Max Morris, who will soon receive his doctorate at Durham University under the mentorship of Professor McCormack, interviewed 40 gay young men in the United Kingdom about their sexual identity, gender expression, experience of being gay, and social networks. Not surprisingly, although nearly all experienced their college as a gay-friendly space, remarkably, nearly all were generally unfazed by being gay. They developed close friendships with both straight and sexual-minority peers, felt accepted by their straight peers, and gained status by their gayness.

Morris’s major contribution is to introduce the concept of gay capital. “I introduce a new concept to understand how having a visible gay identity can act as a form of privilege in inclusive, post-gay social fields: gay capital.” That is, being visibly out, comfortable, and proud to be gay has become a form of privilege, even prestige, in a post-gay world. Morris notes that “rather than being ostracized or victimized due to their sexual-minority status, the young men in this study were accepted and celebrated for being gay, sometimes interpreting their sexuality as a form of social privilege.”

            They were popular, “not in spite of, but because of being gay.” Straight peers sought them out as friends, for advice, and for modelling avant-garde appearance, language, and dress. Public displays of physical affection were not uncommon—hugging, cuddling, kissing among gay/straight friends. The youths did not believe they were “un-gay” because many asserted that their gayness was an important aspect of themselves. They did not reject their sexuality but reveled in it. Indeed, some were renown and fashionable for their very gayness.

This is due to several cultural trends, documented in the UK by Dr. McCormack and Max Morris.

First is the dramatic decline of sexual prejudice (homophobia) and homohysteria, especially in these young men’s cohort. This itself is not shocking as polling data consistently show high levels of gay acceptance by young people across the board.

Second, what it means to be masculine has evolved into a broader and more inclusive concept. “There is no longer a singular, ‘correct’ way to be masculine.” Orthodox masculinity has not disappeared but now it has less “power in policing gender norms,” giving men regardless of their sexuality more freedom to be flexible in their gender expression.

Third, the gay men relied less on traditional LGBTQ+ venues for socialization and friendships as they developed their “own local ways of ‘doing gayness.’” Like their straight peers, the young gay men gained connections and status through normal scenes, such as academics, sports, clubs, creative appearance and fashion, information, etc.

Although the interviews were conducted in the United Kingdom, I believe Morris’s findings correspond to what is occurring in the United States—though we are slightly behind the UK in our progress. A growing body of research counters the prevailing, traditional view of associating being gay with necessarily being a “narrative of struggle”—an unwanted disaster. As Morris says, “These findings trouble traditional generalizations of gay youth as victimized due to their sexual minority status.”

            Are gay youth bullied? Of course, as are other youths.

            Do gay youth find school unsafe? Of course, as do other youths.

            Are gay youth depressed and suicidal? Of course, as are other youths.

            But are they more so than straight youths? I find little credible evidence that these are true because gay youth are gay. Issues not connected with sexuality have greater importance—and the greatest of these in the US is not acting like a boy is supposed to act. Young lesbians are generally better sheltered against these demands.

            Rather than being pariahs or outcasts, gay youth are recognized as admired leaders and friends. Seldom have we considered “how identifying as gay might benefit someone’s social status.” It’s time to face a new reality: being gay can be a form of social privilege.

References

Morris, M. (online). “Gay capital” in gay student friendship networks: An intersectional analysis of class, masculinity, and decreased homophobia. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. doi: 10.1177/0265407517705737

McCormack, M. (2012). The declining significance of homophobia: How teenage boys are redefining masculinity and heterosexuality. New York: Oxford University Press. 

You are reading

Sex, Sexuality, and Romance

Do Smartphones Delay Sex and Dating?

Dr. Twenge believes they do, but she doesn’t have the evidence.

Masturbation: Do Boys Do “it” More and Better than Girls?

Most boys and girls masturbate, orgasm, and feel good about their experience.

Sexual Assault: Hot-Blooded Clashes

As readers of sexual assault reports we need to read carefully.