The Battle Over Gay Teens

What happens when you come out as a kid? How gay youths are challenging the right--and the left

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KATJA HEINEMANN / AURORA FOR TIME

HELPING HAND: A trust-building exercise at the Point Foundation retreat for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered students

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Lopez has only an exiguous notion of what real gay life is like, but such misapprehensions are not uncommon among young people with same-sex attractions. Savin-Williams recalls counseling a kid who, after the third session, referred to his "partner." "And I said, 'Oh, you're gay.' And he said, 'No. I only fall in love with guys, but I'm not "gay." It doesn't have anything to do with me.' He saw being gay as leftist, radical." At Exodus' Youth Day, I met several young gays who spoke of the need to "walk out of" homosexuality because, as a 25-year-old from Boston put it, "I'm not happy going to the clubs anymore," as if being gay were mostly about partying. Frank Carrasco, a 20-year-old from Miami, told me his Exodus counseling had helped cure his porn addiction; Carrasco says that during high school, when he was Bible-club president, he routinely looked at gay Internet porn until sunrise. But he has never had a boyfriend or anything approaching a typical gay life. Carrasco says Exodus has helped him develop some heterosexual attractions, but I met very few at the conference who claimed to be completely straight. (At least two of the young men--one 21, the other 18--hooked up that week and still keep in touch.)

A common refrain from Exodus pulpits is that gays don't form lasting, healthy relationships, but those Exodus youths who seemed most successful in defying homosexual feelings were the ones more interested in exploring themselves than in criticizing gays. "I know gay couples who are in their 40s and 50s who have sex parties and use crystal meth, and I know gay couples who have been in committed, monogamous relationships for 15, 20 years," says Michael Wilson, 22, who lives outside Grand Rapids, Mich. "So people need the facts before they say stuff like that." But while he says he still has gay friends--among them, one of his three ex-boyfriends--Wilson believes God doesn't want him to have relationships with men anymore. He often speaks of his "identity in Christ," and to him that trumps his identity as a gay man. A lot of Exodus youths seemed captives of their Christianity, caught in a hermetic loop of lust and gay sex (or masturbation), followed by confession and grim determination. Wilson is different--calmer, more convincing when he says he communes with God. He doesn't deny that he is still sometimes attracted to men, but he doesn't seem to be struggling. "I don't think God would give you a struggle," he says. "I think he brings freedom."

Until recently, growing up gay meant awaiting a lifetime of secrecy--furtive encounters, darkened bar windows, crushing deracination. That has changed with shocking speed. "Dorothy resonates so much with older gay people--the idea of Oz, someplace you can finally be accepted," says Glatze of YGA. "The city of Oz is now everywhere. It's in every high school." That's not quite true, but the emergence of gay kids is already changing the politics of homosexuality. When their kids come out, many conservatives--just ask the Vice President--start to seem uncomfortable with traditionalist, rigid views on gays. But what happens when your child comes out not at 23 but at 13? At least in the short term, it's likely that more gay kids means more backlash.

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