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The New Gay Teenager 05/08/11
I heard Savin-Williams recently on NPR's All Things Considered discussing his 2005 book, The New Gay Teenager. Intrigued by his assertion that most teenagers are happy, even the gay ones, and that bullying wasn't the guaranteed fate of LGBT youth as the media reports might have us believe, I decided to read his book.
For this review I'm pointing to two journal reviews of the book along with my more usual blog review posts as I'm not an expert in LGBT issues or child psychology. As I continue with my library science education, these journal review citations might become more of a feature of future reviews.
The thesis of The New Gay Teenager is that "gay youth" is a social construct, an artificial box created by researchers who needed somewhere to put teenagers who were becoming sexually active. It's an interesting idea and one I would have liked to have seen fleshed out a bit more in the book. The background is laid out in the first chapter and set aside as the focus turns to contemporary teens.
On the part of bullying and depression in the gay teenage population, Savin-Williams cites self selection as the problem. The people doing the research were making their observations from teenage populations who have already sought mental health help. The extrapolations didn't adequately consider the remaining population of teens and what percentage might fall into the LGBT categories.
The next big point of the book is that today's youth isn't self categorizing. They aren't calling themselves any of the alphabet soup that's been used to identify orientation or gender identity. On the one hand, I agree with this observation. On the other hand the book doesn't seem to test that observation to the fullest. By this I mean, is there any documentation to show how previous generations of teens self identified (or didn't)? Maybe that lack of conformity is more a product of age than of a specific generation? The book doesn't investigate.
The part of the book that bothered me the most was the assertion that despite teens refusing to conform, they do anyway at least in terms of their biological sex. No matter how much teens rebel, girls and boys (regardless of sexual interests) are still fundamentally different. After reading Pink Brain, Blue Brain, I have to strongly disagree with this piece of the book and I feel it does a great disservice to the teens the book is supposedly trying to help!
Comment #1: Monday, May, 9, 2011 at 13:31:43
Interesting book. I self-identified as bisexual as a teen and I still self-identify as one now. This was even before I was sexually active. Heck, it was even before I had any dating prospects period. I never sought any real psychiatric help but there were times when I was suicidal, especially when I was being bullied by other students.
I was the president of my college's GSA for two years and I know for a fact that there are still LGBT teens that are depressed and suicidal. They feel abandoned by their families, their schools, and their society. Yes, there are people who don't identify with "normal" gender or sexual identities but to say that the "new" gay teen is one who is happy is, I think, doing more harm than good.
This is a great review and I'm glad to see that there are book bloggers out there who are interested in these issues. I'm going to have to check out Pink Brain, Blue Brain but I think I'll skip The New Gay Teenager.
Comment #2: Saturday, May 14, 2011 at 17:59:33
Pink Brain, Blue Brain is an excellent book. It shows that while girls and boys are a little different, it's not enough to display significient differences in personalities, skills, etc. It's nice to see a book that went in with one hypothesis and came out with completely different conclusions.