Queer Health: Childhood violence and aging


I'm willing to bet that most QUILTBAG folk will agree- we're a pretty stressed out group of people. With discrimination present in almost every aspect of our daily lives, it's hard to not feel a little tense; add to this the fact that many of us have been or will be the subject of some form of abuse, and the following news becomes even more unsettling. A new study by Duke University was released on April 24th, and it comes to a shocking conclusion: childhood violence literally makes you age faster.

 To clarify, for those who don't know, telomeres are the caps on genes which allow a cell to divide. Each division shortens the telomere, meaning that when the telomere eventually runs out a cell can no longer divide. This is the basic concept behind aging; as you get older, the telomeres on your genes get shorter, and your cells end up owning lots of cats and complaining about the music being too loud, though I may have the science wrong on that last bit…

But think about that link for a moment. This is a scientific study which shows a correlation between telomere length and exposure to childhood hostility, meaning that kids who experience abuse (or higher levels of stress than normal, as is the implied result of violence) are physically older than their peers. These children, and those like them who had to grow up quickly to survive, will likely show more health complications earlier in life as a result of the abuse they experienced while young, meaning one act of aggression can affect a person physically for the rest of their life. Kids who come out early, or show any signs of being "different", are often the target of bullying by their peers, their parents, or both. Add to this the risk of domestic abuse, or the myriad of other forms of fucked up violence directed at children, and the scope of these results becomes stunning. 

It's a sad truth that queer folk are one of the most targeted groups for hate crimes in America, are constantly on guard in many countries in Africa, and are demonized in many other parts of the world; now we know that the disproportional violence we experience affects us on a genetic level. I do not mean to imply that the results of this research can be applied to adults; only children were studied, so we can only say this effect applies to young children. But I'm willing to bet, on an unscientific note, that the stress most queer adults experience doesn't exactly make us younger. Learning to cope with stress can go a long way towards better mental health, and could possibly keep you from becoming old beyond your years.

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