Minority Stress and Sexual and Gender Minority Youth (page 2)
Meyer’s (1995) concept of minority stress, is a term employed to describe the emotional distress associated with verbal and physical harassment and discrimination. Most researchers now view symptoms such as depression, anxiety, and suicidal impulses as artifacts of the cumulative stress associated with being marginalized and oppressed (Williams et al., 2005).
Williams et al. (2005) explored the impact of minority stress, victimization, and social support on the mental health of high school students in a Canadian city. They reported that depression and other symptoms resulted largely from victimization experiences and lack of social support rather than from sexual orientation alone. Rutter and Soucar (2002) and Hershberger and D’Augelli (1995) also reported similar results. In contrast, Rosario, Schrimshaw, Hunter, and Gwadz (2002) employed a longitudinal design to explore gay- related stress, depression, anxiety, and conduct problems and found there to be no association between gay-related stress and emotional distress.
Gender nonconformity is a significant and common factor in the violence that sexual and gender minority youth experience (Horn, 2007). The concept of gender policing is described as the social processes that exist to punish those in society who do not conform to standard notions of gender expression. The penalties for boys who exhibit interest in traditionally feminine activities or who display feminine traits (“sissyboys”) are particularly harsh. Girls who exhibit interest in traditionally masculine play preferences and activities (“tomboys”) are more tolerated than are “sissyboys.” However, when tomboyism in girls extends past puberty, these attributes become less acceptable.
Wood (2004) and others argued that the trauma associated with “gender oppression” has even more profound effects than the trauma associated with homophobia. Fitzpatrick, Euton, Jones, and Schmidt (2005) found that cross-gender role behaviors predicted suicidal symptoms more than did sexual orientation. Research (Feder, Levant, & Dean, 2007; Rottnek, 1999; Savin-Williams, 1995; Waldo, Hesson-McInnis, & D’Augelli, 1998) has shown, for example, that sexual minority youth who are gender atypical are subject to greater levels of harassment and violence than are sexual minority youth who are gender conforming. Childhood gender atypicality, especially among gay and bisexual males, has been found to be significantly related to suicidality (D’Augelli, Grossman, Salter et al., 2005; Friedman, Koeske, Silvestre, Korr, & Sites, 2006), or at the least to loneliness and fewer friends (Young & Sweeting, 2004).
In a recent study, D’Augelli, Grossman, and Starks (2005) incorporated a sample of 293 sexual minority youth, the first wave of a longitudinal study of youth aged 15 to 19 years. One-third of their sample had parents who did not know that they were sexual minorities. Youth whose parents knew about their sexual orientation at the time of the study described themselves as more gender atypical during childhood. These youth experienced significantly more antigay comments by parents than did youth who were gender conforming. D’Augelli et al. hypothesized that parents who suspected their children of being gay made more antigay comments, which, in turn, may have led to finding out that their children were gay.
Some psychologists hypothesize that adolescence and young adulthood are developmental periods in which social norms about gender and sexual identity become salient and that these play a significant role in peer acceptance (Horn, 2007). Adolescents who exhibit gender-atypical behaviors, gestures, and appearances are sanctioned or policed by means of harassment and other forms of victimization (Horn, 2007).
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