Friday, September 29, 2006
Labels Can Be Deceiving
The following is an article from this week's Washington Blade.
10 percent of straight men report having gay sex
By JOSHUA LYNSEN Friday, September 29, 2006
Men who say they are straight might actually be gay, a new survey suggests.
The survey, conducted by the New York City Health Department and published this month, shows 61 percent of men who have sex with men identify themselves publicly as straight.
Medical experts said the findings show that labels like “straight” or “gay” are often inadequate or inaccurate.
“You cannot rely on self-identification to ascertain somebody’s sexual practices and who their partners are,” said Dr. Luke Johnsen, acting medical director of the Whitman-Walker Clinic in Washington, D.C.
Among the survey’s 2,898 sexually active participants, about 9 percent identified themselves in a way that was inconsistent with their sexual behavior.
“The results of the study, to me and other people who work with LGBT health, is not a surprise,” Johnsen said. “Self-identification is based on a lot more than just the gender of the person you have sex with.”
Experts said cultural, family and religious expectations all influence how people identify publicly.
Dr. Randy Pumphrey, a counselor who works with gay clients at the Lambda Center in Washington, noted the survey found discordance most frequently among African Americans and Latinos.
“It tells me that at some level, culture plays a part of this,” he said, “and that there may be cultural prerogatives that say to a person ‘I can only identify as heterosexual even though my behavior is homosexual.’”
Pumphrey said the study revealed fresh evidence of “the phenomenon of the down-low experience.”
The practice — in which men who identify as straight surreptitiously pursue gay sex — was found within the survey results. Among the 2,735 men who identified as straight, nearly 10 percent had sex with a man during the preceding year.
The survey’s lead author said these men were given the opportunity to identify as gay or bisexual, but insisted on being classified as straight.
“There’s probably some stigma at play,” said Dr. Preeti Pathela of the New York City Health Department. “It’s really a sensitive issue for many men.”
Johnsen said some men might have insisted on the straight identity because they genuinely don’t see their behaviors as homosexual. He noted that among some cultures, a man is only considered gay if he engages in receptive anal sex.
“For other people, there is internalized homophobia,” he said. “If I don’t say it, I am not.”
Pumphrey said the men might be working toward reconciling their heterosexual identity and homosexual behavior.
“When we think about a person coming out within the gay community, and moving from the place where they believe they were heterosexual to a place where they identify as gay, that journey involves many steps to reach self acceptance,” he said. “So there are places along the way where the person may be inconsistent with how they see themselves.”
But experts said that transitional period is a dangerous time, as those men are less likely to practice safe sex.
“When there is discordance between identity and behavior, people are less apt to stop and think, or take safe measures,” Pumphrey said, “because to do so would mean to acknowledge what the self is doing.”
The disconnect between identity and behavior has other medical repercussions.
Johnsen said gay men who insist on maintaining straight identities — and straight men that don’t tell a doctor about any homosexual experiences — might not receive the tests or treatments they need.
“It’s part of your health and well being,” he said. “It shouldn’t be stigmatized.”
Johnsen said men must be open and honest with their doctors. He also encouraged doctors to ask non-confrontational, open-ended questions.
He said rather than ask for a sexual identity, doctors should inquire whether the patient had been sexually active. Ensuing questions would separately pursue a patient’s sexual experiences with men and women.
Pumphrey said such questions are used routinely by providers serving gay clients, but are not yet standard practice for general providers.
The closet continues to exist. You'd think it was 1956 instead of 2006. Denying who you are, being deceitful, are traits of a guy who just can't accept himself.
This continues the theme of my last post. Not being truthful, hiding being gay, and probably not practicing safer sex, all these elements are a recipe for unhappiness and disappointment.
I am so happy that you guys are hot, sexy, and comfortable with who you are. These closeted guys just don't know what they are missing. I know it takes a lot of guts to step out of the closet, but the emotional consequences for staying in, far outweigh the happiness and relief you experience once you're free of the lie. For that, I am grateful.