A review of:
Huebner, David M., PhD, MPH, Gregory M. Rebchook, PhD, and Susan M. Kegeles, PhD. "Experiences of Harrassment,
Discrimination, and Physical Violence Among Young Gay and Bisexual Men." American Journal of Public Health. July 2004. 94.7:1200-3.
[Node your homework]
This study, published in the July, 2004 issue (Vol. 94, No. 7), of the peer-reviewed American Journal of Public Health, examined the incidence of anti-gay violence and harrassment toward young (age 18-27) gay and bisexual men, in Albequerque, New Mexico, Phoenix,Arizona, and Austin, Texas. Data was also collected on suicidal ideation among these men. The data were examined with the clear aim of establishing that gay 'bashing' has the potential for significant negative impact on the mental, emotional and physical health of such men.
Thirty-seven percent of the studied men reported experiencing verbal harrassment because of their sexual orientation (1201). But the authors correctly point out, at the same time, that "The associations observed between experiences of mistreatment and markers of psychological distress are subject to a number of interpretations" (Ibid.). This, of course, is always the challenge with converting data into useful information.
The authors propose that mental illness, especially suicidal ideation and low self-esteem, is caused in young gay men by such violence, but, in recognition of the fact that correlation does not equal causation, they point out that it might actually be the reverse; it is quite possible that young men with self-esteem problems are easier targets for violence.
It seems to be the best explanation, though, that there IS a causal relationship, and, moreover, that it is as the authors suspect; I believe that anti-gay rhetoric, harrassment, and violence DO in fact contribute greatly to the mental and emotional maladjustment documented in the study. That view is made appealing (though not proved) by the fact that we have plenty of evidence that self-esteem is affected by external messages, and that anti-gay normative messages are ubiquitous (at least in the United States). It is hardly imaginable that a child could grow up in America without recognizing that 'being gay' is considered an inferior 'choice'.
This article regurgitated in my mind an anger I had abandoned long ago regarding "homosexuality as a choice." Who, pray tell, would choose to be treated the way America treats its gay citizens?
Homosexual behavior is a choice. Homosexual identity is a choice, too. No doubt about it in my mind. But it does not follow from the fact that one can choose to don the "gay" label that any other label was available to fit his reality; nor that heterosexual behavior would be a reasonable option for him. The "choice" involved was "Shall I choose a gay identity or some other identity of my choosing"?
Anti-gay violence serves to beat self-identified homosexuals into wearing a specific different label: the "normal, heterosexual" label. In most cases, that label won't fit their reality. And in ALL cases, it's unconscionable to even suggest that one has a better understanding of what label a person should wear than that person himself does.
And even in the impossible-to-imagine world in which it would be OK to impose sexual-identity labels on others (which is, as I've said, what anti-gay violence does), it would still be unconscionable to effect this end through violence.