Queer Aging: Review

Queer Aging
The Gayby Boomers and a New Frontier for Gerontology
by Jesus Ramirez-Valles
Oxford University Press

Reviewed by Hank Trout

queer-aging-newFrom the Oxford University Press comes Queer Aging: The Gayby Boomers and a New Frontier for Gerontology, a thoroughly researched and very academic study of aging among gay men, men born during the post-war Baby Boom of 1946 to 1964, who “have aged with the self and collective ‘gay’ identity like no other generation before.” Ramirez-Valles tackles the limitations of heteronormative gerontology (the study of aging) which “sees aging and sexual difference as pathologies—still” and is “rooted in a variety of assumptions about self, desire, coupling, family, masculinity, community and life course emerging mostly from a heterosexual, white, middle-class world.” Ramirez-Valles acknowledges that “virtually every gay person in their later and middle years alive today” has been touched by AIDS. His goal is to correct the field’s lack of gay socio-cultural context and queer perspectives.

If that sounds daunting, that’s because it is. In many ways, the book reminds me of a doctoral dissertation, where every assertion, nearly every sentence, is cautiously footnoted and sourced. The writer’s language often slides into nearly incomprehensible (to me, anyway), insular lingo peculiar to social scientists—it is not an easy, casual read.

The most valuable parts of this book—the most readable parts—are the personal narratives of eleven gay men, half of whom are HIV-positive, ranging in age from their early fifties to seventy-one years, five Hispanic, five white, one African-American, whom Ramirez-Valles interviewed for the project. These narratives are often moving. Ramiro, a fifty-six-year-old Hispanic man who works in HIV/AIDS research, talks about gravitating toward the African-American community at a university in Chicago and about his fears of growing old alone. Jimmy, a seventy-one-year-old former attorney, talks about the alternative communities he and others formed outside the heteronormative fold and his new life as a caregiver for his ailing partner. Both Ramiro and Jimmy are HIV-positive; both have good support systems and are in relatively good health; but both fear losing their health and their support.

I can recommend the book on the basis of these personal narratives—they are interesting, sometimes compelling first-person accounts of aging as a gay American man in the twenty-first century. Perhaps Ramirez-Valles would have done better to simply let these men speak for themselves—their stories are far easier to understand than his framing of them.

Hank Trout edited Drummer, Malebox, and Folsom magazines in the early 1980s. A long-term survivor of HIV/AIDS (diagnosed in 1989), he is a thirty-six-year resident of San Francisco, where he lives with his fiancé Rick. Follow him on Twitter @HankTroutWriter.