Professor Ritch Savin-Williams presented evidence to dispute modern studies linking homosexuality in young men with depression and suicidal tendencies during a lecture Thursday.

Vas Mathur / Sun Staff Photographer

Professor Ritch Savin-Williams presented evidence to dispute modern studies linking homosexuality in young men with depression and suicidal tendencies during a lecture Thursday.

March 2, 2017

Cornell Researcher Challenges Perception of Young Gay Men

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Today, young gay men feel more accepted than ever by their families and peers, contrary to many statistics that say otherwise, said Prof. Emeritus Ritch Savin-Williams, developmental psychology, in a lecture Thursday.

Savin-Williams presented findings from a newly published book, “Becoming Who I Am: Young Men on Being Gay,” published in 2016. Throughout the course of his research, the professor conducted interviews with 206 millennial men of varying sexualities. The interviews were “structured conversations” in which the young men detailed their sexual and romantic histories.

Savin-Williams found that young gay men feel more accepted by their families and peers and lead much happier lives today than studies may suggest.

“We have hijacked gay youth,” Savin-Williams said. “We now portray them as we think that they are, based on our science.”

He specifically mentioned a government-funded CDC study which portrays gay youth as characteristically having depression, anxiety and highly suicidal tendencies, results which Savin-Williams disputed as highly inaccurate. Savin-Williams attributed these inaccuracies to the fact that the CDC’s study of “gay youth” included women who identified as bisexual for reasons other than their sexuality.

During his lecture, Savin-Williams played three recorded excerpts from interviews with young gay men, each of whom had a relatively positive experience coming out as gay to their parents.

He also pointed out other common misconceptions regarding gay youth, such as there being substantially different personality traits between gay and straight young men.

“There are few differences between gay and straight youth other than their sexual and romantic histories,” Savin-Williams insisted. “They are just as close to their parents, they have just as many friends, they have the same kinds of relationships in terms of closeness … you cannot distinguish between gay and straight.”

Savin-Williams further stated that, while his findings paint a far more positive picture of the lives of young gay men than other scientific studies, homosexuality is not the life-defining issue some think of it as.

“Most of these young people believe that their sexuality will make no difference in their lives, in terms of their future, their income, their jobs, or whatever. They just assume that their culture is going to evolve to the point where sexual orientation is a non-issue,” he said.

  • anonymous

    I understand what Professor Savin-Williams is saying and admire the way he thinks about sexuality in ways I hadn’t thought of, but a part of me can’t help but feel as though he’s forgetting or leaving out and ignores the difference between how life is for non-binary youth who are forced to live in low-income, mostly African-American communities in the south. (i.e. unlike in northern states, there still is an HB-2 transgender bathroom bill in North Carolina, and I found out that seven other states, mostly in the south, are planning to vote on whether they should follow suit this year.)

    As a transplant who briefly attended a couple of public schools in Colorado with a student body with more mixed incomes (some middle class, with two parents who’d earned degrees, while other students on my street had single parents), then who had to attend several, different public schools in low-income communities in the south with mostly African-Americans, I couldn’t help but notice that there was a difference between how the wealthier, more educated students in Colorado conducted themselves, cared more about educating themselves, and not bullying or physically fighting with each other, compared with the low-income students in the south.

    Because I was a gender non-conforming tomboy and a transplant who dressed differently from how the low-income students in the south were used to seeing stereotypical, feminine females dress, I was laughed at and gossiped about by a couple of African-American youths working in a department store and a couple of teenaged youths who passed me by in the store (who, I found out later, were walking around, laughing and making fun of every customer they passed in the store).

    When I was younger, I used to think I could help implement change in my neighborhood or state, just by being myself and showing the locals that people who they think look different or act different from them are just like them, but it’s difficult when the older generation here still controls the legislature and has the power to make these decisions and when low-income students aren’t educated and exposed to people who are different and not stereotypically straight or binary. (In addition to being gender-nonconforming, I also learned I’m asexual.)

    In my experience, life was a little more difficult for me when I was surrounded by many youth who didn’t have college-educated parents who were able to educate them about LGBT people or issues.

    I imagine out gay Professor Ed Madden at the University of South Carolina, who grew up in Alabama and was rejected by his parents for decades until his father was dying and they made amends; published a book of stories from LGBT youth who grew up in the south (some spoke of the struggles they had in coming out to their familes or friends; was co-director of a now-defunct local LGBT radio program for around six years; and who has lived in South Carolina for around two decades, can confirm how, despite things possibly getting a little better in the south, change still isn’t as quick as it is in the north and there still is a struggle for LGBT people in the south to Professor Savin-Williams. Professor Ed Madden writes non-fiction poetry about how, despite some positive changes in the south, there still is a lot more to do, as there still is a racial divide in the south (Civil War flag issue) and his experiences with a few southern people who’ve spoken to him with scorn at local, recent civil right’s rallies.

    • anonymous

      Ugh, I’m sorry; I wrote the wrong “A” state: Professor Ed Madden grew up in Arkansas, not Alabama.

      I also think it’s important to mention that in South Carolina, both Professors Savin-William’s and Ed Madden’s LGBT books featuring LGBT youths’ stories were complained about recently, by a few parents after Professor Savin-William’s book was spoken about at the South Carolina Governor’s School (a tuition-free optional summer school) and Professor Madden’s book was being a required first-year reading book for South Carolina’s Upstate University.

      So, yes. This is proof that there still is backlash here in the south against LGBT advocates for trying to implement change and educate and teach youth about LGBT people’s lives and issues. It says something when someone like me, who isn’t LGBT, but, I guess, queer, is judged to be by some of the locals. So, because LGBT people are affected and treated differently here, in the south, I’m affected by it, too.

      • anonymous

        Okay, I found a article that Professor Ed Madden wrote, comparing the differences between how the culture was when he attended his southern college, to how LGBT youth are treated at his alma mater.

        Yes, he basically says that, although youth today are more accepting, there, than how things used to be, it’s still not completely rosy.

    • Dell

      I realize it is difficult for a selfish person like yourself to do this, but try to grasp that Savin-Williams is discussing gay boys and men. He is not talking about transgenders or “non-binary” people. The vast majority of gay men and women are (thankfully) not transgender or “non-binary.” Gay lives matter and are worth talkiing about. Stop making everything about yourself

  • borris batanov

    For a dose of reality, Mr. Savin-Williams, look up “Homosexuals” in the index of Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine, a standard reference work. Would you want your son to be at risk for all those diseases and maladies?

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