Now imagine, she added, being highly gifted – and gay.
In some instances, those teens become a magnet for harassment.
“Bullying is an issue for gifted kids who are not gay, but even more so for the gifted students who are,” she said.
And this is a particularly rough burden, she said, because of the significant emphasis placed in this society on fitting in.
“This is about some of the unique challenges being faced by people who are gifted – and are Q,” Manzella said. “The ‘Q’ can either be questioning, or queer – and in some, it can be both.”
Manzella is the Gifted Children’s coordinator for Minnesota Mensa. She’s also a member of the Human Rights Commission in her hometown of Maplewood, Minnesota.
Mensa is the largest and oldest high IQ society in the world, a non-profit organization for people who score at the 98th percentile or higher on a standardized intelligence test. This week, American Mensa held its Annual Gathering, known as “The End of Time AG,” at the Silver Legacy hotel in Reno, Nevada.
Manzello gave a presentation on what it meant to be gifted and gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered, and the burdens they face trying to fit into a sometimes conformist society. That’s particularly true, she said, for youngsters who find that their IQ and their sexual orientation set them apart from the crowd, which can be an intimidating experience for them.
“Adolescence sucks to begin with,” she said. “But if you’re gifted and queer, it’s even worse.”
And adults, she added, have a role to play in making it easier for them, and helping them to feel like there’s nothing wrong with who they are.
“The question is, how are we as adults going to work with young people?” she asked. “It’s important for people to get informed, to get more knowledge.”
If not, she said, the consequences of feeling left out among your peers, or being bullied at school, or of being fearful of talking about this to your parents and family, can drive young people to extreme, dangerous measures.
“You might or might not be aware that GLBTQ teens in the United States are three times more likely than their heterosexual peers to be assaulted at school, and three times more likely to be threatened or injured with a weapon at school,” she said. “Between 20 and 40 percent of homeless youth identify as queer. Many of them get kicked out of their home when they come out. If you’ve got a boy who is gifted and queer … there are big risks there.”
Teens who are gay and gifted, she said, often experience what she called “over-excitabilities,” or far more emotional, intellectual, imaginational and sensual responses to what’s happening around them, as opposed to heterosexual teens with average IQs.
“Everything we experience is in a higher key,” she said. “It’s a form of emotional over-excitability. Gifted people tend to have heightened expectations for justice. People see us as we overreact to things, so we don’t fit in because we react so weirdly to stuff.”
In some young people, and adults as well, this means making an effort to hide who they are – whether that means not telling anyone they’re gay, or making a point of not demonstrating their higher intelligence and other intellectual gifts.
“Your desire to be true to yourself is in conflict sometimes with your need to keep your job or stay safe,” she said.
Elna Tymes, a member of San Francisco Regional Mensa, said demographics from the 2010 U.S. Census confirm that it’s most often young people who become suicidal.
“We have not fixed the problem with teen suicide,” Tymes said. “The two measurable populations that have a high rate of suicide are teens and young adults, and then it jumps to age 65, when it tends to have more to do with contracting a major illness, and issues related to aging.”
Part of the challenge, Manzella said, is finding a way to lift the stigma associated with either being gay, or having a high IQ.
Because in both cases, she said, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
“If we’re experiencing life in a higher key,” she said, “it allows us to continue to grow and be interesting people.”
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