get to know your own inner thoughts and feelings. out and get involved  in therapy.  You won't have to go  But just recognize  1 don't feel  comfortable with alcoholics'. And if I feel that way, then don't work with alcoholics.  Maybe you never will like them and therefore if you don't like  homosexuals, then by all means if you meet one who's on your case load, then say openly, Tm not comfortable dealing with this but I will get you a referral to a Jane, or Harry who likes this work'. To me that is vital, you don't have to justify it to the client  108  In talking about his hopes a n d fears about t h e future, G e o r g e does not see m u c h needing to c h a n g e in the next f e w y e a r s , in part because he has provided for himself financially for his retirement. You're still able to get around.  I don't think someday I'm going to end up  in an Old People's Home, or whatever.  I think fortunately  for me that I  have a good pension and I can see, you know, staying on here for turning another  10 or 15 years. And I could always,  if Liam was gone  whatever, I could rent out a room, make some arrangement live-in caretaker if necessary.  So I'm fortunate  or  to have a  in that way. I'm  not  strapped for cash.  T h i s does not preclude him however from giving s o m e thought to his o w n longevity or w h a t things might be like w e r e his health to decline. He recalls that both his mother a n d father died within 10 years of his o w n present age. A n d , In preparation for his recent throat operation, he w e n t through his address book and indicated w h o he w a n t e d informed in t h e event that he should die during surgery. T h o u g h he is confident that he will remain quite independent for s o m e time to c o m e , G e o r g e reflected o n t h e impact that potentially requiring a nursing h o m e might have for himself as a n elder g a y m a n . Say for instance if I was to end up in a long term care facility. I would hope, and this probably would never happen, that I could end up sharing  109  a room with another older gay man.  Because then I could at least talk  about, reminisce about my past, about the boys, or the times I have had as a gay man . . . man,  I  if I'm alone in a long term care facility with a straight  cant' reminisce in the same way.  I  might  talk about  my  grandchildren and my sons, I might even venture to say to him I'm gay but it would stop me from really reliving some of the joy of that life.  T h e issue of age itself s e e m s , a s with Edward to be secondary to his story. In fact w h e n a s k e d to talk about his age G e o r g e replied " Y o u know it's funny.  I don't feel o l d " . G e o r g e only discussed feeling old or aging in t h e context  of t h e future, i.e. w h a t might h a p p e n . A n d a s with Edward a n d Roger, aging is seen a s something that has y e t to occur a n d is thought of in terms of t h e future, not the present. W h e n I w a s reviewing the transcript from o u r first interview, I b e c a m e a w a r e o f t h e fact that s o little o f w h a t G e o r g e had to say included references to his family of origin in his reflections and reminiscences o n his development a s a gay m a n . I w a s especially curious because in having m a d e the transition from heterosexual married life to a n openly lived g a y life, G e o r g e expressed that he has never felt burdened or c o n s e q u e n c e d as a result of having c o m e out, something that s e e m e d curious given his efforts to guard against acting o n his s a m e - s e x feelings in the past,  110  I've never felt out right rejection of anybody when they've heard I'm gay, I've never experienced that. That somebody didn't want to see me again or have anything to do with me. I never experienced that feeling.  W h a t is of interest is that in fact George's only sibling, a sister, has not spoken to him since he disclosed through a letter that he w a s gay.  My sister doesn't even acknowledge that I'm even alive anymore. She's out East. I wrote her and told her that Phillip was living here and that we shared a bedroom. Liam wasn't here then. I had a good friend going east who wasn't gay that was staying with her. When he mentioned my name, she would leave the living room. Finally he said to Sally's husband Ross, didn't Sally ever get George's letter and Ross said, Yes she got it. She read it and gave it to me to read and then tore it up and said as far as I'm concerned he's dead. We've never acknowledged each other since.  T h e response he had from his sister muted a n y d e e p sense of loss he m a y have felt h o w e v e r based on w h a t G e o r g e described as the already distant relationship he had with her, in saying My sister will always be a loss, but it's not the s a m e kind of loss I would feel had she been o n e of the major figures in my life. George never did disclose to his mother or father that he w a s gay while they w e r e alive, though he felt that his mother had subtly c o n v e y e d her acceptance of him by asking if I w a s h a p p y , a n d that I should never forget about  111  the boys. For G e o r g e , the acceptance that most matters in his life is that w h i c h he has received from all three of his s o n s , his ex-wife with w h o m he is still in contact, as well as through his social contacts w h i c h in part are maintained through sharing his h o m e with Liam. But his primary source of well-being appears directly tied to his o w n sense of self-confidence and pride, at the time in w h i c h he actually c a m e out.  By the older gay man acknowledging he is proud of himself, his own self worth is not diminished by being gay. I think if one has good self worth when he's moving into an acknowledgement of his being gay, I think it carries over into the rest of his life. I think it's when people with low self worth move into gay relationships or a gay lifestyle that they may still feel even less self worth because they feel even more stigmatized for being involved in what they haven't accepted as being ok.  O u r first interview e n d e d with s o m e shared thoughts about R a y m o n d Berger's book entitled G a y a n d Gray, (1982b) part of the inspiration for this research. He tells me that he is glad that the work to highlight the needs of gay m e n continues. He e c h o e d the books findings by noting the importance that aligning himself with others w h o not only accept him but as well c a n share his world v i e w as a gay m a n means for him as a gay m a n .  The big factors for me are relationships that are fulfilling. These can be met either through a lover or a partner or equally through very close gay  112  friends. straight  I don't think the older gay man who only has mostly older friendships,  men or women,  will find the same degree  of  fulfillment as with gay friends because he can't share much of his intimacy or his feelings of having been with somebody or having seen a gay movie or whatever kind of thing in the same way. . . . And the other thing I think hopefully for the older gay man would be either to become  comfortable  with his coming out to his family or his children because otherwise he's always carrying a certain load of stress having to cover or make excuses on where he is or what's happening in his life and he can't truly share certain issues that are enjoyable or important or fun for him.  George's story helps us to understand that while it is not only important for s o m e older gay m e n to m a n a g e the impact that c o m i n g out to family and friends might have, it is as important to nurture a context w h e r e 'family' includes access to a n d involvement with other gay m e n w h o can relate with a n d the uniqueness of their experiences as gay m e n t h r o u g h t i m e . In fact George affirmed that  participating in this  research effort  w a s in itself a valuable  opportunity to affirm that with all that he has e x p e r i e n c e d , he has no regrets about a n y of the choices he has m a d e in his life.  This thing has sort of been a confirmation  of myself and what I  experienced when I was coming out, and the freedom I felt or that kind of sense of being alive and almost reborn. A great sense of I now know who  113  J am and I feel great and I now am truly happy. I would say now, at my age, I've had a very satisfying life, I have no big regrets for either life, 20 years of marriage nor the balance of my life in being gay. For me, I'm very happy I've had both and I would say quite comfortably to someone that was talking with me that was disgusted or very disliking of any aspect of being gay, my remark might be, don't knock it if you haven't tried it.  114  CHAPTER V - DISCUSSION  Introduction  E d w a r d , R o g e r , a n d G e o r g e affirm through their very different stories, it is not as if one could ask the question 'tell m e all about how being g a y informs your life as a man 65 years of age or over', w h e r e u p o n a definitive a n d essential a n s w e r to the question is elicited. Rarely w a s there nor could there be a direct answer to the question. A s stated earlier, Berger asserts that it is impossible in fact to make generalizations about w h a t it m e a n s to be an elder g a y m a n , for each is man's experience will be different based upon the psycho-social context in which they grow as gay m e n ( 1 9 9 6 ) . Rosenfeld (1999) has taken this further to suggest that it is by understanding the connection between a d h e r e n c e to either a 'status' or ' s t i g m a ' based gay identity that w e can speak more holistically to the choices made a n d v i e w of life lived a m o n g the current cohort of elder gay m e n . T h e following is a discussion of those t h e m e s that surfaced as a result of the stories shared by each participant, and their implications for previous research findings in the a r e a , as well as future research to take place. T h e effects of h o m o p h o b i a , h e t e r o s e x i s m , a n d a g e i s m w e r e consistent throughout each participants story. Rather than discuss these as separate dimensions to their experience, the influence of each will be w o v e n into the discussion of the other general t h e m e s that e m e r g e d a n d are discussed below. T h e s e include t h e m e s related to D e v e l o p m e n t , Identity, Social Support, Social  115  Policy a n d Social Services. This is then followed by a discussion of how an a w a r e n e s s of these t h e m e s can be integrated into an affirmative a p p r o a c h to practice with this population.  Developmental Tasks, Stages, and Milestones  C o m m o n to all three participants w e r e events and turning points that reflect various steps taken in their development through time. T h i s appeals s o m e w h a t to the focus in mainstream gerontological literature on w h a t an individual can expect to experience as he or she passes through 'context' d e p e n d e n t stages or phases. I have previously cited the ideas of Erickson (1968) a n d Levinson (1978) as two theorists w h o s e ideas have been referred to most in this regard within the literature related to gay aging. I also noted h o w e v e r that there has been criticism that these phase models of d e v e l o p m e n t have been seen as problematic to the study of gay a g i n g , because they are s e e n to be based upon heterosexist assumptions of development. T h e findings of this study do not imply that these ideas should therefore be rejected, more so than to suggest how the experience of being gay, might better inform the conceptualization of aging as a developmental process for a variety of individuals, gay or otherwise. For e x a m p l e , Erik Erikson's stages of adult d e v e l o p m e n t e m p h a s i z e several milestone events such as leaving the parental h o m e , finding a m e m b e r of  116  the opposite s e x to marry, starting a family, raising children, focusing on leisure pursuits, a n d preparing for and responding to retirement (1968). A s mentioned earlier, S w a n s o n ' s (1998) study of community-dwelling heterosexual m e n over the age of 6 5 , found that most of his participants in fact e m p h a s i z e d these milestones as having been especially important to t h e m , s u c h that having achieved in e a c h of these areas gave t h e m meaning in later life. S w a n s o n found support therefore for both Erikson and Levinson's theory's of d e v e l o p m e n t through this study (1998). With the three m e n that w e r e interviewed for this study h o w e v e r , the different trajectory that their lives took, in part because of their efforts to integrate their identities as g a y m e n , suggest other points of departure in d e v e l o p m e n t that m a y differ from a purely heterosexist approach to this process that has yet to be fully appreciated. For e x a m p l e , w h e n Edward recalled experiences that w e r e significant to him during his first interview, he did not e m p h a s i z e such things as high school graduation, moving out on his o w n for the first t i m e , the birth of his children, his career, or his retirement.  It w a s in fact not until the second interview that I  pointedly a s k e d Edward what j o b s he h e l d , h o w m a n y children he had a n d w h e n he had retired before I w a s able to learn these things. T h i s is also not to suggest that his children are unimportant to h i m . Quite the contrary is true in that regard as he later explained. Instead, Edward's developmental story e m p h a s i z e d his ability to develop the assertiveness skills necessary to achieve a gay identity on his o w n t e r m s ,  117  such that w h a t stands out as a significant milestone in his life, reflects this journey. For instance, a significant milestone for Edward w a s the d a y he m a d e the decision to leave his family and grandchildren and m o v e to C a n a d a not only so he could live with Mark, but also to fulfill his c o m m i t m e n t to himself to live openly as a g a y m a n .  For G e o r g e , he chose to story his life from the time in  w h i c h he claimed his gay identity, at the age of 4 2 o n w a r d . T h i s e m p h a s i z e d his e m e r g e n c e into a long-term relationship with Phillip, c o m i n g out at w o r k , a n d his relationship with his current room-mate a n d c o m p a n i o n L i a m . T h e r e w a s rarely a mention of any context or event that took place prior to this. A g a i n , during our second interview, I learned about his family of origin, his childhood h o m e , his university education a n d the degrees that he has e a r n e d , as an after-thought to the e m p h a s i s placed o n the process of claiming his gay identity a n d the life that he has created for himself as a gay man since his midlife. W i t h Roger, he stated that the most important events in his life w e r e meeting his father, reading a book, and joining A A . A s w a s alluded to, by examining the subtext to Rogers narrative however, it is clear that he e m p h a s i z e d that the ability to be ' h e a r d ' not simply as a g a y m a n , but as an individual w h o has survived a multitude of challenges faced in part because he w a s gay, constitutes one of the only w a y s in w h i c h he can muster a sense of a c h i e v e m e n t at this time in his life. Unlike Edward a n d G e o r g e , Roger's achievements are especially vulnerable to being rendered invisible in their o w n right w e r e they to be  118  measured only against the assumptions of a heterosexual context of adult development. This is because unlike himself, both Edward and G e o r g e w e r e married, and claimed their gay identities m u c h later in life than Roger d i d , at a time (post-1960's) w h e n it w a s seen as m u c h more positive to do so. Edward a n d G e o r g e also have children through their marriages and v i e w e d holistically, they have through their early lives secured a m u c h more concrete a d h e r e n c e to heterosexist notions of d e v e l o p m e n t than Roger, w h o w a s never married a n d did not b e c o m e a father.  It appears as important therefore to isolate those  milestones a n d turning points that w e r e significant in the d e v e l o p m e n t of three elder gay m e n as they would have us understand t h e m , that might otherwise be overlooked a n d unrecognized. T h e stories of all three of these m e n help us to understand that a process of d e v e l o p m e n t is itself not something that the individual will or will not conform to, more so than what the individual will inform us about. Another dimension to the developmental reality of e a c h participant is how they have confronted w h a t Erikson conceptualized as the last t w o of eight stages of development. A s w a s discussed earlier Erikson proposed that at the latter half of the life span the 7  t h  stage involves the 'crisis' of Generativity versus  Stagnation, which takes place shortly after retirement, followed in our latest years by a final stage characterized as the crisis of 'Integrity v e r s u s Despair' (Erikson, 1968).  119  With Generativity versus Stagnation, Erikson proposed that a central focus is to 'give back' to the next generation. T h e suggestion is that developmentally, one focuses on transmitting the w i s d o m a n d knowledge gained in one's life to the next generation in support of their o w n development. Roger w a s quite direct in stating that the most V i t a l ' aspect of his life at this time is 'the legacy I will leave behind with the y o u n g people in my life'. Clearly Erikson's theory applies in his case. H o w e v e r , what w a s interesting a m o n g all three participants is that e a c h also benefits from the presence of youth in their life, not only by virtue of an opportunity to 'give something back', but as w e l l , and perhaps m o r e significantly, as a m e a n s of countering the a g e i s m that e a c h identified being a w a r e of within the gay c o m m u n i t y . In this w a y , e a c h conforms to w h a t Erikson referred to as the function o f ' r e c i p r o c i t y ' with this developmental stage. For e x a m p l e , G e o r g e c o m m e n t e d that he " h a d no idea h o w important a focus on youth w a s in the gay c o m m u n i t y " a n d that the reason w h y he prefers the c o m p a n y of y o u n g e r m e n like Liam is because "I always feel they keep y o u y o u n g . . . I think it confirms that I a m s o m e o n e worth while". T h e a s s u m p t i o n is that if G e o r g e feels he is seen as ' o l d ' t h e n he is then rendered as s o m e o n e w h o is not worthwhile, evidence of internalized a g e i s m . Edward remarked at o n e point that being with Mark, his partner w h o is significantly y o u n g e r than himself is reflective of the fact that "there's a real heavy focus on youth in a n d a m o n g s t g a y people and m a y b e that's partly w h y I  120  a m with h i m " . A n d for Roger, his repeated statement ' o h they all think that I a m a dirty old m a n " w h e n referring to both the gay and non-gay c o m m u n i t y in w h i c h he lives, is a testament that at the intersection of homophobia a n d ageism is his struggle to confront daily the fact that he is in fact not a dirty old m a n at all. Instead, he is s o m e o n e w h o is relied upon as a sounding board for those w h o have yet to see the struggles in life that he has. With respect to the last stage of Erikson's theory, w h a t w a s noteworthy a m o n g the three participants w a s the degree to w h i c h each appears to have accelerated the developmental search for 'Integrity'. Erikson suggested that this is a c o m p o n e n t of d e v e l o p m e n t that occurs in the last years of the life-span (i.e 80 years a n d older), w h e r e b y the individual searches for inner peace with the life that has been lived a n d reconciles oneself to the choices m a d e in living that life through a life review. T h e participants' d e v e l o p m e n t as gay m e n appears to force an earlier reckoning of the life that they have not only lived, but have yet to live. Thematically this implies that the search for integrity in claiming a gay identity does not appear to wait until the last phase of the life span to e m e r g e as a central organizing force in the lives of elderly gay m e n . It would appear instead to have been present from the m o m e n t that the participants a w a r e n e s s that they might be gay intersected with a stigma-based definition of that a w a r e n e s s , something that would s e e m to elude the developmental experience of non-gay men completely.  121  Identity and Life-satisfaction in Later Life  Closely related to the t h e m e of d e v e l o p m e n t , is the t h e m e of 'identity' a n d how each of the participants have c o m e to construct their sexual identities as well as their age. A s Rosenfeld (1999) observed gerontologists a n d social scientists have rarely explored the construction of identity by the lesbian a n d gay elderly themselves. In the past s o m e have suggested that the identity of today's gay elderly c a n simply be constructed as being c o m p o s e d of one of t w o g r o u p s , those w h o c a m e out prior to the 1960's, a n d those w h o c a m e out after the 1960's (Berger, 1982b; L e e , 1989; G r u b e , 1996). A s the stories of the three participants in this study attest, Rosenfeld allows us to understand that it is not simply w h e n or w h e t h e r each participant ' c a m e out' that defines their gay identity. Instead, it is the adoption of being gay as either a ' s t i g m a ' or a 'status' which yields more to our understanding of h o w being g a y can inform the lives of m e n over the age of 6 5 . Edward and G e o r g e claimed their gay identities as a status, i.e s o m e t h i n g to take pride i n , and something that is worth working hard to accept and feel g o o d about. For e x a m p l e , Edward stated repeatedly that he is 'happier now than I have ever b e e n ' because 'I accepted that I w a s gay, and that there is nothing w r o n g that'. For G e o r g e , the adoption of a gay identity based on status overturned m a n y years of having reacted to his gay feelings as a stigmatized characteristic, a n d something that w a s at one time in his life conceived of as  122  'disgusting'. O n the other hand for Roger, despite his father's acceptance of his sexual orientation, he appears to have had little support elsewhere in his life. If social work w i s h e s to develop an effective practice that will meet the needs of elder gay m e n , they must first endeavor to make visible the extent to w h i c h the individual's identity as a gay m a n is based on ' g a y ' as either a s t i g m a , status, or a ' t e n s i o n ' between both. For e x a m p l e , e v e n though Edward maintains that he is proud of his gay identity a n d 'happier than he has ever b e e n ' , he has yet to resolve completely his ambivalence in the choices he m a d e in claiming his gay identity. A s w a s noted in Edward's story this w a s evidenced by his sharing with me the fact that at times he questions w h e t h e r claiming his gay identity and having m a d e the choices he did as a result w a s worth it. T h r o u g h this, Edward helps us to understand the importance of w h a t is in fact a g o a l , v e r s u s an achieved goal with respect to his gay identity. Rosenfeld's (1999) theory posits a binary o f ' s t i g m a ' v e r s u s 'status'. This echoes the t e n d e n c y in gay research to affect a n d reinforce other binaries such as 'out' v e r s u s 'closeted/not out', ' g a y ' v e r s u s 'straight', or 'pride' v e r s u s ' s h a m e ' , all of which exist as either/or constructs that do not speak to the complexity of experience that can exist. Roger's story m a k e s us aware that simply stating that he has a 'stigma'-based sexual identity, as suggested by Rosenfeld's theory, can be s o m e w h a t misleading. Instead, it s e e m s that it would be more accurate to say that Roger's identity as a gay man has been constructed on the basis of having m a n a g e d and survived the forces of homosexual s t i g m a , versus the assumption  123  that he has simply capitulated a n d internalized stigma as a part of his identity. In fact, it w o u l d behoove a n y o n e not to accord Roger a n d others like him with the a c k n o w l e d g e m e n t that their lives have simply not allowed for the privilege of a status-based path of development. A l o n g these s a m e lines is further support for Lee's (1987) criticism of all theories of successful a g i n g , most particularly with 'mastery of s t i g m a ' (Berger, 1982) and 'crisis c o m p e t e n c e theory' (Friend, 1986) discussed previously in chapter two of this study. T h e idea of successful a g i n g , or prescribing that a ' g o a l ' for the individual during a particular phase of aging is equated with the acquisition of a particular life skill simply sets s o m e individual's up to fail. G e o r g e w a s quite clear in stating that he might not have claimed his gay identity w e r e his wife not to have given him ' p e r m i s s i o n ' to explore his feelings of attraction for other m e n . W e r e G e o r g e to have elected to have remained in his marriage, as a heterosexual, he would no more have failed in his growth in later life than the gay man w h o c h o o s e s not to explore a heterosexual relationship in the s a m e way. A c a d e m i a , in trying to eradicate j u d g m e n t a l stereotypes a n d generalizations would s e e m at times to in fact contribute to their existence. In referring to the participants' identities as gay m e n , w e can also understand that living as such is not effectively conceptualized as a static experience of either having or not having ' c o m e out'. It is here that my previously stated frustration with s o m e c o m i n g out theories as never quite capturing the meaning of gay identity d e v e l o p m e n t might be explained. T h r o u g h  124  the three stories that w e r e s h a r e d , w e are able to see how a definition of being gay is experienced as either a positive or negative feature of o n e s identity, at various points along the life-span. This s p e a k s more accurately to w h e t h e r one will or will not voice satisfaction with the life they are living, especially in later life, d e p e n d e n t upon w h a t that individual m a y be faced with at that time. For e x a m p l e , Roger felt t r e m e n d o u s psychological isolation w h e n in the Air Force during the late 1950's. During this period he felt quite unsatisfied with the impact of his sexual identity o n his life. Conversely however, now at the age of 65 and having m a n a g e d to survive the challenges that w e r e presented to him earlier in his life, Roger c o n v e y s feeling satisfied with w h o he is. This is because the w i s d o m that he feels he offers to a y o u n g e r generation of gay m e n based on these past struggles, is a source of validation a n d recognition as w a s mentioned earlier. A n d finally, there w a s an interesting aspect of the role that self e s t e e m played in the construction of identity for e a c h participant. A s noted, both Edward a n d G e o r g e did not actually claim their identities as gay men until their midlife. T h e y both either had a long standing a w a r e n e s s of their attraction to other m e n , or in Edward's c a s e , m a n a g e d to experiment sexually with other men prior to disclosing to another that they w e r e 'gay'. In G e o r g e ' s c a s e , the time in which he claimed his sexual identity w a s also supported by a very positive self-esteem that he had developed earlier in his life. Edward j o i n e d a support group which is w h e r e he began to gain a positive s e l f - e s t e e m . T h i s served as the catalyst to his  125  decision finally to leave his wife and live openly as a g a y m a n . Both E d w a r d a n d G e o r g e m a d e explicit statements that they w e r e happy with w h o t h e y w e r e a n d that this w a s related to their acceptance of their identities as g a y m e n . In contrast R o g e r , w h o had accepted that he w a s gay quite early in his adolescence, never stated that he w a s happy, or that his sexual identity as a g a y m a n informed w h e t h e r he would be happy at this time in his life. In fact, Roger stated his perception that the physical effects of age had more of an impact o n his life than his sexual orientation, a n d that further, these effects w e r e experienced negatively. T h e results of this study support A d e l m a n ' s (1991) finding that those m e n w h o waited to ' c o m e out' in their mid-life or later, after having e x p e r i m e n t e d sexually before-hand with others of the s a m e s e x , reported far higher levels of satisfaction in later years. T h i s leads to a consideration of the role that, the building of self-esteem for gay men at all points of their d e v e l o p m e n t can have in promoting greater psychological adjustment to a g i n g .  Aging It w a s interesting that the issue of aging itself did not feature prominently in any of the stories that w e r e told. T h i s w a s not simply the result of the first interview question that w a s asked - i.e. ' C a n y o u describe h o w it w a s that y o u c a m e to identify yourself as ' g a y ? Each participant w a s also a s k e d to describe their experiences as an elder gay man at present, as well to describe how they  126  felt that their age a n d sexual orientation affected their hopes a n d fears about the future. A s w a s noted in the findings both Edward and G e o r g e actually m a d e the statement that they both did not feel that they considered t h e m s e l v e s to be o l d . Roger only referred to age in a derogatory sense as w a s evident in his story.  In  each case age or being a g e d w a s referenced as an aspect of their future, not the present. T h e impact of age w a s seen by each as not having primacy over their lives to the extent that their gay identities h a d . If feeling older w a s m e n t i o n e d , it w a s firstly in terms of the physical aspects of aging that w e r e being noticed. Secondly, as has been referred to throughout the findings a n d discussion section of this study, aging w a s referred to through subtle hints of a g e i s m that have either directly affected the participants or w e r e reflected through their o w n internalized a g e i s m . T h e fact that aging w a s so subtle an overt issue of experience for these m e n m a y also reflect the fact that the three participants are from what is considered the V o u n g - o l d ' cohort of persons over the age of 6 5 . More importantly however is the realization that the dominant discourse of aging excludes the impact of gay identity in the lives of older m e n . T h e literature on aging almost p r e s u m e s that age is to be taken for granted as a central unit of analysis. T h e standpoint of elder gay m e n h o w e v e r , reveals that the concept of aging a n d e v e n a g e i s m , while important, are overwhelmingly o v e r s h a d o w e d by the impact of heterosexism in the lives of the three participants of this study.  127  It  is then perhaps not so m u c h s a m p l e size nor due to neglect on my part as a researcher that aging does not feature more prominently within this study. Rather it is the reality of life o n the margins of sexual identity for elder gay m e n that d o e s have prominence.  Social Support Each of the three m e n interviewed reflect the value not just of receiving social support from others, but of being seen as a support to others at this time in their lives. For G e o r g e , the interaction with his sons, their families a n d his grandchildren clearly are important to h i m . Edward too mentioned that his son and daughters and their families are also important for h i m , t h o u g h with the exception of his s o n , he has yet to receive complete acceptance as a g a y man from most other m e m b e r s of his family which m a k e s him s a d . For Roger, w h o did not experience the creation of a family system through fatherhood as did Edward and G e o r g e , it is not so m u c h biological family-ties as it is his c h o s e n family of many y o u n g gay m e n he has gathered around him w h o help him to feel V i t a l ' , n e e d e d , and validated. Roger himself stated that he has 'nothing to offer but the w i s d o m of my e x p e r i e n c e ' as currency for his friendship with these m e n . Edward a n d G e o r g e also tend to reach outside the traditional family system for the unique support that non-traditional 'family' can provide. For e x a m p l e with E d w a r d , aside from his relationship with Mark, the friendships he  128  has m a d e through a local g a y seniors social group concretely address his need for c o m p a n i o n s h i p a n d the c o m p a n y of other gay m e n . Most likely for E d w a r d , the uniqueness of these friendships affirm his decisions with respect to his gay identity. G e o r g e w a s specific about this w h e n talking about the need not only to rely on his sons but ' o n others w h o can relate to me the w a y only another gay man c a n ' that provide him with a unique sense of support that otherwise might not exist. T h i s reinforces previous findings in the literature w h i c h s h o w that social support not just for gay m e n , but by other g a y m e n is integral to their happiness in later life (Jacobs, R a s m u s s e n , a n d H o h m e n , 1999; K o c h m a n , 1 9 9 7 ; Q u a l m & Whitford, 1 9 9 2 ; A d e l m a n , 1 9 8 6 ; Berger, 1 9 8 2 b ; K i m m e l , 1979). Related to social support w a s the conspicuous a b s e n c e from e a c h of the three men's story of the role w o m e n in their current lives. T h e only w o m e n w h o featured in any of the stories w e r e those with w h o m e a c h of the m e n had a familial tie to, as c o n v e y e d to me with respect to their past, not the present. For e x a m p l e , Roger talked of how his mother died w h e n he w a s quite y o u n g and that he w a s devastated by this. Edward talked of 4 w o m e n in his life, including his mother and h o w hard she w o r k e d to support the family, his wife w h o m he regrets hurting in having to leave her, a n d his t w o daughters w h o have yet to accept Edward as a gay m a n . A n d then for G e o r g e , there w a s his wife w h o m he divorced after claiming his o w n identity as a gay m a n . I w a s not able to address this directly in this study, but it is curious to me that no previous research  129  relating to elder gay m e n has m a d e explicit or sought to explore the role of w o m e n in their lives. A n o t h e r aspect of social support that is consistent a m o n g all three m e n is their participation in gay c o m m u n i t y causes a n d / o r organizations, s o m e t h i n g that Berger (1982b) noted w a s a key characteristic of gay m e n w h o reported being satisfied with their lives in later life. Interestingly, if E d w a r d , G e o r g e , a n d Roger stated that they felt they belonged to a c o m m u n i t y , they did not feel that this w a s solely in t e r m s o f ' g a y community', more so than w h a t G e o r g e referred to as 'the broader c o m m u n i t y as a whole'. W h i l e this m a y reflect the reality that ageism c a n isolate elder gay m e n from feeling completely included in an established youth-oriented g a y c o m m u n i t y , each feels that he belongs to a s e n s e of c o m m u n i t y in s o m e w a y . W h a t w a s particularly evident with respect to social support w a s not just the role that religion played in the formation o f their g a y identities, but also in the m e a n s by w h i c h e a c h participant has incorporated spirituality into their lives as a result of having claimed a gay identity.  H u m p h r e y s a n d Q u a l m (1998) note  that because of the unique challenge of confronting the h o m o p h o b i c teaching of Judeo-Christian beliefs as they conflict with the e m e r g e n c e of a g a y identity, coupled with the search for meaning that gains in intensity in later life, religion a n d spirituality take on increasing importance as one ages as a g a y m a n or lesbian. In e a c h c a s e , organized religion a p p e a r s to have s e r v e d a s a primary source of stigma that heavily influenced the early construction of e a c h man's  130  identity. But as Roger e m p h a s i z e d , while religion has served as a s o u r c e of oppression in the past, the language of religion a n d the ability to support instead the V a l u e s ' of Christianity toward love a n d acceptance has taken o n greater importance a m o n g all three in the present. For e x a m p l e Edward talked at length not just about the effect of being raised in the Southern Baptist tradition, but of his having o v e r c o m e the power that the belief system attached to this tradition once had over him a n d his ability to assert his identity.  If Edward w a s animated about any one aspect of his story,  it w a s w h e n he c o n v e y e d movingly his belief that living as a Christian for h i m , is now entirely different than living according to the rhetoric of the Southern Baptist C h u r c h . For E d w a r d , reconciling himself to his identity as a gay m a n , required of him a complete reformation of what G o d w o u l d m e a n in his life. G e o r g e , w h o s e upbringing in the Maritimes w a s influenced in part by his family's m e m b e r s h i p in the United C h u r c h , discussed as well a time in w h i c h leaving the organized aspects of the C h u r c h he attended and w o r k e d for w a s replaced instead with a personal experience of spirituality that could integrate with his identity as a g a y m a n . A s a former elder in the United C h u r c h , his decision to leave w a s a rejection of w h a t he felt w e r e the contradictions between what the C h u r c h taught, versus how those w h o ran the C h u r c h b e h a v e d . A s he alluded to during our second interview, rejecting the formal a n d organized aspects of his C h u r c h allowed him to reconcile a belief in G o d that could be  131  inclusive of himself as a g a y m a n , rather than to continue with a belief in G o d in spite of his g a y identity. Roger insists that his sense of spirituality is critical to his sobriety. A s w e recall, one of the three key experiences he has had in his life, w a s the reading of T h e S e r m o n on the Mount by E m m e t t F o x , w h e r e i n exists a w o r d by w o r d account of the Lords Prayer. Roger insisted that while he is not religious, he believes in ' a power greater than m y s e l f . . . and y e s , that includes G o d ' . R o g e r , in his unique w a y also allows us to connect with the m e a n s by w h i c h he has found a w a y to allow a reframing of his belief in G o d to provide sanction for his identity as a gay m a n . A s only Roger could s a y , ' G o d has room for all of us, not just s o m e of us. Otherwise most of w h a t the Bible says would have to be crap'. Clearly, Roger has adopted the m e a n s to align himself with the G o d of J u d e o Christian belief s y s t e m s , in such a w a y as to find spiritual support for his identity a n d survival as a gay m a n .  Social Policy and Services  Each participant discussed various issues related to social policy and services that have significance in their lives as elder gay m e n . Roger discussed the extent that both he a n d his partner D a n n y w o r k e d to build up a business w h i c h had b e c o m e quite s u c c e s s f u l , prior to Danny's tragic d e a t h . B e c a u s e the assets of the travel business w e r e in Danny's n a m e , as well as s o m e R R S P and  132  other savings they had a m a s s e d , Roger w a s ineligible f r o m inheriting a larger before-tax share of these assets that he would have been able to inherit w e r e he and Danny to have been considered legally defined s p o u s e s . A s a c o n s e q u e n c e , Roger not only had to sell the business at a loss, in order to finance the mounting debt that had a m a s s e d in his a b s e n c e . In the last t w o y e a r s , the Federal G o v e r n m e n t has enshrined the definition of marriage as only occurring between t w o m e m b e r s of the opposite sex. Currently, neither Roger, E d w a r d nor G e o r g e would be eligible to inherit the C a n a d a pension benefits that heterosexual spouses are able to on the death of a partner. G e o r g e and Edward are both supported by healthy pension plans that allow for a retirement w h e r e they each receive an income a d e q u a t e to provide for their needs. Roger lives in a subsidized senior's housing complex and is now receiving C a n a d a Pension Benefits including the G u a r a n t e e d Income S u p p l e m e n t that he feels is adequate to meet his needs. E d w a r d , G e o r g e , and Roger discussed h o w e v e r the possibility that e a c h at s o m e point might require facility care. G e o r g e feels that he might actually be able to arrange for private care at h o m e if necessary. A s s o m e observe however, the question of housing exists as a serious concern to elder gay m e n because of the lack of specialized public and private housing options, including nursing h o m e s , that would appeal to the unique social needs of gay m e n and lesbians in later life ( H u m p r e y s and Q u a l m , 1998; Whitford, 1997; E h r e n b e r g , 1996).  133  A s w a s previously cited, G e o r g e s p o k e most directly about the impact that heterosexism in a nursing h o m e w o u l d have for his ability to feel comfortable a n d included w e r e he to require facility care. S h o u l d an individual require admission to a care facility, the ability to control a n d m a n a g e their identity through strategies of social d e t a c h m e n t are instantly eroded because of the rampant h o m o p h o b i a in these institutions. O n c e a d m i t t e d , g a y s a n d lesbians can face the challenge of battling increased psychological isolation as they m a y be e n c o u r a g e d to participate in activities with others w h o are socially free to talk about the lives they have lived, the families they have raised, a n d t h e children a n d opposite sex partners they have cared for With respect to social services for elder gay m e n , both G e o r g e a n d Roger c o m m e n t e d o n the significance of their contact with social services either as c o n s u m e r s , or as providers of services to others, from the perspective of living as gay m e n . G e o r g e w o n d e r e d about the ability of elder gay m e n to have a counseling resource that w o u l d be sensitive to their needs. In noting that a lot of older m e n , w h o claim their gay identities as G e o r g e did late in life, might probably benefit from c o u n s e l i n g , G e o r g e asked ' w h e r e could they go?'. I n d e e d , w h e r e w o u l d they go? With R o g e r , his story leads us to understand that the treatment he received at the hands of a mental health t e a m led him to feel not only that he w a s not a valid participant in the care of his partner, but that their relationship had been invalidated as w e l l . W h a t is significant is the extent to w h i c h the  134  unique contribution that Roger could have m a d e to care-planning for his partner Danny w a s ignored. A s w e see from his story, Roger attributed this to the fact that they w e r e a gay c o u p l e , a characteristic that the literature finds has bearing on the overall health of gays and lesbians alike. T h e c o n s e q u e n c e of excluding Roger is that he now feels w a r y of the ' s y s t e m ' . T h i s is problematic not only for Roger's health, but as well for the implications of a health care system that is not geared toward the inclusion of elder gay men's needs. For example, a number of researchers have demonstrated that as aging is accompanied by a greater reliance on health care providers to assist with the multitude of physical changes that take place, there is a tremendous fear on the part of older gays and lesbians as to how they will be treated by their health care providers (Appleby & Anastas, 1996). T h e reluctance to visit doctors offices or share information with respect to their identities means decreased levels of medical screening and testing that would otherwise assist with diseases that might otherwise be treatable ((Hunter, S h a n n o n , Knox, and Martin, 1998). In this regard, older gay men may be at greater risk for untreated diseases of aging than there heterosexual cohorts, particularly if the heterosexism and internalised homophobia of service providers remains unchecked.  Implications for Practice T h e focus on social services is directly related to a primary purpose of this thesis which was to explore how what w e know of the role that gay identity can  135  play in the lives of older men might also help us to better inform social work practice with this population. T h e next section will use the stories of all three participants, given the above discussion, as a means of identifying the requirements for a social work practice that will be affirmative a n d inclusive of the needs of elderly gay men with respect to their development, identity work, social support, social policy and social service needs. T h e implications of these findings will be integrated with recommendations for a n affirmative model of practice advocated by Applebby and Annastas (1998).  •  Do not assume a client's sexual orientation. W h e n talking about elder people in g e n e r a l , G e o r g e in particular w a s quite  specific in stating his wish that others not j u m p to conclusions with respect to his sexual orientation w h e n he said "I would think that a lot of people don't associate age or aging or elder men with being gay". T o G e o r g e , a n d many people like h i m , the ability to take for granted that sexuality exists in t h e elderly prevents t h e a c k n o w l e d g e m e n t a n d validation of those needs that are inherently related to t h e ability to be s e x u a l , let alone to maintain an identity based in part o n a marginalized sexual identity. A l s o , sexual orientation itself d o e s w o u l d not appear to inform t h e needs o f elder g a y m e n , as d o e s t h e construction of their identity around that sexual orientation. T o t h e extent that s o m e o n e views t h e m s e l v e s pejoratively to be ' q u e e r ' , a 'faggot', a 'sissy' says more about t h e reality of t h e m e s s a g e s of  136  heterosexism that they have been e x p o s e d to, than it might about sexual orientation, the former being a m u c h more vital focus of practice on the part of a practitioner.  •  Accept the adoption of a same-sex sexual orientation as a positive outcome of development.  With all three participants the ability to achieve acceptance within themselves for w h o a n d ' w h a t ' they are, in so far as this is defined in t e r m s of their sexuality, is actually ' e s s e n t i a l ' to a s e n s e of well-being for e a c h at this time of life. Edward states ' b e w h o y o u are and w h a t y o u are a n d y o u will have a life that is h a p p y ' while G e o r g e states that w h e n having finally accepted that he w a s a g a y m a n he experienced ' f r e e d o m ' , he w a s 'vibrant' a n d felt ' r e b o r n ' . T h e implication is that if social workers are not able to v i e w the experience of a client accepting their g a y identity as a positive milestone, they m a y ignore the ability to celebrate an important c o m p o n e n t to the elder gay man's achieved sense of self. A s w a s mentioned previously, this is m a d e e v e n more important w h e n considering that for G e o r g e and E d w a r d especially, other developmental milestones such as the birth of children, education a c h i e v e d , a n d retirement, are barely mentioned as significant turning points within the context of the stories they told. W h e n they w e r e mentioned they w e r e s o m e t i m e s d e v a l u e d , such as w h e n Roger recalls how his 22 y e a r relationship w a s not a c k n o w l e d g e d or valued by the workers or psychiatrist at the local mental health t e a m . T h e ability to  137  receive validation a n d a c k n o w l e d g e m e n t c o m e s o u t of a recognition o f having survived t h e challenge of living with a n d adapting to the presence a n d influences of a marginalized sexual identity, more so than t h e subjective appraisal of w h e t h e r a n individual has ' o v e r c o m e ' these challenges.  •  Practitioners should consciously commit to review their own homophobia.  Brown (1998), a lesbian social worker teaching a n d working in the U. K. sees t h e practitioners ability t o confront their o w n h o m o p h o b i a as a critical feature of affirmative practice. For her t h e ability to develop practice c o m p e t e n c e with older gays and lesbians involves a dedication to acquiring  knowledge not only about t h e issues that affect gay a g i n g , but as well about the context-specific resources that are required to respond to these needs. S h e also insists that a s practitioners, w e e n g a g e in a reflective a s s e s s m e n t of o u r own  values a n d beliefs a n d recognize the need to affirm the worth of t h e  homosexual identity at every juncture in o u r practice. Otherwise w e in s o m e w a y are d o o m e d to w o r k against o u r gay a n d lesbian clients. In his story G e o r g e reinforces this in saying "if you don't like homosexuals, then by all means if you  meet one who's on your case load, then say openly, Tm not comfortable with this.. . get to know yourself".  138  dealing  •  Respect privacy and confidentiality and the need to withhold disclosure  Both E d w a r d a n d G e o r g e referred to w h a t things w o u l d be like if they w e r e forced to enter a long-term care facility. For E d w a r d being g a y w o u l d have to be hidden in order to protect himself. A s w e note earlier, G e o r g e feels that he w o u l d prefer to share a room with s o m e o n e w h o is g a y , a n d w e r e that not possible he most likely w o u l d be restricted f r o m sharing very m u c h about himself. Planning for a n d maintaining a n informal ' h o u s i n g registry' w o u l d allow those interested the opportunity to be m a t c h e d with potential r o o m - m a t e s that m a y e n h a n c e the opportunity for social support as well as the sharing of living expenses. For front-line w o r k e r s , if one suspects a s a m e - s e x orientation on the part o f a client, it w o u l d be critical to assess the value in promoting disclosure from that client out of a recognition that for s o m e clients, their ability to maintain their integrity a n d dignity has been and is d e p e n d e n t upon their ability to m a n a g e disclosure on their o w n t e r m s , in their o w n t i m e , and at their o w n pace.  Embrace an ongoing commitment to understand the coming out process.  A s w e have c o m e to u n d e r s t a n d , all three participants share a c o m i n g out experience that has s e e n to the d e v e l o p m e n t of a g a y identity of w h i c h t h e y are proud a n d w o u l d most likely want to share with a care provider. W o r k e r s dealing  139  with those w h o have not had a similar o u t c o m e with the d e v e l o p m e n t of their gay identity, i.e. with those w h o have experienced their g a y n e s s as a s t i g m a , should consider how to interpret decisions m a d e on the part of that client. For e x a m p l e w h e n assessing an older individual in their h o m e as requiring service, while being presented with their decline of the offer to receive that service, it m a y be important to assess this not so m u c h as 'resistance', more so than as a possible function of an ongoing strategy of identity m a n a g e m e n t based on stigma. In this r e g a r d , an affirmative practice will honor 'invisibility a n d silence' i.e. a request for privacy, as a skill a n d strength reflective of w h e r e that client is in their identity d e v e l o p m e n t , not as a handicap or a s h o r t c o m i n g . Creating a genuine bond of trust that is authentically g r o u n d e d in respect for a n d a n affirmation of an individual's choices is a core social work ethic that cannot be a b a n d o n e d with elder gay m e n .  •  Respect and honor the CLIENTS language for identifying themselves.  Brown (1998), and H u m p h r e y s et. a l . (1998) note the ongoing challenge research has in trying to speak to those people w h o have fluidity with the terminology that is used a n d the linguistic m e a n s by w h i c h individuals define t h e m s e l v e s . Edward a n d Roger described t h e m s e l v e s as having been ' q u e e r ' before the adoption of the w o r d ' g a y ' and as a result use the w o r d s interchangeably. Because he c a m e out as a gay man later in life, G e o r g e always  140  uses the word 'gay'. T h e choice to label oneself ' g a y ' or ' q u e e r ' can represent a political decision that m a y be based o n philosophical considerations t h o u g h for s o m e elder gay m e n , the choice of w h a t o n e calls one self, w h e t h e r 'gay', 'queer', or 'straight' c a n be made for more practical reasons, s u c h as avoiding disclosure ( Q u a m : 1997).  •  Recognize that there is diversity among sexual minorities.  N o w h e r e did the diversity a m o n g the three participants express itself more than with respect their socio-economic status. For Roger being o n welfare has meant needing to learn a s y s t e m , e n d u r e countless intrusions into his privacy, a n d having to develop a rationalization that helps him accept the 'gifts' of others. In meeting his practical needs it c a n not be underestimated that this has also been necessary to his basic survival. A s alluded to earlier, it also m e a n s that Roger has a picture of social work and of social services that is s o m e w h a t 'tainted' by the negative experiences of having been on welfare. At one point in our interview Roger suggests that he w i s h e s he 'saved m o r e ' for his retirement'.  A practitioner's ability to understand a n d recognize the  need to consider that inheritance laws greatly discriminate against s a m e sex couples, may greatly influence their ability to assist in promoting appropriate financial planning with sexual minority individuals P R I O R to retirement (Appleby and A n n a s t a s , 1 9 9 8 ; Y o u n g , 1 9 9 6 ; B r o w n , 1998). Social w o r k e r s should  141  e n c o u r a g e minority elders to also plan a h e a d for their later years to provide for adequate insurance c o v e r a g e , powers of attorney, health care directives, living wills, health care proxy's, funeral a r r a n g e m e n t s , a n d property rights. A knowledge base of gay-sensitive legal services a n d assistance is critical in ensuring adequate planning. T h i s might be particularly relevant to Edward given the precarious nature of his status in C a n a d a , a n d of the implications of potentially being d e p o r t e d a w a y f r o m his partner.  •  Acknowledge that not all problems are associated with being gay or old.  Related to t h e concept of diversity is t h e degree to which either being g a y or older is in fact t h e focus of all that might affect a n elder g a y client. For e x a m p l e , another difference a m o n g t h e three participants is the extent to w h i c h being g a y d o e s or d o e s not affect h o w they experience life d a y to day. E d w a r d w a s quite clear in saying that his a g e affects him more n o w than being gay. It s e e m e d that this m a d e sense given that he has created safety a n d a secure h o m e that allows for a focus o n a g e a s o p p o s e d to a struggle to claim his g a y sexual identity. Roger o n t h e other h a n d , had difficulty making a n explicit connection to h o w his sexual identity impacts his current experiences. I n d e e d , he is understandably c o n s u m e d with past events that have had a traumatic effect o n his life, versus being able to concentrate o n t h e present a s it m a y or may not be informed by his a g e a n d sexual orientation. A n d for G e o r g e , being  142  gay is something to be ' p r o u d ' of, that is a n ' a c h i e v e m e n t ' that exists as a result of s o m e hard personal work. It is a constant factor in his thoughts not only a b o u t his happiness in the present but as well in the future.  If he has issues that are  of concern to him t h o u g h , most likely these appear related more to the quality of the relationships that he e x p e r i e n c e s , a s well a s his c o n c e r n s a b o u t his physical health, a n d c o m m u n i t y work.  •  Treat identified family as family. O f note is the effect that a level of integration between family of origins vs.  ' c h o s e n ' families and partnerships can have on the experience of ageing for gay m e n . A similarity a m o n g all three of the participants w a s the presence of s o m e form of 'family' in their life that w a s essential to their happiness. F o r R o g e r , the y o u n g m e n , w h o are his ' c h i l d r e n ' are 'vital' to him such that his life w o u l d be 'devastating' w e r e they not to be there. For E d w a r d , his need for Mark's love a n d partnership w a s s o strong that e v e n after a g e 6 0 he felt c o m p e l l e d to m o v e his life to C a n a d a illegally in order to be with him. Edward consistently says that as a result of having Mark to share his life, i.e. his 'little family', he is happier than he has e v e r b e e n . Edward's s o n holds a special place in his life because ' h e treats Mark a n d me as family'. For G e o r g e , Liam continues to be a source of family, in as m u c h as G e o r g e feels he requires this. It is clear though that there is great meaning derived out of Liam's integration into G e o r g e ' s family via his three son's and ex wife.  143  For each of the participants, their experiences as elder gay m e n , a p p e a r d e p e n d e n t upon a context that w a s created through their relations with a primary support of s o m e sort at e a c h stage of their life. O u r ability to recognize the significance of these supports will only help to honour a n d validate the lives that t h e y have l e d , a n d continue to lead. It is h o p e d that in providing a context, via the stories of these three m e n , an appreciation for the need of a n affirmative approach to practice c a n be e m p h a s i z e d in the education and training of social workers a n d other helping professionals. A s Roger said at one point in his interview  . . . a b o v e all it's simple. Respect, from a n y o n e , w h e t h e r they are a  worker at welfare, R e v e n u e C a n a d a , the building m a n a g e r in my building. Y o u don't have to like m e , but I need y o u to respect me'.  •  Assume that internal and external homophobia contributes to issues that are experienced. T h e findings section related to social policy alluded to the role that  legislation plays in reflecting prevailing heterosexist a n d homophobic policies that continue to inform the day to d a y experience of g a y and lesbian lives. Within the context of practice, this is helpful in understanding h o w to assist elderly gay clients with various types of planning that should occur given this climate. For e x a m p l e , disclosure of relationship status to an employer is required in order to designate most private pension/insurance beneficiaries. T h i s results in s o m e gay m e n deciding to forgo disclosure for fear of reprisals (loss of promotion, firing, harassment) d e n y i n g partners access to benefits that t h e y might otherwise be entitled to. ' A d v a n c e d Directives' that speak to w h a t life saving m e a s u r e s  144  w o u l d be exercised in a medical e m e r g e n c y c a n be contested by biological family m e m b e r s if adequate legal protections of the partner's role and authority have not been provided for. Further, s o m e institutions are legally required to only have 'next of k i n ' (meaning next of biological kin) notified or authorized to m a k e major medical decisions, ignoring the role of the partner. G e o r g e , E d w a r d , and Roger remain vulnerable to policies not set up to act inclusively to honor those that e a c h have brought into their lives in places of trust, w h e t h e r they be a partner, a y o u n g friend, or a c o m p a n i o n . Social workers should promote policies within their o w n w o r k p l a c e s , as well as participate in collective efforts to overturn legislation a n d policies that erode the opportunities for equal participation with respect to social benefits. T o not do s o , is to reinforce the very policies that serve to diminish the life c h a n c e s of gays and lesbians at all points across the lifespan.  Strengths and Limitations: Implications for future research  A strength of this study lays in my disclosure to the participants that I w a s a man w h o shared a g a y identity. T h e opportunity to provide e a c h participant with a voice as to the experience of living as gay m e n at this time of life gained in authenticity w h e n they k n e w they w e r e conveying this to another gay man w h o they perceived w o u l d honor their stories and their need to be heard. Perhaps the noted challenge to researchers in accessing ' h i d d e n ' o r ' i n v i s i b l e '  145  m e m b e r s of the elder gay male c o m m u n i t y might be assisted if the researchers t h e m s e l v e s w e r e more explicit about their sexual orientation in advertisements a n d recruitment a d s . Future research will continue to have to rely on convenience sampling however so long as the need to remain invisible is e n c o u r a g e d by the rampant heterosexism that continues to pervade our society. While the participants in this study differ in t e r m s of socio-economic status, a limitation of this study is that it d o e s not contain the stories of m e n w h o are culturally, ethnically, or geographically diverse. It also d o e s not consider the experience of elderly gay m e n w h o are in heterosexual partnerships, nor w h o are considered m e m b e r s of the ' o l d - o l d ' population of individuals 80 years a n d older. Future research s h o u l d seek to explore h o w culture, ethnicity, g e o g r a p h y , relationship status, a n d aging beyond a g e d 80 might further inform the experiences of elder gay m e n . Future research should also seek to use qualitative m e t h o d s to continue to give expression to the voice of elder gay m e n t h e m s e l v e s , so that a diversity of experience will further account for the reality of life as an elder gay m a n . I found that conducting an interview in the h o m e of each participant offered a greater level of depth in learning to take place that a questionnaire or survey w o u l d simply not be able to support. Qualitative research also allowed for the participant to determine that w h i c h w a s important to his life, as o p p o s e d to m e , as the researcher pre-determining this for him at the outset.  146  T h i s study helped to build upon previous research into g a y aging by using an exploration of identity as a m e a n s of understanding h o w the aging process of gay men might be informed. W h a t is apparent however is that e v e n Rosenfeld (1999) relies o n a binary o f ' s t i g m a v e r s u s status' as a m e a n s of conceptualizing sexual identity. T h e r e is a danger here in further labeling gay m e n as either ' c o m p e t e n t ' or ' i n c o m p e t e n t ' on this basis ignoring how competing discourses of identity c a n be mutually claimed by the s a m e individual. In o t h e r w o r d s , this study reveals that gay men in later life construct their identities B O T H as stigma and status, at varying levels, depending upon the context a n d circumstances of their lives at the time. Future research into elder gay men should explore h o w both stigma a n d status interact with v e r s u s existing in opposition to one another. T h i s w o u l d most likely reveal an e v e n greater level of understanding about the reality of g a y lives than has yet been discussed in the literature. Finally, of note w a s the importance of language in h o w e a c h participant conveyed t h e m s e l v e s in the stories they told. T h r o u g h the use of unstructured interviews, each participant w a s free to express t h e m s e l v e s in w h a t e v e r language they c h o s e a n d this allowed for the identification of important turning points in their development. It is important for research to honor the language of evolving gay identities as it e x p r e s s e d by research participants, as o p p o s e d to trying to h o m o g e n i z e how it is that w e conceptualize these participants. T h a t a n individual c h o o s e s to refer to t h e m s e l v e s or others at different times in their stories as 'queer', ' g a y ' , ' h o m o s e x u a l ' or otherwise, is symbolic of the j o u r n e y  147  that has been e x p e r i e n c e d . T h e more that research allows the story to be told on the participants t e r m s , the more w e will c o m e to appreciate the importance of h o w identity informs the evolution of our stories through time.  Conclusion  T h i s study a i m e d to explore h o w being g a y informed the lives of m e n over the age of 6 5 . T h r o u g h Roger, E d w a r d , a n d G e o r g e ' s v o i c e , w e w e r e able to make sense of a range of experience in later life that has yet to be incorporated into the mainstream gerontological or social work literature. While w e have a long w a y to g o in seeking to achieve full recognition in the literature for the effects of h o m o p h o b i a , heterosexism, and a g e i s m at all points along the lifes p a n , this study now joins others that will help identify a n d help unsettle the myths a n d stereotypes that continue to impact our understanding of the aging experience in all of its facets. 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Wolcott, H . f 1 9 9 0 1 Writing U P Qualitative R e s e a r c h . T h o u s a n d O a k s , C A : S a g e Publications. Y o a k a m , J . (1997). "Playing Bingo with the Best of Them: Community  Initiated  Programs for Older Gay and Lesbian Adults" in Q u a m , J . (Ed.) Social Services for Senior Gav M e n a n d Lesbians, Binghamton: Harrington Park Press. Y o u n g , V . (1996). "Working with Older Lesbians" in Davies, D. & Neal, C . (Edward's)  Pink T h e r a p y : guide for counselors a n d therapists working with  lesbian, g a y , a n d bisexual clients. Philadelphia: O p e n University Press.  161  APPENDIX I  Interpretation of Rosenfeld's Account of Possible Elder Gay and Lesbian 'Identity Cohorts'.  Homosexual Competence  Homosexual Incompetence  Discredited  Discreditable •  Stigma - Based Identity  •  ^  •  • •  •  ^  • •  •  Homosexuality is a credible characteristic. Identity is best managed by a personal and public claiming of a homosexual identity in all areas of ones life. Competence is achieved with visibility of homosexual identity  162  Homosexuality is a discreditable characteristic. One is unable or fails to conceal their identity to others such that associating with this person poses a risk to the Discreditable, who will be 'guilty' by association. Double Stigma exists  Tailed' Accredited  Accredited  Status - Based Identity  Homosexuality is a discreditable characteristic. This identity must be 'managed' ex. 'passing' behavior, to safeguard against disclosure/overt display to others. Competence is achieved with invisibility of homosexual identity  • •  •  Homosexuality is a credible characteristic. One is selective about who one comes out to (family only, but not work or community) Risk being ostracized as 'self-oppressed' threatening legitimacy of homosexuality as just.  APPENDIX III  RECRUITMENT FLYER  What is the purpose of the study?: >  > >  T h e purpose o f the study is to assist t h e social w o r k profession in developing a d e e p e r understanding of the lived experiences of gay m e n over the age of 65 from their perspective. T h i s research is a great opportunity for older gay m e n to tell their stories from their unique point of view. T h e study is being c o n d u c t e d by social worker Christopher K o t h , B A , B S W , M S W (candidate) in partial fulfillment of the requirements for a Master of Social W o r k Degree from the University of British C o l u m b i a .  How will the study be conducted? > >  > > >  Individuals will participate in a one to one interview, lasting about 1 to 2 hours, at a location of their c h o o s i n g . Interviews will be conducted by Christopher K o t h , a n d will be more like a c o n v e r s a t i o n , based upon one general q u e s t i o n , which will be asked at the start of the interview. T h e interview will be a u d i o - t a p e d , and then transcribed. Participants will be provided with a copy of their transcript for feedback and review. Participants will also be provided with a c o p y of the final report of t h e research project.  Who can participate? > > >  Males, w h o identify as being gay, over the a g e of 65 who also, believe that their personal experiences are uniquely influenced both by their sexual orientation and their a g e , AND w h o are willing to share these thoughts in a confidential interview.  Page 1 of 2  165  

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