Essay, Research Paper: Gay Population Growth

Sexuality

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“The
unprecedented growth of the gay community in recent history has transformed our
culture and consciousness, creating radically new possibilities for people to
‘come out’ and live more openly as homosexuals” (Herdt 2). Before the
1969’s Stonewall riot in New York, homosexuality was a taboo subject. Research
concerning homosexuality emphasized the etiology, treatment, and psychological
adjustment of homosexuals. Times have changed since 1969. Homosexuals have
gained great attention in arts, entertainment, media, and politics.
Yesterday’s research on homosexuality has expanded to include trying to
understand the different experiences and situations of homosexuals (Ben-Ari
89-90). Despite the transition, little consideration has been given to
understanding the growing population of gay adolescents. 25% of American
families are likely to have a gay child (Hidalgo 24); In the United States,
three million adolescents are estimated to be homosexual. Yet, American society
still ignores gay adolescents. Majority of children are raised in heterosexual
families, taught in heterosexual establishments, and put in heterosexual peer
groups. Gay adolescents often feel forced by parents to pass as
“heterosexually normal” (Herdt 2). As a result, homosexual teens hide their
sexual orientation and feelings, especially from their parents. Limited research
conducted on gay young adults on disclosure to parents generally suggests that
disclosure is a time of familial crisis and emotional distress. Very few
researchers argue that disclosure to parents results in happiness, bringing
parents and children closer (Ben-Ari 90). The debate over homosexuality as
nature or nurture dominates most topics about homosexuality. People often
confuse the nature/nurture issue with the development of gay identity. In fact,
the nature/nurture argument plays a small, insignificant role concerning gay
youths (Walling 11). Homosexual identity is the view of the self as homosexual
in association with romantic and sexual situations (Troiden 46) Many researchers
have either discussed or created several models or theories concerning the
development of homosexual identity. However, the most prominent is Troiden’s
sociological four-stage model of homosexual identity formation. Dr. Richard R.
Troiden describes the development of homosexual identity in four stages:
sensitization, identity confusing, identity assumption, and commitment. During
the stages of homosexual identity development, many gay adolescents encounter
many preconceptions and assumptions regarding homosexuality. These assumptions
are presumption of heterosexuality, presumption of inversion, and recognition of
stigma (Herdt 4-5). Using Troiden’s model as a guide, the present paper
examines the four stages of homosexual identity development as it affects both
gay children and parents. Section one concentrates on the first two stages of
homosexual identity formation and the ordeals gay adolescents and parents before
disclosure. Section two explains the third and fourth stages of homosexual
identity development. Finally, section three discusses parents’ reactions to
the disclosure, and the relationship with their child thereafter. The
Pre-Disclosure Period The first stage of homosexual identity development,
sensitization, occurs before puberty. In the sensitization stage, gay
adolescents experience feelings of being “different” and marginal from same
gender peers (Troiden 50). Comments such as the following illustrate what boys
feel during this stage: I had a keener interest in the arts; I never learned to
fight; I just didn’t feel I was like other boys. I was very fond of pretty
things like ribbons and flowers and music; I was indifferent to boy’s games,
like cops and robbers. I was more interested in watching insects and reflecting
on certain things. (Durby 5) However, during this time, children do not
associate feelings as being homosexual or heterosexual; these categories have no
significance to pre-teens (Troiden 52). Gay youngsters and their parents
encounter the presumption of heterosexuality. The heterosexual assumption starts
during the sensitization stage; however, the effects can be longterm. The
presumption of heterosexuals is the belief that being heterosexual is superior,
“heterosexual ethnocentricity” Everyone is heterosexual; to be
“different” is to be inferior (Herdt 5). American society has strict defined
male and female roles. Conformity is highly valued. Going against conformity
especially gender abnormality is viewed with derision and usually awarded with
disgrace and contempt (Isay 30). What is important is the masculine/feminine
dichotomy underlines heterosexual/homosexual dichotomy. Parents force gender
conformity in elementary children and even pre-school children when children
display nonconformist gender roles. Many parents fear that if their son is
exposed to homosexuality or even the negative beliefs of homosexuality then
their child might be recruited or seduced into the gay lifestyle (Taylor 41).
The sensitization stage can be a very difficult time for gay youngsters.
Children who display nonconformist gender behavior are more likely to be
pressure by parents and peers to change their behavior (Mallon, Helping 83).
Feeling “different” and becoming self-alienated have been related to the
heterosexual assumption. Among the most powerful causes are early homosexual and
sexual encounters and disinterest in many of several gender conformist sorts,
such as indifferent to the opposite sex or to sports. Gays tend to have their
first sexual contact at an earlier age than heterosexuals do, although no
evidence indicates prehomosexual boys develop earlier than heterosexual boys do.
Researchers argue that unusual disinterest in girls or sports reinforce the
social alienation of gays, because team sports and dating are key components of
peer groupings (Herdt 6). One of the primary responses in feeling
“different” is the decline of self-esteem because of the damaging isolation.
Another response is to displace self-interest from sports and dating to
intellectual or artistic feats. A third response is to engage in secret same-sex
romantic relations (7). Once the feeling of being “different” occurs,
another perception emerges, the presumption of inversion. In this perception,
gay individuals have gender conflict because of their reversal of gender
behavior. This conflict arises from the stereotype that if one is not
heterosexual then you must be abnormal: the “invert” (Herdt 7). Gay
adolescents lack “gay knowledge,” that is, there is an absence of a real
positive knowledge of homosexuality identity. The inversion assumption is
misrepresentation, which can cause serious damage to gay teens’ well being.
Feeling abnormal, gay young males think that they must display characteristics
of females in order to “fit in”, causing hyperfemininity in males (8).
Identity confusion is the second stage of homosexual identity formation. Gay
males start to become aware that these feelings and behavior might be connected
to homosexuality (Troiden 52). Gay teenagers experience inner confusion and
ambiguity. Their identity is “stuck in the middle”: they no longer consider
themselves as heterosexuals, yet they have not yet viewed themselves as gay. The
early phase of identity confusion is described as: You are not sure who you are.
You are confused about what sort of person you are and where your life is going.
You ask yourself the questions “Who am I?,” “Am I a homosexual?,” “Am
I really heterosexual?” (Cass 53) By middle to late adolescence, gay teens
start to begin perceives themselves as gay. Many homosexual describe this phase
like the following: You feel that you probably are homosexual, although you’re
not definitely sure. You feel distant or cut off [other people]. You are
beginning think that it might help to meet other homosexuals but you’re not
sure whether you really want to or not. You prefer to put on a front of being
completely heterosexual. (Cass 53) Gay males respond to identity confusion by
taking on one or more of the following tactics: (a) denial; (b) repair; (c)
avoidance; (d) redefinition; and, (e) acceptance (Troiden 56). In denial, gay
adolescents deny their homosexual feelings. Repair involves efforts to eliminate
homosexual emotions. Homosexual tend to steer away from homosexuality in
avoidance (57). The redefinition strategy is temporary; teens see their
homosexual feeling as a phase that will pass. The final strategy is acceptance;
teenagers recognize that they might be homosexuals and search for information
about their sexual feelings (58) The recognition of stigma faces gay teens
around the time of the second stage of homosexual identity development (Herdt
10). Living in a homophobic society hinders many adolescents from following
their homosexual identity (5). The reason why gay teens feel disgusted and
shamed about being homosexual is society’s bias and stereotypical view on
homosexuals. Some gay males report the first word they associate their sexual
feelings with is not homosexual, but “cocksucker” (Troiden 58). The five
tactics of dealing with identity confusion are really stigma-management
strategies. All one has to do is turn the television to Jerry Springer and see
the stereotypical super-effeminate homosexual parading on the stage; watch a
movie about with homosexual, but dealing with homosexuals with AIDS; or, hear
heated debates on the moral perversion of homosexuals from TV Christian
evangelist. Gay adolescents have no positive gay role models. They are reluctant
to consider themselves homosexual because that might mean being
“super-effeminate-stricken-with-AIDS-doomed-to-hell faggot.” Gay adolescents
are not the only ones to notice that they might be homosexual; their parents are
just as perceptive. Many gay youths suggest that their mothers seem to be aware
of their identity confusion (Mallon, Wagon 40). One mother recollects on
knowing: I noticed Joshua was different ... ”He’s artistic,” I told
myself, uneasy with the other word that was running through my head:
“effeminate”... Like many parents, I fell prey to fears that my son’s
difference meant he would grow up to be one of them, a homosexual. (Mallon,
Wagon 40) Gay men describe their fathers as distant during childhood; they
lacked any bond to them (Isay 32). A father may become unreceptive or detached
when sensing his son may be homosexual. The father‘s removal may be the reason
why gay young males have poor self-esteem. The Disclosure Period The third stage
of Troiden’s model is identity assumption. “In this stage, the homosexual
identity becomes both a self-identity and a presented identity, at least to
other homosexuals” (Troiden 59). Self-recognition and disclosure to others of
their sexual preference first occurs here; signs of coming out. Along with
self-recognition and disclosure, the characteristics of this developmental stage
are: better self-acceptance of being homosexual, sexual activities, involvement
in gay subcultures, exploration of different types of friendships and other
relationships. While there is self-identification and better self-acceptance,
full acceptance of being homosexual does not occur; it is tolerated (60). Cass
describes people at this stage as follows: You feel sure you’re a homosexual
and you put up with, or tolerate this. You see yourself as a homosexual for now
but are not sure about how you will be in the future. You usually take care to
put across a heterosexual image. You sometimes mix socially with homosexuals, or
would like to do this. You feel a need to meet others like yourself. (156)
Contact with other homosexuals is crucial at this stage. Negative initial
contact with other homosexuals can be disastrous, resulting the novice
homosexual to return to the experiences of stage two. However, positive initial
contact with other homosexuals furthers the development and maturation of the
novice homosexual. Positive contact helps reduce the feelings of being alienated
or abnormal (Troiden 61). The final stage in development of a homosexual
identity in Troiden’s model is that of commitment. In the commitment stage,
homosexuals adopt homosexuality as a lifestyle and feel comfortable. The gay
youth enjoys satisfaction of being gay (Troiden 63). Within commitment are two
elements, internal and external. In the internal dimension, sexuality and
emotionality integrate, positive alteration in the conceptualization of gay
identity occurs, and an increase of satisfaction and happiness emerges (64). The
external characteristics are the effects of the internal dimension. Same-sex
romantic relationships start, demonstrating the integration of emotionality and
sexuality. The positive shift of the conceptualization of gay identity makes
disclosure easier (65). Cass expresses this stage a positive and open stage: You
are prepared to tell [almost] anyone that you are s homosexual. You are happy
about the way you are but feel that being homosexual is not the most important
part of you. You mix socially with homosexuals and heterosexuals [with whom] you
are open about your homosexuality. (156) The Post Disclosure Period Some parents
adjust effectively to their child’s homosexuality; however, other parents are
unsuspecting and reacting erratically, negative manner (Mallon, Wagon 36). The
reason for such negative parental reaction to their child’s disclosure is the
first thing most parents do is apply their negative and often mistaken
conception of homosexuality to their own child (42). Living in a homophobic
society can create family problems, because a homophobic society triggers
negative reactions (36). Parents try and deal with “with guilt, anger,
concerns for a child’s happiness in the years to come, religious issues, and
any of the myriad of myths that are part of the parent’s own homophobic
socialization” (Hidalgo 21). The beginning reactions of parents to a child’s
coming out relate to gay adolescents’ experiences in the second stage of
homosexuality identity development, identity confusion. Parents go through
stages of: (1) denial; (2) avoidance; (3) repair; (4) guilt; and, (5) rejection
(1 42). Many parents constantly tell their child, “It’s just a phase.” The
denial stage for parents is the redefinition period that gay adolescents undergo
in identity confusion. Many parents tend to avoid the subject all together;
parents want to talk about anything but it. However, homosexuals feel that they
cannot communicate with their parents (Mallon, Wagon 44). Most parents send
their gay child to therapy in hopes for a “cure.” (45). The notion of trying
to cure their child is ‘a reflection of their wishes than on his needs”
(Hidalgo 24-25). Besides, most efforts of a ”cure” fail (Mallon, Wagon 45).
Parents have been given wrong information about their role modeling, behavior,
and parenting style that determined their child’s sexual orientation.
Therefore, parents react negatively; they feel guilty (Mallon, Helping 83). They
start to believe they were parents, asking themselves, “What did I do
wrong?” (Mallon, Wagon 49). Parents should realize that there is no evidence
that parents are responsible for their child’s sexual orientation (Hidalgo
24). In many cases, the parents reject their child. Many homosexuals recount
feeling like this when their parents rejected them: When I realized that my own
family couldn’t accept me, my own flesh and blood, I thought, why should I
expect the rest of society to cut me any slack? I felt hopeless, disillusioned
and worthless. My own family ... how could they do this to me, be so cold, so
uncaring. It was as if they were saying they didn’t care if I died. I don’t
think I’ll ever get over that. (Mallon, Helping 84). Rejection can be very
brutal. Parents become emotional, verbal, and physical abusive to their child.
The abuse can be so severe that juvenile court must step in (Abinati 161). Being
kicked out from the home is another consequence of rejection by parents (Mallon,
Wagon 83). Urban and rural Associate researchers discovered that many young male
prostitutes are homosexual, and they are products of their families’ inability
to accept their son’s homosexuality (Coleman 136). It would be wrong to say
that only negative outcomes occur when a child tells his parents he is gay. Many
children feel that in order to establish an honest relationship with their
parents then they must “come clean” to them. Ben-Ari’s research points out
those adolescents who want to be open and honest with their parents receive that
after disclosure. Parents are usually accepting after time their child’s
sexual preference (107) Conclusion This paper has effort to generally show
youths growing up gay. A number of issues have been presented involving gay
identity formation, parental interaction, and disclosure. Homosexuality is a
very controversial subject. By no mean does this paper try to say that it is
“totally correct.” However, the paper does examine logical theoretical ideas
of what gay adolescents endure, using and combining research and reports of
other gay studies.

BibliographyAbinati, Abby. “Legal Challenges Facing Lesbian and GayYouths.” Helping
Gay and Lesbian Youth. Ed. DeCrescenzo, Teresa. New York: Haworth Press, Inc.,
1994. Ben-Ari, Adital. “Disclosure to Parents” Journal of Homosexuality. 30
(1995): 89-111. Cass, V.C. “Homosexual Identity” Journal of Homosexuality 9
(1983/1984): 105-126. Coleman, Eli. “The Development of male Prostitution
Activity Among Gay and Bisexual Adolescents.” Gay and Lesbian Youth. Ed. Herdt,
Gilbert. New York: Harrington Park Press, 1989. Durby, Dennis D. “Gay,
Lesbian, and Bisexual Youth.” Helping Gay and Lesbian Youth. Ed. DeCrescenzo,
Teresa. New York: Haworth Press, Inc., 1994. Herdt, Gilbert. ”Introduction:
Gay and Lesbian Youth, Emergent Identities, and Cultural Scenes at Home and
Abroad.” Gay and Lesbian Youth. Ed. Herdt, Gilbert. New York: Harrington Park
Press, 1989. Hidalgo, Hilda. Lesbian and Gay Issues. Maryland: National
Association of Social Workers, 1985. Isay, Richard A. Being Homosexual. New
Jersey: Jason Aronson, Inc., 1989. Mallon, Gerald P. “Counseling Strategies
with Gay and Lesbian Youth.” Helping Gay and Lesbian Youth. Ed. DeCrescenzo,
Teresa. New York: Haworth Press, Inc., 1994. Mallon, Gerald P. We Don’t
Exactly Get the Welcome Wagon. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.
Taylor, Nancy. ”Gay and Lesbian Youth: Challenging the Policy of Denial.”
Helping Gay and Lesbian Youth. Ed. DeCrescenzo, Teresa. New York: Haworth Press,
Inc., 1994. Troiden, Richard R. “The Formation of Homosexual Identities.”
Gay and Lesbian Youth. Ed. Herdt, Gilbert. New York: Harrington Park Press,
1989. Walling, Donovan R. Gay Teens at Risk. Indiana: Phi Delta Kappa
Educational Foundation, 1993.
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