As I have said before, the teenagers in this generation are different from past generations. One way they are different are they question the “norm” and they are setting new standards. One area where they have set new standards is in the area of sexuality. Yes people still identify as ga, lesbian and bisexual, but we have more teenagers identifying as transgender, transsexual and pansexual. Pansexual is a person who is sexually attracted to the person’s personality their gender does not matter. Additionally, we have more teenagers who do not identify as male or female. They identify as other. They feel they have male and female attributes therefore they feel the old labels are too narrow. There are even teenagers who identify as asexual. As a result, they identify as “other” so they can be themselves. In fact, you may have noticed this change on demographic forms you need to complete. For gender more people are being given the option to put other or decline to state.
With demographic forms changing it is a sign that society is acknowledging what teenagers are feeling. We also see this in a recent Supreme Court ruling guaranteeing gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are entitled to the same protection on their jobs as everyone else. The Supreme Court is acknowledging the change in society and this is correct. Homosexual marriage has been legal in our country for a few years and there are many laws addressing the rights of transgender and transexual individuals. These laws are acknowledging that regardless of sexual orientation, we are all human beings entitled to the same rights.
While there has been progress is it enough? As a psychotherapist who treats adolescents, I would say no. I still have parents who bring their teenager who identifies as homosexual or transgender into therapy. They do not bring the teen in for therapy to help them deal with the social pressures they are encountering at school and other places. No they bring their teen into me so I can fix them. Many parents still consider these feelings to be a teenage phase or that someone convinced their child to think and feel this way. When I explain to parents there is nothing to fix, many parents do not believe me. They tell me they will take their teen to someone who will fix them.
It is true that at times during adolescence or young adulthood, college age, that some people may have doubts about their sexuality and may even experiment. Just because some teens do question doesn’t mean every teenager questions. Think back to when you were a teenager, sexual feelings were very confusing. Therefore, some teens do question. However, I also have seen many teens who are not questioning. I have worked with many teens who know their sexuality for sure. They are not questioning and many of these teens tell me they have known their sexuality since they were little children.
When parents are still brining teens in for me to fix them and they are still being harassed and bullied at school, I do not think we have made a lot of progress. Yes some progress has been made, but we still need to make more progress.
One example that indicates we still need to make progress is suicide. The suicide rate for teenagers in general has increased from the third leading cause of death to the second leading cause of death. However, the rate is much different for homosexual or transgender teenagers. It is estimated that the suicide rate for teens who identify as homosexual, transgender, transsexual or questioning is five times the rate of the “average” teenager (The Trevor Project)). Think about this, for the general population of teens suicide is the second leading cause of death and those who identify as LGBT are five times more likely than the average teen to commit suicide. This means there are millions of teens killing themselves due to their sexual feelings and stereotypes that are outdated. Also the five times is an estimate. Many teens who attempt or commit suicide may have told no one about their sexual feelings. Also sexuality is not part of an autopsy. Therefore, the number is probably higher.
Another fact which indicates we still have work to do is that teenagers who identify as homosexual or transgender have few places to go to for help. Many are afraid to seek therapy from a private therapist because they are afraid the therapist will tell their parents. Legally a psychotherapist cannot tell parents if their teen is questioning their sexuality, but many teens are not willing to take that chance. There are very few non-profit groups dedicated to the topic because stereotypes still exist. I practice in the East Bay Area of San Francisco and I only know of one non-profit, the Rainbow Center, which provides services to teenagers who are questioning their sexuality.
Fifty years later teenagers should not have to be dealing with these stereotypes at home and at school and there should be support services available. We need to eliminate the stigma associated with sexuality and mental health, we need to educate parents and schools about teenagers sexuality and we need more mental health services for teens. As psychotherapist we need to do a better job of educating the public that if a teenager tells us they are homosexual or transsexual or transgender, we cannot break confidentiality. Meaning we can tell no one not even there parents. We also need to educate parents this is not a disease that we cure. Sexuality is a normal part of being a human being and there are various forms of sexuality and they are all normal. Again, think about those suicide rates and how many teens we lose every year because of a stereotype. This is ridiculous!!
Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over twenty years experience treating children and teenagers. For more information about his work or private practice visit his website at www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page www.Facebook.com/drrubino3.