When it comes to understanding sexual orientation among youth, most research focuses on health, social work and psychology. They look at the youth’s vulnerability to various types of health issues: sexually transmitted diseases, school climate and bullying, sexual assault, abuse and suicide. However, the sociological process that drives individuals to call themselves gay or bisexual has had less focus, until now.
Researcher Mary Anne Robinson of the University of Colorado at Boulder decided to analyze “sexual selfhood” and the process of sexual socialization through a qualitative method and from the point of view of adolescent males.
Her study focused on 18 life-history interviews. Robinson volunteered at Spectrum for 16 months. Spectrum is an urban center that welcomes any youth between the ages of 13 and 22 who identify with the LGBT community. It predominately serves young adults of lower socioeconomic status. Robinson decided to direct the focus of her study on male youth who were born male. The population at the center was mostly male, and she didn’t want to assume all experiences among the other genders.
Robinson’s research led her to identify four processes of sexual identity formation. They are: violating compulsory heterosexuality, seeking out an explanation for their differences, exploring sexuality and negotiating identity.
Compulsory behavior occurs in a social system where all persons are assumed to be heterosexual and heterosexuality is reinforced by gender norms, like masculine and feminine. According to Robinson’s study, the young males would recount stories of how others marked them as being different because they did not conform to typical male behavior. Once the individual was marked for their difference by either themselves or others, they sought out an explanation for why. Initially many of the participants revealed that they didn’t have a language to name how they felt.
Upon recognizing themselves as gay or bisexual, the young men took steps toward embracing their sexuality through relationships. Many of the young males had opportunities to have sex, but did not. In fact, many of the participants identified themselves as virgins. Robinson believes this is significant because it shows that being gay or bisexual doesn’t depend on having sex.
Last, although many face pressure to choose a sexual identity, many youths today are ambiguous about what that identity is. Robinson found that while the boundaries of identity are expanding, sexual identities are becoming more prominent and meaningful, even though not all sexual and gender identities are viewed with legitimacy.
Dr. M. Mirza, LGBT Health Wellness – 2014