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Gay and Lesbian Aging

Myths And Realities, Gender Differences, Major Issues With Aging, Cultural And Subcultural Variation, Historical VariationOrganizations

Gay men and lesbians (females) are both defined as homosexuals. Homosexual is defined as a preference for emotional and sexual relationships with persons of the same sex. The terminology used, however, indicates a sense of personal and cultural identity. Homosexuals are typically hidden and fearful of disclosure, whereas gays and lesbians are socially open (out) in many walks of their lives (e.g., home, work, and school). Homosexuality as a concept was defined around 1869 and became more widely identified as the "disease of effeminacy" as popularized by the trial of Oscar Wilde. As we enter the twenty-first century, American society views homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle. The social history of homosexuality has seen the status of the entity change from a sin to a crime (either against nature or the state), then to a sickness or disease, and finally to an alternative lifestyle on the margins of society. Homosexuality remains a crime or is considered a disease in many parts of the world. In the United States, for example, many states maintain laws that make sodomy a crime, including consensual relations between adults in private.

Most of the research on homosexuality examines gay men with some scant attention paid to lesbians, and even less research is available on older gays and lesbians. In terms of gays and lesbians, older generally refers to those over age fifty. Much of the early research about homosexuality focused on determining the causes or finding an explanation for the homosexual phenomenon. The emphasis was on determining a homosexual's level of normalcy or abnormality. By seeking the causes in order to logically progress toward finding a cure, past research demonstrated the lack of acceptance of homosexuality in American society. More recent research has been devoted to understanding homosexuality and exploring gay and lesbian issues, although homosexuality is still considered deviant by the general population.

With the increasing population of older adults in American society, there will be an increase in the number of older adults who are gay or lesbian. It is important to consider the myths and realities about aging in American society, examine differences between older gay men and lesbians, explore the issues relevant to aging gay men and lesbians, and consider differences in the situation for older homosexuals across cultures and time.

A few organizations directed toward older gays and lesbians have emerged, primarily focused on providing for social service needs and advocacy. These organizations include Senior Action in a Gay Environment (SAGE), Pride Senior Network, Lesbian and Gay Aging Issues Network (LGAIN), and Gay and Lesbian Association of Retiring Persons (GLARP).


See also GENDER.


BERGER, R. M. Gay and Gray: The Older Homosexual Man, 2d ed. Binghamton, N.Y.: Harrington Park Press, 1996.

CABAJ, R. P., and STEIN, T. S., eds. Textbook of Homosexuality and Mental Health. Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Press, Inc., 1996.

DORFMAN, R.; WALTERS, K.; BURKE, P.; HARDIN, L.; KARANIK, T.; RAPHAEL, J.; and SILVERSTEIN, E. "Old, Sad and Alone: The Myth of the Aging Homosexual." Journal of Gerontological Social Work 24 (1995): 29–44.

FULLMER, E. M.; SHENK, D.; and EASTLAND, L. J. "Negating Identity: A Feminist Analysis of the Social Invisibility of Older Lesbians." Journal of Women and Aging 11 (1999): 131–148.

HERDT, G. H., ed. Ritualized Homosexuality in Melanesia. University of California Press, 1984.

KIMMEL, D. C. "The Families of Older Gay Men and Lesbians." Generations 17 (1992): 37–38.

LEE, J. A., ed. Gay Midlife and Maturity. Haworth Press, Inc., 1991.

PEACOCK, J. R. "Gay Male Adult Development: Some Stage Issues of an Older Cohort." Journal of Homosexuality 40 (2000): 13–29.

QUAM, J., and WHITFORD, G. S. "Adaptation and Age-Related Expectations of Older Gay and Lesbian Adults." The Gerontologist 32 (1992): 367–374.

SHENK, D., and FULLMER, E. M. "Significant Relationships among Older Women: Cultural and Personal Constructions of Lesbianism." Journal of Women and Aging 8 (1996): 75–89.

Additional topics

Medicine EncyclopediaAging Healthy - Part 2