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Homosexual Orientation Demographic Study:
Young Adult Calgary Male

November 1996 • NOTE: This paper is an edited version of July 4, 1996 paper previously located at this website. The paper is now published (with some minor changes) under the title On the prevalence of homosexuality and bisexuality in a random community survey of 750 men aged 18 to 27, The Journal of Homosexuality, Vol. 36, No. 2, 1998, p. 1-18. PubMed "abstract" link with a document delivery services. This study, combined with the results of another 1998 study, has produced a very important  CAVEAT ALERT!


Discussion • IntroductionNotes, Tables, Biblio

The demographic estimates based on sexual orientation produced in this study apply to middle- to lower-class 18- to 27-year old males living outside Calgary's city centre which harbors the gay community, the area where gay organization services, clubs, and businesses are concentrated, and where gay and bisexual males are also most concentrated and visible.

The original objective of this research was to study the effects of child sexual abuse on the mental health of young adult males, which required random sampling. A stratified random sampling method was used because it is the most efficient way of obtaining a random sample of males in the specified age categories, large enough to produce the random subset of males needed to carry out a reliable statistical analysis with a low margin or error in estimating the prevalence of various factors, including sexual orientation.

The study produced demographic data based on sexual orientation, even though the original objective was not to estimate the percentage of gay and bisexual males living in middle- to lower-class neighbourhoods outside of Calgary's gay community area. That about 13 percent of young adult males are gay or bisexual, most of whom are homosexually active, and are living in Calgary's suburban area, is a revelation, given that recent studies (receiving great media coverage) have reported one to three percent estimates for these males. Caveats nonetheless apply to our results, many of which also apply to all other studies producing demographic estimates based on sexual orientation (Binson et al. 1995).

l. For all studies producing demographic data on the basis of sexual orientation, it cannot be assumed that all respondents revealed the requested information on homosexuality. For a number of reasons related to society having been (and still being) highly homophobic and homo-punitive [1], an unknown number of homosexual males will not reveal such information to a stranger bearing a lap-top computer. The same applies in face-to-face interviews, and seems especially likely in telephone surveys, in which the privacy of the respondent and the integrity of the caller are not guaranteed. To date, the magnitude of the underestimates involved when using different data collection methods remain unknown, and these underestimates may vary depending on the area where homosexually oriented males live. Some homosexually active bisexual males may have girlfriends or wives, who are unaware of their homosexual proclivities, and such men may not reveal their homosexual secrets to a stranger interviewing them in their homes where their female partner may also be living. For them, the extent of concealment in traditional interview techniques may be higher than it is for gay males.

2. Our study sampled middle- to lower-class neighbourhoods, thus excluding young adult males living in upper-class areas. Remafedi et al. (1992) reported, from a study of 36,741 youths aged 12 to 18 in grades 7 to 12, that "homosexual attraction" was more frequently reported by male youth from high to very high economic status categories (4.6% to 6.8%), compared to males from low to very low economic status (2.6% to 2.3%). Upper-class boys are the most likely to become highly educated and in this respect, Binson et al. (1995) reported that for males aged 18 to 49 with more than a high school education and living in 20 of the 46 largest American urban areas [2], 8.8 percent reported having sex with men in the last five years, while the rates were 3.8 and 2.4 percent, respectively, for males with a high school education or less. Therefore, the non-representation of young adult males living in upper-class neighbourhoods from our sample (even if these males form a minority in society) suggests that if upper-class Calgary neighbourhoods had been sampled, the homosexuality estimates for males aged 18 to 27 living outside of Calgary's gay community area (Calgary's suburban area) would be higher. The underestimate, however may not be great because many males who grow up in upper-class neighbourhoods often begin their independent young adult lives by living in middle-class neighbourhoods and would therefore, to a certain extent, be represented in our sample.

3. Our results represent the extent to which homosexuality is reported by lower- to upper-class young adult males living outside Calgary's city centre where the gay community is located. The non-representation of Calgary's city centre in our sampling therefore implies that the male homosexuality estimates for Calgary would be higher than the ones produced in our study if the area of known gay concentration had been studied [3].

4. The fact that our sample was obtained by using the reverse telephone directory makes it representative only of young adult males living generally stable lives outside of Calgary's gay community area. Sampled males were living at one fixed address for at least 6 months, had a telephone long enough to be listed in the directory, and they were not institutionalized. Our sampling method therefore excluded young adult males living generally unstable lives on the streets or elsewhere, including prisons long known to harbour a high percentage of males who have sex with males. The "throwaway" generation is reported to include a high proportion of homosexual and bisexual male youth, these youth forming about 20 to 40 percent of the runaway and street youth male populations (Kruks, 1991, Galst, 1992, Savin-Williams, 1994).

5. The migration of gay and bisexual males from rural areas and small towns, to medium-sized cities and, often enough, to the largest cities, is reflected in the Binson et al. (1995) study. They reported that 7.8, 11.1, and 14.4 percent of males living in centres of the 12 largest American metropolitan areas, and 2.5, 4.7, and 5.8 percent of males living in their suburban areas, reported having had same-gender sexual partners in the past year, the past five years, and since the age of 18, respectively. For the 13th to 100th largest metropolitan areas [2], the respective rates were 4.6, 6.0, and 7.2 percent for the metropolitan centers, and 1.6, 2.9, and 3.6 percent for their suburban areas. Rates of 1.9 and 0.9, 2.8 and 1.8, and 4.2 and 2.1 percent, respectively, were estimated for counties with and without towns having at least 10,000 inhabitants. In part, these differences may represent the degree of honesty existing about one's homosexuality in different areas, but a greater part of this variation may result from the well recognized migration of gay males to cities having visible gay communities. For Calgary, the extent of the migration of young adult gay and bisexual males into the city from Alberta's small towns and cities, as well as from rural areas, is unknown, as is the migration of these males from Calgary's suburban areas into the city center. Also unknown is the extent to which young adult homosexually oriented males have migrated from Calgary to Canada's largest cities: Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver which, like their American counterparts, are known for gay culture. This migration however, offsets to an unknown degree the inflation factor caused by the migration into Calgary, but the degree of offset is unknown. Future demographic research based on sexual orientation should solicit related data so that some estimates may be made with respect to these migrations.

The computerized method we used to collect homosexuality data from young adult males assured our respondents that a truly anonymous situation existed, this credible assurance probably not existing in the minds of many respondents when telephone and especially face-to face interviewing techniques were used. Our results are therefore important in their implications with respect to the accuracy of other studies of sexual orientation and reported sexual behaviors.

Our 9.2 percent estimate for males being homosexually active after the age of 18 should be compared (in terms of the demographic basis of the population sampled) with Binson et al.'s (1995) 3.6 percent estimate for males aged 18 to 49, living in suburbs of medium-sized American metropolitan areas, who reported having had same-sex partners since the age of 18 (a 2.6-times difference factor). The largest difference between the Michael et al. 1994 study estimates and our estimates occurs in the comparison of 11.1 percent estimate for self-identifying homosexual and bisexual males aged 18 to 27, with their 1.3 percent estimate for males aged 18 to 59 living in suburbs of medium-sized cities: an 8.5-times difference factor.

Of particular significance, however, is the fact that our estimates suggest that major errors have been occurring in recent demographic work attempting to estimate rates of sexual orientation. We have, apparently, been the first to use the computerized method described, and our results suggest that telephone interviews and face-to-face interviews have been greatly underestimating - from about 200 to 800 percent - the proportion of gay and bisexual males, at least for those living in suburban areas of medium-sized North American cities.

A salient finding in our study of young homosexually orientated men living outside of Calgary's gay community area is that only 43 percent (36/83) of self-identified homosexual (17/44: 39%) or bisexual (19/39: 48%) males had become homosexually active by their eighteenth birthday. This result is in contrast to studies from established gay communities, indicating that young men in these communities came out at a much earlier age (e.g. Remafedi et al. 1991).

The close temporal association between the age of first homosexual experience, and self-identification as gay in men sampled in gay community samples, suggests that our sample of homosexually oriented young men differs from the samples drawn from recognized urban gay communities. In our sample, the average age of the first homosexual experience for self-identified homosexual and bisexual males is about 18, the implications being that homosexually oriented young adult males living outside Calgary's gay community (i.e. those who, for reasons not yet known, have not migrated into the gay community area, as many young gay men do) may form a generally unstudied group of homosexually oriented males. Many of their problems nonetheless appear to be similar in nature and magnitude to those of their counterparts living in gay communities, which certainly applies with respect to suicide issues, in the light of our findings of suicidal behaviors, which are reported in another paper (Bagley & Tremblay, 1996). Suicidal crises which are often intimately associated with the coming out period (Remafedi et al., 1991), may be occurring at a later age in males living in suburban areas of North American metropolitan areas, compared to the more easily sampled males who have been directly associated with gay communities, their organizations, and institutions.

Another salient finding is that for homosexually-oriented adult males aged 18 to 27 living outside of Calgary's gay community, an almost equal number of males self-identified as homosexual and bisexual (44 vs. 39). The same applies for males classified to be homosexual or bisexual on the basis of having had exclusive or non-exclusive same-gender sexual contacts and/or self-identification as homosexual or bisexual (48 vs. 47). These proportion are also similar to those (51.3% vs. 48.7%) produced by Binson et al. (1995) for 18- to 29-year-old homosexually active males in a random sample of homosexually oriented young men living in 20 of the 46 largest American urban areas having a mean population about twice Calgary's population [2]. The major difference, however, is that the bisexual males in the Binson et al. (1995) sample (those reporting having been sexually active with both males and females in the past five years) only account for 3.1 percent of males in these cities, while our sample of young suburban Calgary males produced a 4.9 percent estimate for those reporting bisexual contacts in the last 6 months. Our homosexuality estimate is, however, an underestimate for Calgary, given that the greatest concentration of homosexually oriented males (located in the gay community area) were not included in the sample. Therefore, the Binson et al. (1995) underestimate would be greater if their results were compared, as they should, with the sexually active bisexual male estimates for Calgary.

Our results suggest that the recent demographic studies have been significantly underestimating the proportion of homosexual, and especially bisexual males, in North America, at least in the young adult male population living in suburban areas of medium sized cities. Michael et al. (1994),, for example, presented an assault on a common North American gay community assertion of "one in ten" - that one North American in ten is gay or lesbian. They conclude: "No matter how we define homosexuality, we come up with small percentages of people who are currently gay or lesbian." The results of our study challenge their conclusion, and supports the gay community's "one in ten" estimate for males [3], which usually includes closeted and bisexual males they interact with. While recent studies may have replicated one another in producing very low estimates of the proportion of males who are homosexual, replication using the same inappropriate methods ignores the fact that the studies such as Billy et al. (1993), Michael et al. (1994), and Binson et al. (1995) are not producing valid results. Flawed methodology repeated in several studies may give similar results indicating quasi-reliability: but this is not good science.

Some (perhaps many) homosexual and bisexual men have sex with men for most of their lives, but may often appear to be heterosexual to everyone (including research interviewers from whom they will also withhold "sensitive" threatening information). Our study does in fact contain this subset of males, especially in the bisexual currently homosexually active category. Only 7 out of the 37 males in this category self-identified as bisexual (one as both bisexual and homosexual), while 18 self-identified as both bisexual and heterosexual, and 12 as heterosexual. Their self-perceptions are also reflected in the sociological findings of McKirnan, Stokes, Doll & Burzette's (1995): bisexual men were more likely to be socially connected with heterosexual rather than homosexual communities. There are a number of men in nominally heterosexual relationship who decide in later years to describe themselves as gay (c.f. Gochros, 1989), and an unknown number of bisexual men in our survey may later declare themselves to be homosexual (and behave accordingly). There is evidence in the published literature for both stability in bisexual behaviors, and bisexuality as a transition status (McKirnan et al. 1995).

Demographers must begin to address seriously the issue of flawed methodology (in terms of populations sampled, the methods of asking questions, and the actual questions asked) in arriving at an estimate of the proportion of adult men who are homosexual. For example, if the homosexual population is undercounted, then the rate of HIV in such populations will be greatly overestimated. Studies producing 200 to 800 percent underestimates for male homosexual realities in our society should be unacceptable as social science research.

On the basis of our study's results, we would argue that it is unwise for demographers to seek data on sexual orientation using either telephone or face-to-face interviews. If face-to-face interviews are to be conducted, they should be carried out as part of ethnographic studies, as exemplified by the excellent work of the Kinsey Institute. Many homosexuals in our society remain hidden, and conventional survey techniques are unlikely to elicit frank responses about questions of sexuality. Our computerized response format in which questions about taboo sexual activities (sexual contacts with minors) were answered with some frequency does show that less stigmatized behaviors, such as voluntary, adolescent and adult same-gender sexual contacts are likely to be revealed more frankly than in other methods. Recent researchers seem to have ignored the realities of being homosexual in a homophobic culture [1]: thus Billy et al. (1993), Michael et al. (1994), and Binson et al. (1995) appear to have failed with regard to one of the "overarching principles" listed by a group of experts who were examining homosexuality- related issues: "Researchers must know the community they are researching." (Working Group, 1995)

If the advice of gay males highly knowledgeable about their community (especially about the highly closeted sector) was solicited by demographers, they would have been warned against using telephone or face-to-face survey interviews to estimate the numbers of homosexually oriented and active males in society. These males may be identified in random samples, but they may withhold information about their homosexuality from researchers. This may well have occurred in the Michael et al. (1994) study which produced a total of 10.1 percent of males reporting at least some manifestations of homosexuality since the age of 18. This "10.1%" estimate is however close to Kinsey's 10 percent, the Gonsiorek et al. (1995) estimate of 10 percent, and our 12.7 percent estimate for young adult males reporting homosexual or bisexual self-identification and/or being currently homosexually active. However, of the Michael et al. (1994) "10.1%," only 26.7 percent self-identified as homosexual or bisexual. In our study 72.5 percent of males showing any indication of homosexuality (83/115) self-identified as homosexual or bisexual.

On the basis of our findings, we therefore propose that future demographic studies based on sexual orientation must at least use the of data collection computer method we have described, which also meets the demographers' "standardization" requirements noted by Binson et al. (1995). Although the method will still produce underestimates for homosexual realities, their magnitude will be much less than those of the recent studies. This computerized method of data gathering could ideally be combined with a comprehen-sive and standardized questionnaire, such as The Sell Scale of Sexual Orientation (Gonsiorek et al., 1995).

Finally, we note the important implications of levels of recent depression in young males with different types of sexual orientation. Actively homosexual and bisexual men do not have elevated amounts of depression. Only celibate homosexual and heterosexual men have higher rates of depression. We can only speculate about the higher rates in the heterosexual group: but the higher depression scores in the celibate homosexual men counter the arguments (for example, by the Catholic Church and other institutions) that homosexual men should remain celibate. While we have no direct evidence, we speculate that the celibate men who describe themselves as homosexual are engaged in the often lengthy and stressful process of coming out, sometimes lasting a lifetime for some individuals. Clearly, this is a field for further research.

Discussion   •   Introduction   •   Notes, Tables, Biblio

Email:   Pierre Tremblay: ----- pierre@youth-suicide.com ----- (403) 245-8827
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