Sunday Longform Reading

Sundays are great for breaking the habit of quickly reading the news and settling in for something longer, less direct.  Today, there are two great longform pieces of journalism about the lives of gay men worth checking out.

First is the New York Times piece on the suicide of Bob Bergeron, a New York therapist who was writing a book about gay men over 40.  The story hints at why Bergeron, who showed no signs of being suicidal, may have taken his life and the reader is left wondering about the impact of aging, the pressures on men who live in urban gay ghettos, and the meaning of loneliness and success.

But right around New Year’s Eve, something went horribly wrong. On Jan. 5, Mr. Bergeron was found dead in his apartment, the result of a suicide that has left his family, his friends and his clients shocked and heartbroken as they attempt to figure out how he could have been so helpful to others and so unable to find help himself.

Here, they say, was a guy with seemingly everything to live for: good looks, a condo in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, semi-annual trips to Europe, parents who adored him and absolutely no history of clinical depression.

That suicides, even seemingly inexplicable ones, occur in New York is not startling news, of course. And, certainly, among gay men in the city, it is not unusual to hear of an acquaintance who has taken his life, often someone in the later stages of AIDS who didn’t want (or couldn’t afford) to wait around for the bitter end. (A 2002 survey by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, found that 12 percent of urban gay and bisexual men have attempted suicide in their lifetime, a rate three times higher than the overall rate for American adult males.)

But there is something particularly resonant about Mr. Bergeron’s tale. Here was a man who ended his life at the exact moment he seemed to be nearing a professional peak, one that involved the upbeat story of a mature gay man facing the second half of his life with enthusiasm, hope and an endless array of tight T-shirts.

My guess is that people aren’t going to agree on what caused Bergeron’s death, or even whether writer Jacob Bernstein was playing on some unflattering stereotypes of gay men. But it’s a good read that people are definitely buzzing about.

The second piece I discovered on the great website Longform and it is to a March 2012 story in The Atlantic by John Fram about a serodiscordant gay couple in Waco, Texas, and how they dealt with building a relationship and dealt with being poor and one of them having HIV (and a meth addiction). In the late 1990s, I ran a legal clinic for poor and indigent people with HIV/AIDS and  Fram’s story reopened the door to the lives of gay men who have a very different existence than the one in the NYT.

We awaken at 6:00 a.m.; coffee in a thermos, documentation under one arm. We arrive at the health center 10 minutes before they open; in the waiting room of the benefits office, ours are the first names on the clipboard.
“In D.C.,” Chad says as we sit down. “It’s four waiting rooms just like this, and there are always people here ahead of you. I think they camp out.”

As 8:00 a.m. approaches, others arrive: Hispanic housewives with squadrons of toddlers, black womenyounger than me with newborns over their shoulders. Just a year ago I would have considered applying for welfare beneath me. A good way to grow up in a hurry: let your parents take you off their health insurance.

As a first-person story, it reads like the outline of a good novel and you are left wondering what is going on with these men now.

Check out both stories.

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