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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 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).
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Sexual orientation, Interpersonal relationships, Gender, LGBT, Interpersonal attraction, Homosexuality, Heterosexuality, Gay, Coming out, Sexual identity, Homosexuality and psychology, Sexual Preference
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