The Black Gay Male experience a variety of sexual and social changes brought about by the shifting contexts of their sexual identity and family formation. The impact of historical, cultural, and social forces contributing to the shaping of Black gay older men’s identity has made it necessary to question the assumptions and structures that maintain the present forms of social organization and interaction. As Black gay older men move beyond their identification with the gay community to explore and experiment with new sexual configurations and interpersonal dynamics, they begin to explore new dimensions of their own personal life. In this context, the Black Gay Male’s search for the self moves beyond the gay liberation movement and into the search for Black gay life-forming strategies and tactics that will propel them forward through the cracks in the system that currently constrain them.
This exploration of new directions and the necessity to question the assumptions and structures of their established place in Black American life-structures and relationships-marks a significant difference between the Black Gay Male and his counterparts, who may identify with a more conventional sexual orientation. The former’s search for self-discovery becomes an endeavor of understanding, while the latter’s quest for validation and affirmation becomes an act of escapism. This difference also contributes to the differences in their life course perspective. While the older gay male may have sought validation from others, the newer generation is searching not for a sense of personal wholeness, but rather a sense of finding one’s own authentic place in the world.
Another important difference between the black gay older men of the past and the younger generation is that they are less attached to the black civil rights and more likely to identify with the struggles of the black community in America. The impact of historic organizing on the black community cannot be ignored. The black civil rights movement united black men of all ages, skills, and abilities and set the precedent for civil rights activism to come. Similarly, the gay civil rights movement and its impact on gay community organizations like Gays Against Sexual Abuse, AIDS Now, and the HIV Project, is a point well worth exploring in black gay older men. The impact of the AIDS epidemic on the black gay community has been absolutely seminal in the history of the gay liberation movement; there is no doubt about this.
As it turns out, this historical perspective additionally sheds light on the possibility that black older men have been subject to much the same patterns of gender policing that their white counterparts have experienced. Thus, black men who seek sex with men (MSM, MSHP) might have been subject to the same social pressures that white men have faced, though in a much less public fashion. In other words, black gay older men might not be fully aware of the norms that dictate how they should behave in terms of their sexuality and sexual preferences. It is important, then, to consider the extent to which their sexual orientation will be shaped by these same social norms.
A third possibility springs to mind when examining the relationship between black, older men and HIV. This relationship has been explored in great detail by sociologists for many years; and, to date, the results are consistent. The impact of AIDS on black older men – the impact that is still felt today – has been negative in terms of the number of deaths as a result of AIDS; but there are a number of black, older men who have died from AIDS. (These deaths have been accounted for; the study does not include data on these deaths.) As in any instance of discrimination, the AIDS death rate among black men who were MSM was higher than the rate for black men who were not MSM.
One possible explanation for this finding comes to light when one considers the fact that black gay older men have higher rates of drug abuse and substance addiction than the population as a whole. This observation makes it rather clear that drug abuse can exacerbate the likelihood of black gay older men being HIV positive; but it does not account for the entire discrepancy. Other factors must still be accounted for.