Despite two decades of highly publicized losses wrought by AIDS, written materials on the subject of gay widowhood are virtually nonexistent. The silence is deafening.
Why is that?
It's not for me to say, although already I'm beginning to have some ideas about it. Visit a gay online chatroom and point out that you're recently widowed. You'll instantaneously get private messages saying, "Yeah, me, too."
Already I've talked to a couple of dozen gay men who have lost their partners, some from AIDS, just as many from other causes. A common theme is that they've kept their thoughts and feelings about their losses bottled up for years and sometimes longer because the relationship was discreet, private, not known to the public.
Some of their stories are just plain tragic:
One guy told me that his partner, a police officer, had been killed in the line of duty. Although they'd lived together for a while, eventually they set up separate household's because the police officer feared for his job. When he was killed, no one knew to tell the surviving partner - who read of his loved one's death in a newspaper article.
Another guy told me that he was having secret affair with his high school coach. The night the kid graduated from high school, the coach was killed by a drunk driver. No one, especially the coach's wife, could figure out why the kid was so upset.
Michael Shernoff, a social worker in Manhattan, notes the following:
The most striking dynamic facing the surviving partner of a same sex relationship is that the relationship is not universally recognized, validated and valued. Psychologist Steven Schwartzberg explains: "The heterosexual widow or widower who loses a mate receives a tacit level of social support and condolence. Gay men who have been widowed may be more apt to encounter scorn, ostracism, fear or blame." Thus many gay widowers' mourning is complicated by the fact that theirs is a "disenfranchised grief."
The idea of going through something like this unsupported, unacknowledged, unspoken is really more than I can comprehend. The fact that it's usually because people feel like they must, not because they want to do so, is more than I can bear.
I'd like to share your stories here. Please e-mail to:
I won't include your name, your e-mail address or other revealing details if you don't want me to do so. I don't have any interest in outing people. On the other hand, if you want to make yourself available to others who are going through what you've been through, let me know and I'll set up an e-mail link for your story.
I look forward to hearing from you.
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