Queer youth today are in a paradoxical situation: The average age of coming out has dropped to 14 as teens courageously challenge labels of gender and sexual identity. But these young trailblazers are becoming leaders even as they cope with the significant challenges of adolescence. LGBTQ youth are experiencing high levels of depression and suicidal behavior, and they need resources and support to overcome the strain.That’s the message Psychology Professor Phil Hammack delivered to the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine during a recent Washington, D.C., panel discussion focused on “Adolescents in the 21st Century.”
“There’s a revolution taking place in how people are thinking and talking about gender and sexuality, and the revolution is coming from the bottom up. Teenagers are leading the way,” Hammack said after his June 6 appearance. “They are reaping the benefits of expressing themselves more authentically, but they are feeling the burden of educating adults in their schools, families, and culture.”
Today’s youth are challenging binary thinking and labeling in ways that are leading to an explosion of freedom in identification, said Hammack, a social psychologist at the forefront of scholarship about queer youth. Hammack was invited to participate on a panel focused on the impact of societal and contextual changes on youth; his remarks reflected his findings from an in-depth study of more than 300 queer youth in five California counties.
“It’s not just gay/straight, and it’s not just male/female,” said Hammack.
“Labels have always been constraining. Binary thinking forced people into boxes. Young people aren’t identifying with those categories.”
The internet and social media have enabled queer youth to find each other, giving rise to a community that hasn’t been available to prior generations, he said.
In Hammack’s research, 24 percent of LGBTQ teens identify as gender non-binary, an identity that signals feeling neither male nor female. Fully 71 percent of teens …