The Changing of the Guard

Lesbian and Gay Elders, Identity, and Social Change

Dana Rosenfeld
Book Cover

PB: $27.95
EAN: 978-1-59213-031-3
Publication: May 03

HC: $71.50
EAN: 978-1-59213-030-6
Publication: May 03

264 pages
5.5 x 8.25
7 tables 1 figure

The greatest generation&--lesbian and gay elders, and how they lived their lives from before Stonewall to today

Read the Introduction (pdf).


One of the first books to link identity, age, and gender, The Changing of the Guard offers a significant meditation on the politics of older lesbians and gays. Combining interviews and sustained critical thought, Rosenfeld links the development of lesbian and gay elders' identity with the key moments in the 20th century reinvention of homosexuality. In doing so, she bridges the gap between history and interaction that has characterized—and constrained—previous studies of identity.

Rosenfeld first summarizes the meaning of homosexuality that prevailed when her subjects came of age and the radical changes it underwent during their middle years. She uses these changes to trace the paths they took toward one of two homosexual identities: a discreditable one adopted before the advent of gay liberation, or an accredited one, adopted during and through those momentous years. She theorizes that there is the existence of two distinct identity "cohorts," shaped by a willingness or resistance to accept the historical forces at work on lesbian and gay identity. Such decisions on identities, Rosenfeld argues, strongly shaped her subjects in later life, specifically their understanding of the nature of homosexuals and their implications for relations with other people, straight and gay alike, as well as for standards of "homosexual competence" they use to assess their own and others' enactment of homosexuality.

An important book that challenges research on identity and identity formation, The Changing of the Guard rethinks how we have come to understand the meaning of homosexuality.


"The Changing of the Guard will make an important contribution to our understanding of aging and lesbian and gay life. I don't know of any other work that looks at lesbian/gay elders from a theoretically informed standpoint. Rosenfeld adds significantly to our thinking about identity and sexuality."Kristin Esterberg, University of Massachusetts Lowell

"This book is an insightful analysis of the life narratives of lesbians and gay men born before 1930. It uncovers and theorizes the connection between identifications made in youth and middle age, social change, and self constructions in later life. Rosenfeld deftly bridges the gap between historical and interactionist approaches to identity and identity politics, proving that the intersection between personal decisions and historical circumstances informs social relations and moral evaluations across the life course. Theoretically sophisticated—and a darned good read—The Changing of the Guard will be recognized as a significant addition to the growing literature on the complexities of identity and social life in old age." Jaber F. Gubrium, University of Missouri, Columbia

"Rosenfeld's book is an important contribution to life course social science and adds to our understanding of aging among lesbians and gay men." The American Journal of Sociology

" important study."Lambda Book Report

"(O)riginal, stimulating, detailed and rich in sociological imagination...(a) compelling analysis."Contemporary Sociology

"(T)his is a book that should be read by everyone wanting to do gerontological social work." The Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare

"The book provides insights into some of the important historical, political, and discursive influences on older lesbian and gay identities. It also provides a wealth of quotations from what are obviously rich data." Ageing and Society

"This is a scholarly study that gives us insight into a population from which we rarely hear. Rosenfeld helps us to understand the influences of historical circumstances and how they influence social relations, sexuality, and the creation of a personal identity.... This book is highly recommended..."Sex Roles

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Distinctiveness of Lesbian and Gay Elders
1. "I Didn't Have Identity": Same-Sex Desire and the Search for Meaning
2. "I Picked Up That I Was Gay"
3. Biography and History: From Identity Careers to Identity Cohorts
4. "Dangerous Territory": The Heterosexual World
5. Homosexual Competence and Relations with Heterosexuals
6. Contingencies and Challenges
Conclusion: Challenges and Opportunities
Appendix: Informant Profiles

About the Author(s)

Dana Rosenfeld is Lecturer in the Department of Health and Social Care, Royal Holloway, University of London.