21st Century Gay…perceptions of wellbeing….and the reality – Alan Henry

Hello everyone,

hope this finds you well and managing whatever situation the Covid pandemic is bringing to your door.  Life can be pretty challenging at times, and we are certainly experiencing lots stuff that will challenge and change us.

I am proud to be able to host this next blog from Alan Henry, Alan and I have recently completed a twelve month study on wellbeing with older gay men. Our partners in this study is the magnificent Sahir House in Liverpool.  In his blog Alan shares some of the learning and gives you a heads up as to what is happening next. Enjoy…and share!

Alan Henry

Alan Henry – 21st Century Gay…perceptions of wellbeing….and the reality

In my earlier blog, I pondered why despite a socio-political struggle for equality that binds my LGBT+ family, we do not appear to exist as a homogenous group. I have begun to explore this seeming contradiction, with the aim of producing a series of reports around the perceptions and reality of life for LGBT+.

In the first of the series I and my associate Dr Dee Gray focused a study on a group of men, aged 53+, who identified as ‘other than heterosexual’. We wanted to understand how these men were able to maintain their wellbeing through an age of criminalisation, to partial emancipation and on to the present day. What we found was enlightening, and to me personally I discovered facets of wellbeing that I had not expected as a Gay man.

If I put myself in the shoes of the gay men who participated in the study, I would have to imagine myself as a 20 year old in 1945, and by doing this the relative nature of wellbeing, and what it means to be resilient during that time in history, becomes crystallised. Without the fundamental reassurance of inalienable constitutional rights I enjoy today, my very existence is now a challenge, and I am judged by a morality that is still universally bound by religious doctrine.

While I have the luxury of imagining this reality, in truth this was the experience for two men with whom I had conversations during the course of our study. Their individual perceptions and experiences however were remarkably polarised although fortitude, happiness and security that became core to their wellbeing, were realised in very different ways.

For one man, wellbeing was achieved with the love and support of loving parents, foreign travel and finding the love of his life at a young age. The second man lived an almost completely closeted life, rejected by his only sibling and unable to form a lasting relationship with another man. His wellbeing was nourished by a strength and determination channelled through his religious faith, which has sustained him throughout his life within the safety of a small community. When he came out later in life, his horizons were broadened beyond the Church, where he told me that he found purpose to his existence.

In the final analysis, the study showed us that despite the new world we are living in, where the narrative has moved from criminalisation to positive representation, our primary source of wellbeing as Gay men is unchanged. The love and support of family, friends and life partners is our life force, and our resistance to the stressors we continue to face on the road to an equality utopia.

Moving forward, our next study is the exploration how gay men are orientating towards ‘best self’ wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

You can get a copy of the study report here https://learning.grayswellbeing.co.uk/reports/

All the profits from sale are donated to the Young Carers Academy.