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Book focuses on gay baby boomers in the present day
by Melissa Wasserman
2016-11-23

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Jesus Ramirez-Valles' book Queer Aging: The Gayby Boomers and a New Frontier for Gerontology puts the gay baby boomers' experience into perspective.

Ramirez-Valles is a professor and head of community health sciences at University of Illinois, Chicago ( UIC ) School of Public Health. He is also a scholar, filmmaker, and an advocate of LGBT and Latino health. Ramirez-Valles grew up in Mexico and was one of six children. He attended college in Mexico and graduated in 1987. He came out after college, during the AIDS epidemic, and right away he began working with gay men and sex workers on HIV/AIDS prevention. At the time, he said, there was not much in the way of prevention. Ramirez-Valles went on to University of Michigan for his masters and doctorate and he has been in Chicago for 19 years working in public health.

He said his first book, Compañeros: Latino Activists in the Face of AIDS, is a culmination of that work experience and research. The book shares the stories of GBT Latino activists and volunteers and particularly details how the AIDS epidemic touched or transformed each of their lives.

He remembered when he finished his first book, he was thinking about his next step. Then, he realized what he was seeing at that point was people living and aging with HIV and living longer lives. Examining what was going on with older gay men who were aging with HIV, he said there were barely any articles on the subject and the literature that did exist was dated and looked at a completely different generation. That, he said, forced him to expand his research and focus on the aging of gay men.

Ramirez-Valles' second book, Queer Aging: The Gayby Boomers and a New Frontier for Gerontology, was published in August 2016. It features statistics from other literature and interviews with 11 racially and economically diverse, HIV positive and HIV negative gay baby boomers—people born between 1946 and 1964—from the Chicago metropolitan area.

"What I'm trying to do is interpret the voices or the lives of older gay men to see where they have been, where are they and what's next for them," said Ramirez-Valles, who added he wanted more than just facts and statistics in this book.

The book includes themes of family, sex, stigma, rejection, differences within race and social class and touches on what is going to happen next in this new frontier for the gayby boomers. The candid first-person narratives Ramirez-Valles captured, reflect on their varied experiences. They talk about work, family, the AIDS epidemic, activism, their roles as caregivers and getting older. These stories are framed by a general introduction to queer theory and its history. Ramirez-Valles said this was because he saw urgency and so many details in this topic to cover.

"To mark that generational difference, I focus on what I call the 'gayby boomers' because generations are shaped culturally by their time," said Ramirez-Valles. "Most importantly there are two things that are very different about this generation. [The first is] they came out with the gay liberation movement, so they're the first to call themselves, collectively, LGBTQ. Second, when you look at the history, the epidemiological history of HIV and AIDS, the group hit hardest by the epidemic is the baby boomers in terms of mortality, morbidity."

The author said seeing his teenage son growing up and his own mother continuing to age make him especially realize age and what it means.

"The biggest difference is that most of the gay baby boomers are childless and single and they lived through a very traumatic history of AIDS, which heterosexual people were untouched by this," said Ramirez-Valles. "For gay men, when I speak with them and when you read, it's such a defining moment in their lives. It's something that it carries you."

Some points Ramirez-Valles found during his research for this book were that many gay men worried about who will take care of them as they age, since many do not have a spouse or child to take on the caregiver role. For some single, older, gay men, the lack of a spouse is because gay marriage is relatively new and for others, the AIDS epidemic took their partners. Without a legally-identifiable spouse, navigating issues like advance directives, pension benefits, health disclosures, among others, can be a problem and stir up uneasy feelings.

"The biggest difference is that most of the gay baby boomers are childless and single and they lived through a very traumatic history of aids, which heterosexual people were untouched by this," said Ramirez-Valles of aging LGBTQ people and aging heterosexual people. "For gay men, when I speak with them and when you read, it's such a defining moment in their lives. It's something that carries you."

Ramirez-Valles also discovered that another family dynamic impacting gayby boomers involves rejection from their biological families because of their coming out. Ramirez went on to say that it is important that this visibility is created cautiously, so not to create a specific idea of what older gay people should be because each person lives differently from one another and should be seen that way.

Ramirez-Valles added the message he wants readers to get out of this book is to "speak loud and question our cultural norms that become policies about older age, that we make it visible, but at the same time we have to be careful with that visibility that we don't provide this idea of the normal older gay people."

For more information, visit: global.oup.com/academic/product/queer-aging-9780190276348 and www.facebook.com/queeraging.


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