Authors: Kelly Huegel
Tags: #Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth
Although everyone reacts differently to the idea that they might be GLBTQ, people usually experience a very common progression of stages. Some go through this process more quickly than others, and many people spend a lot more time in one stage than another. Sociologist Richard Troiden described the process in the
Journal of Homosexuality:
Stage One: Sensitization.
Feelings of being different from others in a fundamental way can begin well before puberty. This is usually a very challenging time that can make people feel isolated from family and friends.
Stage Two: Identity confusion.
People start becoming more aware of actual same-sex thoughts and feelings. During this stage, learned negative thoughts about homosexuality can cause individuals to feel betrayed by their own thoughts and feelings.
Stage Three: Identity assumption.
Things get better at this point in the process. It's typically when people begin to find more positive, accurate information about what it means to be GLBTQ and start to identify that way.
Stage Four: Commitment.
Historically, people often didn't reach this stage until adulthood; today, more teens are reaching it at progressively younger ages. This is likely the result of more positive portrayals of GLBTQ people in the media and broader access to accurate information about what it means to be GLBTQ. During this stage, people incorporate sexual identity into all aspects of their livesâa big part of which is “coming out” to other people as GLBTQ. (See Chapter 3 for more information on coming out.)
“I came out to my sister and she was very weird about it, but things are becoming easier as I get older. I'm just becoming more comfortable with being bisexual.”
Art Imitates Life:
The character Kurt on the television network show
is a good example of a young person who has progressed to the last stage of the awakening process. In an early episode, Kurt comes out to the character Mercedesâanother singer in the glee clubâto explain why he can't reciprocate her crush on him. As the series continues, viewers see Kurt develop a more active acceptance of himself as gay, which he demonstrates by becoming more open with others about who he is.
In real life, Chris Colfer, the actor who plays Kurt, has spoken about his own reluctance to be open about his identity when he was in high school. Colfer has said that many of his own experiences informed not only how he plays Kurt on
but also some of the storylines on the show.
At school, many classmates might follow stereotypes. Based on how people dress or what they like to do after class, individuals may get pigeonholed into categories such as jock, geek, player, slacker, baller, goody-goody, and so on. You've probably noticed that the problem with these labels is that they're one-dimensional and don't fully describe a person. You could dress like an athlete but have the soul of an artist, and vice versa.
The more you get to know someone, the less appropriate labels seem. For example, try describing your closest friend in a one-word stereotype. You'll probably find that a single word just doesn't do him or her justice.
GLBTQ people are especially susceptible to stereotyping. One reason is that some individuals are afraid to challenge these stereotypes because they fear others might assume they're GLBTQ and start to harass them. Another reason stereotypes are strong is the lack of positive and accurate portrayals of GLBTQ people in the media. Although more are present now, they still aren't abundant.
Also, many GLBTQ people are afraid to come out because they fear rejection or even physical harm. The lack of an accepting environment keeps some individuals in hiding, which allows misinformation to thrive.
Fortunately, things are improving. Activists have helped change how GLBTQ people are viewed in society. And the media is showing more GLBTQ people as everyday people, including in shows such as
Glee, Ugly Betty, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Modern Family,
There is even an all-queer television network called Logo.
Still, ignorance persists. For example, take the following GLBTQ stereotypes. You might have heard someâor even allâof these misguided ideas or statements. And don't think it's just straight people who say these things. Unfortunately, stereotyping exists within the GLBTQ community, too.
Myth #1: GLBTQ people are unhappy being who they are.
For a long time, society has painted a picture of GLBTQ people as living secretive or tormented lives. But a lot of queer people live open and happy lives with loving families, just like straight people. The reality is that GLBTQ people can encounter difficulties for being what many in society view as “different.” This is not related to what it means to be queer. Rather, a lack of understanding among others can cause challenges for GLBTQ people. And being straight doesn't guarantee a life free of difficulties. For both GLBTQ and straight people, how we deal with life's challenges helps determine our happiness and success.
Myth #2: Gay men are attracted to all men, lesbians are attracted to all women, and bisexuals are attracted to just plain everyone.
Just like straight people, queer people have personal tastes in what they like, whether it's food, cars, or people they're attracted to. Because the stereotype is so common, some people may be uncomfortable when they first meet a GLBTQ person. (“Oh, he's gay. . . . He must be checking me out.”) But coming
to someone is not the same thing as coming
to the person. The more people are exposed to gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, the more they come to understand that.
Myth #3: Gay men want to be women and lesbians want to be men.
Being transgender and being gay or lesbian are very different things. Some people have such a hard time understanding same-sex attractions that they assume that gay men and women actually want to be the opposite physical sex. This stereotype also has roots in how some gay men and lesbians challenge gender norms when expressing themselves. Gay men who are seen as more
(a term used to describe both males and females who act and dress in stereotypically feminine ways) and lesbians who dress or act more
(a term used to describe both males and females who act and dress in stereotypically masculine ways) are often assumed to want to change their genders. A related myth is that butch lesbians and femme gay men just want to draw attention to themselves. The reality is that the way femme guys and butch girls present themselves is simply a form of expression in the same way that anyone'sâgay or straightâpersonality or style of dressing is a representation of who they are. When we start criticizing anyone's right to dress or be who they want to be, we start suppressing all of our rights to do so.
Myth #4: Gay men hate women and lesbians hate men.
Being gay means you are physically and emotionally attracted to people of the same sex. It has nothing to do with a hatred for people of the opposite gender. For example, women aren't driven to be gay because they hate or had bad experiences with men. Lesbians want to form physical and/or love relationships with women because of a deep desire to be with women, and gay men want to form physical and/or love relationships because of a deep desire to be with men.
Myth #5: Queer people “flaunt it.”
GLBTQ people who have bumper stickers on their cars, get involved in the queer civil rights movement, or hold hands in public are sometimes accused of “flaunting it.” Some straight people wonder why queer people don't just keep it to themselvesâstay invisible. However, in a society where the assumption is that people are straight, GLBTQ people often feel the need to challenge that assumption or self-identify to let other GLBTQ people know they're not alone. Sometimes people make their orientations known as a means of standing up for themselves, or simply as a gesture to remind others that not everyone is straight.
Additionally, straight people who hold hands in public are rarely accused of flaunting being straight. Most GLBTQ people simply desire the same freedom of expression of love for their boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse, or significant other. Often they're not trying to make any political or social statements, they're just being themselves.
Queers in the Military:
GLBTQ people are highly decorated soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines, who can now serve openly. The debate over the federal “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” (DADT) policyâwhich forbid openly gay people from serving in the U.S. militaryâwas officially repealed by President Obama on December 22, 2010. In the preceding months and weeks, the debate over DADT had grown in intensity with the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In 2009, President Obama pledged to end DADT. In 2010, Defense Secretary Robert Gates severely limited how it could be enforced. Most senior military leaders, including the highest ranking military officer in the nationâAdmiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staffâvoiced support for repeal of the policy. However, strong opposition remained among some in the Senate and the military. As a result, the military conducted one of the largest surveys in the history of the armed forces, asking service members and their families their feelings about the potential repeal of the policy. The survey committee also interviewed current and former gay and lesbian service members, including many who had been “separated” from the military under DADT. The committee's report, issued November 30, 2010, stated, “The results . . . reveal a widespread attitude among a solid majority of service members that repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell will not have a negative impact on their ability to conduct their military mission.”
After an intense series of debates, the Senate and House voted to overturn the policy. It is now up to the military to implement full integration of people who are openly gay or lesbian in the armed services. While this process will take time and will likely hit some bumps, the repeal of DADT is a huge step forward in the GLBTQ civil rights movement and a landmark in American history.