Gay Male Loneliness and Minority Stress

Gay Male Loneliness and Minority Stress

Evidence shows that homosexual men experience higher levels of mental illness and illicit drug use. There are many theories that attempt to explain this phenomenon. Especially in this 21st Century generation, where gay rights have experienced the greatest change out of any other minority, but high rates of mental illness and illicit drug use continue. The main theory that centralizes this issue is the concept of minority stress. Minority stress is defined as the added stressors that are unique, chronic, and socially based to a minority group. [1] Homosexual men feel they do not fit into the dominant heterosexual culture, so they even if they do not face discrimination externally, they will perceive it internally. Even while in the closet homosexual men experience this internal stress because they are acutely aware of the negative associations of other homosexual men in their culture. In order to cope with minority stress homosexual men may begin developing adaptive and maladaptive behaviors. [2] Some of these maladaptive behaviors include increased promiscuity, “closeting” their sexuality, and illicit drug use. [2] However, this minority stress may not just include exclusion from the heterosexual dominant culture, but also added stress that may occur from not fitting into the dominant homosexual culture as well. Throughout years of discrimination, leading to the prevention of pro-social monogamous behavior and family formation, the dominant homosexual culture has divulged into promiscuity. This leads to homosexual men who desire family and marriage, although now legal, to feel another barrier to attaining their ideal social life. [3]

Therefore, homophobic culture and laws repressing gay rights have more than just a general social impact. They may be directly affecting the health of homosexual members of the community. There are many instances of the individual impacts of homosexual culture on the mental health of individuals. For instance, on August 27, 1983 Bobby Griffith committed suicide because he feared a lifetime of loneliness and social exclusion. [2] Less well-known examples of minority stress include the increase in mental health cases amongst homosexual men in Michigan after a bill banning homosexul marriage was passed. [3] Before the passing of this law, gay marriage was not legal, but this bill explicitly stated a homophobic tendency in the law code. Homosexual men may have perceived this as another way that homophobic culture was depressing their desired lifestyles, explaining the increase in mental health cases.

Advancements in gay rights have benefitted men with the desire to get married and openly express their sexuality. However, there has not been a decrease in rates of mental illness or substance abuse among homosexual men. One theory for this phenomenon is that men who do not fit into homosexual dominant culture feel they are amongst a minority in their own minority group. These homosexual men feel that they are a double minority. These men include individuals who desire a traditional monogamous family or are a member of a racial minority.  Often times this rejection from their minority group can be more detrimental to their mental health than rejection from the dominant heterosexual culture. [3]

For most minorities, living within a community of their peers helps alleviate minority stress, however, for gay men it may intensify it. Men living in gay communities in San Francisco and New York have higher rates of mental illness and less satisfaction with their romantic lives than men living elsewhere. [3] This is mostly due to the fact that homosexual men describe their community as isolating and cruel. [3] The dominant culture in these areas stresses promiscuity and struggles with defining masculinity in concepts such as top vs. bottom. Therefore, when men do not fit into the dominant culture they feel excluded by their peers.

What amplifies this loneliness and promiscuity within the gay community is the use of dating apps such as Tinder and Grindr. These apps increase promiscuity and decrease monogamous relationships. Using a male dating app like Grindr can also lead to more risky sexual behavior by increasing the number of partners gay men have in the same way that the San Francisco bathhouses did in the 1980s. This perceived loneliness for men desiring a monogamous relationship created by these dating apps only further increases minority stress, which then leads to increased rates of mental illness. Another key issue with the dating apps is that they isolate males who are interested in forming “traditional” family structures. [3] For gay men that do not want to participate in promiscuous culture and instead want to settle down and form a monogamous relationship, Grindr is a social obstacle. The perceptions of these men are that wanting a monogamous long-term relationship will lead them to being ostracized by their own community. Some may feel that they have to repress these feelings in the same way they had to repress their sexuality in order to conform to heterosexual culture.

Apps like Grindr are also detrimental for the self-confidence of gay men. It especially has effects on older men and men of color. The Grindr ideal identity that has formed in the gay community is a white male with an athletic physique. Therefore, men who do not fit into these categories are either typed as a fetish category or are rejected. Both lead men to be self-critical and possibly develop self-confidence issues that can lead to maladaptive behaviors. [3]

Overall the homosexual men are faced with many different minority stresses. Whether these stresses are related to the dominant or minority cultures, they have impacts similar to PTSD. [3] The main issues leading to these minority stressors would be difficult to resolve because although so many advancements have been made in gay rights, dominant gay culture may be a large contributing factor to the high rates of mental illness and illicit drug use. These issues however stem from deeper issues, such as definitions of masculinity and a history of exclusion from heterosexual culture. Therefore, making changes in homosexual male mental health may need to increasingly focus on individual perceptions within their minority community and not within the dominant cultural community.

Sources:

[1] Dentato, Michael. "The minority stress perspective." American Psychological Association . April 2012. Accessed March 26, 2017. http://www.apa.org/pi/aids/resources/exchange/2012/04/minority-stress.aspx.

[2] Meyer, Ilan H. "Minority Stress and Mental Health in Gay Men." Journal of Health and Social Behavior 36, no. 1 (March 1995): 38-56. Accessed March 26, 2017. doi:10.2307/2137286.

[3] Hobbes, Michael. "Why Didn't Gay Rights Cure Gay Loneliness?" The Huffington Post. March 01, 2017. Accessed March 26, 2017. http://highline.huffingtonpost.com/articles/en/gay-loneliness/

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