Gay Men Relate Their Development In New Book

November 25, 1997

ITHACA, N.Y. -- By age 8, on average, young men who later realize they are bisexual or gay first become aware of their same-sex attractions, says a Cornell University professor of developmental psychology in a new book recounting young men's recollections of their gay/bisexual identity.

In . . . And Then I Became Gay: Young Men's Stories, a 248-page paperback just published by Routledge Publishers, Ritch Savin-Williams analyzes the detailed and poignant stories of 180 gay and bisexual men, ages 17 through 25, as they experience the developmental milestones and turning points of their sexual identity.

"Many gay and bisexual youths struggle for years to understand why they, of all boys, do not seem to fit in. During childhood and adolescence they may have felt and perhaps behaved differently, had persistent same-sex attractions that would not disappear despite vigorous efforts, and weathered the snide remarks of peers who seemed to know better than they did what they were. Then the deniable became undeniable and suddenly all makes sense for many of these young men," says Savin-Williams, professor of human development in Cornell's College of Human Ecology, an expert on issues concerning gay, lesbian and bisexual youths, and a clinical psychologist who works with gay youth and their families.

Intended for researchers, educators, clinicians, policymakers, youths and parents, Savin-Williams' new 11-chapter book describes each developmental milestone using generous excerpts from the detailed interviews he conducted with the young men. He begins with an overview chapter that discusses the average ages through which the men reached particular milestones.

The chapters that follow are devoted to memories of same-sex attractions, labeling feelings and attractions, first gay sex, first heterosexual sex, labeling self as gay or bisexual, disclosure to others, first same-sex romance, and self-acceptance as gay or bisexual. Another chapter focuses on the unique experiences of ethnic-minority youths and yet another on the meaning of the life histories relative to issues of continuity, discontinuity, diversity and a differential developmental trajectory perspective.

Although the men interviewed first became aware of their same-sex attraction at the average age of 8 (and as early as 3), they typically took another five years (at the average age of 13) before they labeled that attraction as "homosexual," and then another three and one-half years (at the average age of almost 17) before they actually identified themselves as gay or bisexual, Savin-Williams said.

"Within a year of labeling their desires, these young men usually had their first gay sex at age 14 and one year after that, their first heterosexual act (at age 15). On average, the men had their first romantic relationship usually four years after their first gay sex, at the average 18," said Savin-Williams, who teaches courses on sexual minorities and human development. He also co-edited the first college text on lesbians, gays and bisexuals, The Lives of Lesbians, Gays, and Bisexuals: Children to Adults, (Harcourt Brace, 1995), with Cornell psychotherapist Kenneth M. Cohen.

'. . . And Then I Became Gay is a contribution to the literature which will resonate with those of us who have come out, educate those who have not, and support those who are currently in the process," said Donald Haldeman, president of the Society for the Psychological Study of Lesbian and Gay Issues.

"Professor Savin-Williams has provided an invaluable opportunity for the reader to hear the stories of gay and bisexual youth," said John De Cecco, editor of the Journal of Homosexuality. "In letting gay youth speak for themselves, he has opened the way for youth of all sexual persuasions to reclaim and give meaning to their own sexuality."

Richard A. Isay, M.D., author of Being Homosexual: Gay Men and Their Development, and Becoming Gay: The Journey to Self Acceptance, added "It is fascinating to read the personal narratives of gay and bisexual youth in this thoughtful, spirited, stimulating study of their lives and development."

Cornell University

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