Sunday, April 1, 2012

Tragic story of gay activist's suicide

Dear Colleagues,

 

This sad story really got to me.  Much of the modern world is telling youngsters with same-sex attraction (SSA) that they should embrace their SSA and their lives will be as good, if not better, than heterosexuals - but the statistics don't bear this out.

 

Bob Bergeron appeared to be a highly successful gay man who had just finished a book called "The Right Side of Forty: The Complete Guide to Happiness for Gay Men at Midlife and Beyond."   His friends and relatives were very supportive of his lifestyle and had no idea he was contemplating suicide.

 

As you read the article, you will see that as a youngster Mr. Bergeron had dealt with some of the predisposing factors that JONAH believes lead to SSA, but the gay activist community tells us we don't know what we're talking about.

 

Let us pray that JONAH's message of hope and healing can be heard by those youngsters who feel SSA so that good men like Bob Bergeron don't wind up feeling that their lives are not worth living.

 

Shalom, Elaine

 

 


March 30, 2012

 

Bob Bergeron, a Manhattan therapist, in Europe in 2003. He committed suicide around New Year s.

Not Waiting to Say Goodbye

By JACOB BERNSTEIN

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/01/fashion/the-life-and-death-of-the-therapist-bob-bergeron.html?ref=fashion&pagewanted=all

BOB BERGERON was so relentlessly cheery that people sometimes found it off-putting. If you ran into him at the David Barton Gym on West 23rd Street, where he worked out nearly ever morning at 7, and you complained about the rain, he would smile and say you'd be better off focusing on a problem you could fix.

That's how Mr. Bergeron was as a therapist as well, always upbeat, somewhat less focused on getting to the root of his clients' feelings than altering behavior patterns that were detrimental to them: therapy from the outside-in.

Over the last decade, he built a thriving private practice, treating well-to-do gay men for everything from anxiety to coping with H.I.V. Mr. Bergeron had also begun work as a motivational speaker, giving talks at gay and lesbian centers in Los Angeles and Chicago. In February, Magnus Books, a publisher specializing in gay literature, was scheduled to print a self-help guide he had written, "The Right Side of Forty: The Complete Guide to Happiness for Gay Men at Midlife and Beyond."

It was a topic he knew something about. Having come out as gay in the mid-1980s, Mr. Bergeron, 49, had witnessed the worst years of the AIDS epidemic and emerged on the other side. He had also seen how few public examples there were of gay men growing older gracefully.

He resolved to rewrite the script, and provide a toolbox for better living.

"I've got a concise picture of what being over 40 is about and it's a great perspective filled with happiness, feeling sexy, possessing comfort relating to other men and taking good care of ourselves," Mr. Bergeron said on his Web site.  "This picture will get you results that flourish long-term."

But right around New Year's Eve, something went horribly wrong. On Jan. 5, Mr. Bergeron was found dead in his apartment, the result of a suicide that has left his family, his friends and his clients shocked and heartbroken as they attempt to figure out how he could have been so helpful to others and so unable to find help himself.

Here, they say, was a guy with seemingly everything to live for: good looks, a condo in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, semi-annual trips to Europe, parents who adored him and absolutely no history of clinical depression.

That suicides, even seemingly inexplicable ones, occur in New York is not startling news, of course. And, certainly, among gay men in the city, it is not unusual to hear of an acquaintance who has taken his life, often someone in the later stages of AIDS who didn't want (or couldn't afford) to wait around for the bitter end. (A 2002 survey by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, found that 12 percent of urban gay and bisexual men have attempted suicide in their lifetime, a rate three times higher than the overall rate for American adult males.)

But there is something particularly resonant about Mr. Bergeron's tale. Here was a man who ended his life at the exact moment he seemed to be nearing a professional peak, one that involved the upbeat story of a mature gay man facing the second half of his life with enthusiasm, hope and an endless array of tight T-shirts.

"The day this happened, when he appeared to be missing, I ran through a million scenarios," said James Sackheim, Mr. Bergeron's first long-term boyfriend and later his best friend. "I thought maybe he had hit his head at the gym and didn't have his ID and they rushed him to the hospital. There was never a thought in my mind he would have committed suicide. Never."

Stanley Siegel, a psychotherapist and former columnist for Newsday who mentored Mr. Bergeron, said: "We would get together regularly and there were many personal conversations, none of which ever touched upon the darkness of his life that he must have felt. I had absolutely no sense of this."

But something was clearly roiling below the calm surface.

In "Dancer From the Dance," the seminal 1970s novel about gay life in New York by Andrew Holleran, the protagonist, Anthony Malone, walks into the bay on Fire Island rather than facing getting older and watching his beauty fade.

Had Mr. Bergeron made the same decision?

"We sell this idea that 60 is the new 40, but it's just lying," said Dr. Frank Spinelli, an internist in Chelsea who referred numerous patients to Mr. Bergeron. "We tell children there's Santa Claus, and then they get older, and learn better. I can't even begin to imagine what Bob was going through."

FOR sure, Bob Bergeron was aware of his own looks. As a middle-class child growing up in Chicago and then Albuquerque, he'd been nervous and awkward, bad at sports, the kind of kid who didn't really know how to interact with other boys.

Then, in his late teens, he started working out and it became a religion, transforming him from a geeky boy into a self-confident young man who looked like something out of a Herb Ritts photo shoot.

At the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where he went to college, Mr. Bergeron became seriously involved with a woman.

"I thought for sure after graduation there was going to be an engagement ring," his mother, Athena Bergeron, who lives in Arizona, said in a recent telephone interview. "I really did."

Instead, her son's girlfriend found a stash of gay porn in one of his dressers and outed him to Mrs. Bergeron.

Soon after, Mr. Bergeron met Mr. Sackheim. They moved to Los Angeles and experienced the kind of life common among many people in their 20s, living first in a Westwood apartment with roommates, then in their own place on the Miracle Mile.

Jobs came and went, as Mr. Sackheim worked as a waiter and Mr. Bergeron sold group travel packages, and then got a real estate license.

Early in their relationship, Mr. Sackheim and Mr. Bergeron were on vacation in Mykonos, Greece, where, one night in a gay bar, a man walked up to Mr. Bergeron and began bowing down to him. The man was being humorous, but Mr. Bergeron's looks were no joke, even as they made it harder for him to find other aspects about himself to cultivate.

"I think Bob was always worried about people not taking him seriously," Mr. Sackheim said. "And it was important for him to believe that people saw him as intelligent, not just beautiful."

In the early '90s, they broke up, and Mr. Bergeron took up with Scott Boute, a publicist for Fox, with whom he moved to New York and with whom he lived until 2009. (Mr. Boute now runs a small public relations company of his own.)

Mr. Bergeron went back to school, getting his master's in social work at Hunter College, then going into private practice.

From the start, he had liberal attitudes about therapy, believing that a counselor could be more like a friend than a distant doctor. His sexual history, his clubbing and the steps he took to stay H.I.V.-negative were all things he occasionally discussed with his clients. From time to time, a person he hooked up with subsequently became a client, according to two former patients who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

One thing Mr. Bergeron didn't discuss much was his relationship with Mr. Boute. Though the two were involved for 17 years, friends said it was an unhappy union for quite a while before it ended; that the main thing uniting Mr. Bergeron and Mr. Boute was a city that became more and more expensive to live in, a place where Mr. Bergeron's annual income of around $150,000 was barely enough to support the kind of life he led.

"I think a lot of what kept them together was expenses," said Walter Rappaport, a close friend of Mr. Bergeron who lives in Miami. "I think neither of them could have afforded their lifestyle if they weren't together."

Mr. Boute said, "I don't think money was more of an issue for us than anyone else living in New York." He admitted that, in recent years, he and Mr. Bergeron had been more like "roommates" than lovers. About three years ago, they called it quits.

To his friends, Mr. Bergeron maintained a positive tone. He went on vacation, dated some, visited museums.

Still, he privately expressed misgivings about what the future held. 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.' "

Mr. Siegel, the therapist who supervised Mr. Bergeron in the early days of his career, said: "Bob was a very beautiful younger man, and we talked a lot about how that shapes and creates a life. The thesis of his book is based very much on his own personal experience with that. And the book also emphasized what to do when you're not attractive or you no longer have the appeal you once had. The idea was to transcend that and expand your sexual possibilities."

By all accounts, Mr. Bergeron worked tirelessly on the manuscript. After being turned down by several large publishing houses, he received a commitment from Don Weise at Magnus. Mr. Bergeron would receive only a few thousand dollars, but friends told him this was a decent arrangement; that books like this are mainly advertisements for building your client base, and that they lead to speaking engagements.

For nearly a year, he wrote and rewrote, going through what Mr. Weise, the publisher, said was five or six heavy rounds of editing.

"There would be pages just covered in blue scribble," he said. "Every single sentence was rewritten. I thought he was going to have a nervous breakdown."

Shortly before Christmas the manuscript was done and Mr. Bergeron sent Mr. Weise an e-mail in which he expressed how grateful he was for the experience and said how excited he was for the book's release, Mr. Weise said. (Its publication has been canceled.)

AS the New Year approached, Mr. Bergeron seemed to grow more anxious.

With the book about to be printed, Mr. Bergeron became convinced that he'd written too much about the shame and isolation involved with hooking up online; that people weren't even really doing that anymore, now that phone apps like Grindr and Scruff had come along.

His book, he felt, had become antiquated before it even came out.

"It was easily fixable," said Mrs. Bergeron, who said she last talked to her son on New Year's Eve. "I figured they could easily go back in and change that." Nevertheless, she and his father, George, both said Mr. Bergeron was inconsolable.

He also seemed to be grappling with the realization that perhaps his life's work might not make a dent, that there might not be a lot of avenues available to promote a book with such a narrow readership.

"I think there was a plan," Mr. Sackheim said. " 'I write this book, it's successful, maybe there's a talk show, I'm on "Oprah." ' And I think he was coming to realize that all of that that might not happen."

And perhaps he was lonelier than he let on. Though Mr. Bergeron seemed to know people everywhere, his two closest friends lived thousands of miles away.

"I looked at his Facebook page recently," said Steven Wice of New York, who knew Mr. Bergeron for more than a decade. "He had over a thousand friends. But there are acquaintances and there are friends, and I think he probably had a lot of acquaintances and not a lot of real friends."

To Mr. Rappaport, who spoke to Mr. Bergeron on New Year's Eve, things seemed fine. The two discussed their plans for the evening.

"He was staying home," Mr. Rappaport said. "He said he was just going to relax, hang out and take it easy. Obviously he had other plans."

On Jan. 4, several of Mr. Bergeron's patients arrived at his apartment building for their scheduled appointments. The doormen buzzed up again and again, but there was no answer.

Finally, on Jan. 5, a package from Mr. Sackheim turned up with a return address and a phone number on it. With patients continuing to show up to the sound of silence, the doorman called Mr. Sackheim, and asked if he might be able to find Mr. Bergeron or contact someone who knew where he was.

Mr. Sackheim called Mr. Bergeron's parents, who instantly became concerned. So Mr. Sackheim called Mr. Boute, who still had a key and arrived to find Mr. Bergeron in the bedroom, dead, with a plastic bag over his head. The medical examiner's office ruled it a suicide due to asphyxiation.

Though some of his friends, Mr. Rappaport among them, wondered whether drugs were involved, leading to a crash Mr. Bergeron did not anticipate, the suicide seemed to have been carried out with methodical precision. On an island in the kitchen, Mr. Bergeron had meticulously laid out his papers. There was a pile of folders with detailed instructions on top about whom to call regarding his finances and his mortgage. Across from that he placed the title page of his book, on which he also wrote his suicide note. In it he told Mr. Sackheim and Mr. Rappaport that he loved them and his family, but that he was "done."

As his father remembered it, Mr. Bergeron also wrote, "It's a lie based on bad information."

An arrow pointed up to the name of the book.

The inference was clear. As Mr. Bergeron saw it at the end of his life, the only right side of 40 was the side that came before it.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: April 1, 2012

An earlier version of a picture caption with this article erroneously stated that the location is in Paris.