Gay Male Life Cycles and Relationships

At each stage of their lives, gay men face challenges unique to being gay. Adolescents who are gay, bisexual, or questioning whether they are gay or bisexual, for example, face possible taunts or threats from their peers. Their families may reject them, and some gay youth run away from home. Such gay youth may end up homeless and may also get into drug use (especially intravenous [IV] use) and turn to prostitution. Anecdotal reports exist of gay youth who were living on the street attempting to become infected with HIV for the purpose of qualifying for medical and social services as well as disability income and housing programs.

Their suicide risk, including thoughts, attempts, and successful suicides, may be three times that of other youth (Rotheram-Borus, Hunter & Rosario, 1994). Gay youth who do not leave home may also have more problems with schoolwork, sexual abuse, and alcohol and drug use than their nongay counterparts. Experimentation with drugs and sex is likely to be part of the development of gay youth even if they are accepted by family and selfaccepting— just as with any adolescent or young adult.

Young gay men and middle-aged gay men may face discrimination and antigay bias in school, at work, and from friends and family. Most gay men form relationships, but same-sex relationships are not readily accepted or even acknowledged in America (Cabaj, 1988; Cabaj & Purcell, 1998). Gay people still are fighting for the right to same-sex marriages. Many gay men have children—by marriage or a relationship with a woman, by adoption, or by a coparenting relationship with a lesbian friend, for example— nd face the struggles of raising children with little support from society or even from other gay people. Such pressures may contribute to alcohol and drug use.

Older gay men face the same issues as all older people but may feel more isolated and disconnected from others because of growing up gay at a time of even more prejudice against and denial of gay people. Many gay men, however, have developed strengths from personal networks that serve them well in coping with older life. Some older men will be facing the loss of a long-term relationship; such “gay widows” may have few social supports. Of course, alcohol and drug use may be a major part of an older gay man’s life, and he needs interventions appropriate to his age as well as his sexual orientation. The emphasis in gay culture on youthful looks and perfect bodies may also impact the gay man as he ages.

All gay men—all LGBT people in general—also face the possibility of violence and hate crimes directed at them because of their sexual orientation. Such violence ranges from verbal to physical attacks; many victims of such violence turn to alcohol or drug use.

Domestic violence is also a real possibility with gay couples and is greatly underreported. As with all couples, there is a link between alcohol and drug use and domestic violence. Finally, gay people are subject to physical and sexual abuse when growing up and are at the highest risk for alcohol and drug use associated with such abuse (Island & Letellier, 1991).