The San Diego / Boulder Paper
Colorado Paper ('97) - - Banff Paper ('95) - - 1997-98 Papers
The Paper was Presented by Pierre Tremblay at The 11th Annual Sociological Symposium: "Deconstructing Youth Suicide," San Diego State University - March, 2000 (Cover Page). A part of the present updated paper was presented at the Gay Men's Health Summit in Boulder, Colorado - July, 2000 (Cover Page).
When the psychiatric definition of "the homosexual male" became the socially constructed norm, male homosexuality became the perceived rarity so often encountered in reports of adolescent HOM (homosexually oriented male) self-perceptions within the context of their schools or community. HOM adolescents generally believe they are “the only one," or part of a tiny minority if they are lucky. They do not feel they belong to the greater human world. Alone and often feeling like they are "freaks" - even the likely product of the rare genetic anomaly many gay-identified males have believed and publicly asserted - they end up in a state of anomie, exacerbated by homophobic reactions of others, including themselves at times. Heterosexist and homophobic messages affirm not only that one is a rarity and "does not belong," but that hatred, marginalization, and even exclusion will apply if one’s homosexual secret is known or suspected. Related problems, including the internalization of acquired homohating perceptions, often associated with gender nonconformity issues, now turned against the self, have been linked to suicide problems in HOM youth. The learned "Better Be Dead Than Gay" perception is implicated in self-killings and murders of gay individuals.
The North American youth suicide rate has risen 3- to 4-fold since the 1950s, with males accounting for more than 80 percent of the problem, and more than 90 percent of the additional youth suicides since 1950. Recent evidence strongly indicates that HOM youth could account for at least 50% of the most serious male youth suicide attempters. Strengthened by replication research showing HOM youth to be more at risk for the most serious suicide behaviors, they are likely to be at even greater risk of death from their attempts; however "the homosexuality factor" has generally been ignored in mainstream male youth suicidality research. This oversight may explain a significant part of the ongoing enigma related to increasing youth suicide problems.
Empirical data indicates that, to the age of 16 or 17 years, the lifetime "suicide attempt" incidence for HOM youth has risen about six-fold, from about 5 to 30 percent from the 1950s to the 1990s. A number of explanations may apply, but one has not yet been advanced. The 1950s and 1960s marked a transition from a past when about 40 percent of adult males reported participation in homosexual activity to the present 10 to 15 percent. Most people, however, believe the methodologically flawed research that indicate a demographic rate ranging from 1 to 5 percent. The latter figures contribute significantly to the “rarity” belief about male homosexuality in spite of the fact in some cultures, that the male enjoyment of same-sex sexual activities has been common, sometimes being the rule.
Recommendations in this paper call for an extensive analysis of existing Youth Risk Behavior Survey data sets, most reporting results in violation of a cardinal rule in suicidology that male and female results should be separated for analysis. Research must also be carried out using the best available methodologies, including particular sociological methodologies. Factors associated with suicidality after individuals make contact with gay communities must also be studied. Relationship problems have been linked to suicide attempts, and the same may apply for the common use and abuse of drugs and alcohol by young gay-identified males.
Contemporary research does not exist, however, on suicide problems of HOM youth after they make contact with gay communities where a majority of gay-identified males are also known for lying in numerous ways when meeting each other for sexually motivated reasons, as reported in one ethnomethodology study. The author has often observed some gay-identified youth being distressed when experiencing this fact, while many youth apparently become what they are expected(?) to be, possibly at a price that factors into suicide problems for themselves and others. In addition, the more "feminine" HOM youth experience sexist anti-feminine attitudes in gay communities, often after having been subjected to a lifetime of anti-sissy abuses in public schools, in peer groups, and even in their families. Gay environments may therefore exacerbate their suicide problems reported to be experienced by more of these males than their more "masculine" gay and bisexual identified male counterparts.
A Grounded Theory approach as well
as ethnomethodology studies are recommended to explore the suicide problems
of homosexually oriented male youth, and insightful methodologically sound
studies are needed to determine the extent of their suicide-related problems
and their often interrelated nature. The study of suicide problems reported
for gay and bisexual identified male youth, and the presentation of additional
relevant information, make a convincing case for the proposed 50 percent
representation of homosexually oriented males in the youth suicide problem.
Fortunately, not everyone experienced male homosexuality as a rarity because some males grew up in worlds where male homosexuality was common. Others even grew up in communities where male homosexuality was a majority status and boys were rediscovering what Ancient Greek males also experienced as a part of their enjoyment potential. These documented realities are therefore important to know before it is possible to better understand how the modern social construction of male homosexuality is likely implicated in elevated male youth suicide problems, and especially in the five-fold increase in adolescent male suicide rates since 1950.
Understanding this problem is very much related to also understanding the modern concept of "sexual orientation" and the related issues becoming increasingly apparent to many professionals. Those most annoyed by this development, however, are the ones wanting to believe that males who recognize their same-gender sexual desires form a separate species distinct from another species: the 100 percent apparently genetically created heterosexual males forming more than 95 percent of the male population. Reality, however, may be very different from what most people believe and act out, as it has been repeatedly experienced throughout human history.
Sexual Orientation is an enduring emotional, romantic, sexual or affectional attraction to another person... Sexual orientation exists along a continuum that ranges from exclusive homosexuality to exclusive heterosexuality and includes various forms of bisexuality. Bisexual persons can experience sexual, emotional and affectional attraction to both their own sex and the opposite sex. Persons with a homosexual orientation are sometimes referred to as gay (both men and women) or as lesbian (women only). Sexual orientation is different from sexual behavior because it refers to feelings and self-concept. Persons may or may not express their sexual orientation in their behaviors.This current definition of sexual orientation is based on a biological gender binary which has produced the words "homosexual" for same-sex attractions, "heterosexual" for opposite sex attractions, and "bisexual" for varying degrees of attractions to either gender. As a rule, however, sexual orientation has been perceived in a binary way, but an increasing number of professionals have been challenging this perception (Note 1). One was to be either heterosexual (often meaning "normal") or homosexual ("abnormal"), with bisexuality being ignored or condemned because it apparently should not exist (Note 2). Not long ago, homosexual individuals were also decreed to be "mentally disordered" by organizations such as The American Psychiatric Association and The American Psychological Association. The removal of this politically motivated label occurred in 1973-4 after many protests by the ones perceiving themselves to be defined and targeted for abuse by these organizations of mental health professionals. Many self-identified homosexual individuals did not agree with the "mental disorder" attribute, and neither did a significant number of professionals (Bayer, 1981).
These definitions, categories, and related labels, however, were not always so, as asserted by Michel Foucault (1976) and as strongly emphasized in "The Invention of Homosexuality" (Katz, 1995): the words "homosexual" and "heterosexual" were invented at the end of the 19th century, and heterosexuality was perceived to be abnormal until the 1930s. Although bisexuality is often spoken about in terms of "bisexualities," as implied in the above APA definition, the words "homosexualities" (Bell and Weinberg, 1978), "heterosexualities," and "asexualties" should also be used given the diversity of human sexualities documented to have existed over time (Dorais, 1994); Note 2). On the basis of this knowledge of human sexualities, Dorais therefore warned against potentially serious problems stemming from current reductionist definitions for "sexual orientation" generally used to select study samples by researchers exploring genetic associations for homosexuality. One result of this research, according to Dorais, would be the likely production of a bad piece of science fiction.
The "definition" problem in genetic research was highlighted by Billings (1993) in his examination of methodological problems related to various types of genetic research related to homosexuality:
[Although] traditionally genetics has been most successful in explaining dichotomous traits, sexual orientation is a continuous characteristic of human populations. Males and females can be defined as heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, asexual or otherwise. The range of behaviours within any two groups created for research purposes will either reflect selection (and thus not be representative), or will overlap substantially... Thus, it may be impossible to conduct research on homosexuality using genetic methods, or to genetically analyze any human characteristic, when the studied traits cannot be reliably ascertained in a large number of individuals, across a broad range of environments (p. 20).Given this highly problematic situation associated with human sexualities, as well as other problems, Billings' conclusion was prophetic and congruent with Hamer et al.'s 1993 highly publicized results of the so-called "gay gene" supposedly located in the X-linked DNA segment. "This site will likely be eliminated as the location for the 'gay gene' by further experimentation, conducted on different subjects, by other interested researchers" (p. 21). Within two years, information supporting Billings' informed conclusion was reported by Canadian researchers (Rice et al., 1995; Guide, 1995;) at the same time that the Hamer team published a second study apparently replicating earlier results (Hu, et al. 1995). The Canadian study (Rice et al., 1999) was finally published with considerable media coverage given to the results negating the "X-linked DNA segment" hypothesis.
Many reports also emphasized the highly negative implications for the postulated "gay gene" that many gay-identified males believed to exist (Chamberlain, 1999). Over the years, comments such as "I have been gay ever since I can remember" have been endlessly repeated to justify "essential" thinking, but I have also been French Canadian ever since I can remember, none of it being biological, except for having a biological system which made the acquisition of my cultural attributes possible. By 1999, however, papers were still being published such as Rahman (1999) which emphasized that there was considerable evidence that gay males were more like females, all based on unreplicated research results, and that the research results of the Dean Hamer research team offered a good explanation for this phenomenon. No one has noted, however, that if gay males are more like females, would this not imply that two such males in a relationship are therefore more like a third gender and very similar, and that such relationships may not work if the Bem (1996) theory - Exotic becomes erotic: a developmental theory of sexual orientation - is correct?
A significant problem with the current world view that "100% heterosexuality" is the majority "sexual orientation" is the exceptionally common manifestations of bisexuality in the Ancient World (Cantarella, 1992). In this respect, the Ancient Greek practice of pederasty is of special significance. In a certain social class of boys, all of them were expected to have loving relationships with older males who were available to certainly enjoy their more than "sexual" relationships with boys. However, some commentators have suggested otherwise, indicating that the boys may not have enjoyed these relationships. "In the case of classical Greek practice there is a strong current of scholarship which sees the same-sex relations as pretty well universal in the male population, but limited in time and context: the relic of an initiation rite. (One detects a sense that being an initiation rite somehow makes homosexuality acceptable -- boys will be boys, and moreover, they'll get over it!)" (Thorp, 1992, p. 59).
This highlighted thought was nonetheless contradicted by Thorp's citations indicating that, as a rule, love without a hint of abuse was a major attribute in these relationships, and the well known Sacred Band of Thebes illustrates this fact (Carpenter, 1917) and also challenges the idea that these highly venerated "love" relationships were just an initiation rite. The younger males in these relationships were often ready for battle; thus not being the often assumed highly vulnerable and naive boys, and they certainly were not the equivalent of the modern "feminine" stereotype gay male (containing some truth) reflecting the 20th century professional and social belief that homosexual males are inverts, meaning "like women" (Ellis, 1906; Hekma, 1994). This belief, often propagated at the end of the nineteenth century by influential effeminate homosexual males such as Magnus Hirschfeld and Karl Heinrich Ulrichs (Hekma, 1994), then became the rule in the American military by the early 1940s (Purkiss, 1997), and it continued to be taught well into the 1960s as the title of Judd Marmor's 1965 book indicates: Sexual Inversion: The Multiple Roots of Homosexuality.
The purpose of Thorp's 1992 paper was to argue that, in addition to the universal expression of male homosexuality in the form of pederasty in Ancient Greece, there were apparently some males who preferred other males all their lives, and they were perceived to have accept a role "analog[ous] with the role of women in copulation" (p. 61). Given this perception, it is possible that these men were similar to present day transsexual males and, if this applies given the rarity of these males, they should probably not be called "homosexual." Later, I will address this common perceptual link between modern homosexual males (males sexually attracted to other males) and males having a high degrees of femininity, but an important realization must be made at this point. On the basis of the Ancient Greece fact of life for male citizens, it is apparent that human males have the potential to not only greatly enjoy same-gender sexual activity, but they may also experience great love for another male in association with sexual desires.
Some individuals today also appear to have acquired this knowledge as implied in a report on some individuals by Kenji Yoshino, the author of the paper The Epistemic Contract of Bisexual Erasure:
Some people have this really utopian vision of bisexuality: Twenty years from now, we're all just going to wake up and realize that we're all bisexual (Bass, 1999).
As a young adult, I ventured into learning more about male homosexuality and encountered the Kinsey et al. (1948) study which contained data not at odds with my experiences (Note 3), nor with the similar experiences of my youngest brother who grew up in the same neighborhood. Although he did not engage in homosexual activity, when asked what our neighborhood was like in the 1970s, he explained the male homo-sex situation as follows: "You know, Pierre, when the tent was set up and most boys came to have a sleep-out, well, I was the only one not having sex" (Bagley, 1997, p. 185). Without doubt Freud would have been happy to learn about this reality because it would have supported his belief that all individual were capable of acting in accordance to his postulated "bisexuality" norm for humans (a fact Freud recognized possibly because of his knowledge of the Ancient Greek males), and especially because he had also situated homosexuality as the first manifestation of a person's sexual desires that may or may not be acted upon (de Kuyper, 1993).
When I ventured in gay communities in 1978, a major new experience involved the learning about so-called "gay-identified" males, many still being teenagers, and they often were gender nonconformable. As a rule, they had also grown up thinking themselves to be the only ones with homo-sex desires in their neighborhoods, their school, or even in their town or city. Their feelings of isolation had been extreme, resulting in their belief that male homosexuality was exceptionally rare, and many had grown up perceiving themselves to be "freaks." In recent books and papers dealing with gay youth, and on related internet pages, these stories are repeated, and similar life situations were highlighted in the Australian 'Here for Life' Youth Sexuality Project Final Report.
The process of realising a same sex orientation, and either hiding this or being open, often results in:My own adolescent environment, however, precluded having such feelings because desires to have sex with other males, and engaging in such joyful activities, resulted only in knowing that I was part of a majority even if, as with masturbation, my sexual activities with other males were to be private acts (Note 4). It is also doubtful, given the information available from Ancient Greece, that adolescents boys of the period would have experienced self-hatred and isolation, with associated suicidal feelings, because they had love and sex desires for older males. If suicidal feeling existed, they would likely have been experienced by a male youth who was being ignored by all older males. Therefore, the reported exceptionally high rate of "suicide problems" for present-day males recognizing their same-gender sexual desires (males who often identify as gay or bisexual) may be a social construction intimately linked to another possible social construction: the increasing rarity of males reporting same-gender sexual desires and related sexual activity in the Western World. As Chauncey (1994) reports on the basis of the evidence:
damaged self esteem; distancing from family and peers; attempts to avoid disclosure; distortion of nearly all relationships; increasing sense of isolation; and, sense of inferiority and self loathing
This sense of isolation and negative reinforcement has been shown to increase the incidence of mental health issues in young people, resulting in emotional disorders, self harm and suicide. (Goldfram et al. 1999)
...in important respects, the hetero-homosexual binarism, the sexual regime now hegemonic in American culture, is a stunningly recent creation (p. 13).At the end of the 19th century, Ellis (1906) reported on diverse human cultures over time. There were great variations in male homosexuality, ranging from its widespread nature in Ancient Greece and Rome, to more rare manifestations such as being a shaman with gender nonconformable attributes. Many great individual in history had also been homo-sex desiring males, and homosexuality was reported to be the rule in male prisons. Its extent in the military was also noted, the evidence indicating that male prostitution was the rule in some British regiments. Many of these males were in a category commonly known as "trade," meaning that they were "real men" compared to men who were "so," as Nilsson (1998) reported the situation to exist in a Swedish city during the first half of the 20th century. Generally, the non-real men performed varying sexual services for the working-class "real men" who were often young, but included men of all ages. Nilsson also noted that the merchant marine was a common destination for homosexual-identified males, the implication being that homosexuality was likely common in navies (Note 5).
To date, an interesting body of research work has reported that in the first half of 20th century male same-gender sexual activity was much more extensive than during the last third of the century (Nilsson, 1998; Chauncey, 1994, 1985; Dowsett, 1994; Carbery 1992, Brighton Ourstory Project, 1992; Humphreys, 1975; Kinsey et al., 1948). In fact, not all that long ago, about 40 percent of American males had been homosexually active at least at some point in their lives after the onset of adolescence (Kinsey et al,, 1948), but something happened which caused the elimination of the majority of homosexually active males from the world of male homosexuality. Nilsson (1998) supplied the likely explanation for this event occurring in Europe and in other countries with populations of European origins.
Marshall (1981), Newton (1993), and Chauncey (1994) argue that there has been a slow [homosexuality] redefinition process in the western world in this century, from a definition based on 'gender' - a homosexual man desires men because he is like a woman - toward a universal 'sexual' definition: a homosexual man, however "feminine" or "masculine" he is, is homosexual because he desires men... It is interesting that this change, and the concomittant separation of men who were "so" from "real men," occurred at the same time as, and was indeed influenced by, a growing openness of male homosexual life toward and visibility from society.The "real men" were generally from the working class (the largest segment of population at the time) and some males from this group are described by Minton (1995). "[The two males in a study sample] represented a growing number of working-class young men who migrated to urban centers in the 1920s and 1930s, seeking the "sex trade" as a means of income. As long as their masculinity was not compromised, they had no qualms about engaging in sex with other men." Many of these men, however, did not receive money for their services, although tokens of appreciation were common, and others participated in "trade" for no other reason than the enjoyment Nilsson (1998) and others reported to be the rule for all these "real men." Basically, these men (often teenagers) were well aware that these same-gender sexual activities were infinitely more enjoyable than masturbation, the most common male sexual activity (Munsey, 1997). At a very young age, I had also recognized this fact and, in the neighborhood where I grew up, sanity and altruism also ruled. Most males innately knew (or quickly learned via biofeedback) that masturbation was a selfish act: keeping for yourself what could be shared, and being altruistic was much more enjoyable than being selfish and of questionable intelligence.
A major demographic change has occurred with respect to males participating in homosexual activity to orgasm since Kinsey et al. (1948) reported that 37 percent of males had these kind of experiences since adolescence, with that another 13 percent reporting related desires not acted upon, for a total of 50% in the study sample reporting some degree of homosexuality. This is a minimum, however, as Kinsey et al. (1948) emphasized because, with respect to taboo sexual activities and thoughts, some males will always withhold such information from investigators no matter how skilled they may be, and Alfred Kinsey is recognized to have been an expert in terms of gaining the confidence of interviewed subjects. Furthermore, for working-class males in the Kinsey sample, the incidence of homosexuality was higher than 50 percent given that manifestations of male homosexuality was greatly influenced by social class, producing incidence differences ranging from 200 to 500 percent, with working-class males manifesting the highest incidence of homosexual activity (Note 3).
Recent demographic studies, however, have consistently reported lower incidence of male homosexuality than the Kinsey et al. (1948) results, the inference often being that the study was seriously flawed. Yet, would similar data obtained from Ancient Greek times - reporting that maybe 100% of male citizens enjoyed (had enjoyed) male homosexuality activity (probably including love responses in most cases) - be in error because a modern study of males produced radically different results? Basically, the above cited research reporting the withdrawal of working-class "real men" from the world of male homosexuality serves to highlight the fact that the Kinsey et al (1948) data is not wrong. Instead, it reflects the degree to which male homosexuality existed in the western world during the first half of the 20th century. Furthermore, the evidence indicates that extreme homophobic social pressures were being applied to minimized the extent to which male homosexuality existed, leading to its increasing rarity - the "freak" situation - that many gay-identified adolescents have been coding it to be.
The degree of reduction in homosexually active male youth is indicated by Bagley and Tremblay (1998) data obtained via random sampling in Calgary, and then using a highly effective computer technology methodology to solicit information of a sensitive sexual nature, including information about young adult males who had been sexually involved with children (1%) and the ones having related desires (4%) (Bagley et al., 1994). Bagley and Tremblay (1998) reported only 11.2 percent of males had related sexually with at least one other male since the age of 15 years (14.0% since the age of 12 years), and 9.2 percent were currently homosexually active (in the six months preceding the data intake). On the basis of self-identification as homosexual or bisexual (11.1%) and /or being currently homosexual active (9.2%), minus bisexual-identified males who were not currently homosexually active, a study sample of homosexually oriented males (10.9%) was produced and analyzed for a number of attributes to be compared with heterosexually oriented males, including their history of self-harm and suicidality (Bagley and Tremblay, 1997).
An important result of the Bagley and Tremblay (1998) demographic study was support for the hypothesis that flawed methodology was responsible for current demographic studies which had reduced the percentage of homosexually oriented males to one or two percent. The proposed underestimates for these studies were in the range of 400 to 800 percent for homosexuality-related behavior and self-idenfication, respectively. In the same year, the results of the Turner et al. (1998) study, based on a large random sample of 16- to 19-year-old males, confirmed that, on average, a 400% underestimating error could be expected with respect to adolescent males reporting their homosexual activities on pencil-and-paper questionnaires compared to using the computer technology to solicit sensitive sexual information (Bagley and Tremblay 1997, 1998).
The validity of demographic studies using face-to-face interviews or telephone interviews may be inferred by a wise researcher foreseeing what the results would be if middle aged men were asked: "Are you relating sexually with adolescent males, or even younger males." A predictable "zero" (or near zero) percent response to this question would not reflect reality. Although the question requests highly taboo information, underestimates are also predictable if similar methodology is used to solicit information from males who have been homosexually active with males of varying ages. Such behavior remains in a taboo category (still illegal in about 20 American states), and significant underestimates are predictable if confidentiality issues are not addressed in a manner deemed credible by the study subjects who have engaged in such sexual activities (Bagley and Tremblay, 1998).
Unfortunately, face-to-face interviews continue to be used as in the NHANES III study of 17- to 39-year-old males. Only 2.2 percent of males acknowledged having "any male sex partners in their lifetime" (Cochran and Mays, 2000, p. 575), and similar methodologically flawed studies are then cited (given range of study results: "2% to 7%") to conclude that "this is consistent with the prevalence observed in NHANES III" (p. 577), thus creating the illusion of validity for their results. Not mentioned, however, is that this range of demographic results suggests a possible 350 percent underestimating error for the lowest results. Instead, it is asserted that "the willingness of men to report same-sex partners in a population-based survey such as NHANES is unknown; thus, the extent to which homosexually experienced men... declared no male sex partners cannot be determined" (p. 577). This assertion, however, is only made possible by not citing studies (e.g. Bagley and Tremblay, 1998; Turner et al., 1998) indicating the likelihood of producing scientifically scandalous underestimates when researchers use highly flawed methodology.
It could therefore be said that, since the Kinsey et al.'s 1948 study, about 70 percent of the males who once enjoyed being homosexually active (most often as adolescents and young adults) were to not to be anymore, apparently because the definition of who was "homosexual' was changing. As Foucault and others noted, homosexuality was taking on a "species" meaning which was also implemented by the American military by 1941 (Purkiss, 1997). Instead of homosexuality simply having been something all males could enjoy, the new "meaning" became infinitely more negative. In addition to the psychiatric decree that all homosexual males were "mentally disordered," many psychiatrists liberally propagated additional negative beliefs about homosexual individuals. Purkiss (1997) summarizes the outcome of (malignant?) psychiatric indoctrination in the American Military:
[In addition to defining homo-sex desiring males to be "inverts," or "like women, military administrators] therefore expanded upon the concept of the homosexual by adding components of violence, immorality, uncontrollable sexual impulses, and a potential threat to society. But woven into these new fabrications were the central ideas proposed by psychiatrists: homosexuals were sick, morally vacant, predatory, and in need of help.Society - via its law makers - had also decreed that adult males engaging in same-sex sexual activities of any kind were "criminals," and laws had been changing since the early 1880s in Canada and Britain to make sure that all homosexual acts were criminalized, including the intent to engage in homosexual activities, as opposed to only anal sex between males having been a criminal act in the past (Kinsman, 1987). Given these labels and related punishments, the full weight of society's power to define the norms - what is acceptable - was made to apply, especially with respect to male homosexuality. All boys were somehow also being taught that the rejected and often abused easily identifiable "sissy" (the gender nonconformable boy) in early childhood would, by adolescence, be transformed into "the fag," This represents the learned belief that males who are like females must desire other males sexually, thus replicating the "sexual inversion" ideology based on hegemonic heterosexuality: if a male desires another male sexually, he must be a female because only female are sexually attracted to males. As for the supposedly more positive word "gay," the well indoctrinated adolescents almost immediately gave the word a meaning consistent with their acquired beliefs. Goldstein (1999) defines the current definition of the word in reference to the Columbine High School murder / suicide event:
The word "faggot" has never merely meant homosexual. It has always carried the extrasexual connotation of being unmanly [being like a female]. But these days, the implications of that insult have expanded. To say that a certain behavior is "so gay" can apply to anything stupid, clumsy, or outré. It’s probably the most effective way to call a guy a loser, and in this age of sexual candor, when high school students know that some of their peers may actually be gay, the accusation has an even more fearsome ring.
|Top of Page||