In the Times’ Booming column, gay men talk about aging out of a community that prizes youth and beauty. Steve Petrow, the author of “Steven Petrow’s Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners,” (Workman, 2011), offers advice.
Q. Dear Civil Behavior: Your comment in a recent column about gays at midlife finding themselves “suddenly invisible — aged out by the young, restless and beautiful” resonated loudly with me. At 59 I am single and almost friendless. I live in Philadelphia, which has a reasonably sized gay community, yet I feel like an outsider. Many of my friends died two decades ago and my contemporaries have started retiring to Florida. I would like to go out dancing sometimes, but I don’t feel comfortable going to bars anymore. The Internet seems full of people looking to do drugs. I remember the distaste we all once had for “old people,” but I’m tired of staying home on weekends. Do you have any advice? —Stephen W., Philadelphia
A. Dear Stephen: Believe me, I understand “the middle ages” can be difficult for anyone, gay or straight. After all, wasn’t it Phyllis Diller who cracked: “Maybe it’s true that life begins at 50 … but everything else starts to wear out, fall out or spread out.” The ability to laugh — and laugh at ourselves — is key to our happiness.
Still, there are some unusual and disproportionate challenges to aging within the gay community that your experiences highlight. “Many L.G.B.T. older people experience high rates of social isolation,” says Michael Adams, executive director of Services and Advocacy for G.L.B.T. Elders, an organization dedicated to helping older members of our community. “We’re twice as likely to be single and to live alone, and three to four times as likely to be childless. And many of us are estranged from our families of origin, and so are only half as likely as our heterosexual counterparts to have close relatives to lean on for help.” Adding salt to these wounds, a 2004 study, “Old, Gay, and Alone?” reported that 44 percent of older gay men “feel disconnected from or even unwelcomed by younger generations of L.G.B.T. people.”
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