Gay and Lesbian Aging: Research and Future Directions/handbook of Lgbt Issues in Community Mental Health

Article excerpt

GAY AND LESBIAN AGING: RESEARCH AND FUTURE DIRECTIONS Gilbert Herat and Brian de Vries (Eds.) New York: Springer Publishing Company, 2004, 294 pp., $45.95 (hardcover).

HANDBOOK OF LGBT ISSUES IN COMMUNITY MENTAL HEALTH Ronald E. Hellman and Jack Drescher (Eds.) Binghamton, NY: The Haworth Medical Press, 2004, 176 pp., $49.95 (hardcover).

In a country where homosexuality is still sometimes compared to alcoholism, it is difficult if not impossible to advocate successfully for the special needs of the gay and lesbian community. Many individuals, as well as organized groups, look upon this subpopulation as both abnormal and unacceptable. Debates continue on the merits of granting "special rights" to the homosexual community for what is perceived as a behaviorally based identity rather than a true genetic one. Ultimately the most unnerving fact is that even if a genetic link to homosexuality could be proven, gays and lesbians would still be looked upon by many as immoral, and unacceptable within our society. Proof of this polarization is readily seen in the ongoing debate regarding gay marriage.

Despite the above, two recent books successfully target the Lesbian-GayBisexual-Transgender (LGBT) community and its unique characteristics.

GAY AND LESBIAN AGING: RESEARCH AND FUTURE DIRECTIONS

For the first time in history, the phenomenon of an aging sexual minority is available for study. With changes in society, including the gay rights movement and the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the LGBT community is more outspoken, identifiable, and in need of targeted services more than ever before.

LGBT seniors may have an advantage over the general population in some instances. With the mastery of stigma and crisis management, combined with the stress of coming out and developing positive identities, these individuals may be better equipped to adjust to the end stages of life in a more successful manner. As the pool of research grows regarding the LGBT community, one cannot help but be impressed by the resilient ability of this subpopulation, in spite of sometimes-immeasurable odds.

A great deal of information on the LGBT community is included within the text of Gay and Lesbian Aging. While there are many similarities in aging between a homosexual and a heterosexual population, there are several specific negative effects of aging as a gay man or lesbian. A profound feeling of marginalization is experienced by older gays and lesbians in all aspects of social and political life. Some have adjusted to loss and stigma so well that they may delay seeking medical attention. Subsequently, older gays and lesbians may arrive at the doors of the health care system in a more advanced state of illness than their heterosexual counterparts. The health care system has been traditionally unresponsive to recognizing the existence of homosexuality as an alternate lifestyle. Homosexual partnerships are often not recognized to exist even though the individuals may have been involved in life-partner situations for many years. Older gays and lesbians are concerned about housing and want to be in an environment that is sensitive to the needs of this subpopulation. Studies have shown widespread homophobia and neglect in nursing homes, with social workers stating that more than half of their coworkers were intolerant or condemning of homosexuality among residents. LGBT seniors may have particular caregiving needs, as they are less likely to have children than are heterosexual elders. LGBT seniors also are less likely to have insurance, because domestic partnerships do not provide for insurance coverage.

Gay and Lesbian Aging is divided into three sections, each dealing with a specific aspect of the issue. In Section 1, the editors set the stage for the book with a discussion on gerontology, social research on lesbian aging, and the social and cultural considerations regarding HIV infection among older gay men. In Section 2, the editors present an empirical review of gay and lesbian aging that includes information on psychological well-being in midlife and older gay men, disclosure and depression among older gay and homosexual men, the ecology of well-being among middle-aged and older single gay men, lesbian friendships at and beyond midlife, an age cohort and social life study at an urban gay bath and a case study of older gay men in Norway. …