“Theunprecedented growth of the gay community in recent history has transformed ourculture and consciousness, creating radically new possibilities for people tocome out and live more openly as homosexuals” (Herdt 2). Before the1969s Stonewall riot in New York, homosexuality was a taboo subject. Researchconcerning homosexuality emphasized the etiology, treatment, and psychologicaladjustment of homosexuals.
Times have changed since 1969. Homosexuals havegained great attention in arts, entertainment, media, and politics.Yesterdays research on homosexuality has expanded to include trying tounderstand the different experiences and situations of homosexuals (Ben-Ari89-90). Despite the transition, little consideration has been given tounderstanding the growing population of gay adolescents. 25% of Americanfamilies are likely to have a gay child (Hidalgo 24); In the United States,three million adolescents are estimated to be homosexual. Yet, American societystill ignores gay adolescents. Majority of children are raised in heterosexualfamilies, taught in heterosexual establishments, and put in heterosexual peergroups.
Gay adolescents often feel forced by parents to pass as”heterosexually normal” (Herdt 2). As a result, homosexual teens hide theirsexual orientation and feelings, especially from their parents. Limited researchconducted on gay young adults on disclosure to parents generally suggests thatdisclosure is a time of familial crisis and emotional distress. Very fewresearchers argue that disclosure to parents results in happiness, bringingparents and children closer (Ben-Ari 90). The debate over homosexuality asnature or nurture dominates most topics about homosexuality. People oftenconfuse the nature/nurture issue with the development of gay identity.
In fact,the nature/nurture argument plays a small, insignificant role concerning gayyouths (Walling 11). Homosexual identity is the view of the self as homosexualin association with romantic and sexual situations (Troiden 46) Many researchershave either discussed or created several models or theories concerning thedevelopment of homosexual identity. However, the most prominent is Troidenssociological 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. Duringthe stages of homosexual identity development, many gay adolescents encountermany preconceptions and assumptions regarding homosexuality. These assumptionsare presumption of heterosexuality, presumption of inversion, and recognition ofstigma (Herdt 4-5). Using Troidens model as a guide, the present paperexamines the four stages of homosexual identity development as it affects bothgay children and parents. Section one concentrates on the first two stages ofhomosexual identity formation and the ordeals gay adolescents and parents beforedisclosure. Section two explains the third and fourth stages of homosexualidentity development.
Finally, section three discusses parents reactions tothe disclosure, and the relationship with their child thereafter. ThePre-Disclosure Period The first stage of homosexual identity development,sensitization, occurs before puberty. In the sensitization stage, gayadolescents experience feelings of being “different” and marginal from samegender peers (Troiden 50). Comments such as the following illustrate what boysfeel during this stage: I had a keener interest in the arts; I never learned tofight; I just didnt feel I was like other boys. I was very fond of prettythings like ribbons and flowers and music; I was indifferent to boys games,like cops and robbers.
I was more interested in watching insects and reflectingon certain things. (Durby 5) However, during this time, children do notassociate feelings as being homosexual or heterosexual; these categories have nosignificance to pre-teens (Troiden 52). Gay youngsters and their parentsencounter the presumption of heterosexuality.
The heterosexual assumption startsduring the sensitization stage; however, the effects can be longterm. Thepresumption 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 definedmale and female roles.
Conformity is highly valued. Going against conformityespecially gender abnormality is viewed with derision and usually awarded withdisgrace and contempt (Isay 30). What is important is the masculine/femininedichotomy underlines heterosexual/homosexual dichotomy. Parents force genderconformity in elementary children and even pre-school children when childrendisplay nonconformist gender roles. Many parents fear that if their son isexposed to homosexuality or even the negative beliefs of homosexuality thentheir 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 bepressure by parents and peers to change their behavior (Mallon, Helping 83).
Feeling “different” and becoming self-alienated have been related to theheterosexual assumption. Among the most powerful causes are early homosexual andsexual encounters and disinterest in many of several gender conformist sorts,such as indifferent to the opposite sex or to sports. Gays tend to have theirfirst sexual contact at an earlier age than heterosexuals do, although noevidence indicates prehomosexual boys develop earlier than heterosexual boys do.Researchers argue that unusual disinterest in girls or sports reinforce thesocial alienation of gays, because team sports and dating are key components ofpeer 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 tointellectual or artistic feats. A third response is to engage in secret same-sexromantic 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 genderbehavior. This conflict arises from the stereotype that if one is notheterosexual then you must be abnormal: the “invert” (Herdt 7). Gayadolescents lack “gay knowledge,” that is, there is an absence of a realpositive knowledge of homosexuality identity. The inversion assumption ismisrepresentation, which can cause serious damage to gay teens well being.Feeling abnormal, gay young males think that they must display characteristicsof females in order to “fit in”, causing hyperfemininity in males (8).
Identity confusion is the second stage of homosexual identity formation. Gaymales start to become aware that these feelings and behavior might be connectedto homosexuality (Troiden 52). Gay teenagers experience inner confusion andambiguity.
Their identity is “stuck in the middle”: they no longer considerthemselves as heterosexuals, yet they have not yet viewed themselves as gay. Theearly 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?,” “AmI really heterosexual?” (Cass 53) By middle to late adolescence, gay teensstart to begin perceives themselves as gay.
Many homosexual describe this phaselike the following: You feel that you probably are homosexual, although yourenot definitely sure. You feel distant or cut off other people. You arebeginning think that it might help to meet other homosexuals but youre notsure whether you really want to or not. You prefer to put on a front of beingcompletely heterosexual.
(Cass 53) Gay males respond to identity confusion bytaking on one or more of the following tactics: (a) denial; (b) repair; (c)avoidance; (d) redefinition; and, (e) acceptance (Troiden 56). In denial, gayadolescents deny their homosexual feelings. Repair involves efforts to eliminatehomosexual emotions. Homosexual tend to steer away from homosexuality inavoidance (57).
The redefinition strategy is temporary; teens see theirhomosexual feeling as a phase that will pass. The final strategy is acceptance;teenagers recognize that they might be homosexuals and search for informationabout their sexual feelings (58) The recognition of stigma faces gay teensaround the time of the second stage of homosexual identity development (Herdt10). Living in a homophobic society hinders many adolescents from followingtheir homosexual identity (5). The reason why gay teens feel disgusted andshamed about being homosexual is societys bias and stereotypical view onhomosexuals.
Some gay males report the first word they associate their sexualfeelings with is not homosexual, but “cocksucker” (Troiden 58). The fivetactics of dealing with identity confusion are really stigma-managementstrategies. All one has to do is turn the television to Jerry Springer and seethe stereotypical super-effeminate homosexual parading on the stage; watch amovie about with homosexual, but dealing with homosexuals with AIDS; or, hearheated debates on the moral perversion of homosexuals from TV Christianevangelist.
Gay adolescents have no positive gay role models. They are reluctantto consider themselves homosexual because that might mean being”super-effeminate-stricken-with-AIDS-doomed-to-hell faggot.” Gay adolescentsare not the only ones to notice that they might be homosexual; their parents arejust as perceptive. Many gay youths suggest that their mothers seem to be awareof their identity confusion (Mallon, Wagon 40). One mother recollects onknowing: I noticed Joshua was different …
“Hes artistic,” I toldmyself, uneasy with the other word that was running through my head:”effeminate”… Like many parents, I fell prey to fears that my sonsdifference meant he would grow up to be one of them, a homosexual. (Mallon,Wagon 40) Gay men describe their fathers as distant during childhood; theylacked any bond to them (Isay 32).
A father may become unreceptive or detachedwhen sensing his son may be homosexual. The fathers removal may be the reasonwhy gay young males have poor self-esteem. The Disclosure Period The third stageof Troidens model is identity assumption. “In this stage, the homosexualidentity becomes both a self-identity and a presented identity, at least toother homosexuals” (Troiden 59).
Self-recognition and disclosure to others oftheir sexual preference first occurs here; signs of coming out. Along withself-recognition and disclosure, the characteristics of this developmental stageare: better self-acceptance of being homosexual, sexual activities, involvementin gay subcultures, exploration of different types of friendships and otherrelationships. While there is self-identification and better self-acceptance,full acceptance of being homosexual does not occur; it is tolerated (60). Cassdescribes people at this stage as follows: You feel sure youre a homosexualand you put up with, or tolerate this. You see yourself as a homosexual for nowbut are not sure about how you will be in the future. You usually take care toput across a heterosexual image.
You sometimes mix socially with homosexuals, orwould like to do this. You feel a need to meet others like yourself. (156)Contact with other homosexuals is crucial at this stage. Negative initialcontact with other homosexuals can be disastrous, resulting the novicehomosexual to return to the experiences of stage two. However, positive initialcontact with other homosexuals furthers the development and maturation of thenovice homosexual. Positive contact helps reduce the feelings of being alienatedor abnormal (Troiden 61).
The final stage in development of a homosexualidentity in Troidens model is that of commitment. In the commitment stage,homosexuals adopt homosexuality as a lifestyle and feel comfortable. The gayyouth enjoys satisfaction of being gay (Troiden 63). Within commitment are twoelements, internal and external. In the internal dimension, sexuality andemotionality integrate, positive alteration in the conceptualization of gayidentity occurs, and an increase of satisfaction and happiness emerges (64).
Theexternal characteristics are the effects of the internal dimension. Same-sexromantic relationships start, demonstrating the integration of emotionality andsexuality. The positive shift of the conceptualization of gay identity makesdisclosure easier (65). Cass expresses this stage a positive and open stage: Youare prepared to tell almost anyone that you are s homosexual. You are happyabout the way you are but feel that being homosexual is not the most importantpart of you. You mix socially with homosexuals and heterosexuals with whom youare open about your homosexuality. (156) The Post Disclosure Period Some parentsadjust effectively to their childs homosexuality; however, other parents areunsuspecting and reacting erratically, negative manner (Mallon, Wagon 36).
Thereason for such negative parental reaction to their childs disclosure is thefirst thing most parents do is apply their negative and often mistakenconception of homosexuality to their own child (42). Living in a homophobicsociety can create family problems, because a homophobic society triggersnegative reactions (36). Parents try and deal with “with guilt, anger,concerns for a childs happiness in the years to come, religious issues, andany of the myriad of myths that are part of the parents own homophobicsocialization” (Hidalgo 21). The beginning reactions of parents to a childscoming out relate to gay adolescents experiences in the second stage ofhomosexuality identity development, identity confusion.
Parents go throughstages of: (1) denial; (2) avoidance; (3) repair; (4) guilt; and, (5) rejection(1 42). Many parents constantly tell their child, “Its just a phase.” Thedenial stage for parents is the redefinition period that gay adolescents undergoin identity confusion.
Many parents tend to avoid the subject all together;parents want to talk about anything but it. However, homosexuals feel that theycannot communicate with their parents (Mallon, Wagon 44). Most parents sendtheir gay child to therapy in hopes for a “cure.” (45). The notion of tryingto 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 childs sexual orientation.
Therefore, parents react negatively; they feel guilty (Mallon, Helping 83). Theystart to believe they were parents, asking themselves, “What did I dowrong?” (Mallon, Wagon 49). Parents should realize that there is no evidencethat parents are responsible for their childs sexual orientation (Hidalgo24).
In many cases, the parents reject their child. Many homosexuals recountfeeling like this when their parents rejected them: When I realized that my ownfamily couldnt accept me, my own flesh and blood, I thought, why should Iexpect the rest of society to cut me any slack? I felt hopeless, disillusionedand worthless. My own family … how could they do this to me, be so cold, souncaring. It was as if they were saying they didnt care if I died.
I dontthink Ill ever get over that. (Mallon, Helping 84). Rejection can be verybrutal. Parents become emotional, verbal, and physical abusive to their child.The abuse can be so severe that juvenile court must step in (Abinati 161). Beingkicked out from the home is another consequence of rejection by parents (Mallon,Wagon 83). Urban and rural Associate researchers discovered that many young maleprostitutes are homosexual, and they are products of their families inabilityto accept their sons homosexuality (Coleman 136).
It would be wrong to saythat only negative outcomes occur when a child tells his parents he is gay. Manychildren feel that in order to establish an honest relationship with theirparents then they must “come clean” to them. Ben-Aris research points outthose adolescents who want to be open and honest with their parents receive thatafter disclosure. Parents are usually accepting after time their childssexual preference (107) Conclusion This paper has effort to generally showyouths growing up gay. A number of issues have been presented involving gayidentity formation, parental interaction, and disclosure.
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