I’ve coined a new disorder that affects many gay men. It’s called “Late On-Set Adolescence” and although I’m sure someone has already conducted a study into this phenomenon, I think that it is still widely undiagnosed.
“Late On-Set Adolescence” (LOA) is the result of gay men having to hide their sexuality throughout their formative development years and missing out on the same experiences as their straight counterparts (sexual exploration, dating, forming friendship groups with likeminded peers etc). In doing so they experience a self-identity growth period that is not indicative of their true self. Whey they finally come out of the closet, they go through a second adolescence whereby they learn about their sexuality, experience sexual contact with the same-sex for the first time, begin dating, find similar friends, go out to gay venues, become more focused on their appearance and experiment with drugs etc. This may happen when they are 18 or 25 or 35 or 50 but for most gay men I know who have been closeted, it does happen at some stage. During this stage, gay men often find themselves drawn to other men who are experiencing LOA and this is one of the reasons that you see groups of friends who are of mixed ages; the 30 year old who socialises with 18 years olds, the 50 year old who hangs out with guys in their ’20s.
LOA is a period of experimentation and self discovery that gay men must experience. It can be an amazing time for growth and self acceptance but conversely, just like acne during puberty, there are down sides. Some men become fixated with “making up for lost time” and take their sexual experimentation to a whole new level, sleeping with many different partners and becoming obsessed with the pursuit of sex. Although I am a strong advocate for (safe) sex and sexual exploration, I believe that any excessive behaviour is unhealthy and detrimental to one’s happiness.
Also, during this period one might see gay men become cliquey and “bitchy”, enjoying the drama that comes with dating, sleeping around and making new friends. Often their social lives become reminiscent of a high school playground with cattiness, drama and fighting. These traits are particularly unpleasant and contribute to the stereotype of gay men being bitchy queens.
For many, this period is short lived as they move into the next phase of deeper “inner” self discovery. The problem arises however when gay men become stuck in LOA, when they sacrifice ambition for trivial pursuits such as time in the gym or on the dance floor or finding their next sexual conquest. They may mature in age but they seem to always be chasing the next guy who is experiencing LOA (perhaps in order to avoid growing up and facing the next stage of develpment?). You’ll notice these guys as the 30/40 somethings who still dress like teenagers (revealing singlets, short shorts, baseball caps and high tops) and always appear to be dating or surrounded by younger guys.
The cure for LOA is self-acceptance as soon as possible. Gay boys should be encouraged to experience adolescence when it was intended for them to do so. The most well-rounded gay men that I know are the those who “came out” the earliest or didn’t need to come out at all. As society becomes more accepting of homosexuality, it is my hope that more gay men learn to accept their sexuality at a younger age and eventually LOA will simply be ‘A’.
Photo credit: Willy Vanderperre