A San Francisco–based clinical psychologist explores how gay men construct fulfilling lives through self-acceptance and an awareness of their individual core instincts.
With an understanding of the difficult challenges gay men face in America, Odets (In the Shadow of the Epidemic: Being HIV-Negative in the Age of AIDS, 1995) shares case studies and personal stories from his years working during the AIDS epidemic and the aftermath. These serve as examples to help gay men consider how they can move beyond negative family and societal influences to live more satisfying lives. The author views gay men as living in “tripartite communities, with significant psychological and social differences that define each group”: older-group, middle-group, and younger-group men, each defined by age and social awareness in relation to the AIDS epidemic, from the often fatal trauma of the early years to the introduction of highly active antiretroviral therapy in 1996 and to the more technologically advanced present era. Odets closely examines the negative impacts of early life experiences, often triggered by a lack of family and/or community acceptance, and stresses the need for self-acceptance in order to move forward. “Self-acceptance allows realistic self-confidence, which is significantly unhinged in adulthood from the expectations and approval of others,” he writes. “In the end, authentic self-acceptance—or lack of it—is almost the entirety of what defines a life.” The author’s writing is perceptive and honest, as he openly discusses relationships and sex and accurately relates the struggles each generation has experienced. These reflect both similarities as well as differences and the difficulties in finding a genuine sense of community, especially within urban gay meccas. Odets convincingly argues for the benefits of talk therapy, with each story revealing how some level of personal growth was achieved. One issue: Though his cases reflect a broad range of ethnic and racial examples, the overwhelming majority of his profiles are about affluent individuals, all of whom can afford years of ongoing therapy.
Though it could have been even more diverse in its presentation, this is an encouraging and deeply compelling study of how gay men can build meaningful identities.