Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Young and Gay: Forget Bullies, Stigma and Self-Bullying Bad Enough
As we're still debating Don't Ask Don't Tell and gay marriage, the media's dragged out the somber stats about gay youths facing high rates of anxiety, alcohol and substance abuse, violence, depression and suicide. That these kids are 4 times more likely to be depressed. That's a pretty solid stat but it's hard to put out reliable numbers on the rest of the lot. For one thing, researchers tend to cast the entire lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgendered (LGBT) crowd into one homogenous category - "gay".
Half the teens lumped into the LGBT pile by researchers, teachers, classmates, and journalists don't even consider themselves "gay". So we got kids bullied for being gay even though they may not consider themselves such.
Maybe they're effeminate or late-bloomers waiting for that growth spurt. Maybe they just don't like sports. Maybe they are questioning their sexual orientation. Maybe they aren't. Even if they might have some same sex fantasies or experience. That's right, somewhere around 6% of high-schoolers consider themselves heterosexuals even though they may fantasize or actually act on some same sex attractions (3% unsure, 3% gay). They're not even wondering about it. Sure, they may eventually identify themselves as gay or bisexual. Or not. But that doesn't mean they can't still think of themselves as straight.
Why quibble over whether a youngster perceives himself (or herself) as gay?
Because being gay opens up a young person to a whole lot of harm...
Teens who consider themselves gay or bisexual are more than twice as likely to think about and attempt suicide compared to heterosexuals teens (see 2009 study).
Those who consider themselves heterosexual even though they have same sex thoughts or experience are no more likely to think about or attempt suicide than heterosexuals without any same sex leanings.
It's not about thoughts or feelings or even behavior - but identity. Doesn't matter who we're attracted to or what we do but how we think of ourselves. It's the power of self-identity. And stigma of course. We so often focus on bullies but danger comes not just from others, but from the kids themselves, their thoughts about themselves. Forget bullies, kids who believe themselves gay often beat themselves up mercilessly. Coming out to oneself costs dearly in this society, especially at a young age. Yet it's un-American to discourage self-discovery. High school of all times should be a time of self-exploration, self-experimentation, expression....blah blah blah.
But what if it exposes some kids to harm? I wish we could push past the discrimination and prejudice but we're not there yet. In the meantime, what's a parent or teacher to do? Is self-discovery over-rated? Supposedly college students are less empathetic than ever. Maybe we should be focusing less on the ME parts anyhow.
At the very least maybe teachers should scrap Oedipus Rex and the "Know Thyself" lesson.