Many researchers studying aging use life course perspective to guide their research. While life course perspective calls attention to context, a dearth of theoretical and empirical scholarship addresses how changing contexts shape transitions in the salience, meaning, and consequences of positionalities (e.g., race, gender, class, age, and sexual orientation) as people age. Positionalities include the diverse ways that one’s social locations interact with structures, culture, social processes, and intra/interpersonal dynamics (Collins & Bilge, 2016). This study interrelates intersectionality frameworks about power and positionalities with life course perspective to capture the ways that shifting contexts and domains of power change the meaning, salience, and consequences of being Black gay men by asking the following questions: (1) How do different and changing contexts shape transitions in the meaning, salience, and consequences of positionalities across the life course for Black gay older men? and (2) How do Black gay men navigate transitions in the meaning, salience, and consequences of their positionalities over the life course?
This study collected data from a survey, experiential activity, and two focus groups of Black gay older men (N=17). To obtain data from such an understudied and purposive group sample, this research employed a complex convergent mixed methods design that involved simultaneous use of qualitative and quantitative data collection and analysis and community-based participatory action in its recruitment and focus group facilitation. For each focus group, we collected primary survey data about participants’ positionalities and various types of interactions based on their positionalities. Next, we conducted an experiential activity where participants considered their awareness and the effect of various dimensions of their positionalities. Finally, we facilitated focus group conversations that allowed participants to examine ways in which changing contexts (e.g. gentrification, health changes, job loss) shaped their experiences as Black gay men and how they navigated these changes over time.
While being Black, gay, and male were always identifying characteristics among our participants, changes in neighborhood, employment, health, and support networks shaped the meaning, salience, and consequences of intersecting positionalities, such as race, gender, class, and sexual orientation as Black gay men aged. Changing contexts foregrounded various aspects of their positionalities in different ways across the life course. Race and class became more salient as neighborhoods became gentrified with upper class whites. The meaning and consequences of race, gender, and sexual orientation became more pronounced as participants navigated support networks through churches, family, and chosen family. Black gay men navigated these transitions by seeking safety and solace in different ways as they aged, including through boyfriends, “houses,” formal support groups, and spirituality.
Conclusions and Implications:
This study contributes rich insights about changes in the meaning, salience, and consequences of positionalities like race, gender, class, and sexual orientation across the life course. By interrelating life course and intersectionality frameworks, it also contributes more culturally diverse understandings of aging across the life course that are relevant to both aging policy and practice.