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To: The Table of Content - The Social Construction of Male Homosexuality and Related Suicide Problems...

By Pierre J. Tremblay in Collaboration with Richard Ramsay
Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary.

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).

Feminine Males: A Social Construction of Suicide Problems

In the recent history of homosexuality in the western world, there has been an association between males who identify as homosexual or gay and high levels of femininity (Ellis, 1906; Purkiss, 1997; Chauncey, 1994; Minton, 1995; Nilsson, 1998). The acquired perception was that males who desired the "female role" when relating sexually with other males (being passive: permitting a penis to penetrate oneself) were 'homosexual," or "inverts" because they assumed the sex role of the opposite gender. These males were also believed to have a degraded status compared to sexually dominant males, and the ideology was rooted in the sexist perception that anything "female," and especially the sexual role of being penetrated by a penis, was a status very inferior to the status of "men" who had a long history of proclaiming and enforcing their supremacy status vis-à-vis females.

By the middle of the 20th century, however, there was a significant exodus of homosexually active males - the males who had been sexually dominant with sexually passive males - from the world of male homosexuality existing in European societies and in societies with population primarily derived from European countries. This recent socially constructed world of male homosexuality therefore produced an predictable outcome. Males who are generally the most feminine became overrepresented in the world of male homosexuality, this being the opposite of the situation existing in the first half of the 20th century.

Bell et al. (1981) reported that gender nonconformity was the single most statistically significant difference between predominantly homosexual males and predominantly heterosexual males, and the reason for this association is evident from their data on the "self-ratings" by males (as they were to the age of 17 years) using a "highly feminine to highly masculine" 7-point Likert scale (Table 4). Although rating on the scale overlap for homosexual and bisexual males, there are major differences, especially with respect to high femininity scores: 28 percent of homosexual males classified themselves in the three highest levels of femininity, compared to only one percent of heterosexual males, and the latter also only placed themselves in the least feminine of the three categories. In the two highest "masculine" ratings (5 and 6), 67 percent of heterosexual males classified themselves as such versus only 18% of homosexual males.

 
Table 4 - Bell, Weinberg, and Hammersmith (1981)
Femininity / Masculinity Self-Rating
Childhood to Age 17
F-M Rating/
Male Groups
0
Feminine
1
2
3
4
5
6
Masculine
Homosexual Males
N = 575 : Percent
02
08
18
30
25
13
5
Heterosexual Males
N = 284 : Percent
0
0
01
07
24
42
25
F-M Rating/
Male Groups
.........Feminine: 0 - 3........
Masculine:  4 - 6
Homosexual Males
N = 575 : Percent
58%
43%
Heterosexual Males N = 284: Percent
8%
91%
 
Remafedi, Farrow, and Deisher (1991)
F - M
Category
..Feminine..
Undifferentiated = 26%
Androgynous = 31%
.Masculine.
% of Males
in Category
23%
(31/137)
26% + 31% = 57%
(35/137) / (42/137)
20%
(28/137)
Attempted
Suicide %
48%
(15/31)
Undifferentiated = 34%
Androgynous = 26%
(23/77 = 30% )
11%
(3/28)
Bell et al. (1981)
Homosexual Males
Approximated
10%
72%
18%

The distribution of homosexual males on the Bell et al. (1981) masculinity to femininity scale produced a similar distribution to the one resulting form the Bem (1974) gender classification used by Remafedi et al. (1991) for their sample of 137 gay and bisexual male youth ranging in age from 14- to 21-years-old (Table 4). For this study, the incidences of suicide attempts associated with each category were then used to determine the Odds Ratio at a 95% confidence interval for a suicide attempt by gay and bisexual male youth who had sufficient femininity attributes to warrant a classification other than "masculine." The more feminine gay and bisexual males, representing 82% of the sample in the feminine, androgynous, or undifferentiated categories, are 3.2 times more likely to attempt suicide than their "masculine" counterparts: Risk Ratio = 1.1 < 3.2 < 9.8 (Note 11). This is basically the same result reported by Remafedi et al. (1991) on the basis of multivariate analysis for the risk of a suicide attempt based on "feminine gender roles" (p. 873).

The association of femininity in males with being homosexually oriented as adults was also reported by Green (1987) in the book Sissy Boy Syndrome. The 44 "feminine" boys studied over many years became young adult men with a 75% probability of being gay or bisexual, as rated by the Kinsey 0-6 fantasy / behavior scale. A control group of 35 "conventionally 'masculine' boys" had only one young adult male in the bisexual category (p. 99-101). It should not be assumed, however, that all "feminine" boys will be homosexual or bisexual given that 25% of feminine boys in the Green (1987) study were heterosexual. On the basis of the Bell et al (1981) data on self-rated masculinity to femininity levels of males when they were children and adolescents (Table 4), and assuming that predominantly homosexual males make up about 5 percent of the population, 58 percent of the males in the 0-3 category would be homosexual (42% heterosexual), but homosexual males form 100% of the two highest - "0" and "1" - feminine categories.

Feminine boys have a long history of being abused in sexists societies and their reported higher risk for suicide problems would be, in part, induced or exacerbated by the ongoing abuse they have been subjected to since early childhood. Although Eric Rofes (1995) is describing his own childhood below, he is also describing a variation of the childhood and adolescent lives of numerous gay males I have met over the years.

I knew I was queer when I was a small child. My voice was gentle and sweet. I avoided sports and all roughness. I played with the girls... Heresy was a boy who cried a lot when he got hurt..., a boy who couldn't throw a baseball..., a boy putting on girls' clothing. Heresy was me. As I got older, and fully entered the society of children, I met the key enforcer of social roles among children... He was... like an evil spirit entering different bodies in different occasions... In any group of three of more boys, the bully was present.
I know a lot about bullies. I know they have a specific social function: they define the limits of acceptable conduct, appearance, and activities for children. They enforce rigid expectations. They are masters of the art of humiliation and technicians of the science of terrorism. They wreaked havoc on my entire childhood. To this day, their handprints, like a slap on the face, remain stark and defined on my soul...
As I entered adolescence... I saw other sissy boys become neighborhood toughs. They formed gangs of bullies that tormented us... Watching the powerless take on the trappings of power, I would shake my head and withdraw into deeper isolation... The abuse I suffered in American public schools, from kindergarten to my senior year of high school, created deep psychic scars with which I have struggled throughout my lifetime.
These same scars are shared by many others. We will never forget that we were tortured and publicly humiliated because we refused to be real boys, acted "girlish," or were simply different. This was the price we paid for being queer. (Rofes, 1995, pp. 79-80)
The operating principle underlying this wholesale abuse of males with any degree of visible femininity is a perception acquired by very young boys as the result of careful social teaching / indoctrination. Most of them, in fact, are still growing up with perceptions reflecting the historical male-imposed status of females as inferiors to males, and the outcome was summarized by Mandel (1996) in the doctoral study abstract. The study explored, via 200 interviews with adolescent girls and boys in an American middle school and junior high school, some important adolescent gender identity issues in North America.
 First, this study suggests that students’ assumptions about heterosexuality perpetuate a norm of heterosexuality and constrain adolescent gender identity. Not only do students believe that a heterosexual identity is central to their gender identity, but stereotypic notions about femininity and masculinity largely inform their beliefs about who they are and who they cannot be...  Students’ descriptions of masculinity are also stereotypic and are largely defined by an anti-feminine norm. Unlike the ways in which girls can and do value masculinity, boys do not and cannot value femininity.
Second, this study asserts that there is a social and sexual curriculum in the culture of middle and junior high schools by which girls and boys construct their gender identities. This heterosexist curriculum, it is argued, perpetuates gender role stereotypes, limits gender identities, empowers masculine boys and disempowers girls, less masculine boys, lesbians, and gay males. The most pervasive indicators of this curriculum - due to heterosexism - are illustrated in the amount of gender disrespect, peer sexual harassment, homophobic language, and the highly (hetero)sexualized nature of adolescent gender relations in these middle and junior high schools. (Mandel, 1996)
When "boys do not and cannot value femininity," they have basically acquired the age-old perceptions many human groups often acquired of other human groups firmly believed to be one's inferiors. Therefore, the many boys who still often say something like 'Yuk! Girls! I'm not playing with them!" are essentially a replication of the well taught white highly racist boys who not long ago would have said: "Yuk! Niggers! I'm not playing with them!" In other words, contemporary boys are still learning to have a intense hatred of femininity (females) which is evidenced by their hatred for - and abuse of - boys deemed to be "like females," meaning that they actually hate humans who are 100 percent females. Rofes (1995) notes that, with respect to the current use of the word "gay" as an epithet by adolescents, "the links to youthful misogyny are evident" (p. 81). Suzanne Pharr, in her 1988 book "Homophobia: A Weapon of Sexism," describes outcomes of such abuse continuing into adulthood:
What is unhealthy - and sometimes a source of stress and sickness so great it can lead to suicide - is homophobia, that societal disease that places such negative messages, condemnation, and violence on gay men and lesbians that we have to struggle throughout our lives for self-esteem... It is not by chance that when children approach puberty and increased sexual awareness they begin to taunt each other by calling these names: "queer," "faggot," "pervert." ...It is at puberty that the full force of society's pressure to conform to heterosexuality and prepare for marriage is brought to bear. Children know what we have taught them, and we have given clear messages that those who deviate from standard expectations are to be made to get back in line. The best controlling tactic at puberty is to be treated as an outsider, to be ostracized at a time when it feels most vital to be accepted. Those who are different must be made to suffer loss. It is also at puberty that misogyny begins to be more apparent... (Pharr, 1993).
It is not, however, only in schools and in peer groups that adolescents males with detectable feminine attributes have been abused more than males without these attributes, or males who are effective at hiding such a part of themselves. Homosexual males are more likely to report having been assaulted by parents than heterosexual males, and effeminate homosexually active adolescent gay and bisexual males have been the most at risk for such assaults (Harry, 1989). Homosexually oriented adolescents are also at risk for not being tolerated and even being rejected in their families (Pilkington and D'Augelli, 1995; Telljohann and Price, 1993). One study of 221 GLB youth (lifetime suicide attempt incidence = 40.3%) reported family problems to be in second place, after the youth's self-perception, with respect to significant associations with the risk for a suicide attempt (Proctor and Groze, 1994).

Modern gay identified adult males often have a history of childhood gender nonconformity and, as older adolescents, young adults, and older males, their average higher levels of femininity compared to average heterosexual males has been significant, as based on my more than 20 years of communicating with many gay males and soliciting many life histories. Rofes (1995) reports similar observations:

...[I]nterviews with gay men of all classes, races, and educational backgrounds reveal a strikingly large percentage who acknowledge a sissy past when asked. This is true of gay men who exemplify American ideals of masculinity, as well as hypermasculine men in the gay ghetto. Some sissy boys grow up to be nontraditional adult men - androgynous, "effeminate," transgendered, or simply gentle - while others transform themselves into traditional versions of masculinity... Some gay men have talked and written candidly about their struggles as sissy boy [with many example of this fact of life supplied] (p. 81-2).
Rofes (1995) was most troubled about the "sissy boy" reality being ignored not only in mainstream society but also by gay and lesbian individuals advocating for an end to the wholesale abuse of their adolescent counterparts. In this respect, he emphasized that "to say sissies = gay male youth is considered offensive by many in the gay community" and suggested "that little attention has focused on the plight of the sissy [because] gay male activists and educators alike carry unresolved feelings about their own sissy pasts... These barriers must be examined, challenged, and overcome because - regardless of future sexual orientation - sissy boys have become contemporary youth's primary exposure to gay identity" (p. 81).

This outcome, however, may not occur in the immediate future, for reasons imbedded in parts of Bradley Boney's 1996 paper on the "sissy," himself having in this category:

In August of 1993, the following appeared in the Denver Post: "Sissy boy Johnny Roy Hobson runs with his arms up and his toes turned in. He prances, minces and pouts. In short, he's so annoyingly effeminate you just want to slap him" (Dillard-Rosen, 1993) Although the critical reception of Bonin-Rodriguez's work has been overwhelmingly positive, these three sentences from Sandra Dillard-Rosen's review of Talk of the Town represent the type of sissy-bashing that proceeds from the dangerous impulse to erase "negative stereotypes" from queer representation without first interrogating how and why they were first constructed as "negative."
Sedgwick (1993) takes up this issue in in an essay titled, "How to Bring Your Kids Up Gay: The War on Effeminate Boys," which she demonstrates how the effeminate boy has been positioned as the "haunting abject" of both gay, and the larger hegemonic culture. The latter is disturbing enough, but the discomfort with which so many gay men approach the sissy boy continues to perpetuate a discourse of self-loathing, considering those studies which have found that a large number of adult gay men at least perceive the sissy boy to be a part of their history. Sedgwick explains how this effeminaphobia is coupled with the legitimate gay project of unraveling gender and sexuality to debunk the notion that anyone "who desires a man must by definition be feminine [and vice versa]" (p. 157). In light of such studies, she concludes that
"the eclipse of the effeminate boy from adult gay discourse would represent more than a damaging theoretical gap; it would represent a mode of annihilating homophobic, gynephobic, and pedophobic hatred internalized and made central to gay-affirmative analysis. The effeminate boy would come to function as the discrediting open secret of many politicized adult gay men" (p. 158) (Boney, 1996, pp. 54-55. Referencing changed by author.)
Many gay males with a history of being sissies have been living out the demands of not being who they were / are, for approval reasons, often because they want others gay males to desire them sexually. Boney (1996) reports on this all too common reality as he has lived it, but he continues to struggle with the repression / denial of his inner "feminine" self.
Today, I have been surprisingly successful at erasing the sissy from my own body. I have employed the technology of the gym with amazing results. I drive a motorcycle and buy clunky, construction-worker-type boots in an attempt to push the limits of "masculinity." I still live in constant vacillation between championing my inner sissy child (for he so often comes shining through) and hiding him from view in order to increase my currency in the gay market. As much as I constantly check it, I am sometimes guilty of the sissy self-loathing I rail against. So I ask myself, what is so discomforting about a nellie boy? If, as Dillard-Rosen states, Bonin-Rodriguez produces an effeminate character "that some gays may find stereotypical and offensive," what is the basis of that offense?
The discomfort of both Dillard-Rosen and the gay men for whom she claims to speak is, I believe, fundamentally misogynistic. Our culture continues to view the feminine as less-than and ultimately valueless. We deal the best we can with the "natural" feminine attributes of women, but we do not wish effeminacy on our sons. I don't know how to explain to a fabulously effeminate gay man that his corporeal style is an offensive stereotype. In the end, I don't know how to explain that to myself. (pp. 55-6)
This rabidly misogynous anti-sissy situation (sissy-bashing, which becomes self-bashing so that one has access to sexual partners) in North American gay communities has also been reported by others, such J. Michael Bailey, a researcher of homosexuality. In his summary of his research available on his web pages he notes that:
Consistent with past research, we have found that gay men are strongly prejudiced against feminine men as sex partners. ...[O]ur research [Bailey et al., 1997] would suggest that feminine gay men, in particular, may be most likely to suffer rejection from other gay people. In addition to their mistreatment by heterosexual people, we might expect that they would have more adjustment problems than most (Bailey, 2000).
The expression "adjustment problems" may be an understatement, and I think there is something savage and suicidal about a community which has been waging a war against an attribute so much a part of its members' individual identities. This community attribute may also be especially deadly for the more feminine gay male adolescents who venture into its midst, especially after they have spent a lifetime being abused in the mainstream world because of their detectable "feminine" attributes. In the final analysis, what Boney (1996) has managed to do with his "femininity" is exactly what the bullies in public schools - the "masters of the art of humiliation and technicians of the science of terrorism" (Rofes, 1995, p. 80) - had not been able to do, and same applies for the misogynous efforts of even more lethal highly sexist bullies (therapists) with feminine boys who also bravely resisted their professional forms of anti-sissy terrorism. Basically, these bullies decreed that males must be masculine, and the more stereotypically masculine one is - as in making this possible by working out in gyms - the better! Gay community ideology therefore reflects the ideology (and then some) of all who sought to harm gender nonconforming boys as they grew up, meaning that many gay-identified males do eventually identified with their abusers, have become abusers, and they are now essentially working to harm the boys who are as they once were: unacceptably feminine.

About 80 percent of gay or bisexual identified adolescent males and young adults venturing into gay communities have varying levels of often detectable "femininity," with about 25 percent being "feminine" (Remafedi et al., 1991). These males have also been at high risk for suicide attempts (35%), the highly "feminine" males having the highest risk (48%), compared to "masculine" gay and bisexual males (11%). However, their venture into gay communities will often be a shock, and a common complaint often voiced by adolescent gay males - the ones with integrity who thought they could now be honest after a history of having to lie for survival reasons - was stated as follows by one such male: "Why do so many lie all of the time." This fact of life applies as much to sugar daddies as if does to average gay males, and one French ethnomethodology study reached a similar conclusion. Most gay and bisexual males lie in one or more ways when meeting each other with a "sex" (maybe "love") objective in mind:

The majority of homosexual males I have met would rather not know the truth (in spite of their professed desire to know the truth)... The very frequent use of lying by cruising homosexual males sometimes causes problems. For example, after sexual pleasure is experienced a love (passion) response may result. Is a relationship possible? Based on what? Being blind? In fact, when we are relating with an entrenched liar, there are no rational ways to detect where the lie end and where truth begins (de Luze, 1990: Conclusion - Translated by author. Original text in Note 12).
One of the ways gay males lie, of the many ways listed in four major categories and 34 subcategories, is via in their appearance, and "muscles" headed the list of eleven ways gay males lie physically. One case presented is similar to the self-reported life story of Bradley Boney (1996) after he ventured in the gay community, coded what was desired by other gay males if he wanted to have sexual partners, and altered himself accordingly. Guy is a 23-year-old male with an "effeminate" adolescent history which had earned him the "fag" label. To counter this aspect of himself, he eventually became muscular to appeal to other gay males, but de Luze (1990) discovered the truth about Guy:
Guy's muscles are a desperate effort to make others believe that he is a real male sure of himself and morally sound, while he is in fact a timid male with a complex of problems, very nervous, and perpetually anxious; this became evident as the evening progressed and alcohol was giving him confidence and making him talkative. The evening ended with Guy reporting that he is constantly depressed and that he has already attempted suicide three times (de Luze, 1990: Mensonge du Paraître: Muscles - Translated by author. Original text in Note 12).
The extent that lying by appearance - via muscular development - exists in gay communities is unknown, but some gay males believe what Scott Thompson of "Kid in the Hall" fame noted in a Salon Magazine interview: "...the sissy is the truth. The muscle queen is not. That is a false construct held up by wires, strings, steroids and the gym. It's not real. And if gay men aren't going to accept the sissy, then they're doomed" (Morgan, 1998). Harris (1991) described the situation and some implications:
One would have anticipated that gay liberation... would have significantly changed the way that our culture views effeminacy, providing a new protective environment in which to experiment with unconventionally masculine forms of behavior. A central paradox of the birth of the subculture, however, is that in resisting the effeminate stereotypes and gestural paradigms that have tyrannized gay men of the past, we have created a new Frankenstein - the "good gay," masculine, assimilated, forceful, deliberate... In liberating themselves from effeminacy, homosexuals have taken on yet another albatross, accepted more, not less rigid notions of how they should express their homosexuality, and essentially invented - to borrow a stereotype ridicules in the black community - the gay oreo, effeminate on the inside, masculine without. In the final analysis, liberation has liberated homosexuals into a new totalitarian attitude towards their mannerisms, a new contempt for effeminacy... (Harris, 1991, p. 76). ...rather than endorsing effeminacy, gay liberation has led to the institutionalization of its ridicule(Harris, 1991, p. 78).
In the past few years, my immersion in death via suicide has taught me that individuals not permitted to "be" themselves may end up experiencing serious problems, often of the suicide kind. Many homosexually oriented adolescents are living this reality via having a part of their minds socially programed to hate their well recognized same-sex desires, and some of these youth do commit suicide, thus acting out the concept "Better Dead Than Gay" (Nicholas and Howard, 1998; Tremblay 1998-99). The inability to "be" who one "is" also results from external pressures which, for all boys manifesting a "feminine" self, is operating via "the bully" and his allies: average adolescents, teachers and other adults who, though their silence, tacitly give their approval to the "masters of the art of humiliation and technicians of the science of terrorism" (Rofes, 1995, p. 80).

A potentially dangerous outcome of the gay community's anti-feminine ideology, however, would be to have some of its anti-feminine members become involved with adolescent suicide prevention, and especially with any part of a mainstream suicide prevention programs targeting at risk gay or bisexual identified male adolescents. To my knowledge, only one such program has been implemented in the world as part of a national suicide prevention strategy: Australia's 'Here for Life' Youth Sexuality Project. In the Final Report for the project, the section "Performance Indicators: Summary of Results" contained the following:

Feedback from young people on resources: Very positive feedback on booklets: simple text;  photos & quotes by real young people; no stereotypical gay imagery; do not reinforce “coming  out” constructs, pressures or present experiences as  homogenous. 5,000 referral fliers distributed - high demand for re-print (Goldflam, 1999).
In producing the booklets, decisions were made by many involved with the project, and it was thought best to have "no stereotype gay imagery" in the booklets, which may mean not having representations of males of the recognizable "feminine" kind. Experience in gay communities, as well as the related data, indicates that about 30 percent of the "most at risk" boys would be "feminine," followed by the remainder being "feminine" enough to not permit their placement in the category least at risk for suicide problems: "masculine" homosexually oriented males (Remafedi et al., 1991; Table 4). Throughout the 'Here for Life' Youth Sexuality Project Final Report, the concept of gay stereotypes is occasionally noted, always with the implicit assumption that the existence of stereotypes is a problem.
Young people with same sex attraction, whether or not they identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual, grow up very aware of the prejudice, discrimination and possible violence they will face if their peers and family discover their sexual orientation. Cultural homophobia is often internalised, thereby reinforcing feelings of marginalisation and alienation. The turmoil most people pass through during their teen years is greatly compounded by prevailing negative stereotypes, lack of information, invisibility of sexual orientation and lack of positive community attachment experiences.
The prevailing apparently "negative" stereotype for homosexually oriented male youth is their assumed "femininity," the identifiable attribute resulting in their high risk for abuse since kindergarten, as reported by Rofes (1996). Many boys apparently grow out of their "sissy" status, possibly as a result of related self-hatred rooted in the learned extreme sexism manifested by most boys, but other boys "bravely" refuse to deny their "feminine" selves no matter what the punishments inflicted on them. This outcome is possibly related to valuing femininity, although they may eventually assimilate of the trapping of stereotype masculinity as both Guy (de Luze, 1990) and Bradley (Boney, 1995) did because of gay community misogyny: the dislike and rejection of males who are feminine, which is the dislike (hatred?) of what the majority of these males may be. Problems related to "stereotypes," and especially the more recent "masculine" gay stereotype, are described by Brown (2000; Note 13):
The images we did not want to dominate were what were seen (from Western Australia's point of view) as the “Sydney Look” – the beefed up, ‘good looking’ gay man with short / shaved hair, white shirt, tight jeans etc. The body beautiful image. We did not totally exclude anyone who looked this way, but were keen for it not to dominate as it had in previous strategies. We actively looked for a broader range of young men and women. We wanted to include a range of both masculine and feminine looking young men and women, as well as a diversity of cultural / ethnic
backgrounds... Criticisms of the final images being “too warm and fuzzy” and “they all look about 20” we felt were quite valid.
It would therefore appear like the imagery did not exclude anyone, but it also was not representative of the dominating more feminine aspects of gay male youth. Related problems are noted:
Certainly from an agency and funder point of view, there was a real assumption and pressure that tried to generalise or conform the experiences of same sex attracted youth. You know the line “Oh not all gay men are effeminate therefore gay men are OK” and of course the "if they did not behave so effeminately they would not get so harassed". This was RAMPANT! Its hard to know really how successful the project was in affirming the diversity of same sex attracted youth experiences and lives. There is always room for improvement and room to be challenged (Brown, 2000).
There are many problems to address when tackling gay and bisexual male youth suicide issues, a "critical point" according to Brown (2000) being the issue raised in this paper: Given the distribution of suicidality in the Remafedi et al. (1991, Table 4),  we could ask: Is the suicide problems a "sexual orientation" issue, or it is really a "sissy" (i.e. gender nonconformity) issue? And if "we" do not tackle that issue, can we honestly say that we are addressing the GB adolescent male suicide problems?
I felt the term homophobia and even heterosexism have never really adequately explained the environment, and are often only thought of in relation to their impact on same sex attracted youth, rather than youth generally. When homophobia and heterosexism reveal themselves as anti-"sissy" actions or behaviour,  is this the same as being anti gay? Maybe yes / maybe no. The men's health movement in Australia has tried to tackle these issues, in the context that they impact on all men, and society generally. Part of me feels that if it is only targeted by Gay / Lesbian projects, then the focus on only sexual orientation may continue by default (Brown, 2000).
The 'Here for Life' Youth Sexuality Project was one of the first attempts to tackle sexual minority suicide issues, and much remains to be learned in this respect. An emphasis of the project was on the representation of diversity, meaning that an emphasis was not placed on the overrepresentation of the most "at risk" more feminine gay and bisexual identified male adolescents. One emphasis, however, was on "positive community attachment experiences," as a positive outcome for these youth, but "community attachments" may not be all positive, especially for the more feminine gay and bisexual male youth. In addition, for a significant number of homosexually oriented adolescent males, their "community attachment experience" have occurred via prostitution which placed them at higher risk for depression (Earls, 1989: 70% gay and bisexual males in sample) and suicide problems (Nicholas and Howard, 1998), but these males were apparently not specifically targeted by the project.

The fate of a group of such boys in Sidney is reported in the article "Silence is where the hate grows: silence = death" written in reference to mainstream suicidology having avoided "homosexuality" issues in adolescent suicide research and prevention work:

Although Casey {with a history of eight suicide attempts] reckons he "always knew" he was gay, he became one of the kids who was "forced into doing it". After moving to Sydney, Casey was drawn into a string of abusive "relationships".

Because of his low self-esteem borne of the silence, Casey says he was easy pickings for deeply-closeted homosexual "sick tickets" who found more pleasure in hearing screams for mercy as they held knives to the throats of other parents' sons than in real and open love.

Starved of real love and left with little hope, Casey, like many young gays, turned to chemical "friends" to fill the void. His only human friends became the other youngsters traded by the "sick tickets".

"Of the thirteen of us, I'm one of only three that's still alive today," Casey says. "Most of my friends blew their heads off, some of them OD'd and some of them have died from AIDS. They were all bright kids with talents and promising futures" (Clatcher, 1997).

Homosexually oriented male adolescents at high risk for suicide problems have a cluster of at risk attributes such as being "feminine" to significant degrees, using drugs and alcohol, and running away from home which is often associated with street life and adolescent prostitution. The Here for Life' Youth Sexuality Project, however, did not specifically focus on these attributes in their advertising imagery given the valid criticism that the final images were “too warm and fuzzy” and that “they all look about 20.” One potentially negative result of these images is that at risk youth not leading "warm and fuzzy" lives may not identify with the images, thus leaving them with the feeling that their life issues are not recognized and that help may not be available to them.

There are also many potential problems to be considered by all contemplating the formation of sexual minority youth groups, and little has been written on the subject. Often enough, as noted in the Final Report of the Here for Life' Youth Sexuality Project, the tendency of sexual minority youth to form cliques may sabotage the more ideal objectives of a group. Brown (2000) commented on this issue as well as others:

Your points about boundaries within youth groups, particularly in relation to sexual behaviour and also emotional connections / expectations that young people can have. I think we all know that a facilitator (or other group members) does not have to have sex with a group member to damage them!

In relation to better a bad group than no group question... I fall more on the side of better no group, as long as there is someone they CAN talk to. The assumption that you get a group of young people together and automatically there will be a positive, functional, uplifting experience is incorrect - but exactly why it works sometimes and why it can completely be a disaster at other times has yet to be shown to me conclusively. There are just so many variables.

When I compare the guidelines and responsibility for the programs back in 1994 when I first started being involved, to now - 6 years later - there is very little resemblance. There has been an enormous improvement, but still room for more. However to detail the changes and what seemed to work / not work would take some doing - and I fear would be distorted by time and memory. No matter how much we try - there is always that tendency to imagine that what we have now is sooooo much better, and then five years further down the track we will probably look back and say the same thing.

However, what we do have in relation to a number of ways that young people can report, inform, or otherwise make it known that they are not happy with the way things are operating is significantly better. Be it young people getting a bad deal, forced to conform, sexual pressure, or other sorts of unwanted influence from facilitators or other group members. Much of this is around supervision / support and engagement.

I am not that convinced about the long term sustainability of youth groups without a structured backup, support and supervision. I feel many groups place too much pressure on young volunteers, and can place them in too "powerful" position without the capacity to deal with this. I mean - the number of so called trained, adult social workers who have really failed miserably in this respect always astounds me - let alone the position some young people are placed in (Brown, 2000).

My own experiences with a sexual minority youth groups in Calgary from 1991 to 1996 has taught me to give warnings with respect to anyone contemplating the referral of a youth to such a group, especially with respect to accountability and honesty issues. For example, trouble in Calgary's gay community began after I had been reporting some unwelcome "community" truths, such as the reality of adolescents boys relating sexually with much older gay males because they often were only attracted to older males, and about boys ending up in gay clubs by the age of 14 years as a result of their contact with the gay and lesbian youth group. I also reported realities such as an 1994 observation made by a 19-year-old Calgary gay youth leader. On the basis of his experiences with many gay youth groups in Canada, about half were reported to be "fuckfest" (sic) groups. He noted this, however, only after I reported what I had overheard a Calgary Gay Lines peer counselor tell a teenager who had called for advice. He was told not visit the gay and lesbian youth group because he would only get "fucked there" (sic).

The comment made to the teenager was then reported to the one responsible for Gay Lines and to the new youth group leader, a Vietnamese friend of mine who wanted to change things so that positive outcomes would result. I was then told that this sexual exploitation of youth by youth (usually of younger youth by older ones) was an open secret, and that the older gay and lesbian community leaders had done nothing about the situation. I also wrote about the sexual use and abuse of at risk gay youth by older males, including their risk for being raped as it had happened to many interviewed gay males (Note 14); one well known bisexual suicide victim, Bill Clayton, was sexually assaulted at the age of 14 years by a 20-year-old gay or bisexual identified male claiming to be a member of a gay and lesbian youth support group, and Bill had become very suicidal as the result of this experience (Clayton, 1997-2000). Addressing such issues, however, was precluded by the community ideology related to not airing "dirty laundry," meaning that serious problems will remain unacknowledged and ongoing, including the "gay community" problems of the more feminine gay and bisexual males, and the problems adolescent boys experience in gay communities which often deny their presence and the relationships they often have with significantly older gay-identified adult males. The youngest Calgary case I reported on was 12 years of age when he began having a series of such relationships with adult gay males to the age of 17 years when he was interviewed. Bell and Weinberg (1978) reported that 25% of predominantly homosexual males studied, after they had reached the age of 21 years, had had male sexual partners 16 years of age or younger (p. 311).

In 1997, a longtime Calgary gay community leader was reading the comments (complaints) made by Weldon, (1997) and Foster, (1997) with respect to their experiences of only being sexually used by older gay males as quoted above. The community leader immediately labeled these responses to be "homophobic," meaning that if anyone does not accept gay community males as they are - a significant number being users, abusers, and liars - and if your are not happy with the situation and maybe even become suicidal as the result of these repeated negative experiences, you will then be branded "homophobic." A similar response would surely apply if the most "feminine" gay and bisexual male adolescents and young adults began complaining about what many gay communities have become ideologically, and if they also reported on the related varied abuses inflicted on them by their own kind.

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Comments: - pierre@youth-suicide.com