Imagine not being able to be who you want to be. Imagine being hated and discriminated against for something perfectly normal to you. These are issues people face everyday for being homosexual.
In addition to blatant discrimination, people who identify with a different sexual preference are often undermined for their decision. This especially affects teenagers and young adults. A recent PEW study showed 70 percent of people in the US ages 18 to 29 think homosexuality should be accepted as opposed to 52 percent of people 50 and over. A common issue with this difference in opinions is older generations undermining different millennial sexualities.
“When I came out as gay, I was told it was a phase; all girls in college go through this at one point,” junior Sara Jennings said, looking down at her hands. She picked at the beds of her nails before looking up and continuing. “In a day when people dislike something because they are uneducated, ignorance will stop us from ever moving forward.”
Justin Garcia, a research scientist specializing in college students at the Kinsey Institute, said people should be educated on the difference between sexual behavior and sexual identity. Seated behind his desk in the Kinsey Institute, he slowly crunched a piece of chocolate while pondering reasons behind the sexual generation gap.
“Why do older adults constantly judge the younger generations,” he hesitated. “That’s a good question,” he finally said with a laugh.
After discussing the topic for a few minutes he said people should not be judged for their sexualities, regardless of age.
“When you desire people of the same gender it’s a totally different psychological phenomenon,” Garcia said. “When people start denying it through intergenerational relations it becomes offensive, and honestly, it’s discriminatory.”
This discrimination creates a gap between college students and older generations. Gender Studies master student Katie Dieter explained how LGBT rights came with a struggle, and these misunderstandings keep our culture from further agreement.
“If someone feels LGBT sexualities are bad or devious they will find a way to support that viewpoint,” Dieter said. “They dismiss the validity of someone in college whom they view as a young, naïve person who is experimenting and will ‘grow out of it.’”
Collegiate experiments are encouraged according to freshman Casey Stover. If these sexual “phases” are part of the college experience, where is the line between sexual identification and “getting it out of your system”?
“Sexuality is a fluid, life long process,” Stover said. “It’s not a phase but a continuing change over a lifespan. In reality, it is about the differences that exist from one person to the next.”
Some academics see these differences as psychological. Jerome Busemeyer, Indiana University psychology professor specializing in judgment and decision-making, said millennials have a tendency to be reckless, exploratory and impatient. Because of this they are more likely to be judged on their decisions. As a whole, older generations are more conservative. After years of experience they become comfortable in a niche college students may not have found yet.
“In psychology there’s a trade-off between exploration and exploitation,” Busemeyer said, illustrating the two different options with his hands. “If you have a lot of experience and you know what the best alternative is then you’ll want to exploit it. You’re less likely to explore. If you’re young and don’t have a lot of experience then you’re going to want to explore.”
This drive for exploration is part of what Garcia classifies as “emerging adulthood.” According to Garcia, the brain isn’t neurologically fused into adulthood until someone is 21 years old. Because of this, emerging adulthood is often classified as a time for defining the borders of a person’s sexuality – both mentally and romantically.
“There’s a difference between behavioral and identity patterns,” Garcia said. “Someone could identify as heterosexual but be regularly having sex with someone of the same gender. The behavioral pattern could be experimental, but I would say identity patterns are not true experimentation.”
There are speculations as to why these behaviors are so prevalent in colleges. Some say the compliant environment and conducive learning spaces provide a “safe place” for exploration. College students are also more educated on the issue of sexuality, giving them a greater basis for experimentation.
“When you are younger, society influences which sexual orientation you should be,” freshman Regina Uribe said. She paused before she continued, making the shape of a timeline with her hands. “As you get older, you learn about different sexual orientations that apply to you that didn’t before.”
However, the argument still exists that age does not restrict sexual identities. This would mean millennials should not be treated differently for their sexual preferences.
“I think people are attracted to whomever they are attracted to from the age they start feeling attraction,” sophomore Kayla Lowe said. “People just feel more comfortable accepting this at different times in their lives.”
Despite this sense of comfort, society still has a habit of dismissing sexual expressions outside a certain age group.
“The rest of the world believes we are experimenting,” freshman Morgan Nash said. She looked across the table at her friends who were nodding in agreement. “That is true for some people, but it’s unfair to extend that to all people and treat my sexuality as a joke.”
Besides being viewed as a joke, telling young adults their sexual orientation is a mistake or a “phase” can produce severe internal conflicts for the student. Their ability to cope with their feelings could be compromised.
“One can pretend to be someone they’re not, but we know people don’t do too well acting forever,” Garcia said. “You can only act for so long.”
Even if people view their sexual behaviors as a “phase,” the collegiate world offers opportunities for students to get involved and fight back against homophobic attitudes. But in a constantly changing world, acceptance is the key.
“We can’t force people to live fake lives,” Garcia said.