Saturday, December 22, 2012

Gay Men's Wellness Guide

At first glance this book looks pretty intimidating. It clocks in at almost 600 pages and it is billed as “The National Lesbian and Gay Health Association’s complete book of physical, emotional, and mental health and well-being for every gay male.” 

And you know what? It doesn’t do a bad job covering all of that information – though I doubt anyone is going to sit down and read this book like a novel. It’s more for reference and referral. The chapters and even the individual sections of the book can be read alone when you have a concern about a particular topic. 

Just like many people have first aid or health books tucked away for emergencies, the Gay Men’s Wellness Guideis a book that can help just about any gay man when they need a quick answer to a question or have a concern about their health. Even if you don’t ever read some of the book’s sections, it’s nice to have a comprehensive reference for our health and well-being. 

What’s covered? 

It’s a whole bunch of information. The Gay Men’s Wellness Guide has six distinct parts that cover the major areas in any gay man’s life. They include: 

Health Care 
Here you’ll find information on finding a gay friendly health-care provider, information on mental health, common physical ailments, addictions, and alternative medicines. 

Sex, Safely: Coping in a Sex-Negative Culture 
Want to know about sex? You’ll find information on the mechanics of sex, orgasms, safe-sex, types of sexual encounters and for those of you who play both sides of the field, there’s a short section on what to expect if you ever have sex with a women (ok, I admit it, I’ve never read that one). 

You Are Not Alone 
Can you still be a masculine man if you’re gay? Questions like this are covered in this portion of the book. Self-images and body images are explored, as is attraction, aging, transsexuals, HIV and AIDS, intimacy, and you can learn how to better love yourself. 

The Big Picture: Awareness and the Visible Gay Man 
What’s the easiest way to fight heterosexism? It’s really for gay men to be open and visible to show the world that we aren’t any different from anyone else. Of course you’ll also find my favorite chapter here, “Women who Want to Fix Gay Men.” If you’re gay, you’ll totally understand. 

There’s also information on violence and abuse in the gay community, gay harassment and coping mechanisms. 

Men Can Have It All 
We’re no different than anyone else and we can have what we want. We create our own families we have one of the strongest communities of support out there. If you want to do it, you can – and you’ll find ideas on how to accomplish those goals here. 

Being a gay man can be hard, there’s no doubt about it and the single topic in this part of the book is on dealing with the anger and the attitude that can easily develop in any gay man from dealing with the world. 

As you’d expect, each of six parts in the book are further broken down into individual chapters and those chapters are then broken down into the topics of that chapter. Therefore it’s very easy, right from the table of contents to find exactly what you’re looking for and flip right to that section. 

Perhaps you have concerns about steroids. Look under “You Are Not Alone” and find the “Body Image” chapter and then within that chapter, there’s a section on steroids. That’s just one example, but it’s not hard to find out any information you need. 

There are also seven appendices at the end of the book that cover a lot of ground. First you’ll find a glossary that does a good job covering many of the medical terms and more esoteric terms that are used throughout the book. Then there’s a list of medical and mental health organizations with gay and lesbian policy statements, followed by a selected list of state and local gay-rights laws. For those of us having trouble with insurance companies, there’s a list of state insurance regulatory hotlines. The other appendices have various bits of information including groups for gay and lesbian health-care professionals. 

Finally there is a fairly comprehensive index at the end of the Gay Men’s Wellness Guide. If you can’t find what you’re looking for in the detailed table of contents, then you should be able to find it in the index. 

Is it useful? 

Yeah, it really is. I keep my copy next to my big Harvard Medical School Health Guide on my bookshelf, so that I can always find them if I need them. While other books (like the Harvard book I have) might focus on the nitty-gritty diagnosis and explanation of disease and afflictions, The Gay Men’s Wellness Guide instead provides a gay man a great basic overview of how to be a healthy gay man. It covers everything from coming out, to having sex, to finding your community. 

Not so greats? 

The book was published back in 1997 and has been slightly updated over the years. However with any book that includes timely information (such as the contact information in the appendices, or the information on health care organizations), it will go out of date. 

A lot of the writing also becomes dated just because so many things change so quickly. For example back in 1997, I don’t think any gay man would have imagined that they could become legally married in Massachusetts, but it can happen now. None of the information on the gay marriage struggle is included. 

National Lesbian and Gay Health Association 

The National Lesbian and Gay Health Association published this book with the author, Robert Penn. They are a gay affirming health-care network for gay and bisexual men. There are clinics in Boston, Hartford, New York City, Washington DC, Baltimore, San Juan, Houston, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago. 

Final Thoughts 

No one is going to sit down and read this book (well, I’m sure a few will) – what the Gay Men’s Wellness Guidereally is for, is to be a health reference guide for gay men. You can find answers on almost any wellbeing topic out there – from physical to emotional. 

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