Authors: Kelly Huegel
Tags: #Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth
Kinsey was so intrigued by his research on male sexuality that he expanded his later work to include women, too. His best-known publications were the books
Sexual Behavior in the Human Male
Sexual Behavior in the Human Female
Though the statistical methods Kinsey used to conduct his studies fall short of the standards used for research today, there is strong evidence that people fall on a continuum of sexuality. While some people show up on points 6 or 0, most fall at one of the numbers in between.
If you've never thought of sexuality on a spectrum, the idea can be confusing. But if you think about all of the complex factors that contribute to making a single human being, it can begin to make more sense. Every human characteristic is on a spectrum. Even within a single quality, there can be great variety. Take eye color, for example. A person with blue eyes can have light blue eyes, deep blue eyes, or blue-gray eyes. Being human means being varied.
Maybe you're attracted exclusively to either girls or guys. Maybe you're usually attracted to boys, but there's something about that girl in your chemistry class that really intrigues you. Or maybe at the last football game you spent just as much time looking at the cheerleaders as the players. All of these responses are natural.
“For me, there was a lot of uncertainty in high school. I liked half the guys in my senior class, but I also had a crush on two girls on my block. That's very confusing at an age when you are changing physically and mentally.”
That's the million-dollar question. Over the course of your life, you'll hear a lot of theories about why some people are GLBTQ and others aren't. There are queer people who believe you can choose to be GLBTQ. There are straight people who believe you can't. Some say it's like putting on a suit that you can take off at any time. Others believe that it's something deep inside you. You might even hear someone talk about how an experience “made” someone gay. Lots of people have their own theories about it, and if you haven't already, you might develop one of your own. You might also decide that you don't care “why.”
While some scientists are working to uncover a genetic component that makes people queer, most mental health professionals and GLBTQ advocates believe that being GLBTQ is most likely the result of a complex interaction of environmental and biological factors. The American Psychiatric Association and advocacy groups like PFLAG don't believe that being queer is a choice. The American Psychological Association maintains unequivocally that “human beings cannot choose to be either gay or straight.” In its pamphlet “Answers to Your Questions for a Better Understanding of Sexual Orientation & Homosexuality” it states, “No findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. . . . Most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.”
Coming to terms with being GLBTQ involves many stages. Early in that process, many teens wish they could change. Some ignore how they feel and try to act as if they're straightâgoing on dates, having romantic relationships, and sometimes even having sex.
Many of the people who have gone on to become leaders in the GLBTQ community started out just as confused and scared as you might be. Transgender activist and writer Kate Bornstein, who was born with male anatomy but always felt like a female, writes in her book
Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us
about her experience of trying to hide her feelings of being a girl. “I knew from age four on that something was wrong with me being a guy, and I spent most of my life avoiding the issue,” she writes. “I hid out in textbooks, pulp fiction, and drugs and alcohol. I buried my head in the sands of television, college, a lot of lovers, and three marriages.” Bornstein eventually stopped trying to hide and grew to accept and love her true identity.
Similarly, Ellen DeGeneres has spoken openly about her reluctance to come out because of her intense fear of rejection. After her very public coming out in 1997, Ellen's career did falter for a period of time. Now, however, she has risen to become one of the most beloved figures on daytime television.
The Ellen DeGeneres Show
won nearly 30 Daytime Emmy Awards in its first six seasons.
Overwhelmingly, mainstream medical and professional organizations maintain that there is nothing wrong with being queer and that no one should attempt a “cure.” In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the National Association of School Psychologists, and the National Association of Social Workers all maintain that queerness is
a mental disorder.
In its publication “Answers to Your Questions for a Better Understanding of Sexual Orientation & Homosexuality,” the American Psychological Association states, “Both heterosexual behavior and homosexual behavior are normal aspects of human sexuality. . . . Despite the persistence of stereotypes that portray lesbian, gay, and bisexual people as disturbed, several decades of mental health research and clinical experience have led all mainstream medical and mental health organizations in this country to conclude that these orientations represent normal forms of human experience.”
However, some people believe you can change your gender identity or sexual orientation through therapy or other means. So-called “reparative therapy” or “transformational ministries” try to change or “cure” GLBTQ people. Reparative therapy, which is sometimes called “conversion therapy,” involves psychotherapy aimed at eliminating feelings of homosexuality. Transformational ministries use religion to try to change people. Groups like Exodus International try to “free” people from being queer by pointing them toward God. (For more information on aspects of religion and homosexuality, see Chapter 9.)
Reparative therapy and transformational ministries can be very destructive to queer people's self-esteem because the goal is to convince those who are GLBTQ that their thoughts and feelings are wrong and unnatural. If you need help coming to terms with being GLBTQ, or if you just want someone to talk to, seeking therapy or counseling to discuss these issues is a good idea. But talk to someone who won't try to make you feel like it's wrong to be who you are. You don't need to try to fix who you are, because nothing is wrong with you in the first place.
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute published a report called “Youth in the Crosshairs: The Third Wave of Ex-Gay Activism.” The report details efforts by specific organizations to target GLBTQ teens and concludes, “There is a growing body of evidence that conversion therapy not only does not work, but also can be extremely harmful, resulting in depression, social isolation from family and friends, low self-esteem, internalized homophobia, and even attempted suicide.” Further, “Many conversion therapy clients were not informed about alternative treatment options, including therapy that could have helped them accept their sexual orientation.” The American Psychiatric Association has condemned reparative therapies, stating that attempts to transform gay or bisexual people into heterosexual people are pointless and often motivated by personal prejudices.
“When I first started to understand myself and tried to accept who I was, I was devastated. I remember a day when I took out my student Bible and searched for hours on homosexuality. When I finally found it, I was sobbing so hard I could barely breathe. There were a couple of passages that I thought were scolding me. They told me I was evil and hateful, that my kind is unforgiven and will forever burn. It was the harshest thing I had ever read. I probably prayed more within that week than I had ever prayed in my life. I begged for God to tell me if I was wrong and evil. I cried to myself, trying to get myself to believe that I'm not what they say I am. It took me a while to pull through that.”
Get More Information:
Human Rights Campaign
). The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) is an advocacy organization that offers information on many GLBTQ issues, including reparative therapy and transformational ministries. Visit the group's site to find “Mission Impossible: Why Reparative Therapy and Ex-Gay .Ministries Fail,” “Finally Free: How Love and Acceptance Saved Us from the Ex-Gay Ministries,” and related materials
You can also reach HRC by calling 1-800-777-4723.
). This online community offers many true stories from people who have gone through reparative therapies as well as resources with information about the movement.
What it all boils down to is that it doesn't really matter what the “experts” say. The only person who is a true expert when it comes to you is you, so what matters is what
say. You're the only person who can make a definitive statement about who you areâor you can decide not to make a definitive statement. While you can't control whether you're GLBTQ, you can shape how you feel about yourself. You have the power to improve your self-esteem.
Even if few people talk about it, questioning your sexual orientation is more common than you might think. Cornell University professor Ritch Savin-Williams is a well-known authority on issues surrounding GLBTQ teens. In his book
The New Gay Teenager,
Savin-Williams asserts that, based on his own study of teens, “it is safe to conclude that at least 15 percent and maybe as high as 20 percent of all adolescents have some degree of a same-sex orientation.” He adds, “Less than half of these individuals are exclusively or near exclusively same-sex oriented.” Therefore, teens who have same-sex attractions far outnumber the estimated three to four percent who self-identify as gay or bisexual or who report having engaged in same-sex sexual activity.
“If you are questioning, that doesn't necessarily mean that you're gay. It means exactly what it implies: you are questioning and unsure of yourself or your sexuality. In time, you will understand who you are.”
According to Caitlin Ryan and Donna Futtermanâtwo of the first researchers to broadly address issues of GLBTQ teensâmany gay and lesbian young people begin to self-identify around age 16. Their first awareness of homosexual attraction, though, likely occurred around age 9 for males and age 10 for females. Children start to become aware of biological differences between boys and girls at around age three. Transgender people often report feeling conflict between their physical anatomy and gender identity throughout childhood and adolescence. The point is, for most GLBTQ young people, developing an understanding of sexuality is a long process.
“I realized I was GLBTQ when I was young, like 11 or 12. I always had an interest in the female sex, ever since I can remember. I distinctly remember watching television and âliking' a pretty woman on the screen and wanting to touch her. I thought it was normal and didn't really think anything of it until I was 16 and I finally came out to myself.”
“It's hard to say definitively how I became aware of my gender identity. I think it was really while I was surfing websites and reading stories about transgender people. It was then that I realized not all guys had dreams of suddenly and inexplicably being changed into a girl.”
“I think I've known all my life that I am bisexual, even though I didn't always have a word for it. I can remember playing with another little girl when I was young, seven or eight maybe, and we'd play âboyfriend' and âgirlfriend.' I have always been attracted to boys and girls, but it wasn't until a friend of mine came out and told me he was gay that I started thinking that I was bisexual.”