There is a beautiful piece in today’s paper about, amongst other things. isolated geriatric gay men. The generation that is now elderly, came of age in the late 1930s and 1940s. Historically, not the best of times to be “out.” It stands to reason that when one must keep their personal life in the dark, their personal life may not grow and thrive. Certainly there are heart warming stories about men and women who defied convention during these times. (Juxtaposed to the very sad piece about gay men dying alone was the grin inducing piece about a gay couple who met in 1944 and lived together for 60 years.)
I don’t think these two stories being about men is a coincidence. I will venture that fewer gay women live a life of solitude, or if in partnership; notice. An upside to our society’s gender bias is (remarkably) fewer gender lifestyle restrictions for women. Women have lived together for centuries. Boston Marriage, anyone? Two women setting up housekeeping is not only not a “threat” to their community, but considered quaint. Women who cross-dress (think: Annie Hall) are seen as creative or fashion forward. I’m not so sure anyone would think that of a man in a dress (of course, they’ve probably never seen Eddie Izzard.) Adding to society’s gender inequity is plain old biology. Love it or hate it, there is a difference between girls and boys. Chromosomal testing results aside, I am the first to say it is difficult to discern what is biological and what is sociological. Let’s just decide not to be entirely definitive on the origin, but agree that women experience the world more socially than men. GENERALLY. Very very generally. Women tend to have more friends and intimates and stronger social networks. Women tend to process the world through relationships. Again, generally.
The duality of a) the community accepting women cohabiting and b) women tending to have strong social supports contribute to gay women presumably being at less of a risk of aging/dying alone. The author of the geriatric piece, Dr. Eskildsen, urges us to not to assume heterosexuality when working with patients. I happen to think “not assuming heterosexuality” is just a good rule to live by, period. However, I might shy away from sexual orientation emphasis when it comes to issues of isolation.
Aside from the obvious gender chasm (versus sexual orientation chasm) that I’ve described above. Many people either choose, or through happenstance, live a very solitary life. Some people even flat out prefer to be alone. It would seem to me that the goal should be to avoid projecting our own desires onto someone else. Tending to a person (geriatric patient or otherwise) according to what the individual craves is the most humane.