Risks associated with claiming a gay or lesbian identity in adolescence
Posted by mandyf on June 16, 2012
The risks associated with claiming a gay or lesbian identity in adolescence are not nearly as bad as thirty years ago or even ten years ago for that fact. That isn’t to say there are no risks anymore, anyone that has come out or watched a friend or family member come out knows better than that, it’s just not as bad as it had been. Still there are some areas of concern that could cause the person claiming a gay or lesbian identity in their youth to be knowledgeable of so they can be prepared to face the risks equipped for battle as best as is possible.
The first risk to explore is alienation. Not everyone is okay with gay people and that includes some of the parents of the adolescent in question. Familial alienation is one of the most heart wrenching things a young person, or any person for that fact, can experience. Feeling unwanted at home can lead to a myriad of other issues that lead to even more issues and the result is rarely favorable. Sometimes this alienation can be subtle such as feeling like you just don’t fit anymore based on the actions of your family towards you and in other cases it can be overt and even hostile. Sometimes this alienation is short term until the adolescent’s family comes to grips with the issue and at times it is a permanent alienation which leads to severing all ties upon the adolescent reaching the legal age of majority or in extreme cases sooner. By no means is this true in every case, but it is a risk to be aware of.
Social functioning outside the home is a concern as well, Again not everyone will accept a person claiming a queer identity, even some friends. This can lead to ostracism at school, being the target of verbal and/or physical abuse. On the larger scale this can relate to the community as a whole and not just peers. They may find many of the social opportunities available to their peers they don’t enjoy as fully. Imagine the way a youngster may react to being the one kid in class or the neighborhood left off a birthday party list for being honest enough to say they are gay. There are many places which for one reason or another the majority of people look down on gays and are hostile to them which becomes a safety issue. Gay adolescents are no less prone to violence than gay or lesbian adults. To some degree it can be worse as they face possible abuse at the hands of both children and adults. That is just a sad truth they face everyday.
Longer range, in areas that are not accepting to the queer community, the claiming of a gay identity in adolescence will likely not be forgotten, especially smaller towns. Employment can become difficult because regardless of laws when you hit sixteen or so and are looking for that first job there are many employers that could be well aware of your orientation that will find any reason under the sun to avoid hiring you just because you are gay. Should the adolescent grow up and decide to, or have little choice but remain in a hostile community, they may find this continuing to be a problem which leads to under/unemployment. It is something an adolescent coming out rarely if ever considers but it is a truth that eventually must be faced in some cases.
Another risk that comes with the territory is an adolescent has little control over their life. Many times well meaning people have done irreparable harm to the development of an out adolescence with the intention of helping them “straighten out.” The horror stories are all too common in the gay community. You will often hear of how an out adolescent was sent to “therapists” that promised to retrain homosexuality out of people that wound up doing little more than causing the patient to feel shame. There are even more recollections of gay an lesbian adults of how they were dragged into see various clergymen that related stories of eternal damnation for claiming their orientation as queer that added the spiritual dilemma on top of shame.
Why this is harmful as stated above is the out adolescent has no real control or little choice in the matter of refusing such interventions. Being thrust into a situation which does nothing to positively reinforce their right to be true to their identity but rather negates it can lead to psychological trauma. Statistics back up the fact that teenage suicide among the LGBT community is alarmingly high compared to heterosexuals of comparable ages. The negation of the adolescents identity or forced suppression of said identity is damaging. It is damage that doesn’t magically disappear with age. It does carry negative ramifications which all too often do lead to them taking their life or at least attempting to.
While there are so many possible horrible problems an out adolescent may face, for most coming out and being open is the best thing they can do for them self. Life is always going to carry challenges, being young or old does not change that. Being young and being self aware enough to say “this is who I am” is a great sign of courage and shouldn’t be negated or carry a stigma. The above issues will surely never all disappear nor are they the only an out adolescent may well face, but it is getting better and hopefully will continue to until such stigmatization is a shock rather than an ordinary and often expected risk.