Thursday, March 23, 2006

So before I took off work for a while, I finished The New Gay Teenager by Ritch C. Savin-Williams, a critical study of research done on gay teenagers since the 1970s. Savin-Williams argues convincingly that a researcher needs to understand homoerotic development within the larger framework of adolescence instead of isolating it and that studies should separate sexual orientation, sexual identification, and sexual behavior because while the first may not change, the other two tend to remain fluid and fluxuate frequently, especially during adolescence. He discuses previous studies and how they were shaped by cultural assumptions and fundamentally flawed by the methodology, as most samples were those of self-identified gay youths. "If one wants to know about female development, one does not sample only self-identified feminists." He makes a good point when he says that perhaps those who self identify as gay in adolescence are forced out or came out because they needed the support of the gay community. The early researchers were well-meaning, wanting to get services and money to help what they saw as an at-risk population. But now Savin-Williams has found in his research that there is a greater range of behavior and identification among teens and that they are reluctant to assign labels because of societal pressures, stereotypes, the fluidity of identification and behavior, and because they just don't feel that any of the labels fit them. Ultimately they convey the idea that their sexual identity is only one facet of them and doesn't define them and Savin-Williams argues that in order to get an accurate picture of gay teens, researchers need to acknowlege this and adjust their methodology accordingly.

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