Monday, December 1, 2008

gay men in excellent health

Just had an idea for a research project.

I was chatting with Rachel about why my research seems so alone in the world - nobody in the Public Health world seems to have picked up on the utility of looking at empirically measured changes in societal heteronormativity as having the potential to affect health impacts - and I don't know why. Gay & lesbian people 'get it' instantly. Public health types seem to get confused by not knowing precisely which biochemical pathway a change in law would need to activate.

Anyway, I was working last week on data from the CHIS, and noticed that gay men (in the aggregate) are more likely to report being in 'excellent' health than straight men. My public health training told me to ignore it - 'excellent' health is not a disease, after all. It's a squishy endpoint, who knows what it means?

But something sparked in me during the conversation with Rachel.
Why are gay men more likely to be healthy than str8 men? Maybe it's not a strange question. Maybe it's an endpoint that's worth a little more investigation.

I know that nobody in the epidemiology world will believe it if it's a single finding. As large as CHIS is, it is only one dataset. So now I need to go poking around in other datasets which ask similar questions - and fortunately there's a lot of them.

I'll keep you posted...


  1. Hi Bill,

    I've seen this done to some extent in the literature on HIV disclosure rates, ie. they're not higher in states with criminal laws requiring disclosure, although PLHIV fear of prosecution certainly is. I have a feeling Gary Rogers from UNISA found something similar to the CHIS data showing more gay men reporting excellent health. But his data also showed higher rates of major depression and disthymia among gay men, and which he called 'bulletproof syndrome' - the psychological cost of ongoing resistance to homophobia/ heteronormativity. But straight men have some bulletproofing issues of their own, and pace Trevor I wonder if gay sissiness frees us up from some of those suffer-in-silence habits?

  2. Thanks for the tip on Gary Rogers! If I'm interpreting him correctly (which I may well not be), he was using 'bullet-proof' in reference to Evelyn Hooker's work showing that gay men weren't inherently pathological, and describing how many gay men, despite facing prejudice and discrimination, turned out very healthy, for some reason didn't let any of the negative potential sequelae of prejudice and discrimination stick in their lives.
    That's an interesting interpretation, and might well help explain why gay men are more likely to be in excellent health (and also in poor health) than straight men.
    I suspect that there's a lot to be said for facing prejudice and discrimination and overcoming it. I suspect we wouldn't have half the wonderful achievements of the gay community without that ability to react to societal disapproval in life-affirming ways.