gay pride 2010 Tel Aviv
Gay pride parade in Tel Aviv, 2010. Photo by Alon Ron
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The first extensive profile of Israel’s gay and lesbian community concludes that Lesbians do not tell anyone about their sexual orientation, on average, for two and a half years after they begin doubting whether they are heterosexual, while gay men often remain in the closet longer − about three and a half years. The comprehensive study was conducted by four researchers at Hoshen, an educational center for the gay community in Israel: Aylon Slater, Uri Ike, Inbal Katsaf and Shai Hertz.

Hoshen is an independent organization that aims to integrate members of the gay community into mainstream society through educational programs, with an emphasis on tolerance, pluralism and openness. Much of their work is done through lessons and lectures given by representatives of the group, under the auspices of the Education Ministry, with an emphasis on sharing personal stories and experiences.

The study was carried via an electronic questionnaire answered by 617 individuals. The research examined 13 benchmarks in the development of sexual identities among gays, lesbians and bisexuals, and was based on the theoretical model developed by the American psychologist Ritch Savin-Williams.

Of the study participants, 28 percent said they had not told their fathers about their sexual orientation. Only three percent said they have not shared their sexual preference with anyone.

The results of the Hoshen study also reveal a certain pattern of behavior among gays, lesbians and bisexuals in coming out: First they tell a friend about their sexual orientation, then their mother, later their father and finally their work colleagues, though many avoid sharing such information at their workplace.

The research also points to the relatively young age at which they become aware of their sexual identity. On average, the individuals polled said that at age 11.5 they noticed something different about themselves, and this is often apparent at younger ages among teenage boys.

Gay males, on average, begin doubting their heterosexuality earlier than lesbians − at age 14.5 compared to age 18. In coming to terms with their sexual orientation, there is an even broader gap − with gays on average reconciling with the fact at 17 years old, and lesbians, on average, at age 21.

Those surveyed who “definitely agree” that they are reconciled with their sexual orientation accounted for 80 percent of gays, 75 percent of lesbians and 51 percent of bisexuals. Those who said they “definitely agreed” with the statement “I am out of the closet” amounted to 60 percent of lesbians, 55 percent of gays and 33 percent of bisexuals.

Sixty percent of participants said they would like to become parents, with a greater number of women expressing this wish than men.

According to Dr. Guy Shilo of the School of Social Work at Tel Aviv University, who contributed to the writing of the study, said the results are similar to those seen in American research. They also point to a drop in the age at which individuals come out of the closet, he added, as compared to various surveys conducted in Israel in the past.

“The process begins with puberty,” Shilo says, “which reinforces the view that this is an inborn physiological process that is not dependent on social factors.”

But we must remember that the findings of the research, he added, relate primarily to individuals who are in relatively advanced stages of coming out in their sexual orientation and that data from those who are in the closet is nearly impossible to acquire.

According to Ike, the importance of the study lies in the fact that “from a very early age gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual teens feel different. Educators, teachers, advisers and psychologists should be expected to be aware of the difficulties that may emerge as a result of the sexual difference.”

“When a teen says at the age of 14.5 ‘I am gay,’ it’s important to know to accept this, and realize that perhaps it is not just a ‘phase,’” he says. “Knowing how to help ... is also important.”