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Health and Human Sexuality
The place of the homosexual person in today's society has become an electrically charged breeding ground for misunderstanding, emotional sound bites, and political rhetoric. The appearance of increasing numbers of television shows which address homosexual issues makes it apparent that societies perspective on this subject is also up for grabs, and being competed for heavily in the public marketplace. At issue, or what appears to be at issue from this writers perspective is the level to which society will accept persons with same gender sexual orientation, and what kind of social and emotional support and aid will be of help to these individuals.
However, deeper at the core of this debate seems to be a level of malevolence which the gay person perceives to be directed against themselves whenever someone questions their sexual orientation. In the public debate, whenever a person or organization suggests that homosexual behavior and desires may be a departure of the normal path of human behaviors, the person is labeled a homo-phobe, someone who had outdated information, and would otherwise be attacked and degraded for his own personal ideas. Since these accusations originate from a group of people who themselves seek to have equal treatment for their own individual and personal perspectives on behavior, their attacks only serve to cloud the issues which may be at the core of finding a lasting positive approach to helping homosexual individual understand the positively address their person preferences.
In a recent article in Family Process, a multidisciplinary international journal that publishes research, training, and theoretical contributions in the broad area of family therapy, authors Elizur and Ziv noted that gay, Lesbian and Bisexual (GLB) youth are at greater risk for major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, conduct disorder, substance abuse and dependence, multiple disorders, suicidal behaviors, sexual risk-taking, and poor general health maintenance than are their heterosexual peers. Citing a wealth of literature, they concluded that a number of these large community-based surveys provide solid empirical evidence that sexual minority status are a significant risk factor for GLB adolescents' physical and mental health. Their health risks include significant increases in the estimates of suicide attempts, which could be up to 30% higher based on one sample of gay male youth to 42% of GLB youth sampled in non-clinical community settings from regions across the U.S.
Given the depth of the measured psychological problems which are present in this sector of the population, perhaps the source of this problem is not in the widespread community, and their feelings toward GLB youth. Although the direction of the public debate has been successfully shifted from one of the GLB's personal responsibility for their feelings to an assumed causal connection between the heterosexual communities attitudes toward gay's and the associated negative self-esteem which is present, this assumption is made for the benefit of homosexual individuals. It seems to this writer that even though the direction of the public debate has accepted that issues of homosexual adjustment into the large community is a function of the community's homophobia, and this article which seeks to support this assumption may offer strong evidence to the contrary.
The personal maladjustment of the GLB youth may indeed be most significantly affected by the youth's own psychological development.
In no other sector of the larger community is the topic of personal adjustment and membership in the community perceived as a causal relationship between the individual and the community, and then responsibility laid at the feet of the larger community. In no other sector of the community is the presence of significant emotional distress within the individual, which has been documented within the GLB youth and discussed in this article, assigned to the responsibility of the community in which the person resides. When a heterosexual teen has a drinking problem, or displays suicidal tendencies, their feelings, choices, and tendencies are not blamed on the larger society. The individual person is treated, and what is most often at the cause of the problem are personal and relationship issues between the person, their primary family, and the social support system in which the person is immersed. Research and practice shows that at the core of the demonstrated maladjustment between the individual and the larger social order are issues with the individual which much be addressed and corrected in order for the individual make a successful and confident integration into the larger community.
The article cited the history of the psychological community regarding their position on homosexuality. Until 1974, homosexual behavior was understood as deviant behavior, and a departure from normal human sexuality. The APA changed their stance on the issue on 1974, and adopted a position that gender identity was a formulated identity within the individual, and that the idea of 'right' or 'wrong,' 'normal' and 'abnormal' no longer applied to the homosexual. Following this decisive change in the position, research in the area of GLB identity formation has burgeoned, and a variety of developmental stage models have been formulated. According to this article, the common assumption is that GLB identities develop as individuals work through conflicts and stresses that are related to their sexual orientation, and that sexual orientation was an inborn, natural facet of the individual rather than an abnormality to be corrected. Therefore, resolving feelings of inner confusion, ambivalence, and fear of rejection, etc., became a function of adjusting to their own inner voice, and working through their interaction with the community. The approach adopted by the APA was to assist the GLB youth to "gradually consolidate an affirmative sense of self that enables them to accept and express their same-gender feelings." (Elizur and Ziv, 2001) The article stated that the APA hypothesized that this process is organized in a developmental sequence of stages, and that by helping the individual through the stages, the individual would come to an internal peace with their own sexual identity.
This developmental approach to the psychology of GLB individuals has helped professionals counter the traditional social focus on deviance, pathology, and finding a cure for homosexuality. The approach as created a much needed challenge the influence of prejudicial attitudes on psychological research, and on the community's acceptance of the behavior and desires which are outside of the cultural norm. However, this change in approach to the subject of the development of gender identity does not adequately answer the question of whether or not the development of a male sexual identity in the body of a female person, or vice verse is a normal developmental process. The assumed answer is that a person can develop what ever sexual identity he or she chooses, and that neither is harmful to the person. The assumed answer is that if the person has maladaptive behaviors, and then because he or she adopted the gender identity which was right for him, then the behaviors must be the result of societal influence.
I would like to suggest that in no other area of personal behavioral development do we make such as sweeping statement that places responsibility for personal social and emotional well-being of an individual at the feet of the society. In other areas, what has been found is that the emotional well-being is associated with the individual's relationship with primary family, and with the social support system which was available to them as they developed. So, maybe the question to ask in the case of GLB youth is not how the society at large treats them, and how the society at large can change in order to make these individuals feel better about themselves. In the same way that other developmental emotional issues have their foundation in the social order of the person's primary, there may also be a causal relationship between the person who develops a homosexual or bisexual gender identity and the gender identity formative events which occur in the person's primary family in the early years of their development.
A changing understanding in the nature of gender identity formation may explain some of the evidence further identified in this article. The authors go on to cite that although there has been a large amount of contributions to gender identity theory, identity formation models have come under increasing criticism during the last decade for some of the following reasons.
Overemphasizing the differences between gay/lesbian and heterosexual families, and underemphasizing the diversity among the former.
Not being sufficiently sensitive to the social, cultural, and historical contexts in which GLB identity formation occurs
Significant variations among these models and discrepancies have been found between the proposed developmental sequences and the experiences of GLB respondents.
When a research supposition is applied to a situation, and found to be inaccurately verified, or the studies have to be overly broad in their hypotheses in order to account for all the results, then the common approach to the research is to change the hypothesis, and approach the subject from a new understanding. Such is the case in the issue if gender identity formation research and these authors do not…[continue]
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