In Sickness and In Health | Opinion

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Whenever gay or bisexual men of a certain age get together, we don’t talk about our jobs, our husbands, the current drag diva, or the latest horror coming out of Tallahassee.

Often, whenever gay seniors meet, we talk about our health, or lack thereof. Having survived the calamities that took too many of our community members, we aged to the point that we must deal with the trials and tribulations that come with old age. Don’t get me wrong; growing old, in sickness or in health, is much better than the alternative. But what happens to our bodies inevitably occupy our minds; and our aches and pains, however slight, are a constant reminder of what will happen to us, sooner or later. 

As children of the baby boom, we thought we could change the world. Instead, the world changed us. Though we tried to be different from our parents, we now realize that we are more like them than we are willing to admit. In many ways I am very different from my father and my mother, may they rest in peace. On the other hand, I am my parents’ son in so many ways. They bestowed me with their DNA, which among other things determines my propensity for certain illnesses. My father had a history of heart disease and my mother suffered from Alzheimer’s; and in both cases their condition led to their demise. Will that happen to me too? Only time will tell. 

Since they emerged during the heady, post-Stonewall 70s, “gay health guides” dealt for the most part with sexually transmitted diseases that sexually active gay or bisexual men acquired. This became especially true during the eighties with the onslaught of HIV/AIDS, an epidemic that had such an impact on our community that it overshadowed all other ailments. Witnessing our friends and lovers waste away and die, we feared that we, too, will perish at a young age. We didn’t worry about the illnesses that killed our straight parents or grandparents. Fortunately, many of us survived AIDS, allowing us to grow old and eventually face the physical limitations of old age. Today, our health manuals and health providers go beyond STDs and deal with cancer, heart disease, asthma, arthritis, meningitis, and mental illness, not to mention COVID-19. 

I am a fortunate one. Though I’ve had my share of health problems, I remain healthy enough to lead an active life in the company of my friends (some of whom, alas, are not as fortunate). I accept the fact that, as I grow older, my health will take a downturn and that, eventually, I will die. Will I go like my father, who died at 72, or like my mother, who died at 88? Of course, I could die from other causes, the victim of an accident, a crime, a natural disaster, or even war. Only time will tell.


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