Getting older is not something most gay males look forward to. Most of us have inherited a community model built upon a youth standard that mandates we check out of the dating world by the ripe old age of 30. Our culture is famous for celebrating ultra high standards of fitness and physical beauty which is almost impossible to maintain after one has entered their 40s. This is not to say that there are not some gay men who look forward to, or are enjoying getting older, or that there are not guys who are able to perform the required maintenance to still be considered attractive by those under 25, but trying to keep up with this stereotype is something most cannot do, and many are finding they don’t even want to.
The issue of getting older is a topic we don’t like to discuss. Something about it seems wrong or bad, even though it is the most natural thing we will all do, besides being born and dying. The desire to be at our best for as long as possible is not the issue, rather what some are willing to do and the stigma directed at those who cannot, is what is so damaging to our community. Which brings us to a troubling year long, on line study by AARP, to better understand the needs of the GLBT community over the age of 45. The information from this report is nothing the average gay male does not know about, what it is like, or will be, to grow older, but it is impactful to see it in print.
The 10 minute on-line study included 1762 participants, 680 of which self identified as gay men. As with many of these types of research, there is a majority participation of whites at 69%, Blacks at 14%, Latino/Hispanics at 12% and Asians rounding out with 3%. But these numbers are only slightly different from the racial and ethnic makeup of the total United States population as a whole. The coastal areas, from the north, down to the southern region, across to California and towards Washington state show high rates of participation, but again, this is in line with other reports and studies detailing where the majority of gay people in the USA reside.
Two categories we found positive for the validity of this study is that AARP included members of all educational and economic brackets. Many times research on our community neglects to take these two major factors into account when discussing the positive and or negative impact a focus may have.
Here are AARP’s key findings related to our community.
- 57% of gay men over 45 reported being single, compared to only 39% of lesbians, and 48% of bisexual men and women.
- Gay men are far more likely to live alone, and this will influence the types of services needed by gay men as they age.
- When asked about their social support network, gay men are less connected compared to lesbians on every relationship type tested, from LGBT friends to straight friends, from partners to neighbors.
- 27% of gay men reported being married/partnered, in comparison to 43% of lesbians.
- 46% of gay males are living along, while only 36% of lesbians report the same conditions.
- Not surprisingly, Black/Latino gay males are “much more concerned about discrimination and negative outcomes as they age”. Race being the over arching factor for Blacks (42%), but sexual orientation for Latinos and Whites (42% and 40%, respectivlely)
- Concerns about family and social support as they age is normal but when factoring in for race and sexual orientation the rates are much higher for Blacks (56%), than Latinos (49%) and whites (39%), which makes sense when you consider long-term educational and income gaps for these groups.
- Long term care issues are high lighted in the study and we should take note of these fears as more gay males are living with HIV. Blacks again top the list at 37%, followed by Latinos 25% and finally whites at 19%.
- Because 71% of respondants reported being “out” this study shows that our community feels it important to be their authentic selves as they age but are still very conserned about how this will effect their long term living goals and discrimination.
This is a positive step in the right direction to find out what the needs of our aging gay male population needs within the healthcare service arena but it should also be a chance for our community to take a look at our lives, and those we surround ourselves with, and make plans for the future. We do have the ability to influence these outcomes and make growing older a much more positive experience.