Sex Roles, Vol. 52, Nos. 1/2, January 2005 (
The Changing of the Guard: Lesbian and Gay
Elders, Identity, and Social Change. Dana
Rosenfeld, Philadelphia, PA, Temple University
Press; 2003. 250 pp. $59.50 cloth bound.
Gay and lesbian senior citizens came of age
when homosexuality was not discussed. There were
no gay identities with which to identify prior to
the 1960s. Dana Rosenfeld examines this generation
through the in-depth analysis of 35 interviews with
men and women aged 64–89. Although most of the
participants were middle aged during the gay libera-
tion movements of the 1970s, many did not feel free
to lead openly gay lives.
Rosenfeld’s work emanates from the sociolog-
ical analyses of aging, which links life patterns to
changing historical contexts and to people’s loca-
tion in them. Through this analysis she divided her
participants into two identity cohorts—the discred-
itable and the accredited. The discreditable partici-
pants (n = 28) were those who identiﬁed as a homo-
sexual pre-Stonewall (i.e., prior to the 1969 Stonewall
Riots that a marked the birth of the modern gay and
lesbian civil rights movement) and led largely clos-
eted lives, which most continued to lead at the time
of the interview. The accredited group (n = 7) iden-
tiﬁed as homosexual post-Stonewall, and thus live a
much more openly gay lifestyle.
It was interesting to hear the words the par-
ticipants used to describe their homosexuality.
Statements such as “making a conscious choice to
my way of thinking to become a lesbian” (p. 59)
and comments about choosing a gay lifestyle after
having had heterosexual relationships (as shared
by a number of participants quoted in Chapter 2)
made it sound as if being gay was a choice that some
of them made as opposed to being born homosex-
ual. Placed in the historical context of compulsory
heterosexuality this was not a surprise, but it is
interesting to realize that some of the participants
still thought that way, even as they recognized that
this “choice of lifestyle” was a difﬁcult one.
The stories about the discrimination that many
of the participants encountered and the constant fear
with which they had to concern themselves made liv-
ing even a closeted existence dangerous. For many of
the participants, threats to their person had become
such a stable part of their sense of self that, even as
homosexuality was redeﬁned to some extent in a so-
ciohistorical context, this fearful self had been estab-
lished and was not renegotiated.
Through thick description we learn how each
group negotiated their lives and relationships
with heterosexuals and with other homosexuals.
Rosenfeld presents how some concealed their ho-
mosexuality by utilizing “passing techniques.” These
were the ways in which many of the participants cre-
ated safe lives for themselves by a “correct under-
standing of the world on one hand and an instinct to
survive it on the other” (p. 125). When the partici-
pants spoke of concealing their homosexuality, most
deﬁned this as following the prevailing gender norms
of the period. The participants in the discreditable
cohort spent much of their lives “passing” in hetero-
sexual circles while still trying to associate with ho-
mosexuals as homosexuals. This truly meant living
two different lives for some.
What was most compelling about the life stories
was that most of the participants who identiﬁed in the
discreditable cohort described the accredited cohort
as a threat to their lives as well as insulting. Those
participants in the discreditable cohort had in essence
made a life for themselves in a very heterosexist (al-
beit safe and “normal”) way. The challenges faced by
both groups were undoubtedly enormous.
This is a scholarly study that gives us insight
into a population from which we rarely hear. Rosen-
feld helps us to understand the inﬂuences of his-
torical circumstances and how they inﬂuence social
relations, sexuality, and the creation of a personal
The conclusion, titled “Challenges and Oppor-
tunities,” in which Rosenfeld examines methodolog-
ical challenges is a must read for anyone engaged
in extensive interviewing. Her insight into her own
work will be validating and helpful to anyone who
undertakes the rigor of qualitative study.
This book is highly recommended for academic
libraries and research institutions.
2005 Springer Science+Business Media, Inc.