"You're So Gay!": Do Different Forms of Bullying Matter for Adolescent Males?

Article excerpt

Abstract. This study examined effects of adolescent males' perceptions of being bullied because of verbal taunts related to gender nonconformity (i.e., "They say I'm gay")/ Participants included 251 ninth- (n = 77), tenth- (n = 96), and eleventh- (n = 78) grade students in a private, all-male college preparatory school. Participants were divided into two groups based on whether they were bullied by being called gay. Out of the 251 participants, 121 (48%) reported having been bullied and 127 (50%) stated that they had not been bullied during the past year (2% did not report). Of the 121 participants who had been bullied, 32 (26%) reported that they had been bullied because others called them gay (Group 1) and 89 (74%) reported that they had been bullied for other reasons, exclusive of being called gay (Group 2). Consistent with predictions, the boys who were bullied because they were called gay experienced greater psychological distress, greater verbal and physical bullying, and more negative perceptions of their school experiences than boys who were bullied for other reasons. Implications for school-based intervention services for bullying are discussed.

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Bullying is a pervasive problem faced by U.S. youth. In an often-cited national survey of U.S. youth in Grades 6-10, Nansel and colleagues (2001) found that 29.9% of students reported moderate or frequent involvement in bullying, either as a bully, a victim, or as both (i.e., bully-victim). Although the research literature on bullying in the United States has expanded exponentially in the last two decades, there is a paucity of empirical literature examining bullying related to gender nonconformity, particularly among adolescent males (Espelage & Swearer, 2003). The research that has been conducted on gender non-normative behavior (i.e., being seen as feminine for males and masculine for females) has typically been examined among gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered (GLBT) youth.

Bullying and GLBT Youth

Estimates of the number of GLBT youth in the United States vary, but most researchers believe that between 5 and 6% of youth identify into one of these categories. Overall, then, as many as 2 million school-age children in the United States are dealing with issues related to their sexual orientation (Human Rights Watch, 2001). However, regardless of actual sexual orientation, Rivers, Duncan, and Besag (2007) reported that over 1.6 million public school students are bullied because of either actual or perceived sexual orientation.

What is known about bullying of sexual minority youth is discouraging. In a study conducted by Human Rights Watch from October 1999 to October 2000, during which 140 GLBT youth between the ages of 12 and 21 from California, Georgia, Kansas, Massachusetts, New York, Texas, and Utah were interviewed, youth reported persistent and severe homophobic bullying including taunts, property damage, social exclusion, and physical attacks. Although some GLBT students in the United States experience a positive, welcoming environment at school, these experiences appear to be rare. According to the data from the Human Rights Watch study, GLBT youth are nearly three times as likely as their heterosexual peers to have been assaulted or involved in at least one physical fight in school, are three times as likely to have been threatened or injured with a weapon at school, and are nearly four times as likely to have skipped school because they felt unsafe (Human Rights Watch, 2001).

Pilkinton and D'Augelli (1995) surveyed 194 gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth between the ages of 15 and 21. Of that sample, 30% of the males and 35% percent of the females reported having been harassed or verbally abused in school because of their sexual orientation. Twenty-two percent of the males and 29% of the females in the study reported having been physically hurt by a peer in school (Pilkington & D' Augelli, 1995). …