Lifetalk with Roberta Russell: Lifespan Cut Short in Antigay Communities

By Roberta Russell

On the occasion of this Gay Pride edition of the WestView News, I naively wondered about what gay pride really means? For my first thirty years, I did not personally know any lesbian, gay, bi or trans people.

My introduction came late, almost like a crash gay studies program. Richard, the first gay man that touched my heart, charmed me with his quick wit and masterful ways. Please note that, even today, decades after he died, I am leaving his rather well-connected last name out. Before I knew that he would never choose me for romance, I wanted him to love me. Captivated, I proceeded with my solitary, but misguided plan to know him.

ROBERTA RUSSELL. Photo: Cheryl Eisen.

When he finally did invite me for a date at The Sign of the Dove, once a lavish restaurant on the northwest corner of Third Ave and 65th Street, I was thrilled. In this elegant set and setting, in a moment of rare heart-warming trust he revealed to me that he was gay. He was divorced with two grown sons, a pillar of the financial community with a double life. Because I loved him and wanted to know him, in his essence, I set about reading books to educate myself on his state-of-affairs. In 1975, I even consulted with the author of a cutting-edge book that discussed the dynamics of homosexuality, The Homosexual Matrix, by Dr. CA Tripp.

After listening to my saga and enlightening me, Dr. Tripp, a psychologist, cautioned: “Stay out of bed with gay men.” So informed, I proceeded to love Richard with all my heart. My absent family of origin and recent divorce left me wanting to connect. Consequently, he took me into his fold. Richard’s sensitive encompassing inclusion with his unusual family and entourage gave me a home again.

Why did Richard lead a double life? Would he take the same surreptitious path today? And what if he had lived in Greenwich Village rather than the East 60s?

Consider these daunting facts: According to a well-controlled 2014 study by Mark Hatzenbuehler, PhD of Harvard, Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual (LGB) individuals living in anti-gay communities die early. Their lifespan is 12 years shorter. To the author this suggests a broadening of the consequences of prejudice to include premature death. That is a double-edged sword; because those who are prejudiced lose several years of life expectancy, as well.

The Hatzenbuehler study also revealed that suicide, homicide, violence, and cardiovascular diseases were all substantially elevated among sexual minorities in high-prejudice communities.

Here’s the result of my 2021 reality check:

Yesterday, I took a walk around the block on East 55 St and ran into one of the people I have been exchanging greetings with on the street for years when I walk my dog. A scientist/inventor, he still did not come out until he was in his thirties and someone invited him to a gay bar with precautionary prohibitions, so as not to offend him. That was the beginning, he told me, as he took off his mask, but like me he is still alone.

Masks are coming off. Could this be time for an inclusive invitation?

Roberta Russell is the author of R.D. Laing & Me: Lessons in Love with R.D. Laing, (Hillgarth Press, 1992), Report on Effective Psychotherapy: Legislative Testimony (Hillgarth Press, 1981, 1994), and Report on Permanent Weight Loss (Columbia Academic Commons, 2017). She has also been a contributor to various international magazines and journals including: Psychologie Heute (Germany), Japan Times (Japan), The Psychologist (U.K.), Human Potential Magazine (U.K.), Changes (U.K.), Clinical Psychology Forum (U.K.), Psychoanalytic Studies (U.K.), and Bottom Line (USA). Occasionally, Roberta hosts a New York City cable television show, called Lifetalk, which has featured interviews with movers and shakers in controversial areas of psychology, weight loss, nutrition, medicine, the environment, and population growth.

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