Studies have indicated that homosexual adolescents who are close to their parents are influenced by them during the coming out process. Those who are close come out faster or at a younger age and experience positive identities earlier than those who are not so close. Homosexuality previously focused on the pathology but now the picture has shifted to a more positive non-pathological identity. The significance of families in the coming out process is being suggested in various literature. Legislation has been changed to help homosexuals in their coming out process. Homosexual sodomy was destigmatized like all homosexual activity in 2003 by the Supreme Court decision in Lawrence Vs Texas (Wardenksi, 2005). Society needs to come to terms that it has to include the homosexuals among and as one of them and attend to their needs as effectively as for the rest of it (Barden, 2004).
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Peter was an undergraduate. He was academically sound and had always been a darling in the family. One day he brought a slightly older boy home. Nobody thought anything of it at first. Soon the visits became frequent and then the two were always hanging around together. The father noticed the furtiveness in their relationship. Then he realized that the other boy had his lips painted and eyes mascaraed. The realization that Peter could be having a different sexual orientation, a same-sex one, dawned on him. He was angry and hurt and his wife was really upset. Both had come from traditional farming families living in the countryside and they had no other children to carry on the family. The father remembered that Peter had recently shown changes in his general behavior. Previously he had plenty of friends of both sexes with whom he had spent time biking, picnics, parties, and the like. He had left this group some months ago. Since then he had been moping around, not connecting with the parents. They tried to cheer him up and draw him into their activities. It had not worked. Now that he has expressed himself, maybe there was nothing they could do. Still the father wanted to be sure. He tried to speak to the boy while on a fishing trip. Peter admitted that he felt different and seemed drawn to other boys especially older ones. He was upset that he was made differently. The changed to help the homosexuals in their coming out process what happened. However he reminded him that the grandparents may not see things as they did and he was to hide the fact for a while till their days were over. Peter was lucky that he was not thrown out and led into a life of crime and waywardness. His father had helped him in the coming out process.
The reaction of parents is usually shocking after learning that their child has the same sex attraction. They exhibit tolerance and accept their child’s sexual orientation but it may take some time. Youth who are developing homosexual identities get rejected by the family for their sexual identity (Wardenski, 2005). They may be subjected to verbal abuse or physical violence and many get thrown out of their homes. Racial minorities have the highest reported abuse rates. Many minors are found in the child welfare system and parental abuse is found related to the runaway rate of youth (Wardenski, 2005). Peter did not suffer this kind of rejection or abuse and he was saved from moral destruction due to his parents’ down-to-earth attitude.
After the initial shock, the attitude of many parents would be a denial. They need time to regain their bearings. They may believe that their child is experimenting or being rebellious. Isolation is an accompanying behavior seen in the parents in the denial phase. Anger and agitation follow on (Savin-Williams and Dube, 1998). Bargaining may be the next process. They may start with God and then the child. The issue may be shrouded in mystery by telling the child not to spread the news or share it with anyone. Depression or resigned tolerance may be the next feature. Finally acceptance seems to be the only way out.
Parental rejection prevents the adolescents from exhibiting positivity in the coming out process; they end up as disturbed personalities and criminals. Parental rejection has been described as a big health risk factor for sexual minority youth (Hammelma, 1993; Hetrick and Martin, 1987; Savin-Williams and Dube, 1998 all cited in Armesto, 2001). Youth experiences have included emotional, psychosocial and health-related problems including “isolation, loneliness, depression, suicide, homelessness, prostitution and sexually transmitted illnesses” (Radkowsky and Siegel, 1997 cited in Armesto, 2001). The human response to rejection is just like the response to injury (Cameron and Maginn, 2009). Motivation disappears and the patients cannot alter their behavior. The emotional system shuts down. If it is parental rejection, the outcome would be devastating.
The exploration stage, when the individual toys with the idea of a new identity, is marked by three developmental tasks (Coleman, 1982). Interpersonal skills are developed so that their socialization with like-minded individuals is facilitated. Cultivating a sense of personal attractiveness becomes important. Learning that indulging in sexual activity is not a method to boost self-esteem, the individual has to find other means of increasing self-esteem (Coleman, 1982).
Stages through which an individual passes to form a homosexual identity have been suggested by various other authors. The model suggested by Cass (1979) passes through six non-age-specific stages. The stage of identity awareness is when the individual first becomes conscious of being different. The second stage of identity comparison is when the individual understands that he is homosexual but attempts to be heterosexual (Cass,1979). In the stage of identity tolerance, he is positive about his homosexuality. He begins to visit the gay community in the next stage of identity acceptance. The following stage of identity pride finds him actively relating to the gay community. Synthesis is when he has accepted himself and others fully. Peter must have been undergoing the first few stages during the previous months when he was noticed moping around and avoiding the family.
Identity conflict can occur occasionally. This may be expressed as somatic illnesses, attempts at suicide, or behavior problems. This may be because they cannot accept the fact that they are homosexual in nature. The resolution would be to accept their identity (Beatty, 1999).
Parenting styles have a strong influence on the coming out process of homosexuals (Parish and McCluskey, 1992). The extent of love and acceptance offered by the parents is related to self-esteem and self-concept. A large number of studies are now focusing on the influence of families on homosexuality. Parental variables, the patient’s self-esteem and self-concept and the coming out process are variables in most studies (Newman and Muzzonigro, 1993). Parental acceptance is significant in the process. Lesbians are most comfortable if both parents accept but the mother’s acceptance is more important. Here again, the question arises as to how parental rejection works as the variable that can influence the transition process and the acceptance of the same-sex identity. Homosexuals who are accepted by their siblings may find it easier to endure the coming out process.
The selection of a romantic partner itself can cause parental rejection. Partners who are not of the same race or ethnicity or religion may be selected (Furman et al, 1999). The mismatch leads to a rejection by the parents. A high rejection sensitivity may cause the adolescent to make a wrong choice of partner, an unhealthy or abusive one (Furman et al, 1999). The attentive partner may enforce an early commitment especially if the parents have rejected this partner. Losing parental acceptance, the adolescent becomes more dependent on the partner making him a jealous and controlling type (Furman et al, 1999). The relationship invites further difficulties along the way. One outcome is emotional and physical abuse.
The rejection-sensitive individual will not bother to enquire into the previous history of the partner carefully like negative history of abuse, dishonesty, unfaithfulness and substance abuse when selecting one (Furman et al, 1999). The parental rejection blinds the adolescent to the negative history of abuse and other faults. The judgment of the adolescent is compromised due to his eagerness for parental acceptance. The parent may find it difficult to accept the romantic partner and the adolescent finds it difficult to change the partner to suit his parents’ wish. Not getting the acceptance, the adolescent may still try to gain the parents’ acceptance. Outright rejection on the other hand hurts him and pushes him into the possibility of an extended coming out process and mental illness.
Homosexuality is the positive expression of the nonpathological same-sex identity. Families are involved in the coming out process of the adolescent. Disagreement with the parents on issues of same-sex identity among other issues of drug abuse, parental discord and domestic violence causes the children to leave home and take to street crime (Wardenski, 2005). Parental rejection has been indicated by many researchers as being a strong factor influencing same-sex adolescents into various outcomes in their lives (Hammelma, 1993; Hetrick and Martin, 1987; Savin-Williams and Dube, 1998 and Radkowsky and Siegel,1997 all cited in Armesto, 2001). Cass’s six stages of the coming out process show a transition from the unsure stage to the stages of acceptance of the new identity and it involves confusion in between (Cass, 1979).
Research has shown that many factors could play a role in the coming out process of homosexuals. Homosexuals who are accepted by their siblings may find it easier in the coming out process. The identity development and coming out of youth could be further explicitly studied. There is evidence that children are coming out earlier recently. This would imply moré research for the earlier years of adolescence. Parental support can help to ensure the healthy growth of homosexual children into adults. Some people may not accept homosexuals but that does not mean that we can allow homosexuals to roam the streets, feel neglected and abused, and become prone to committing suicides (Barden, 2004). Parental rejection can influence the coming out process of an adolescent with same-sex identity.
Armesto, J.C. and Weisman, A.G. (2001). Attributions and emotional reactions to the identity disclosure of a homosexual child. Family Process, Vol. 40. p. 145-161.
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