Suicide Of Self-Help Therapist Raises The Gloomy Specter Of Gay Men And Aging

By Dan Avery · Monday, April 2, 2012

On Saturday, The New York Times ran a belated obituary of sorts for well-known Manhattan therapist Bob Bergeron, who committed suicide in January at age 49. Though every death is tragic, what made his so alarming was that Bergeron was about to see his self-help book, The Right Side of Forty: The Complete Guide to Happiness for Gay Men at Midlife and Beyond, hit bookstores.

And yet, Bergeron was despondent about growing older.

Olivier Van Doorne, a patient of Mr. Bergeron and the creative director of SelectNY, a fashion advertising firm, recalled Mr. Bergeron telling him that every gay man peaks at one point in his life.

“He said a number of times: ‘I peaked when I was 30 or 35. I was super-successful, everyone looked at me, and I felt extremely cool in my sexuality.’”

When friends discovered Bergeron in his apartment, suffocated with a plastic bag over his head, they also found a suicide note, in which he called the title of the book “a lie based on bad information.”

Getting older is the elephant in the room for the gay-male community, so often fixated on youth and physical vitality. An entire generation assumed they’d never have to face old age and its indignities, sure they’d succumb to AIDS before Father Time. We’re well enough along this thing called life to have to confront the issue ourselves and, while its no picnic, we think we’re moving along gracefully.

Bergeron was good-looking and successful, with a loving family and many friends. He had ended a serious relationship three years ago but was often described as relentlessly cheerful. And he seemed to have solved the mystery of how to find joy in life when the bloom falls off the rose. It’s impossible to know if Bergeron believed in his philosophy at the time, was trying to convince himself or, perhaps, was just trying to sell a bill of goods.

On his website, he wrote:

By my thirties, with close to a decade of experience as an openly gay man, I now had more confidence and comfort in navigating my gay world.  Then I turned forty, and with getting older all the rules changed again.  By cruel irony, I now again began feeling less secure around men – younger gay men and even many gay men my age or older.

When I learned new ways to relate with gay men, I returned to the confidence of my thirties but with less cockiness and more civility.  As a result while quickly approaching the right side of fifty, I can say with deep sincerity: this is the best time of my life!

Clearly that wasn’t the case.

We’re gonna turn it around to you, Queerty readers. Are you anxious about getting older? Have you found peace and happiness in midlife? Share your story in the comments.