Growing Up Gay 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 1969s 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.
Yesterdays 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 Troidens 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 Troidens 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 didnt feel I was like other boys. I was very fond of pretty things like ribbons and flowers and music; I was indifferent to boys 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 youre not definitely sure. You feel distant or cut off [other people]. You are beginning think that it might help to meet other homosexuals but youre 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 societys 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 wit …