The latest edition of the journal, Achieve, is devoted to HIV over fifty. I contributed on stigma entitled: Managing the Triple Threat: Strategies for Older Gay Men with HIV. Here is the link to the publications page where you can download volume 7, number 3.
The Journal of Gerontological Social Work is publishing an article I’ve written entitled “A Shrinking Kind of Life: Gay Men’s Experience of Aging with HIV.”
Here is the abstract:
More people are living with HIV into midlife and older age. Although increased longevity brings new hope, it also raises unanticipated challenges—especially for gay men who never thought they would live into middle and older age. Middle-aged and older people are more likely to face multiple comorbidities, yet many lack the necessary supports to help them adapt to the challenges of aging with HIV. This article presents the findings of a qualitative study developed to explore gay men’s experience of aging with HIV. Multiple in-depth exploratory interviews were conducted with 15 gay-identified men living with HIV/AIDS over an 18-month period. A systematic strategy data analysis consistent with grounded theory revealed a pattern of subtle adjustments to living with HIV that resulted in diminishing circles of social support and social involvement. This dynamic is referred to as “a shrinking kind of life,” an in-vivo code built from the participant’s own words. Four themes from the research (physical challenges, a magnitude of loss, internal changes, & stigma) are discussed. Conclusions include recommendations for future research and implications for practice in the field. Practitioners knowledgeable of the factors that impact their social involvement can empower gay men through individual and group interventions to confront a shrinking kind of life and define for themselves what it means to optimally age with HIV.
Taylor and Francis has given me 50 free downloads. Just click on the link above to access the full article.
The night of the SCOTUS rulings on DOMA and Prop 8, my husband and I celebrated with dinner at Brooklyn Fish Camp, the restaurant we stumbled giddily into after filing for domestic partnership in 2007. (We subsequently married in San Francisco during the window period of 2008.) Announcing our federally married bliss we struck up a conversation with other diners seated at the bar. As a straight couple quietly exited our waitress told us that they had paid our bill. We caught them and had a nearly wordless exchange, the two of us trying to express our gratitude while she with tears in her eyes conveyed her deep understanding of the day’s significance. Stunned by their generosity we neglected to ask their names. For two middle-aged gay men so accustomed to defending the legitimacy of our love, the evening confirmed that we will need time to adapt to the realities of acceptance.
Today the United States Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) paving the way for gay marriage. I am exhilarated and so deeply moved that it will take me some time to process the significance of this event. I would like to write a few immediate thoughts as I take in the ramifications of this day.
On a national level the ruling raises the concerns of LGBT people to their rightful place in the discourse on human rights. And, on a very personal level, it means that my marriage is now federally recognized.
Yet, there is so much more.
I am deeply grateful to Edith Windsor. In fighting for her rights as a married woman, she took up a cause that will have implications for all of us. I applaud all the activists who participated in this case and who are fighting for LGBT rights in so many other battles. There are too many people who continue to experience the pain of abuse and oppression.
When I heard the news my mind went immediately to my lover who died of AIDS in 1991. He participated in changing his world for the better and I think he would have been so proud to know how far we have come. There is a long history of activism in our community that has led to this event, and I want to honor those who came before and are not here to reap the rewards.
In my psychotherapy practice I often have to help people through feelings of sadness that accompany a joyful event. They wonder why they should be crying when they are so happy. I let them know that it is normal to feel grief when we get what we want. We are encountering the feelings of loss that have been kept at bay when we couldn’t have what we were longing for.
As with any change, including changes for the better, there will be a period of adjustment. For many of us this ruling will create shifts in how we relate to ourselves and others. We must reexamine the walls that we created to protect ourselves from the homophobia of our pasts. We might find that defenses that were necessary at the time may no longer serve us. As someone I spoke with today said so eloquently, “I need to learn how to be accepted.”
I feel such love for my husband. I have to wonder whether the lack of recognition of our marriage might have affected the quality of our relationship and how this judgment could offer us an opportunity to deepen the commitment we have to one another.
I’m glad to be alive on this momentous day, to learn and grow. Lets keep the conversation going and help each other adapt to the changes ahead.
When a woman with HIV realizes that she’s lived longer than she ever expected and begins to rebuild her life, that’s an aha moment.
When a doctor and patient sort through the complexities of HIV, the medications used to treat the virus, and the realities of aging to identify an effective treatment, that’s an aha moment.
When a group of gay men acknowledge how the AIDS epidemic has impacted every aspect of their lives and start the healing process together, that’s an aha moment.
When a politician recognizes that AIDS is not over and funds programing to meet the challenges of HIV and aging, that’s an aha moment.
In the past two years since the release of Aging with HIV I’ve met many amazing men and women who are living with HIV longer than they ever expected. Throughout the country we’ve created conversations that have expanded our understanding of aging with HIV. Together we’ve exchanged information, shared experiences, processed feelings and built communities. It’s been a real learning experience filled with aha moments.
That’s why I’ve decided to start the AHA Project (Action for HIV and Aging) to facilitate discussions that empower people to define for themselves what it means to optimally age with HIV.
In the coming weeks agingwithhiv.wordpress.com will become ahaproject.org. I appreciate your patience as I develop the site to reflect its developing mission.
Caring and Aging with Pride, the first national federally-funded project to examine LGBT aging and health, recently released a report of its findings. The study included a national community-based survey of over 2,500 LGBT older adults from diverse walks of life. This research provides a “historic new window into the health and lives of LGBT elders in America.”
The report is comprehensive and examines several areas of older people’s lives, including: Physical health, mental health, healthcare access, health behaviors, services/programs, HIV disease, and caregiving. From their intensive research this group of recognized scholars conclude that LGBT older adults are a “resilient yet at risk population.”
Some key findings illustrate the complex reality of LGBT aging in America. In the 88-page report a few statistics were particularly disturbing to me. Respondents reported high rates of loneliness, disability and depression, and fewer social supports than found in the general, non-LGBT aging population. Most had been victimized at some point in their lives, and many had been victimized multiple times, because of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The participants reported significant barriers to accessing health care, including discrimination, receiving inferior care, and inadequate care from providers who they can not “come out” to or who are insensitive to LGBT issues.
Yet, there were findings in the report that point out the strengths of LGBT older adults. Many were involved in their communities and engaged in wellness, as well as physical activities. They were contributing members of their communities and have distinct networks of support consisting of peers, partners and friends. And, a large majority feel positive about belonging to the LGBT community.
The report concludes with a strong call to action that addresses steps we can all take in the areas of policy, services, education, and research.
I am excited and encouraged by the breadth and quality of this research. This project represents a significant step in addressing the needs of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender older adults. The findings will help researchers, policy makers and service providers, like myself, do our jobs more effectively.
I encourage you to go to the Caring and Aging with Pride website to read the full report or to view the brief Executive Summary.
In today’s New York Times Austin Considine writes about gay marriage and the bittersweet victory it represents for men in midlife who have lost loved ones to the AIDS epidemic. Considine interviewed several gay men who share their feelings about this previously unimaginable day in New York history. There is happiness and rejoicing, but also sadness and grief. I talked with Considine about my experience and how even successes can trigger old feelings of loss. I think that many gay men will relate to these men and find support in their stories.
The National Resource Center on LGBT aging has updated its HIV and Aging pages. Click here for a link to my article and browse the site for other articles and resources throughout the country.
Earlier this week Jane Brody published an article in the New York Times on the difficulty distinguishing mild cognitive impairment from the effects of normal aging. She explains, “While most people experience a gradual cognitive decline as they get older (only about one in 100 lives long without cognitive loss), others experience more extreme changes in cognitive function, the neurologist wrote in The New England Journal of Medicine in June. In population-based studies, mild cognitive impairment has been found in 10 percent to 20 percent of people older than 65, he noted.”
For people living with HIV over the age of fifty, cognitive impairment is a serious concern, and many wonder if occasional memory lapses and subtle forgetfulness are signs of normal aging or the first stages of serious cognitive impairment or dementia.
The article explains how diagnoses are made and strategies one can use to preserve cognitive functioning, including: medical management (when appropriate); lifestyle changes (such as reducing cardiovascular risk and blood sugar); practicing cognitive improvement exercises; and physical exercise.
To read the full article go to the New York Times.
I just got back from a wonderful trip to visit friends and family in Paris. It had been a long time since the last time I was there. 25 years. (It is hard to even conceive of that amount of time passing.)
While I was there I tried to live in the present: Take in the architecture; soak up the culture; sit in the cafes and experience the life of this timeless city. Underneath the surface, and without my conscious awareness, my mind was in the past. I was fantasizing about a life trajectory if I had never left Europe 25 years ago. And, those thoughts merged so seamlessly with my experience in the present that I didn’t even know that they were affecting my experience in the moment.
When I got back to New York, I went to see the film, “Midnight in Paris.” The spectacular cinematography transported me back to vacation. IMDB describes the film as follows: “A romantic comedy about a family traveling to the French capital for business. The party includes a young engaged couple forced to confront the illusion that a life different from their own is better.”
I identified with the main character who struggles with a tendency to live in an idealized past.
The film reminded me that living in the past is a theme that emerged from my research on aging with HIV. Throughout my interviews, the men talked about the past. In “Aging with HIV” I introduced you to “Paul” (not his real name.):
Entering Paul’s apartment is like going through a time warp. The walls are filled with photos of Paul and his friends in their twenties and thirties. All of his artwork and decorations are from the 1970s and 1980s. Even Paul’s moustache, his clothes, and the way he styles his hair are reminiscent of the clone look of the 1970s. During an interview with Paul I drew a line with one end in the past and one in the future and asked him to point to where he was. He said, “Right there. Oh, yeah, I’m in the past.”
After interviewing Paul, I saw more subtle examples throughout these men’s lives of the conflict between living in the past vs learning from the past. Living with HIV can reshape one’s sense of time. Life can feel as if it stopped with diagnosis, or the death of friends. And memories of a fun-filled past can be comforting when illness and age make life seem dull.
There is a lot to learn from the past. The act of reminiscing can help us live more fully in the present. When we reflect on our past we remember people and places that were important in our histories, and we remind ourselves of aspects of our identity that have been lost over time. Even painful emotions like loss and regret can be an important learning tools as we live in the present and look toward the future.
The challenge is to be able to learn from the past (reminisce and have our feelings) without living in the past (getting mired in regret or fantasy) in a way that prevents us from living our lives fully in the present.
The drift into the past can be quite subtle and sometimes we need a gently push to return to the present. One question we can ask ourselves is: How can these memories, thoughts and fantasies of the past help me with the issues I face today?