Better Times for Gay Youth?

An interesting story on a study that finds young gay males are growing up in a world with far greater acceptance, increasingly making their sexual orientation a non-issue (yes, there are always exceptions, but this is a major cultural change).

Ritch Savin-Williams, professor emeritus in developmental psychology at Cornell University, interviewed 206 millennial men for his book Becoming Who I Am: Young Men on Being Gay, published last year. From the Cornell Daily Sun:

“There are few differences between gay and straight youth other than their sexual and romantic histories,” Savin-Williams insisted. “They are just as close to their parents, they have just as many friends, they have the same kinds of relationships in terms of closeness … you cannot distinguish between gay and straight.”

Savin-Williams further stated that, while his findings paint a far more positive picture of the lives of young gay men than other scientific studies, homosexuality is not the life-defining issue some think of it as.

“Most of these young people believe that their sexuality will make no difference in their lives, in terms of their future, their income, their jobs, or whatever. They just assume that their culture is going to evolve to the point where sexual orientation is a non-issue,” he said.

Much attention is now being focused on the struggles of transgender high school kids, perhaps because gay kids are doing so much better nowadays.

This was also interesting:

Savin-Williams found that young gay men feel more accepted by their families and peers and lead much happier lives today than studies may suggest. …

He specifically mentioned a government-funded CDC study which portrays gay youth as characteristically having depression, anxiety and highly suicidal tendencies, results which Savin-Williams disputed as highly inaccurate. Savin-Williams attributed these inaccuracies to the fact that the CDC’s study of “gay youth” included women who identified as bisexual for reasons other than their sexuality.

When I was young and moved in activists circles in NYC, I met more than a few “lesbian activists” who identified as lesbian, they admitted, as a feminist statement while dating both men and women, and some who only dated men (but kept that quiet).

More. Subsequently I came across this piece at at HuffPo by Michael Hobbes, on why despite so much social progress gay men—those who came of age post-AIDS and on the cusp of marriage equality—are unhappier than straight men. He writes:

Like me, Jeremy did not grow up bullied by his peers or rejected by his family. He can’t remember ever being called a faggot. … Still, even as we celebrate the scale and speed of [social] change, the rates of depression, loneliness and substance abuse in the gay community remain stuck in the same place they’ve been for decades.

Hobbes points to the lingering stress of discovering that your sexuality makes you different during adolescence, and its PTSD-like lingering effects:

The term researchers use to explain this phenomenon is “minority stress.” In its most direct form, it’s pretty simple: Being a member of a marginalized group requires extra effort. … All of us were deeply confused or lying to ourselves for a good chunk of our adolescence.

The young men he profiles seem to be leading pretty vacuous lives around drugs, lots of hookups and constant partying, with no mention of any spiritual grounding.

Nor even much interiority. As the author’s friend Jeremy tells him:

“The drugs were a combination of boredom and loneliness,” he says. “I used to come home from work exhausted on a Friday night and it’s like, ‘Now what?’ So I would dial out to get some meth delivered and check the Internet to see if there were any parties happening. It was either that or watch a movie by myself.”

Here’s a thought: Maybe the drugs and compulsive hookups/partying aren’t symptoms of “minority stress” leading to depression and dysfunction, but the root cause.

12 Comments for “Better Times for Gay Youth?”

  1. posted by Jorge on

    Savin-Williams attributed these inaccuracies to the fact that the CDC’s study of “gay youth” included women who identified as bisexual for reasons other than their sexuality.

    Isn’t it just as likely Mr. Savin-Williams is being fooled by the reverse bias? That is, he couldn’t find men he identified as straight for reasons other than their sexuality. I once read a bizarre factoid that gays have a higher teen pregnancy rate than straights. What do you mean that was only about lesbians?

    This story can wait and simmer until we see a pattern (granted, I think it’s visible already).

    Reply
  2. posted by JerrelT on

    I am struck by the comment that Mr. Savin-Williams claims other studies are “highly innaccurate.” His study had quite a limited number participating; only 206. Of these 206 we do not know the number who are gay. The article says that his 206 participants were taken from those with “varying sexualities.” So one asks, how many young gay men did he speak with…100…50…? This would not be a large enough sampling to take into account differences in geography and religious backgrounds as well as many other variables which would skew his results. To me this just appears to be an extremely small sampling group from which to make such a definitive determination.

    Reply
  3. posted by Tom Scharbach on

    I would quietly point out two things that I think should be considered:

    (1) Savin-Williams’ small-sample study adds to the pile of available academic research, but (if the Cornell article accurately represents his views) he misrepresents the CDC study, which finds that “Most lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ)* youth are happy and thrive during their adolescent years. … However, some LGBTQ youth are more likely than their heterosexual peers to experience difficulties in their lives and school environments, such as violence.” The two findings (most are happy and thrive and some are more likely to experience difficulties) are not mutually exclusive findings, and to the extent that Savin-Williams suggests that the CDC study, by documenting the latter, contradicts the former, he is misrepresenting the CDC study.

    (2) With respect to the post headline (“Better Times for Gay Youth”) evidence is beginning to emerge that the psychological landscape in which LGBT youth live is changing for the better post-Obergefell, and that is a good thing. I believe that the highly-charged anti-LGBT political environment during the period 1995-2015 exacerbated the difficulties faced by LGBT young people, and I hope that we will be able to put those bad days to rest after we’ve beaten back the last vestiges political anti-gay hysteria we are now experiencing. The time will come when an LGBT high school kid is just another high school kid, and that is what we are aiming to bring about.

    Reply
    • posted by JerrelT on

      Tom, as a 63 year old gay man, married to his partner, I most definitely agree. The change my generation has seen was never dreamed of when we were coming to terms with our sexuality in the sixties and seventies. Mr. Savin-William’s extremely small sampling, as pointed out, cannot account for the geographic, cultural, and religious differences which result in gay tolerance being still quite spotty depending on the individual”s experience.

      Reply
      • posted by Tj on

        In Minnesota (as an example) the LGBT community is quite visible and (mostly) tolerated within the Minneapolis/St. Paul region. Politically, it is a blue/purple part of the State and advances in attitudes and laws are probably quite easy to see.

        Now, let us suppose that you live in the Duluth/Iron Range region of Minnesota (an economy largely built on mining and tourism). Duluth itself has a (moderately) visible LGBT community, but the larger iron range region is much more rural and much more socially conservative.

        Now, let us suppose you live in the Minnesota Northwest (aka the lakes region). Moorhead is next to Fargo, ND (the largest city in ND) and (as such) has a few annual LGBT events.

        However, rest of the (large) part of the state is such that most LGBT people do not feel safe being out. Most allies do not feel safe being out. If you were to grow up in Northwest Minnesota, chances are the closet is a way of life.

        Reply
    • posted by Tom Scharbach on

      I’m 70, married, and spent my childhood and retired years in rural Wisconsin, my working years in the military and in the shadow of the University of Chicago.

      Like you and most men our age, I came up in the 1950’s and early 1960’s, when “homosexual” was the equivalent of “perverted child molester”, and the modern gay rights movement was fought out during my lifetime. I participated in some, but not all of it, working as a lawyer and political activist.

      Like you and all of us of that age, as a young man I never dreamed that I would live to see the day when I would be married. But it happened, and it happened because a lot of gays and lesbians refused to put up with the lies and the bullshit, refused to play nice, and fought back.

      I grew up fighting, fought in the political arena most of my adult life, don’t apologize for he fact that fighting the bastards is just about all I know how to do, and I don’t intend to stop fighting until I’m drooling away in a nursing home or buried.

      It was worth the fight, and one thing hasn’t changed — the lies and bullshit coming from the anti-equality crowd.

      Reply
  4. posted by Tom Scharbach on

    Here’s a thought: Maybe the drugs and compulsive hookups/partying aren’t symptoms of “minority stress” leading to depression and dysfunction, but the root cause.

    A good deal of academic/professional literature is available studying the negative health/behavioral effects of long-term stress, going back at least 40 years. A good deal of academic/professional literature is available studying the negative behavioral effects of “coping mechanisms” such as substance use/abuse, sexual acting out, and so on, again going back at least 40 years. The interactions between the two are complex, as anyone familiar with the literature and/or issues will attest, and much remains to be learned. I have been involved with counseling veterans suffering service-related stress/substance abuse for quite a number of years, and I can provide you with a good bibliography, Stephen, if you would like to learn about the issue. Please contact me privately.

    Reply
  5. posted by JohnInCA on

    “The young men he profiles seem to be leading pretty vacuous lives around drugs, lots of hookups and constant partying, with no mention of any spiritual grounding.”
    Why am I suddenly reminded of stories of Fire Island and all the great parties that happened way before I was born in the 70s and 80s?

    The young gay guys I know don’t party half as hard as you old trolls brag about partying. Now admittedly, we’re all boring college-educated engineers, but still.

    … which suddenly makes me wonder if this isn’t a “gay” thing, but a “class” thing. “Work hard play hard” isn’t a motto for white collar workers, after all. Shit, some of these studies must have tried to control for poverty and education, right?

    Reply
  6. posted by Jorge on

    … which suddenly makes me wonder if this isn’t a “gay” thing, but a “class” thing. “Work hard play hard” isn’t a motto for white collar workers, after all.

    (Today’s motto: “@!#?@!”)

    “It’s either do drugs or watch a movie by myself”, um, yeah, I don’t really understand that. I’m overweight, I’m addicted to caffeine and video games, and I don’t understand.

    Reply
  7. posted by TJ on

    I suspect that alot of things are good for gays who live in a nice part of an urban-cosmopolitan community.

    The big challenge is what about “them gays” aint a short walk or bus ride away from a gay community center.

    Reply
  8. posted by Tj on

    Their have been studies that show that gay/bisexual men are more likely to smoke, then their heterosexual counterparts (of similar backgrounds).

    I suspect that some of this may have been because of stress and the fact that our culture certainly teaches — or taught — that smoking is something that i good for stress and good for after sex.

    Of coarse, the fact that the large tobacco companies advertised heavily in the gay press and the gay bars…might have…you know…been a factor.

    Reply

Leave a Comment