I am convinced that anxiety in early adolescence about being gay is a serious threat to gay kids in middle adolescence. I am certain that anxiety comes from concern about negative responses from important outsiders. For middle-adolescent kids those important outsiders tend to be where life is centered: school and home. Therefore, it is up to the school and home to reduce anxiety as it gathers. If school and home effectively communicate, “You’re OK if you’re gay” no other social factor will undermine it for adolescents.
Too often home and school are reactive. They treat homosexuality as they would handle leukemia: let’s not deal with it if we don’t have to. By the time Johnny or Guy begins to let it be known homosexuality is an issue, even if school and home want to then be affirming, it could be too late.
There are two reasons it could be too late for the young gay guy: silence on this topic often sends a loud message that this topic means trouble, and silence can also give negative and false information from other sources time to grow. Preadolescence and early adolescence are when boys accumulate attitudes even if they are too young to process them accurately. Flawed as the attitudes may be, they begin to take charge. This is why silence can be a danger just as lethal as homophobia. Silence is not always nothing. As in this case, it can be laden with meaning. Silence says, “This topic is not OK. Being gay is not OK. If you’re gay you are not OK.”
If Guy or Johnny are being targeted by bullies or just accosted by comments and ridicule, the boys may, and probably do, feel powerless, or worse, a hopeless failure. After that, any crisis, no matter how apparently minor in the big scheme of life, can be too much to handle.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.