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Growing up Gay

Commentary by Michael Ditto

According to people like Janet Anderson, who wrote in last weekend's USA Weekend Magazine, stories to educate the public on teen sexuality are just attempts to condone promiscuity and corrupt the Christian way of life. This is an interesting point of view, given the inaccuracy of the beliefs behind it, but understandable given today's climate of public opinion. Teens are in fact more at risk than they ever have been. They are under pressure from their own subculture to be popular and cool, but not to be safe or cautious. But what of the teens who are discovering they are in some way different from their peers? Growing up gay is no picnic, and it is something that two to ten percent of us must face in our teenage years. Educating kids at an early age to believe in themselves and to be tolerant of each other is the first step in ending the cycle of teen suicide, alcoholism, promiscuity and the spread of AIDS that we all associate with being gay.

Gays are constantly subjected to physical, mental and spiritual torment. When they are finally through the stages of growing up and becoming productive citizens, they must still in many cases lead a double life. Because the majority of us have been programmed since birth to believe that being gay is a horrible and disgusting thing, gays often must go through the day keeping their personal lives secret to protect the sensibilities of their coworkers. In many cases, this is for the best, because a gay person might open himself up to discrimination in the workplace, or at the very least he may experience being ostracized by his peers. One might think that keeping this kind of a secret would be hard on a gay person. It is, but it is possibly easier than one may think. Gays since birth, as are straight people, exposed to all of the negative stigma gays have developed over the ages. They are, one might say, "used to it". Many homosexuals go completely through life having a happy existence within their own social circles, never exposing their coworkers to their difference.

One might argue that a gay person should lead a secret and separate existence, for the sake of his fellow man. After all, we have all been taught that homosexuality is a sin. It is also a sin to consort with a sinner, except in the case of changing the ways of that sinner. This is a valid argument, and one that should not be ignored. The argument is based purely on belief and religious teaching, however. To claim that one's religious beliefs are the only correct ones is illogical. If one were Catholic and a Pentecostal told him he was going to hell because Catholics are all ministers of the beast, would it be a logical argument to him? Is it true that all of the world's Hindus and Muslims are going to hell simply because they do not agree on a Christian viewpoint? Certainly it is possible, for God does act in strange and mysterious ways, but it is highly unlikely.

Is it possible that education might lead to more children becoming homosexual? Certainly it is not, even though the numbers may reflect otherwise. Logically, if the population of children who are inherently homosexual feels more comfortable with their sexuality, more of them may end up in homosexual relationships. It is also possible that the statistics could change simply because more people would be comfortable self-identifying as homosexual, as opposed to keeping it a secret from the people who measure these statistics. Reputable sociologists, psychologists and other experts agree that educating children will only make them feel more knowledgeable and comfortable, but will not change them from heterosexual to homosexual.

A huge debate these days concerns the role of choice in becoming a homosexual. Do straight people suddenly decide at some point to become homosexual? This is unlikely. As a friend says, knowing what it is like to be beaten up on the street and fired from his job because he let out his secret, why would he choose this? If it were possible within him to love a woman in a sexual way, why wouldn't he simply choose to go and live a healthy, happy life in the suburbs with his family? It is not a choice on the part of a gay person to live the lifestyle; to believe it is requires a rather complex leap of logic.

Does conditioning during the raising of a child contribute to his homosexuality? It is an intriguing hypothesis. Could it be true that an overpowering mother and a distant father creates the condition for a son to be gay? Certainly it is possible. This seems to be a recurring theme in the pasts of gay kids. Consider the following. A child is born gay, and because he is not interested in sports, but does have a more domestic sensibility, he alienates his father. He is more drawn to his mother. Given her shared interest in more domestic or creative activities, the child begins to accept guidance and wisdom from the mother; her role has become dominant over the father's. Because his role as the baseball teacher and football coach, disciplinarian and provider has been usurped, the father withdraws and finds comfort in his own activities or in parenting the other children. Is this hypothesis not equally as valid? Kids who have role reversals such as these grow up to be both straight and gay.

It is possible however, for children to be educated and accepted from an early age, to grow up happy and healthy, straight or gay. I am living proof of this having occurred. I grew up in a very traditional suburban family. My mother and father have differing views about homosexuality, mainly because my mother has a fairly liberal point of view, and my father is markedly more conservative. I had a similar role reversal to the one we have heard. I was closer to my mother than to my father. My father traveled extensively on business, and I was give a wide berth by my mother to explore my own sexuality. I believe it is this acceptance and tolerance that has given me my emotional and intellectual stability today. Although I faced my own rejection issues with my parents, I received no rejection. I did not experience being accepted by my family, either. It was simply a non-issue, something about which no one had any problems.

Since I unconcealed my homosexuality around age ten, I have been with exactly two men. One of them I married (unofficially, of course) in a church with my family and friends present, and I am still happily with him today. This is not the case with most gay men. There is a highly pervasive promiscuity in the subculture. The statistics we hear from political conservatives may be exaggerated (most gay men do not sleep with 300 different men each year) but there are still far too few committed relationships. I believe this stems from those trust and rejection issues experienced by these people when they were young. There are very few places gay people can turn to learn how to be in a committed relationship with someone of the same sex. Gay relationships simply do not operate like straight ones. There are few books on how to make one's gay marriage work, unlike the tomes of information straight couples have available.

It is said that one in four gay boys under age twenty have the HIV virus. It is also said that half of the gay boys under age twenty will eventually contract and die of AIDS. They believe that AIDS is a disease for the older gay man and that they are not at risk. They are continuing to engage in unsafe sex activities with multiple sex partners because they are not even of the age where having a committed relationship is on their agendas. Most of these boys are alienated from their families. Many live on the streets, having been kicked out of their homes. Many, like myself (and several others in my class), dropped out of high school because they did not feel safe at school. When I was a junior in high school, two boys (one I now know is gay, the other straight) were beaten to a pulp by the student body on the homecoming football field, while police watched, simply because they were on the cheerleading team. Growing up in a culture of hate and with an all-pervasive, ever-present sense of fear, it is understandable that these kids would be in a situation like they are, afraid to extend their love and commit for fear of being rejected.

This is why education is so important. Had these kids and their classmates been accepting and tolerant of themselves and others, might many of these eighteen and twenty year old kids be happily enrolled in college, thereby furthering their personal growth and enabling them to be in steady, committed relationships? Committed relationships reduce promiscuity, thereby reducing the transmission rate of HIV. It is simply time to come to grips with the reality we face. In the dark ages, and the age of Puritanism that has existed in the US for four hundred fifty years, keeping a lid on public knowledge about homosexuality was possible. We now live in a much more dangerous time. It is vital that kids be prepared for what is coming. Gays have been here as long as history has been recorded. It is even speculated by such bible scholars as the late Anthony DeMello that the Apostle Paul was homosexual. Allowing and encouraging young gay kids to feel comfortable in themselves and to be safe is not a sin. Educate them. Love them. They deserve it.


Michael Ditto, 20, of Denver, Colorado is a part time student, writer and activist. He is currently employed as an operator at a satellite TV company, and is studying physics and education at various local colleges in Denver. He is currently 'single', but is dating a very sweet man. He can be reached at dittomj@ix.netcom.com.
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