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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. Now Available: A 2004 Updated Interim Version Of This Paper.

Abstract

The modern concept of male homosexuality, or "gay," as the likely social construction Michel Foucault and others have emphasized it to be, has embodied the belief of a homosexual / heterosexual binary. This belief has resulted in great efforts by many to eliminate bisexuality from the world view. Bisexuality, however, may be the factual "norm" Freud and others believed to be true. The primary author of this paper experienced this fact growing up in a community where male adolescent activity was the rule, not the exception, resulting in a different perception of homosexual male realities. It is argued that the same difference in perception would apply for Ancient Greek males if they had been presented the modern concept of "gay identity" defined on the basis or erotic love and/or sexual attraction, and the associated likelihood of enjoying same-sex sexual activities.

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.

Introduction

Homosexually oriented male youth are overrepresented in male youth suicide problems, and many factors place them at risk for these problems. Interestingly, the male youth suicide rate began its three-fold increase in the 1950s, at about the same time when the social construction of male homosexuality was also significantly changing in the western world. This social change made it increasingly likely that males would be recognizing their same-sex desires in the context of believing that homosexually oriented males are very rare, maybe forming only one or two percent of the male population.

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.
 

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