Gay / Bisexual Male Youth Suicide Problems
The Original San Diego Paper
Colorado Paper ('97) - - Banff Paper ('95) - - 1997-98 Papers

To: The Table of Content - The Changing Social Construction of Western Male Homosexuality and Worsening Youth Suicide Problems

By Pierre J. Tremblay & Richard Ramsay
Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary.

An updated interim paper prepared in support of a Poster Presentation with the same name at the 2004 CASP (Canadian Association For Suicide Prevention) Conference held in Edmonton, Alberta. 

Male Homosexuality: From Common to a Rarity

In 1960, I was 10-years-old and growing up in a working class community where homosexual activity between young male friends was common, not the exception. Its predominant manifestation was "sex with equality," that included mutual masturbation and oral sex, but not anal sex (Bagley, 1997: 183). The latter was not even thought about, except for eventually learning that passive anal sex was an activity engaged in by apparently degraded males who thought themselves to be like women, or were labeled as such because they were accepting the status of being anally penetrated. Effeminate males with apparent or perceived feminine manners or characteristics did not exist in our community. Sexual activities with other males generally reflected our social relationships: the most sex with one's best friend, and lesser sex with lesser friends. Boys had girlfriends and knew heterosexual sex, as it was well understood having learned the word "fuck" and what it meant. An Australian study (Connell, Davis & Dowsett, 1993) reported that working class male environments at the time I was a teenager were "uncompromisingly heterosexual: to be masculine is to fuck women" (126). Anal sex between homo-sex active males was also associated with problems given that "fucking and being fucked in our heterosexist culture also carries connotations of dominance and submission, active and passive, masculine and feminine; and some of our respondents acknowledged this" (123). The Australian study might, in part, explain why even the thought of "fucking" one's best friend was precluded in my community. This kind of activity or related desires was in violation of our equality-based male bonding friendships. Sexual activity was also only a small part of our daily life, and it was not an everyday activity although it was common and at times, enjoyed more than once a day.

As a young adult, I ventured into learning more about male homosexuality and encountered the Kinsey Study (Kinsey et al., 1948) containing data not at odds with my experiences (Note 4), nor with the similar experiences of my youngest brother who grew up in the same neighborhood. Although he had not engaged in homosexual activity, when asked about the neighborhood "homo-sex" situation in the 1970s, his reply was: "You know, Pierre, when the tent was set up and most boys came to have a sleep-out, well, I was the only one not having sex" (Bagley, 1997: 185). The Kinsey Study and my brother’s personal communication supports Freud's belief that almost all individuals may act in accordance with the "bisexuality" norm he had postulated for humans. Freud may have come to this conclusion in part because of his knowledge of the Ancient Greek males or, perhaps, because he was also familiar with the common extent to which male youth engaged in same-sex sexual activities at the time. Most important, however, is that Freud situated homosexuality as the first manifestation of a person's sexual desires that may or may not be acted upon (de Kuyper, 1993).

Another Australian study (Dowsett, 1994) documents a form of male homosexuality quite different from my community. In a working class city, male homosexuality was reported to be so common that "men in the study reported that their school friends told each other of the places to get sex with other boys and older men"(102). This study indicates that male homosexuality is not necessarily peer- or friendship-based. However an important question came to mind while reading this account. Discourses by adolescent males, or reports by informants/respondents, may not reflect, in some significant ways, what actually occurs in more private spaces as recognized by anthropologists who have studied male homosexuality (Murray, 1997). Therefore, in a city where adolescent males casually and positively talked about the public locations where one can have sex with other males, including men, it is possible that some (or many) were relating sexually in a peer/friendship way in private locations. The possibility of peer/friendship-based same-sex activity between school friends is suggested in another study involving Dowsett. They reported that "In a gender-divided community (many of our interviewees went to single-sex schools) sexual relations with other boys were, indeed, often easier to start and maintain than sexual relations with girls' (Connell, Davis & Dowsett, 1993: 118).

Male homosexuality in South Asia is widespread and it has many forms. For example, in a 2002 article published in The Times - "Kandahar comes out of the closet" - one aspect of male homosexuality that has been common in Afghanistan is described:

"Our correspondent sees the gay capital of South Asia throw off strictures of the Taleban… Visible again, too, are men with their ashna, or beloveds: young boys they have groomed for sex [said to be 15- to 16- years old]. Kandahar’s Pashtuns have been notorious for their homosexuality for centuries, particularly their fondness for naive young boys. Before the Taleban arrived in 1994, the streets were filled with teenagers and their sugar daddies, flaunting their relationship. It is called the homosexual capital of south Asia. Such is the Pashtun obsession with sodomy…

"'In the days of the Mujahidin, there were men with their ashna everywhere, at every corner, in shops, on the streets, in hotels: it was completely open, a part of life,' said Torjan, 38, one of the soldiers loyal to Kandahar’s new governor, Gul Agha Sherzai… 'They are just emerging again,' Torjan said. 'The fighters too now have the boys in their barracks. This was brought to the attention of Gul Agha, who ordered the boys to be expelled, but it continues. The boys live with the fighters very openly. In a short time, and certainly within a year, it will be like pre-Taleban: they will be everywhere'" (Reid, 2002).

Other forms of South Asian male homosexuality have also been described in recent studies (Khan, 1994, 1996, 2001; Silva et al., 1997; Asthana and Oostvogels, 2001). Kahn offers a challenge to western perceptions (i.e. social constructions) of human sexualities and related labels by describing a situation in a country bordering on Afghanistan:
"Who is gay in an Indian context? What is gay? Who is homosexual? About three-quarters (72%) of truck drivers in North Pakistan who participated in a recent survey published in AIDS Analysis Asia admitted that they had sex with other males, while 76% stated that they had sex with female sex workers. Are these 72% gay? Homosexual? There is sufficient anecdotal evidence to indicate that in the other countries of the sub-continent, similar levels of male to male sexual behaviors exist as part of a broader sexual repertoire. Are these males bisexual?" (Khan, 2001: 102-3)
In South Asia, "much same-sex sexual behavior involves non-penetrative varieties, mutually indulged in frameworks of friendships and sexual play, while in other situations urgent sexual discharge and sexual 'need' is the significant factor" (Khan, 2001: 106). The first type of homo-sex noted by Khan is called maasti in Hindi, but the term (and practice) is widely known in South Asia, possibly accounting for the high rates of reported homo-sex in other South Asian countries. "For example, 50 per cent of male university students recently interviewed in Sri Lanka reported that their first sexual experience had been with another man" (Silva et al, 1997, cited in Rivers and Aggleton, 1999). When I first heard about the word maasti in association with male homosexuality, I asked a University of Calgary Ph.D student from Bangladesh for a definition of the word. His answer was almost identical to the definition given: "Maasti is a Hindi term which means mischief and often has sexual overtones when it is used between young men" (Kahn, 2001: 112). My informant, however, had emphasized that male "friendship" was associated with maasti, as Khan implies it in the definition and elsewhere. This form of male sexuality is also described in another paper:
"Indian culture is highly homosocial and displays of affection, body contact and the sharing of beds between men is socially acceptable (Kahn, 1994) This creates opportunities for sexual contact, though sexual behavior in this context is rarely seen as real sex, but as play. Much of this same-sex sexual activity begins in adolescence between school friends and within family environments and is non-penetrative. Young men who cultivate such relationships do not consider themselves to be 'homosexual' but conceive their behavior in terms of sexual desire, opportunity and pleasure…" (Asthana and Oostvogels, 2001: 712).
The aspect of male youth homosexuality that is related to friendship, male bonding and especially "fun" greatly resembles the form of homosexuality that I experienced while growing up (Bagley, 1997: 183-5). Forms or variations of this homosexuality may be very common in other cultures. Unfortunately, the Asthana and Oostvogels (2001) study was more about the same-sex sexual circuits existing in the city of Madras, and about the varying types of males frequenting these circuits. Therefore, little additional information was given about the form of male homosexuality that is likely to be the most common in South Asia but not defined as sex: "But this is not seen as real sex! This is maasti, invisible and denied" (Khan, 2001: 110). The existence of this form of homosexuality in modern times, however, may have important implications with respect to greatly improving our understanding of human males and their sexualities.

When I ventured into gay communities in 1978, a major new experience included learning about "gay-identified" males. One 'cultural shock' was that many of these males sought to have sex with unknown males. This is commonly called "anonymous sex" or "public sex" and it described as follows by one American researcher. "Although a sizeable minority (or, perhaps a slight majority) of gay men may at one time or another seek out anonymous sex in a public sex arena, this is not an activity that is commonly discussed among gay men.... All the men interviewed for this project believe that most, if not nearly all, MSMs [men who have sex with men] at one time or another cruise public sex arenas" (Tewksbury, 1996: 8). In Germany, Krahé et al. (2000) studied a sample of 310 homosexually active males (14 to 35 years of age) and reported that 51 percent of them "had had sexual contacts in anonymous places" (145). On the basis of a sample of 1,695 homosexually active UK male residents attending the July 1997 London Gay Pride festival, Keogh et al. (2000: 143) reported that "in the last year almost half (49.7%) had sex in anonymous sex sites including cruising grounds (31.1%); saunas (27.2%); pubs/clubs (25.4%) and public toilets (20.6%)." For me, relating sexually with an unknown individual was precluded mostly because of my history of experiencing homosexuality as a "whole human being" friendship related situation quite different than the "Men are from Mars / Women are from Venus" situation widely reported to have been the rule in heterosexual relationships.

In gay communities I also met many "gay-identified" adolescent males, often gender nonconformable to significant degrees. As a rule, they had grown up thinking themselves to be the only ones with homosexual desires in their neighborhoods and school, or even in their town or city. Their feelings of isolation had often been extreme, resulting in their firm belief that male homosexuality was exceptionally rare and also "everything" that one should not be, and many of them had therefore grown up perceiving themselves to be "freaks." In recent books and papers dealing with gay youth, and on related internet pages, these stories are repeated throughout the western world, and similar life stories were highlighted in the Australian 'Here for Life' Youth Sexuality Project Final Report.

"The process of realizing a same sex orientation, and either hiding this or being open, often results in:

damaged self esteem; distancing from family and peers; attempts to avoid disclosure; distortion of nearly all relationships; increasing sense of isolation; and, sense of inferiority and self loathing.

This sense of isolation and negative reinforcement has been shown to increase the incidence of mental health issues in young people, resulting in emotional disorders, self harm and suicide" (Goldfram et al. 1999).

The loneliness and isolation for gay-identified male youth is also reported to exist in New Zealand (Fenaughty, 2000) and in England: "In summary, [interviewed gay] men described a strong sense of loneliness and isolation. Many of the men talked of feeling that they were the only person in their town who felt as they did [sexually attracted to other males]" (Flowers and Buston, 2001: 37). Dorais (2000) reports that, in the French Canadian province of Quebec, many of the gay males studied who had attempted suicide also experienced extreme loneliness and isolation that may be associated with suicide problems. In Montreal, for example, a study of 629 homo-sex active men (an AIDS cohort sample) reported that 36.1 percent of them has attempted suicide (Otis, 2000: 16). Finally, this socially constructed extreme "loneliness and isolation" situation for gay, lesbian and bisexual youth was a highlighted result in a Canadian Public Health Association study. On the basis of research carried out in a number of Canadian cities - ranging from the largest ones (Montreal) to smaller cities such as Kamloops, B.C. and Halifax, N.S., the youth studied were described to be "strikingly similar. GLB youth almost universally experienced a sense of isolation. This was reinforced by environmental factors ranging from indifference to hostility." To illustrate this fact, a "case in point" was given: "A sixteen year old girl phones a help line in a large city and tells them that she is considering committing suicide because [she believes herself to be] the only lesbian in the city."

"Isolation is the most relentless feature in the lives of most gay, lesbian and bisexual youth. And the isolation they experience is more profound that simply social and physical: it is also emotional and cognitive" (CPHA, 1998: 5).

My adolescent environment precluded having such feelings because desires to relate sexually with same-sex individuals, and engaging in such joyful activities, could not result in the "freak" label wholly dependent on the socially constructed false belief that homosexuality is rare, or almost non-existent, and therefore abnormal. In fact, I was part of a majority even if, as with masturbation and relating sexually with females, my sexual activities with other males were private acts all deemed to be about equally sinful according to my local Roman Catholic religion (Note 4a). It is also doubtful, given the information available from Ancient Greece, that adolescents boys of the period would have experienced the "freak" related self-hatred and isolation, with often associated suicidal feelings, because they were involved in a sex/love relationships with an older male. If suicidal feeling existed, they likely would have been experienced by a male youth being ignored by all older males, usually young adult males. Given that pederasty was a social institution, stigma/shame could have been experienced by boys not having an older lover/mentor and Murray (2000: 34-5) supplies an example of this for Crete that is considered to be "the first cite of the institutionalization of pederasty" by scholars specializing in this historical period, such as Percy (1996):
"It is disgraceful for those who are handsome in appearance or descendants of illustrious ancestors to fail to obtain lovers, the presumption being that their character is responsible for such a fate" [Murray 2000 citing Strabo, Geography 10.21, 4]
The reported higher incidence of "suicide problems" for present-day male youth who are recognizing their same-sex sexual desires and/or are self-labeling as gay/homosexual or bisexual (Remafedi, 1999; Bagley and Tremblay, 2000; Tremblay and Ramsay, 2000; Morrison, and L'Heureux, 2000; Kulkin et al., 2000; and McDaniel et al., 2001) is a social construction intimately linked to another social construction. The latter is implicated in the increasing rarity of males reporting same-sex sexual desires and related sexual activities in the Western World. As Chauncey (1994: 13) reports on the basis of the evidence:
" important respects, the hetero-homosexual binarism, the sexual regime now hegemonic in American culture, is a stunningly recent creation."
In contrast, at the end of the 19th century, Ellis (1906) reported on homosexuality in many human cultures over time. There were great variations in male homosexuality, ranging from its widespread nature in Ancient Greece and Rome, to more rare manifestations such as being a shaman with gender nonconformable attributes. Many great individuals in history had also been homo-sex-desiring males, and homosexuality was reported to be the rule in male prisons. Its extent in the military was also highlighted, the evidence indicating that male prostitution was the rule in some British regiments. Many of these males were in a category commonly known as "trade," meaning that they were "real men" compared to men who were "so," as Nilsson (1998) reported the situation to exist in a Swedish city during the first half of the 20th century. Generally, the apparently non-real men performed varying sexual services for the working class "real men" who were often young, but included men of all ages. Nilsson also noted that the merchant marine was a common destination for homosexual-identified males, the implication being that homosexuality was likely common in navies as certain reports have indicated, at least for England (Note 5).

There is an interesting body of research reporting that male homosexual activity during the first half of 20th century in the western world was much more extensive than in the last third of the century (Nilsson, 1998; Chauncey, 1994, 1985; Dowsett, 1994; Carbery 1992, Brighton Ourstory Project, 1992; Humphreys, 1975; Kinsey at al., 1948). Before 1950, about 40 percent of American males were reported to have been homosexually active at least at some point in their lives after the onset of adolescence (Kinsey et al., 1948). Something happened, however, that caused the elimination of the majority of homosexually active males from the western world of male homosexuality. An explanation for this phenomenon is offered:

"Thus, whilst [in the West] there was more social acceptance of alternative sexual natures in the 1970s and more space emerged for sexual minorities to live their lives without repression, gay men also became more sexually isolated. Due to the tendency to associate male homosexuality with effeminacy, men who wished to preserve their masculine heterosexual self-image withdrew from homosexual circuits. Thus there was a decline in the proportion of men who had sex with men who were also involved in heterosexual relationships. The fact that the affirmation of one's homosexuality became the basis of positive social identification also contributed to the view that bisexuality was an illegitimate socio-sexual identity" (Asthana and Oostvogels, 2001: 708)
Nilsson (1998) presents a related factor to also consider in the recent reduction of homosexually active males in Europe and in other countries with populations of European origins.
"Marshall (1981), Newton (1993), and Chauncey (1994) argue that there has been a slow [homosexuality] redefinition process in the western world in this century, from a definition based on gender - a homosexual man desires men because he is like a woman - toward a universal sexual definition: a homosexual man, however 'feminine' or 'masculine' he is, is homosexual because he desires men... It is interesting that this change, and the concomitant separation of men who were 'so' from 'real men,' occurred at the same time as, and was indeed influenced by, a growing openness of male homosexual life toward and visibility from society" (Nilsson, 1998: 106).
The "real men" were generally from the working class, the largest segment of population at the time. Minton and Mattson (1998: 51) describe some of these males. "[The two males in a study sample] represented a growing number of working-class young men who migrated to urban centers in the 1920s and 1930s, seeking the 'sex trade' as a means of income [and they were commonly called "trade" males]. As long as their masculinity was not compromised, they had no qualms about engaging in sex with other me." They would therefore not be assuming the female sex role in their sexual relations with other males. Many of these men, however, did not receive money for their services, although tokens of appreciation were common, and others participated in "trade" for no other reasons than the enjoyment that Nilsson (1998) and others reported to be the rule for all these "real men." Basically, these men (often teenagers) were well aware that these same-sex sexual activities were infinitely more enjoyable than masturbation, the most common of male sexual activities according to Munsey (1997). At a very young age, I had also recognized this fact and, in the neighborhood where I grew up, sanity and intelligence also ruled. Most males innately knew (or quickly learned via biofeedback) that masturbation was a selfish act: keeping for yourself what could be shared, and sharing oneself with others, especially one's best friends, was much more enjoyable than being selfish and of questionable intelligence.

The Kinsey Study reported that 37 percent of males had same-sex sexual experiences since adolescence, and that another 13 percent had same-sex sexual desires not acted upon, for a total of 50 percent in the study sample reporting some degree of homosexuality. This estimate is a minimum, however, as Kinsey researchers emphasized with respect to taboo sexual activities and related desires, some males will withhold information from investigators no matter how skilled they may be. This was pointed out even though Kinsey was a recognized expert in gaining the confidence of interviewed subjects. Furthermore, for working-class males in the Kinsey sample, the incidence of homosexuality was higher than 50 percent given that manifestations of male homosexuality was greatly influenced by social class, producing incidence differences ranging from 200 to 500 percent, with working-class males manifesting the highest incidence of homosexual activity (Note 4). Since then, however, a major demographic change occurred with respect to males participating in same-sex activities to orgasm.

Recent demographic studies have consistently reported lower incidence of male homosexuality than the Kinsey results, the inference often being that the Kinsey study was seriously flawed. Yet, would similar data obtained from Ancient Greek times - reporting that maybe 100% of male citizens enjoyed (had enjoyed) male homosexual activity (probably including love responses in most cases) - be in error because a modern study of males produced radically different results? Basically, the above cited research reporting the withdrawal of working-class "real men" from the world of male homosexuality serves to highlight the fact that the Kinsey data is not in great error. Instead, it reflects the degree to which male homosexuality existed in the western world during the first half of the 20th century. These high incidences were similar to the incidences that appear to be currently prevalent in South Asia as reported above. However, the evidence indicates that extreme homophobic social pressures were being applied to minimize the extent to which male homosexuality existed, leading to its increasing rarity - the "freak" situation - that many gay-identified adolescents have been coding their recognized homosexual desires to be. This situation is in sharp contrast with former beliefs summarized in the abstract of the paper, "From reassurance to irrelevance: adolescent psychology and homosexuality in America," by Spurlock (2002: 38):

"American psychology by the 1920s contained a greater capacity for viewing some homosexual experiences as normal than most current historical literature suggests. Developmental psychologists agreed with psychiatrists that adult homosexuality was pathological, but they also agreed that adolescent sexual development included a homosexual phase. Until the late 1960s, developmental texts reassured parents and teachers that homosexual behavior among adolescents was transitory and quite normal."
This perception of adolescent homosexuality as "normal" (reflecting a very common or expected attribute of adolescents) was changing, to the point that it "slowly faded from the development literature" (Spurlock, 2000: 43). This outcome, however, may not have been as benign as Spurlock suggests. Although "underlying social and cultural changes" are said to be implicated (38), he failed to note that any manifestation of homosexuality (including homosexuality in adolescence) was increasingly perceived to be anomalous and certainly "not normal" in a statistical sense. The view that homosexuality could be a norm, even if only in adolescence, had become at odds with the recent social construction of homosexuality as an attribute associated with a separate 'species' of humans quite distinct from the great majority deemed to be innately heterosexual (meaning since birth) and "normal." Therefore, as suggested by Spurlock (2002: first sentence, above quotation), a blindness to historical facts that would challenge current beliefs about homosexuality occurred in developmental psychology. A similar blindness was also reported by Chauncey (1994) with respect to the historical commonality of male homosexuality that he had documented to exist in America during the first part of the 20th century. It would appear that gay-identified individuals and researchers (who often claimed to be homosexual since birth and that their homosexuality and gay identity are innate attributes) had also somehow been made blind to information that would, for example, seriously challenge their beliefs. Students with such self-perceptions are also reported to have difficulties learning about human sexualities from a cross-cultural perspective mostly because the facts are at odds with their self-perceptions and related beliefs (Sigal, 2002: 172).

The Bagley and Tremblay (1998) analysis of data obtained from a random sample in Calgary indicates the degree of reduction in North American homosexually active male youth during the 20th century. In their study, a highly effective computer technology methodology was used to solicit information of a sensitive sexual matter; including information about young adult males who had been sexually involved with children (1%) and the 4 percent acknowledging related desires (Bagley et al., 1994). This study reported that only 11.2 percent of males had related sexually with at least one other male since the age of 15 years (14.0% since the age of 12 years), and 9.2 percent were currently homosexually active (in the six months preceding the data intake). Self-labeling as homosexual or bisexual applied to 11.1 percent of males. Some of their results replicated the American Cardia Cohort study results (Krieger and Sidney, 1997).

Krieger and Sidney reported that, at baseline (1985-86), the cohort sample had 5,115 young adults (18 to 30 years of age). Ten years later, a decision was made to solicit "homosexuality" information from a sub-sample to investigate health effects possibly associated with experiencing anti-gay discrimination. Their results based on "ever having a same-sex sexual partner" (Table 1: 15.3% for male) is similar to the Bagley and Tremblay (1998) 14.0% percent result for young adult males in the same category. About 5.2 percent of young adult males could also be classified "homosexual" given their history of exclusive same-sex partners, a result consonant with the Bagley and Tremblay (1998) report that 5.6 percent of males self-identified as homosexual. The remaining 8.8 percent of males (14% minus 5.6%) reporting lifetime same-sex partners since the age of 12 years in the Bagley and Tremblay (1998) study also replicates the Cohort study result of 9.7 percent of males reporting to have been behaviorally bisexual.

Table 1 - Cardia Cohort: Lifetime Same-Sex Partners
(Totals - Weighted* Results)
Race/Gender /
White/Black Men
N = 693
Only Same-Sex Partners (Weighted %) 5.7% / 0.5% (5.2%)
Both Sexes as Sex Partners (Weighted %) 10.6% / 5.4% (9.7%)
Total with Same-Sex Partners 
Weighted %
n = 90
*Calculations by author, assuming a U.S. male population of only white and black males, with about 90% Caucasian and 10% African-American individuals. The results are therefore a reasonable "approximation" of the percentage of White and Black American males reporting lifetime same-sex sexual experiences.

Similar demographic results for males were also produced in an Australian study of male and females twins (Dune et al., 2000: Table 2). For the 1,721 males studied, 15.3 percent reported having had one or more same-sex sexual partners, and about 10% (9.6%) of the males could be deemed homosexual or bisexual because they accepted these words as self-labels and/or because they reported having had same-sex sexual attractions and having also behaved accordingly. This study also reveals that individuals will report same-sex sexual attraction and sexual behavior (8.8% of the sample) but that a significant proportion of these males may describe themselves to be "heterosexual" on a questionnaire (3.3% of the sample). That is, of the males reporting both same-sex sexual attraction and sexual behavior, 37.5 percent of them reported that they perceive themselves to be heterosexual.

Table 2: Australian Twin Study (Dunne et al., 2000)
Demographics: Male Homosexuality
(N = 1,721, Age = 19 - 52 Years)
Males Reporting: Number Percent
Any Homosexuality: Same-Sex Sexual Partner(s), Attraction, and/or Identification. 358 20.8%
Same-Sex Sexual Partner(s), ever 261 15.2%
Same-Sex Sexual Attraction, ever 249 14.5%
Same-Sex Partner(s) & Attraction, ever 152 8.8%
Same-Sex Partner(s) & Attraction, ever, and/or Consider Self to be Bisexual or Homosexual. 165 9.6%
Consider Self to be Bisexual or Homosexual. 109 6.3%
Same-Sex Sexual Partner and Attraction, ever, but Consider Self to be Heterosexual. 57 3.3%
Study sample: From the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council Twin Register. Contact made in 1992 with 9,112 males and females from the Twin Register who also had been involved in a recent study. They were asked about "their willingness to receive a questionnaire regarding sex… Twenty-eight percent explicitly refused to participate, and 54% (4,901) completed questionnaires… Our response rates was not substantially lower than that of other large-scale mail sex surveys which have typically achieved responses from between 55 and 65% [of those contacted]" (851-2). Males (N = 1,824) formed 37.2 percent of the study sample, and 1,721 of them answered all the questions related to homosexuality. (Dune et al., 2000:  855-7)

The Bagley and Tremblay (1998) study results, and the results of the two studies noted above, support the hypothesis that a flawed methodology may be responsible for the recent studies that have dramatically reduced the percentage of homosexually oriented males to a "one or two percent" incidence. These widely reported low percentages have also contributed in an important way to the social construction of the "invisibility" and "freak" status for male homosexuality. The proposed underestimates for these studies, however, were in the range of 400 to 800 percent for homosexuality-related behavior and self-identification / labeling, respectively (Bagley and Tremblay, 1998). The results of the Turner et al. (1998) study, based on a large random sample of 1,672 adolescent males (16- to 19-years-old), replicated the postulated underestimates. On average, a 400% underestimating error could be expected with respect to adolescent males reporting their homosexual activities on pencil-and-paper questionnaires compared to using the computer technology to solicit such sensitive sexual information.

The validity of demographic studies (or lack of validity) based on face-to-face interviews or telephone interviews may be inferred by a wise researcher foreseeing what the results would be if middle aged men were asked: "Are you relating sexually with adolescent males, or even younger males." A predictable "zero" (or near zero) percent response to this question would not reflect reality. Although the question requests highly taboo information, underestimates are also predictable if similar methodology is used to solicit information from males who have been homosexually active with males of varying ages. Homosexual behavior remains in a taboo category as indicated by its continued illegality in 16 American states (Meyer, 2001: 856). Significant underestimates are also expected if confidentiality issues are not addressed in a manner deemed credible by the study subjects who have engaged in taboo sexual activities.

Unfortunately, face-to-face interviews continue to be used in research projects seeking to identify homosexually oriented individuals. In the NHANES III study of 17- to 39-year-old males, for example, only 2.2 percent of males acknowledged having "any male sex partners in their lifetime" (Cochran and Mays, 2000: 575). The authors cite other studies with the same methodology flaw indicating that the MSM (men who have has sex with men) incidence is in the range of "2% to 7%," to then conclude that "this is consistent with the prevalence observed in NHANES III" (p. 577), thus creating the illusion of validity for their results. Not mentioned, however, is that this range of demographic results suggests a possible 350 percent underestimating error for lowest results (2%) compared to the highest results (7%). Instead, they assert as alleged fact that "the willingness of men to report same-sex partners in a population-based survey such as NHANES is unknown; thus, the extent to which homosexually experienced men... declared no male sex partners cannot be determined" (Cochran and Mays, 2000: 577). This assertion, however, is only made possible by not citing studies (e.g. Bagley and Tremblay, 1998; Turner et al., 1998) indicating that there is a likelihood of producing scientifically scandalous "homosexuality" underestimates when researchers use highly flawed methodology.

It could therefore be said that, since the Kinsey study, about 70 percent of the males who once enjoyed being homosexually active (most often as adolescents and young adults, and forming about 30 to 40 percents of the male population) no longer existed, apparently because the definition of who was "homosexual" was changing. As Michel Foucault and others noted, homosexuality was taking on a "species" meaning which was also implemented by the American military by 1941 (Purkiss, 1997). Instead of homosexuality simply being an activity all males could enjoy, the new "meaning" became infinitely more negative. In addition to the psychiatric decree that all homosexual males were "mentally disordered," many psychiatrists liberally propagated additional negative beliefs about homosexual individuals. Purkiss (1997) summarizes the outcome of (malignant?) psychiatric indoctrination in the American Military:

[In addition to defining homo-sex desiring males to be "inverts," or "like women," military administrators] "therefore expanded upon the concept of the homosexual by adding components of violence, immorality, uncontrollable sexual impulses, and a potential threat to society. But woven into these new fabrications were the central ideas proposed by psychiatrists: homosexuals were sick, morally vacant, predatory, and in need of help."
Society (through its lawmakers) had also decreed that adult males engaging in any type of same-sex sexual activities were "criminals." Laws had been changing since the early 1880s in Canada and Britain to make sure that all homosexual acts were criminalized, including the intent to engage in homosexual activities, as opposed to only anal sex between males that had been a criminal act in the past (Kinsman, 1987). Given these labels and related punishments, the full weight of society's power to define the norms - what is acceptable - was made to apply, especially with respect to male homosexuality. Youth were to be properly indoctrinated as outlined in the book, The Trouble With Normal: Postwar Youth and the Making of Heterosexuality, by Mary Louise Adams (1997). Kevin White presents a summary of the situation in a review of this Canadian study:
"For Mary Louise Adams, in her fascinating study of post-war sexual ideology among Canada's youth 'the trouble with normal is its taken-for grantedness and is power as a regulatory sexual category.' (p. 3) 'Normal' in Adams work is the discourse of heterosexuality in the 1950s when the 'difference between definitions of normal (heterosexual) and abnormal (homosexual) sexuality operated as a profound space of social marginalization and exclusion.' (p. 2) …Adams embarks on a forceful empirical validation of her theoretical position. Following Elaine May's work on the US, Adams sees marriage and the family in the 1950s as the 'only legitimate site for sex' (p. 32): wedlock was the ultimate aim for all youth. In an important insight, she notes that in post-war Canada, youth 'came to symbolize what was 'good' and what was 'bad' about the modern world.' (p. 51) This was reflected in the moral panic over juvenile delinquency. Two major sources of social anxiety - youth and sex - came to be entwined in the lengthy discourse about the sexualization of youth that was central to the debate over delinquency (p. 52): 'the fear of being labeled delinquent was an effective form of self-regulation, a threat to those who might transgress sexual or moral standards.' (p. 82) Hence a barrage of sexual advice aimed at teens valorized heterosexuality and demonized homosexuality. Gender and sexuality demanded a proper fit: girls and boys should be turning into real men and real women and not sissies and tomboys. Abnormality extracted a 'terrible price': 'ostracism, incarceration or psychiatrization.' (p. 106) This discourse was reflected, too, in school sex education and in strongly-enforced obscenity laws that set clear boundaries of normal and abnormal." (White, 1999: 185-7)
This terror manifested by adolescents at the thought of being labeled "abnormal" (homosexual) has been the rule given the results of recent studies, and this result is a product of ongoing social education about male homosexuality and its apparent association with femininity in males. As a result, the often abused and easily identifiable gender nonconformable "sissy" boy in early childhood will, by adolescence, be transformed into "the fag" or the "gay" male; he is the hated "demon" icon representing everything that apparently normal "heterosexual males" are not to be. The belief that homosexual males are "like females" also represents the learned belief that males who are "like females" must sexually desire other males, thus replicating the "sexual inversion" ideology based on the assumed inevitability of heterosexuality or what Rich (1980) and Butler (1990) called "compulsory heterosexuality." That is, if a male desires another male sexually, he must be a female because only females are to be sexually attracted to males. These 'she-males' are also be the receiver of another male's penis, as is the case for females, and this perception has dominated in genetics research apparently done to supply insights into male homosexuality. In most of these studies, only the sexually passive male animals were defined to be "homosexual," not the male penetrating the other male (Brookey, 2001).

This social construction of "the homosexual male" as everything that boys should not be (that is, "like a female") was soon to become the meaning of the word "gay" that had become the apparently more acceptable word used to represent males claiming to be 100% homosexual. Given the ongoing social education of children and adolescents in this respect, however, we could certainly not expect their well-learned perceptions of male homosexuality to be altered only because another word was to be used to designate male homosexuality. By the 1990s, the most common homophobic term of abuse - the use of the word "gay" itself - was reported from a sample of "377 Year 9 (Age = 14-15)" students in England (Thurlow, 2001: 27). The use of the word "gay" was, along with other synonymous but lesser used words such as "poof," "faggot," etc., the word of choice to designate "anything deemed unmasculine," or what is specifically coded to be "male homosexuality" by early adolescence. These results were reported to be consistent with other studies cited by Thurlow (2001): Armstrong (1997), Cameron (1997), and Duncan (1999). Renold (2001) described a similar situation existing in the final year of primary school for 10- to 11-year-old boys in England, and Swain (2002: 63) presents a study summary for similar aged boys in a section titled "Being Called Gay."

"Gilbert and Gilbert maintain that 'heterosexuality has been found to be a powerful marker of masculine identity in most studies of boys' school culture' (Gilbert & Gilbert, 1998, p. 129) and at Westmoor Abbey [where the Swain (2002) study was carried out], the valorised, dominant masculinity was partly shaped by homophobia. A number of researchers have recognized homosexuality as being a key form of subordinated masculinity (see, for example, Connell, 1987, 1995, 2000; Mac an Ghaill, 1994; Nayak & Kehily, 1996a; Epstein, 1997; Redman & Mac an Ghaill, 1997; Martino, 1999; Skelton, 2001), and it was no different here. Parker (1996) argues that insults such as 'gay' and/or 'poofter' need to be implicitly conceptualized in terms of gender as opposed to sexuality and, therefore, connote to being 'non-masculine' and effeminate rather than being homosexual. Certainly, at Westmoor Abbey, these terms were essentially used to control the general behavior of boys, rather than their sexual preference. 'Gay' was used as a means of positioning particular boys at the bottom of the masculine hierarchy and was used ubiquitously as a term of abuse which could be applied to a whole range of actions in different situations. Basically 'gay' meant 'naff' or 'terrible'."
These results were generally replicated in a 1992-95 study of more than 1,000 American adolescents attending eight middle, junior, and high schools in Long Island, New York:
"Harassment of boys often took the form of homophobic insult, in which boys were called queer, old lady, girl, sissy, or any name that linked them to a female or feminine behavior. Fear of being labeled a homosexual was much more common than fear of actually being a homosexual… [The following description of the situation by a middle school student] is typical of the homophobic club wielded against boys who didn't conform to a macho image: 'If they were quiet, if they acted different in the way they walked or acted in the hall - like hyper or something - or if they were into karate, or acted in any way different from the rest, they'd get laughed about. Kids make up nicknames like gay and faggot'" (Shakeshaft et al., 1995: 39; Shakeshaft et al., 1997: 23)
The word "gay" and synonymous words such as "fag," "faggot," and "poof" / "poofter" commonly used in Britain and Australia, are concepts / words that were not invented by children or adolescents. These words were / are given / taught to them by their society and young males in western countries have also deployed these words in highly predictable ways (Plummer, 1999, 2001), almost like they had all attended the same school of homophobic abuse. Goldstein (1999) articulates the current American definition of the word "gay" in reference to the Columbine High School murder / suicide event when it became known that the boys involved in this tragedy had a history of being targeted for anti-gay abuse based on others' assumption that they were not normal and therefore "gay":
"The word 'faggot' has never merely meant homosexual. It has always carried the extrasexual connotation of being unmanly [being like a female]. But these days, the implications of that insult have expanded. To say that a certain behavior is 'so gay' can apply to anything stupid, clumsy, or outré. It's probably the most effective way to call a guy a loser, and in this age of sexual candor, when high school students know that some of their peers may actually be gay, the accusation has an even more fearsome ring."
David Plummer (1999: 78-9) reports that the same applies in Australia in a section titled: "A key repository of unacceptable male 'difference'." The word "'poofter' is a cumulative repository for everything a growing boy should not be." A similar meaning for the word "gay" was noted in the Human Rights Watch (2001) study, Hatred in the Hallways: Violence and Discrimination Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Students in U.S. Schools:
"One young gay youth who had dropped out of an honors program angrily protested, 'Just because I am gay doesn't mean I am stupid,' as he told of hearing 'that's so gay' meaning 'that's so stupid,' not just from other students but from teachers in his school." In this respect, Burn (2000: 4) notes that "many young people today even use the world 'gay' as a synonym for 'stupid.'"
In Responding to Hate at School: A Guide for Teachers, Counselors, and Administrators published by Teaching Tolerance (1999) in Alabama, the "widespread use of the words 'faggot' and 'gay'" is given to illustrate "a particular type of disrespectful language that occurs frequently" (p. 7). The word "gay" is perceived so negatively that it may also being used to justify one's hatred related desires for the elimination of a particular ethnic group from one's country. For example, a Hindu teenager in England expressed his feelings:
"Pakistanis are gay and they smell. They should not be in England" (Eslea and Mukhtar, 2001: 215)
A lesbian teenager from Manchester, England, reports on the third year secondary school situation (Year 9 students who are 13 to 14 years of age):
"The main insult is 'gay' - well two lads, if one touches another he goes 'oh you're gay, you're gay', and this lad'll get beaten up just for like putting his hand on his mate's arm, you know. It’s so intense and it still is with some of the gangs at school. My friends have said to me ' when you're in the third year in school', which is when I got the most hassle, 'the biggest crime is to be gay'" (Crowley et al., 2001: 113).
At the age of 18, a gay youth who had attempted suicide at the age of 17, reports on the homophobia situation that existed in his Australian school:
"'Meanwhile, the level of homophobia in my old school was very high. Everyone was trying to be heaps macho to prove they weren't gay and being branded as gay was the highest insult you could ever have hurled at you,' Stephen says" (Clacher, 1997).
The words "gay" and "lesbian" have therefore become associated with such extreme negative perceptions in the minds of most adolescents that the results of a nationally representative American study of Grade-8 to Grade-11 students should not surprise anyone. In Hostile Hallways: Bullying, Teasing, and Sexual Harassment in School published by the American Association of University Women (AAUW, 2001), it is reported that:
"About equal numbers of students—three-quarters of those surveyed—say they would be very upset if someone spread sexual rumors about them, if someone pulled off or down their clothing, or if someone called them gay or lesbian" (p. 3). Seventy-four percent of boys and 73 percent of girls reported the latter. Apparently, this result was an improvement when compared to the "86%" result in a similar study carried out in 1993 (p. 11-12).
When 70 to 90 percent of adolescents report that they would be "very upset" if they were given the "gay" or "lesbian" label, we can be sure that many problems, including violence, will likely result in many cases when one is labeled "abnormal." Given these learned anti-gay perceptions and the related stigmatization, we may begin to consider the potentially negative consequences of an adolescent recognizing his/her homosexual desires, the implications being that the dreaded "gay" or "lesbian" label would maybe or certainly apply to them. When all the factors affecting homosexually oriented adolescents are known and considered, as reported in the Hatred in the Hallways (Human Rights Watch, 2001) study, the related thoughts of Virginia Uribe (the co-author of the Project 10 Study) may be replicated in our minds:
"No wonder the kids commit suicide. I'm surprised they don’t all kill themselves. If they really were aware of how much hatred there is, they probably would" (Gershick, 1993: 86).
When societies have engaged in the education required for children to hate a particular group, the high price for this hatred was always paid by the hated ones, and that price often enough included their lives. The hatred noted by Virginia Uribe did not become an attribute of so many adolescents by accident. Many have contributed to its social construction, including all those who participated in creating the belief that homosexuality was so rare that most adolescents recognizing their same-sex sexual desires would perceived themselves to be freaks. For some adolescents who are recognizing their same-sex desires, however, their learned hatred may have outcomes akin to those produced when hatred motivated males have sought out gay males to assault and even murder. Some adolescents, upon recognizing their homosexual desires, have also terminated their lives. For them, it was a "Better be Dead than Gay" situation and they murdered themselves.


Note 4

Kinsey et al. (1948) reported that 37 percent of males had experienced at least one orgasm while relating sexually with another male between the onset of adolescence and old age. Given that Kinsey's sample also included young males, and that some of these individuals reporting no homosexual experiences when interviewed may have experienced same-gender sexual experiences later, the life time incidence would be higher than that reported for the sample. In addition, another 13 percent of males with no homosexual experience did report having related desires, probably not being incidental. Given the modern idea that "sexual orientation" is apparently not to be based on "behavior," but on desire (that may not be acted on), these males would certainly not be in the exclusive homosexuality category. Twenty-five percent (25%) of males were reported to "have more than incidental experiences or reactions (i.e., rates 2-6) for at least three years between the ages of 16 and 55" (Kinsey et al., 1948: 650-1).

Kinsey and his colleagues also reported that "there is much more homosexual activity among males of lower educational level [forming the working classes] than there is of males of the college level [generally forming the middle classes]," the differences being in the order of "200 to 500 per cent." A lesser difference - "not more than 50 to 150 per cent, and sometimes they are not even 10% - occurred between religiously active and religiously inactive groups" (Kinsey et al., 1948: 482-3). Interestingly, the highest reported incidence of homosexual outlet for any group (59.4%, age: 16 to 20) was for non-practicing Catholic single males with an educational level of grades 9-12. This was also the predominant education level of males in my neighborhood who were also non-practicing Catholics, or would soon be in this category. Such a percentage, however, would mean that, on average, homo-sex could have been engaged in by 90% of males in some neighborhoods such as the one where I grew up, while it would have been only 30% in other neighborhoods, thus producing an average incidence of about 60%.

Given the Kinsey at al. (1948) 37 percent incidence for male homosexual activity to orgasm and the 13 percent incidence for males reporting related desires not yet acted on at the time of interview, the likelihood that some in the latter group would have eventually acted out their homosexual desires, and given the significant class effect (200% to 500% difference) with respect to males having engaged in homosexual activity to orgasm, it could be concluded that more than 50 percent of the working-class males (forming the majority of the American male population in the first half of the 20th century) were manifesting either homosexual desires or the ability to have and enjoy orgasms when relating sexually with another male. My own experience (Bagley, 1997: 183-5) also confirm the male potential to enjoy relating sexually with other males, and to also seek out such encounters, to a degree reaching the 80 to 90 percent level, much like the situation that had existed in Ancient Greece. However, age difference, or sex role difference (i.e., being dominant or passive in accordance to socially prescribed sex roles), did not apply in my community. Therefore significant behavioral variation may be expected in populations of males where high incidences of homosexual activity have been reported.

Note 4a

At the age of 11 or 12, a best friend and I were discussing whether or not what we were doing sexually was a sin, the thought being that our sexual activities were most natural even if it was to be private in nature. By then, we had been told that sex with females was sinful if one is not married, but no one talked about sex between males. Our first conclusion was that a male having sex with a female was sinful because the two individuals were different. In our situation, however, because we were the same, it was probably not a sin. I nonetheless decided to check this out with priests in confession, without directly asking, but by incorporating my homosexual activities in the list of sins. Reflecting on this, I still find it most amazing that not one priest, out of many to whom I confessed my sins, ever mentioned anything specific to me about this sin. Furthermore, the penance I received after I began adding the homosexual sins to the list were the same as it had been before and the conclusion was that homo-sex was a sin, but nothing special. Maybe something not worse than telling a lie. A similar situation was also reported for working-class males in some parts of Australia: "But no extra naughtiness [compared to masturbation and sexual relations with females] was attributed to relations between boys" (Connell et al., 1993: 118).

Note 5

In the past few years I have obtained two reports (one in person, and one via email), both from England, of adolescent males who had joined navies only to then become the property of a male who sold their sexual services to others on the ship. One individual had joined the Royal Navy at the age of 16 in the early 1960s, and the other had become part of the merchant marine in the 1940s, both eventually obtaining their Ph.D's and becoming researchers. Given that the availability of these boys was widely known on the ship and that they were used extensively both by their 'owners' and others, these cases indicate that navies were very much in need of the infamous "cabin boy" so often spoken of "sexually" in 'legends'. This phenomenon is also remarkably similar to one aspect of the male homosexuality reported to have been the rule in 19th century male prisons (Ellis, 1906) and also by individuals reporting on the North American prison situation in the 1960s and 1970s (Scacco, 1982; Donaldson, 1993; Caron, 1979). For example, Caron reports on the extent of homosexuality in the Canadian prison system in the 1960s: "I was plagued daily with offers of marriage, money and food, until my mind was reeling with the magnitude of it all. Gradually the wolves came to realize that I did not go that route..." (Caron, 1979: 140-1). There are some indications, however, that the extent of homosexuality in North American prisons has lessened in the last 20 years. The situation seems to have continued in Australia from a recent study that reported about 25% of male youth entering prisons are raped by other males apparently in need of male sexual services, with or without the 'consent' of the targeted desired male (Joyce and O’Hanlon, 1999). The Reiss (1961) study reports that about 60 percent of American male "career delinquents" were also involved in "trade" situation with homosexual-identified males when they were not in prison. Most often this was for money, but that they also participated in such activity for free, the motive being the enjoyment of such activities. The title of the study, "The social integration of peers and queers," implies a social construction remarkably similar to the situation reported in the Nilsson (1998) study which could have been titled "The social integration of real men and men who were 'so'."