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social sciences

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Adolescence is commonly conceptualized as a period when youth begin to assert their independence and explore their newfound sexuality. It is a period of dramatic change, marked by a series of turbulent physical, cognitive, and socio-emotional milestones that cause both uncertainty and confusion in maturing young adults.

The hallmark of this period--the all-consuming adolescent drive--is the need to pursue attractions with the hope of developing long-term sexual relationships. Opposite-sex attractions of youth find a great deal of support from society; not only do these youth have a number of heterosexual role models who act out opposite-sex courting rituals, but established institutions such as high school proms and sports programs serve to reinforce gender norms, and family and friends consciously or unconsciously affirm opposite-sex attraction and dating.

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Same-sex attractions are generally condemned by society. Homosexual youth, thus, have relatively few positive role models, and they are punished when they disregard societal norms and engage in gender atypical behavior. Indeed, homosexual adolescents may become ostracized for the mere disclosure of same-sex attractions.

Discrimination against and disdain for homosexuality, often referred to as or , frequently emerge from both small familial enclaves and society at large. Because of their pervasiveness, heterosexism and homophobia create detrimental long- and short-term effects on gay and lesbian adolescents, especially as they "come out," or acknowledge their homosexuality to themselves and others.

The challenges facing a homosexual youth are to learn to accept his or her sexual identity, overcome society's heterosexist assumptions of what it means to be a man or a woman, and deal with internal and external homophobia.

Gender Norms

Like stereotypes, gender role expectations persist in Western societies because they serve an important function: they create categories, or schemas, to help people understand and interpret the world. By using these schemas, people can make instantaneous judgments and avoid potentially hazardous situations.

As children mature into adults they not only learn to utilize these schemas, but learn that deviating from them can result in a variety of negative consequences. Children are thus compelled to conform to the societal definition of "normality" in order to fit in with others and save themselves a great deal of trouble in the near and distant future. A variety of detailed social scripts are inculcated into children to preempt potential unfortunate faux pas--from cutting in line at a fast food restaurant to neglecting to say "thank you" when presented with a gift.

With regard to gender, society has defined a comprehensive set of masculine and feminine behavioral scripts. Within these broad categories people can find a variety of scripts to guide their day-to-day behavior; for instance, some notable masculine scripts are the "strong and silent" script, the "tough guy" script, the "give-'em-Hell" script, the "playboy" script, the "winner" script, the "independent" script, and the "homophobic" script.

When these scripts are taken into context, the difficulties faced by homosexual adolescents become readily apparent: it would be difficult for a male homosexual adolescent to feel like a "winner" when he is supposed to be a "playboy" with the opposite sex, hate his own sexual orientation, and retain a degree of independence from groups of people that often disagree with his way of life.

Adolescent lesbians not only have to overcome implicit societal oppression with relation to their sexual orientation, but they also have to deal with restraints on female sexuality, including double standards with regard to sexual behavior, legal or religious restrictions on sexual activity, and a variety of forms of sexual objectification in the media. Precocious sexual activity by women has traditionally been treated as deviant behavior, and can often be intensified by sexual minority status.

Very little research has been done on and bisexual youth, but one can easily understand how they would have intense feelings of anxiety during their adolescence. Both heterosexuals and homosexuals have been found to discriminate against bisexuals, putting them in a unique position as a sexual minority who does not receive validation from either the majority or other minorities. Transgendered youth are a relatively new subject pool, and many recent studies have come under fire for "misrepresenting" this population, but there is no doubt that they challenge longstanding beliefs about gender and frequently suffer as a consequence.


Glbtq adolescents, because of their lack of economic autonomy, are heavily dependent upon their families for both economic and social support. According to a recent study by Mohr and Fasinger, a large portion of a homosexual youth's positive or negative self-identity is derived from the quality of his or her parent-child relationship. They found that the most influential factors in the development of a negative self-identity for homosexual youth are a lack of paternal support, and feelings of anxiety and avoidance with regard to their parents. Other factors, such as maternal support and parental sensitivity, were not as highly correlated with adult self-identity as the previous three.

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