Gay Teen Issues Online Conference Transcript
Greg Cason, Ph.D. discusses what it means to "be gay," confusion over one's sexual identity, coming out, depression and suicidal thoughts, and other gay teen issues. Dr. Cason is a psychologist, director of a college counseling center, and specializes in working with gays and lesbians.
David is the HealthyPlace.com moderator.
The people in blue are audience members.
David: Good Evening. I'm David Roberts. I'm the moderator for tonight's conference. I want to welcome everyone to HealthyPlace.com.
Our topic tonight is "Gay Teen Issues." Our guest is psychologist, Greg Cason, who is a director of a college counseling center and an adjunct professor of psychology and does a lot of therapy work with gays and lesbians. He is on the Board of Directors of both the Los Angeles County Psychological Association and the Lesbian and Gay Psychotherapy Association of Southern California.
I also want to mention that we have just opened the first site in our GLBT community. The site, Gay Is OK, focuses on gay teen depression and teen suicide.
Good evening, Dr. Cason and welcome to HealthyPlace.com. We appreciate you being our guest tonight. It seems in the year 2000, where we see gay parades on TV, gay activism and social clubs, that being gay is okay; that anyone can come out and they'll be accepted. However, from stories that I've been reading from gay teens, there are still great troubles associated with being gay. Am I right about that?
Dr. Cason:Well, it is true that being gay and coming out has taken a positive turn in our society, but the problems are far from over. The prejudice that one encounters can still be quite violent and aggressive, as in the case of Matthew Shepard. But even more often, prejudice is subtle and takes the form of the oppressor saying they are taking a higher ground, such as in the case of the school board in Orange County, stating that they didn't want a gay group on campus.
Then, I don't think we can overlook the day-to-day taunting and rejection by peers, when they know or suspect that you are gay, not to mention teachers and educational curricula, that only focus on heterosexual relationships. Same with the church, and the media, and home life... the list goes on and on. We have a long way to go. A few battles have been won, but the war against prejudice is far from over.
David: I want to address several issues directly tonight. The first one being confusion over one's sexual identity, trying to decide whether you really are gay or not? As a teen, how does one come to that conclusion or at least try and clarify that in their mind?
Dr. Cason:That is a good question because many people think that we are all born heterosexual and some people just suddenly get the idea that they are gay (like a virus) and then they come down with it like a permanent affliction. That is not what really happens. Instead, the person usually has some notion of their sexuality very early on, but rarely do they have a vocabulary or understanding of it. They do realize they are different and in the world of the child and adolescent, difference can mean rejection, so it is often kept inside. If the child does have a notion that he or she has attraction to those of his or her same sex, then he or she may take further steps to hide and feel shame that they feel something that is obviously disliked in their world.
The issue really is how does a young child, adolescent, or adult begin to come out of the shell that society has helped to create. It is not a decision to become "gay" but an understanding for many that they are going to be truer to themselves, and risk the rejection of others to be who they are. But this is a complicated question that brings up issues of "what is a gay identity?" Which is a whole different ball of wax, but suffice it to say, that the process of coming out with your attraction to those of the same sex, in this society, is a risky business.
David: So what you are saying is: you don't just wake up one day and say "I'm gay". There are a series of self-exploratory steps that may lead to a realization and acceptance of "this is who I am."
Dr. Cason:Absolutely! It is a more of an unveiling of, than a sudden change.
David: And I think you brought up a good point before, what does "being gay" mean, exactly?
Dr. Cason:Huge Question! For the purposes of simple discussion, it has been defined by many as an exclusive attraction to those of the same sex. But what about those who have some attraction to the opposite sex? Do they neatly fit into the third category of bisexual? Usually not. Also, there are those who have sex with members of their own sex, sometimes even exclusively, yet describe themselves as heterosexual for any number of reasons. The reasons could be that they only are "on top" or the one who is more dominate in the sexual situation, or it is cultural, or they are in prison, etc. There is no clear label for everyone. But, in American culture, being gay has come to not only define your attraction and sexual behavior, but also membership in a community and even a culture unto itself. I do not think that is at all bad, but it is not the total of those who may have sexual relations or attraction to those of their same sex.
David: I am not gay, so I haven't been through that experience. But I'm wondering if during your teenage years, there can be some confusion for gay teens on whether they are actually "attracted" to other male teens or whether this is some phase? I'm sure for many teens who already know they are gay, there is also some strong denial that this is actually so.
Dr. Cason:Kinsey had a scale where one is either a 0, or exclusively attracted to those of the opposite sex, and the scale progressed up to 6 for those who had an exclusive attraction to those of the same sex. I was a Kinsey 6, so I didn't question that it was there, I felt it strongly. What I questioned was my ability to be accepted in a world that was strongly anti-gay, so I hid it. In fact, I kept it so under wraps that my high school voted me "Senior Class Sweetheart." But many teens, either because they have a more mixed attraction (like a lower number on the Kinsey scale), or they are more conflicted psychologically, or maybe they are just really good at denial (which I believe a great number of those we are talking about have developed that as a coping mechanism), then those people might appear more "confused."
David: Here are a couple of audience comments, then we'll get to some questions.
timeforce: The moderator's last comment is an accurate description of how I felt. Personally, I have learned to think of being gay in only the sexual part of my life as a human being. OK, I bond better with males, but that doesn't mean to say that I reject others who form part of the rest of my life.
Dr. Cason:The first comment by timeforce is a very interesting one and illustrates what some people feel if they "come out," which is that they must turn away from those who they have grown to love because of this other aspect about them. That would be a mistake. However, it is not unusual for those in your life to reconsider the relationship if they have problems with homosexuality. Also, gay identity goes through many stages. Those that view sex and relationships as separate are a subgroup that does exist. But sometimes people get tired of that life and go through another stage which is where they may seek to stay with others like themselves, primarily. There is no superior way of being, in my opinion, but they can look quite different and each side may criticize the other. I prefer an integration, where I am open about my identity. I enjoy same-sex venues and interests, but also the heterosexual dominated venues. We just usually don't think about things quite this way, but we all have our preferences.
Aisha-Kevin: You ask what "being gay" means. It is just a part of sexuality to me. I am a sixteen year old teen. Yes, being gay and transsexual is a part of me. Three of my close friends are gay. We all have different interests, styles, taste in music. We're normal teens! To each of us, being gay means something different. But we don't want to be "different," we don't want to be "straight" either. We all just want to be accepted. You are right that there is no clear label for everyone. Sexuality and gender are like a sphere. It's okay to be on one point of any of the thousands of points.
My question is: how do we make ourselves known without appearing to want "special" rights as opposed to equal rights? I think we deserve a few textbook pages, etc.
Dr. Cason:I agree with Aisha-Kevin! The funny thing is that the term "special rights" even exists, but is illustrative of what we call heterosexism. Heterosexism is the view of life that everything heterosexual is "normal" and that anything else is strange or different. I like to think of it as the "innocent until proven guilty" phenomenon because we view everyone as heterosexual and treat them that way until evidence proving something else is screaming at us.
I agree, we need to have information about gays in textbooks, and not as a chapter in Abnormal Psychology, but as an integrated example in an economics class, history class, literature, music, etc. We are everywhere, so let's honor that fact. Why need it be something that is hidden? What kind of message does that send?
David: Earlier, Dr. Cason, you mentioned gay teens being taunted or ridiculed. Here's a question on that:
PaulMichael:I'm sixteen years old and I get picked on by the jocks and kickers for being gay. I don't tell anyone I'm gay but I'm obvious. I'm tired of being made fun of and when I try to get help from the school counselors, they just tell me to ignore it. I'm depressed and ready to drop out of school.
Dr. Cason:Wow, PaulMichael. What you are saying rings true for thousands of teens out there right now, and did for many who are adults now and reading your words. Let me address a couple of things first for you. Someone needs to listen to you. If the school counselors are not doing their job and telling you to "ignore it," then you need to ignore the school counselors. You need to find someone who will listen to you and help you deal with this, which means calling the nearest gay and lesbian community center and asking for a teen hotline or group. Of if there is a teacher that you feel you can trust that may be a way to get help, or go to the Principal.
You did not mention your parents, but even if you are unable to come out to them (which I could understand), you can still ask them to intervene. Your voice needs to be heard. What they are doing is wrong. If you start to feel very low, or hopeless about the situation, or helpless that nothing is being done, then you really need to do something. If you start to feel like harming or hurting yourself, or anyone else, you need to tell someone. Make your voice heard that you are hurting. You do not need to come out, but it is not good that those people are doing what they are doing.
But this also brings up another point, which is that many who are gender-atypical acting, such as effeminate boys or masculine girls, are often identified and called "fag," "queer," or "dyke" and tortured emotionally and sometimes physically.
gayisok: PaulMichael, my solution, though maybe not the best one, was to cut loose from the crowd and become a loner.
Dr. Cason:I would not recommend being a loner. Maybe that crowd is not for you, but try to find someone with whom you can feel comfortable. Isolation is more of a problem than a solution.
Aisha-Kevin:I find that the biggest problem for me is not from the taunting by other teens, but the taunting from within. First of all, I had to change my religion to help feel more "right." A change I don't regret making and I'm glad to have made. But there are other things. Like in the change room at school, I always change in the corner, facing the wall. In gym class, itself, I can't look at any girls. I can't look them in the eyes. I can't look at my religion teacher in the eye. No one needs to make fun of me, the guilt within speaks volumes to me itself, without other's help.
siouxsie: My parents want me to be straight. I'm fifteen years old and they want me to stop being gay and date girls. If I don't, they told me, they would put me in a mental hospital. Can they do that?
Dr. Cason:Being gay is not a reason to put someone in a mental hospital. Any ethical mental health professional would say that your parents have work to do, to accept the situation rather than you being the problem. But I think siouxsie illustrates one of the most difficult points which is that parents are often problematic and that coming out has tremendous risks.
sspark:Dr. Cason, do you feel that teens have a problem knowing what "coming out" really is. Activists have sensationalized "coming out" which seems to be confusing. Please comment on this.
Dr. Cason:To me, coming out is a gradual step-by-step process. It is not a thing that happens one day. It starts with a recognition of what is going on inside, then an exploration, then maybe telling someone, and so on. I don't believe it ever really ends. By me appearing on this web-cast, I am coming out another step. But, I have many, many miles left in my journey as a human being and as a gay man. And I am a fallible human being.
David: On the Gay Is Ok! site, there is also a coming out guide, which may prove helpful to some of you.
Robert1: I just turned seventeen and have always thought that I was gay, but recently I met an woman who I find attractive. I don't think I'm straight, so now I'm confused, and my head is really messed up.
Dr. Cason:There is no reason to label yourself or think that you "must" act a certain way. If you find a woman attractive, then that is OK, just as OK as finding a man attractive. The point is, there need not be a "right" or "wrong" way of being. Even if society demands that we label ourselves, we do not have to listen to that demand. However, if you choose to label yourself, as I do, that is OK too!
David: Are you saying, Dr. Cason, that it's okay to explore your sexuality, and it's part of the process people go through to figure out who they are?
Dr. Cason:Yep, we are humans after all. We learn through experience. But there is no "must."
If you do not want to have sex with someone of your same, or opposite sex, then don't. It isn't that we should try everything, but rather it is OK to experiment with things we may be attracted to (provided that it is of mutual consent and no one is hurt, of course).
David: Here are some more audience comments about things being said tonight:
gayisok:As I say on Gay is OK, be yourself and make no apologies, none are needed.
sspark: Good point about coming out being gradual. Also, I think it isn't necessary to tell the whole world of your sexuality. I look at it as a 'need to know' situation, otherwise, it doesn't serve a purpose. Aren't there laws now that protect kids from sexual harassment at school? It seems I read that courts are holding parents of those bully kids responsible for their actions.
timeforce: The gradual process is still ongoing with me. Recently, I came out to a bunch of workmates (I drive large trucks for a living). Having spent thirteen years after coming out for the first time, I found this time it was a lot easier. So, for all those guys and gals here, while it appears to be an empty comment, It does get easier as time goes on.
Dr. Cason:I agree with all those comments!
David: Dr. Cason's website is here.
Dr. Cason:Yes, please visit my site and send me an email if you would like!
David: Thank you, Dr. Cason, for being our guest tonight and for sharing this information with us. And to those in the audience, thank you for coming and participating. I hope you found it helpful. Also, if you found our site beneficial, I hope you'll pass our URL around to your friends, mail list buddies, and others: http://www.healthyplace.com
Here's the link to the HealthyPlace.com GLBT Community. You can click on this link and sign up for the mail list at the top of the page so you can keep up with events like this.
Dr. Cason:Thank you very much. It has been a pleasure and I wish you all the best in your personal coming out processes. Good night everyone!
David: Thanks again, Dr. Cason. Good night everyone.
Disclaimer: We are not recommending or endorsing any of the suggestions of our guest. In fact, we strongly encourage you to talk over any therapies, remedies or suggestions with your doctor BEFORE you implement them or make any changes in your treatment.
Last Updated: 12 April 2017
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD