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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.


The first book on the suicide problems of homosexually oriented individuals, I thought People Like that Killed Themselves, was written by Eric Rofes (1983) who later also became very concerned about the ongoing great abuse of "sissy boys," as he described himself to be in childhood and adolescence (Rofes, 1995). One mother I interviewed in 1996 reported that her 14-year-old son had hung himself in the Calgary Detention Centre in 1995, and that he had an abuse-related "sissy" history dating back to preschool. By the age of 13, however, he changed, becoming a tough delinquent, as Rofes (1995) also reported seeing some sissy boys eventually doing. About two months before his death, his mother had asked him if the nice boy he once would ever return, to which he replied: "Why? To only get beaten up again?"

The second mother interviewed had a same-age son who committed suicide in 1995, and a related Canadian W-5 documentary noted his abuse by others on the basis of his gender nonconformity. The third Calgary mother interviewed had also lost her 17-year-old son to suicide in 1995, but she did not know about his homosexual orientation which had been reported to me by a female friend. His death was also the highlighted case in a feature January 29, 1996 article on youth suicide in  Maclean's, Canada's national news magazine. The title of the article, "Killing The Pain: Canada has an alarming rate of teenage suicide - and nobody, including grieving parents, knows why," contained the 'truth' that most people do not know why male youth commit suicide. Maybe, however, this is the predictable outcome when so few have sought to actually know why some adolescent males kill themselves. With respect to Maclean's highlighted case of a male youth suicide, for example, someone knew that "D" was gay, but no one was asking related questions, and I was given the information only because the informant felt I should be told the truth about her friend's death given the nature of my work and concerns.

In addition to the three cases of adolescent male suicide associated with parents who had become part of a SPAN (Suicide Prevention Advocacy Network) group in Calgary, two more parents in the group each had a son who committed suicide. One of the victims was Bobby Steele, a 19-year-old Edmonton male who had committed suicide in 1994. Although some people knew he was gay, such as the publisher of Edmonton's gay magazine and a gay Native American friend, the boy's connection to the gay community was only discovered after a journalist began investigating the case for a major Edmonton Journal story on his death. His father, a Fundamentalist Christian, was also refusing to accept that his son was gay, his attitude being that the "gay" label given to his son was "slander."

From this group of five parent who experienced the suicide of adolescent sons, the two older males were known to be homosexually oriented by some individuals, and the two younger males had a long "sissy" history with related abuses. As for the fifth case, the parents did not volunteer information about their son, and their silence made me suspect that the issues I was addressing were also related to their son. Although this is a small sample, the results are telling, and indicate that the issues addressed in this paper are very much related to adolescent male suicides. Unfortunately, it does not seem that mainstream suicidologists have positioned themselves to uncover the "homosexuality" and/or "sissy boy" factor implicated in adolescent male suicides.

This paper has also presented other factors implicated in elevated rates of suicidality in homosexually oriented male adolescent and young adults. These male are at much greater risk for suicide problems than their heterosexual counterparts for a number of interrelated reasons requiring further study. They are also at the greatest risk for the more serious suicide behaviors, leading to their postulated overrepresentation in suicide statistics. Given the evidence, and my personal experiences in the field as rendered above, I have little doubt that homosexually oriented males account for about two-thirds of male youth deaths from suicide, and the estimate is equal to a little more than half of all youth death from suicide in North America.

This outcome, however, is the likely result of a social construction, the primary one being the transformation of male homosexuality into a rarity as the twentieth century progressed. The resulting modern belief is that homosexual males are so rare that many individuals believe that some rare genetic anomaly affecting no more than one ot two percent males is responsible for homosexual desires. This is unlikely, as evidenced in the historical record related to male homosexual desires, including the potential for associated love responses between males.

Unfortunately, a number of socially constructed forces, including the ones produced by males identifying as "gay," have worked collectively to deny the historical fact that homosexuality is a part of the positive human male potential greatly influenced by one's culture. The price paid for this politically motivated outcome is also extremely high if, in fact, the social construction of male homosexuality into its modern "rare" status is the underlying cause of the majority of increasing male youth deaths from suicide since 1950.

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