Saturday, September 15, 2007

I feel, therefore I hate......

It has long been argued by many psychologists, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals that homophobia may (at least in some cases) reflect deep-seated, unacknowledged feelings of same-sex sexual attraction on the part of those men and women who engage in homophobic conduct and who participate in verbal and physical attacks against openly gay men and lesbians. This argument borrows heavily from the Freudian concepts of “projection” and “reaction formation”. When a person has feelings about himself or herself that make that individual feel very uncomfortable, that person may assign these feelings to a convenient external target (projection), thus enabling the individual to evade the implications of any self-analysis that the individual would otherwise be forced to undertake. When these impulses are extremely powerful and evoke deep psychological discomfort, the subject may react to these impulses by creating an antithetical construct that serves to block this deep discomfort (reaction formation). In Freudian terminology, the subject creates an antithetical construct to block the repressed cathexes (the libido’s charges of energy). Thus, a person who harbors homosexual impulses and desires may project those impulses onto openly gay men and lesbians, and may repress these desires by manufacturing a powerful hatred of all homosexuals. This theory is reflected in English literature – the expression “The lady doth protest too much, methinks” (a statement made by Queen Gertrude in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”) has come to stand for the assertion that the subject’s ardent denial of a proposition may really reflect an attempt to hide the embarrassing truth. The Bard of Avon possessed deep wisdom, also reflected in the advice that Polonius gave to his son Laertes (from “Hamlet”) “To thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” Are homophobic men and women really reacting negatively to homosexuality in others, or are they in fact desperately (and subconsciously) reacting to their own homosexual desires and impulses?

One of the most serious problems associated with psychodynamic theories is that they do not readily lend themselves to empirical testing, and have, for the most part, been unfalsifiable and hence untestable. However, a serious attempt was made to answer the above question by researchers from the University of Georgia in 1996.

Researchers Henry Adams, Lester Wright Jr., and Bethany Lohr of the Psychology Department at the University of Georgia conducted a study in which they assessed the levels of sexual arousal expressed by subjects drawn from two groups of men who viewed heterosexual, lesbian, and gay male pornography. The study involved a total of 64 men between the ages of 18 and 31. These men comprised two groups – homophobic men (the experimental group) and nonhomophobic men (the control group). The subjects were assigned to these groups based on their responses to the “Index of Homophobia” (a 25-question assessment tool that yields a score of between zero and 100 to determine the extent to which men display characteristics indicative (as explained by the researchers) of the levels of “dread” a person experiences “when placed in close quarters with a homosexual.”) In addition, the subjects were administered the self-rated “Aggression Questionnaire” to determine whether there was a correlation between anti-gay attitudes and overall measures of aggression.

Of the 64 men studied, 35 men exhibited strong homophobic traits whereas 29 men did not. All of the men described themselves as exclusively heterosexual, and all of the men stated that they had never engaged in any form of homosexual activity.

Each subject viewed videotapes displaying three types of sexually explicit activities – heterosexual, lesbian, and gay male sexual activity. The researchers included lesbian sexual activity because it had proven to be “highly sexually arousing to heterosexual men and is a better discriminator between heterosexual and homosexual men than other stimuli”. (Any person who is even vaguely familiar with heterosexual American norms knows that this statement is profoundly accurate!) To compensate for any effect that the order in which the tapes were viewed could have had an impact on the results, the orders in which the tapes were shown to the subjects were randomly varied. The videotapes were shown to the subjects individually, in a soundproofed room. Each subject was hooked up to a penile plethysmograph. A plethysmograph is an instrument that measures changes in volume within an organ or whole body, usually as the result of blood flowing into that organ or whole body; a penile plethysmograph measures changes in blood flow into and out of the penis using a mercury-in-rubber ring placed around the shaft of the subject's penis to measure changes in circumference, thereby providing researchers with a truly objective and accurate measure of sexual arousal. By showing the subjects these videotapes in random order, individually, in a soundproofed room, relying on readings of sexual arousal from an instrument that objectively detected tumescence as opposed to relying on self-reports of sexual arousal, the researchers eliminated several potential confounding variables (such as embarrassment at taking this test in front of peers, effects resulting from the sequence in which the videotapes were shown, and inaccurate self-reporting about the extent to which the subjects were actually aroused by the different forms of sexual activity that they observed).

After watching the videotapes, the men were all asked about the extent to which they were aroused during their viewings of each of the three forms of sexual activity. This provided the researchers with subjective responses that they could compare to the objective readings obtained from the penile plethysmograph.

When asked to give their own subjective assessment of the degree to which they were aroused whilst watching the three videotapes, the men in both groups gave answers that correlated significantly with the results of the objective physiological assessment (the results reported by the penile plethysmograph), with one marked exception: the homophobic men gave verbal responses that diverged sharply from the physiological responses reported by the penile plethysmograph, in that their verbal responses significantly underreported the degree of arousal that they experienced when watching the videotape showing gay male sexual activity.

Men in both groups were aroused to about the same extent when viewing the videotape showing heterosexual sexual activity and when viewing the videotape showing lesbian sexual activity. There was, however, a significant difference in the degree of sexual arousal exhibited by men from the two groups when viewing the videotape showing gay male sexual activity. In the words of the researchers, “The homophobic men showed a significant increase in penile circumference to the male homosexual video, but the control [nonhomophobic] men did not”.

A more detailed breakdown of the results revealed that while 66% of the nonhomophobic men (from the control group) showed no significant arousal whilst watching the gay male videotape as measured by tumescence, only 20% of the homophobic men showed little or no evidence of sexual arousal as measured by tumescence. Similarly, while only 24% of the nonhomophobic men showed definite tumescence while watching the videotape showing gay male sexual activity, 80% of the homophobic men showed “moderate to definite tumescence” while watching this videotape.

Plethysmographs do not lie. However, it appears that an overwhelming percentage of the homophobic men did lie.

There was no relationship between homophobic attitudes and overall aggression (as measured by the “Aggression Questionnaire”).

This study was limited to men, due in part to difficulties associated with determining the extent to which women are sexually aroused. Extrapolation of the conclusions of this study to lesbians and to outwardly heterosexual women who harbor gay tendencies is dangerous for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the different set of dynamics that motivate women (heterosexual women have shown themselves, in poll after poll, to be less likely to harbor homophobic attitudes than are heterosexual men).

What can be inferred from the results of this study?

If one assumes that the plethysmograph really did measure sexual arousal in all of the subjects, then one unavoidable conclusion of this research is that the men from the experimental group (the homophobic men) were sexually aroused by the videotape showing graphic gay male sexual activity, whereas the men from the control group (the nonhomophobic men) were not sexually aroused by this activity. This supports the assertion that the overt anti-gay attitudes exhibited by the homophobic men did indeed serve as a “cover” (or “beard”) for their own desires to engage in gay sexual activity. A corollary of this conclusion is that those men in the control group (the nonhomophobic men) were secure in their sexuality and did not “need” to resort to expressions of homophobia. In short, one conclusion that may be drawn from this research is that overt expressions of homophobia do, in at least some cases, constitute forms of projection and reaction formation, and that overtly homophobic men may indeed, at least in some cases, suffer from internalized homophobia and self-hatred.

(It should be noted that the researchers did propose one alternative hypothesis, which was dismissed by academic peers as highly unlikely. The researchers proposed that the increased blood flow to the penises of the homophobic men might have been a reflection of anxiety as opposed to sexual arousal. While this is possible, the writer knows of no link between anxiety and the attainment of erections! Indeed, anxiety has (in the writer’s opinion) precisely the opposite effect on male sexual physiology…)

The results of this study were printed up in the highly prestigious “Journal of Abnormal Psychology”. It should be noted that this journal is one of the most influential and prestigious scientific journals in the field, and that the results of studies are not printed in this journal unless the studies meet a number of criteria of excellence. (In a different post, I have addressed the poor quality of the vanity journal which Paul Cameron has paid (by the page!) for his “studies” to be published.)

This research is of more than academic significance. Up until fairly recently, many courts of law in the US tolerated the “gay panic” defense in those cases where ostensibly heterosexual men were accused of murdering gay men who made sexual advances towards them. This defense held that murders committed under these circumstances were reflections of the sexual ambiguity of the perpetrator, who was regarded as the true “victim” insofar as he was “forced” to kill the gay “provocateur” in order to reconcile himself to the true nature of his desires. This obscene inversion of the status of the victim and the perpetrator was actually tolerated throughout the US for many years. Matthew Shepard – the University of Wyoming college student who was robbed, pistol-whipped, beaten to a pulp, and then tied to a split-rail fence outside of Laramie, WY – was the victim of a savage gay bashing perpetrated by two Laramie-bred thugs (Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson), both of whom advanced this defense when tried for Shepard’s murder (Shepard was found tied to the fence about 18 hours later, cut down, and taken to the hospital, where he died several days later without ever regaining consciousness). McKinney’s girlfriend, Kristen Price, told reporters that robbery was only one motive for the crime – according to Price, Shepard embarrassed the two perpetrators by telling them that he was gay and that “he wanted to get with Aaron and Russ”, setting the other patrons to “snickering.”

The “homosexual advance” defense has been presented in courtrooms throughout the US to reduce murder charges to manslaughter, in cases where “self-defense” was shown and in cases where the killings took place in “the heat of passion”. Such defenses have even succeeded in cases in which the defendant actually had sex with the gay victim and then killed the gay victim. This defense is premised on the theory that a person with latent homosexual tendencies will react with extreme and uncontrollable anger when propositioned by a gay man, or immediately after having sex with a gay man. Even in cases where this defense is not explicitly presented at trial, the mere admission of the victim’s homosexuality has led juries to convict the defendant on the lesser of multiple charges, as though the victim was “asking for it” by his behavior or even by his mere existence (in much the same way that women who have been raped have been depicted in courtrooms throughout the US as having been “asking for it”).

Juries have not been the only entities to display such bias. In 1988, in a case that drew national headlines and was reported by the three major television networks, Texas state court judge Jack Hampton, at the sentencing hearing of a man who was convicted of killing two gay men, handed down a 30-year sentence instead of the life sentence requested by prosecutors. In handing down the lenient sentence, Hampton made the following observation: “I don't much care for queers cruising the streets picking up teenage boys ...[I] put prostitutes and gays at about the same level ... and I'd be hard put to give somebody life for killing a prostitute."

In 1987, Broward County (Florida) Circuit Judge Daniel Futch, presiding over the murder trial of a gay man named Daniel Wan (who was beaten up and killed outside of a bar by assailants who referred to him as a “faggot” as they kicked him to death and threw him up against a moving car), jokingly asked the prosecution at a pre-trial hearing: “That's a crime now, to beat up a homosexual?" When the prosecutor responded, "Yes, sir. And it's a crime to kill them”, the judge quipped, "Times really have changed." Although the judge apologized and maintained that he was joking, he was removed from the case.

The societal implications of this mindset are chilling. Until gay people are accepted by mainstream US society – accepted, as opposed to tolerated – there will always remain a stigma associated with being gay. This stigma will continue to feed into the dynamic outlined in this article. Outwardly heterosexual men who have homosexual tendencies will continue to bury those feelings under a blanket of self-hatred, which in turn engenders overt expressions of homophobia (which can, in extreme cases, lead to the murder of gay men and lesbians). Some of the very courts that are tasked by society to bring gay-bashers to justice have, themselves, endorsed the behavior of the gay-bashers. In 1986, the US Supreme Court enshrined contempt for gay Americans into constitutional law, holding that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment did not grant to gay persons the right of sexual privacy (see Bowers v. Hardwick, 478 U.S. 186 (1986)). This opinion was written in tones of sneering contempt. Fortunately, the US Supreme Court explicitly and bluntly reversed Bowers on June 26, 2003 (see Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003), in which this Court actually apologized to gay Americans for its decision in Bowers, holding that “Bowers was not correct when it was decided, and it is not correct today. It ought not to remain binding precedent. Bowers v. Hardwick should be and now is overruled.”). While the outright reversal of Bowers will accomplish much to ensure that gay Americans are treated as equals in society, it takes more than a US Supreme Court decision to change the attitudes of a generation.
Study after study has shown that heterosexual Americans who know gay people personally are much less likely to be homophobic than are heterosexual Americans who claim not to know gay people personally.

It is for this reason that gay Americans have a responsibility both to themselves and to their community to live their lives openly and honestly. It is for this reason that those gay men and lesbians who remain closeted are in a position to advance both their own interests and the interests of the gay community more generally – simply by ending the lies and being themselves.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Another Country......

I am currently doing business in the UK, and am stunned by the difference between the manner in which the UK treats gay people and the manner in which the US treats gay people. Whereas gay people living in the UK receive respectful treatment and a modicum of fairness from both their government and their society, the US appears to be headed full tilt backwards with respect to this particular issue.

Here in the UK, employment and other forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation are strictly prohibited; such discrimination is treated as severely as is discrimination on the basis of race or national origin. It is considered completely unacceptable to fire a person from a job at which that person excels merely because that person is gay. Furthermore, this is not a mere government objective; this is considered to be unacceptable by the people. Gay persons living in the UK may enter into “Civil Partnerships” which are the equivalent of marriage in all but name. Whereas only one state in the US (Massachusetts) permits gay marriage, Civil Partnerships are recognized throughout the UK. Gay marriage in Massachusetts is recognized at the state level only, thereby denying to gay couples in such marriages about 1,049 federally recognized benefits and privileges enjoyed by married heterosexual couples. Civil Partnerships in the UK grant to gay couples all of the rights and privileges of marriage at all levels. Several states in the US recognize gay marriage at the state level in all but name. These relationships are referred to as “Civil Unions” in Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and New Jersey, and as “Domestic Partnerships” in California, Hawaii, and Oregon. Although there has been progress in the US (a total of about eight states now grant to gay couples the privileges and benefits of marriage at the state level), this progress has been much slower and more halting than the progress realized by gay people living in the UK. (At the time of writing this, a state court in Iowa has just handed down a decision holding that the denial of marriage licenses to gay couples is violative of the Iowa state constitution; if this decision is upheld by the Iowa Supreme Court, the State of Iowa will be forced to recognize either gay marriage itself or some form of civil union as described above.)

One reason for this is undoubtedly the lack of an organized evangelical right-wing movement here in the UK. Whereas fundamentalist “Christians” are still able to disease the cultural discourse in the US, there are far fewer people in the UK who tap into a fundamentalist Christian model and who consider it to be their duty to force their particular narrow, moralistic agenda onto the people of the UK. The full provisions of the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) went into effect here in the UK a few months ago. Although exemptions exist for priests and ministers of religion, even religious organizations must abide by the provisions of this Act. Thus, a Catholic adoption agency that wishes to serve the public by providing children in need of homes to prospective adoptive couples must consider applications filed by gay couples who are capable, in terms of the requirements of adoption law, of giving loving homes to children in need of such homes. Several Catholic adoption agencies have actually shut themselves down in the face of this requirement, thereby depriving children in need of loving homes of the possibility of being adopted.

The exemptions apply only to those members of religious organizations who are actual ministers of religion. Thus, no church can be forced to marry a gay couple, since such marriages invariably involve senior church officials. However, a church that matches children for adoption up with prospective adoptive parents cannot refuse to consider applications filed by gay couples, and must treat such applications on an equal footing with applications filed by heterosexual couples. One right-wing newspaper – the Daily Mail – complains about this, making explicit the (demonstrably false) assumption that a child fares better when raised by two people of the opposite sex (there is now an abundance of literature that shows that children raised by two same-sex parents fare just as well as children raised by two opposite-sex parents); but that is the extent of the protest against the “gay lobby.”

Legislation that forces religious bodies to treat gay people in the same way as heterosexual people would be unthinkable in the US, by virtue of the fact that the US has a written Constitution; federal courts have established a massive body of case law dealing with the First Amendment rights of both people and churches. However, the lack of a written constitution permits Parliament in the UK to pass legislation that would have the above-cited impact on Catholic adoption agencies. In the US, such Catholic adoption agencies would be able to assert a First Amendment defense for the practice of excluding gay people as adoptive parents.

Another difference between the UK and the US (in terms of popular culture) is the differing emphasis placed on marriage. In the UK, it is entirely reasonable and widespread for women to bring children up on their own, and for men and women to live together without getting married. The Conservative Party (also known as the Tory Party) wishes to re-emphasize the importance of marriage and the traditional family, but faces fierce opposition from figures in government who themselves are either divorced or who never married. David Cameron – the leading light of the opposition party (the Tories) – was flustered into silence recently when asked by a highly educated, intelligent woman who had risen through the political ranks and who was also a single mother, whether she should get married. The social culture in the UK is much more accepting of different family structures than is the social culture in the US.

Together with legal acceptance of gay people has come cultural acceptance. Schools have implemented zero-tolerance anti-bullying campaigns that make it much easier for gay children to participate both socially and academically. Whereas gay boys in the US have to worry about getting themselves shoved into urinals by heterosexual bullies, gay boys in the UK are protected from such abuses by stringent anti-bullying campaigns that are taken seriously by both teachers and students alike. Quite simply put, it is not acceptable to harass and abuse a child in the UK merely because that child is gay or is perceived to be gay.

Ironically, the progress that gay people have made in the UK can be explained to some degree by the extent to which gay people in the UK were previously hated, marginalized, shunned, and harshly treated by the law. Alan Turing – the mathematical genius who developed key concepts in computer science and whose contributions to the branch of mathematics dealing with encryption and code breaking enabled the British authorities to crack the Nazi Enigma machine and the Lorenz SZ 40/42 machine – was openly gay, and was arrested for “gross indecency” under Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885 after he acknowledged having had a sexual relationship with a man in Manchester. Turing was unrepentant and open about his sexuality in an era and in a country in which homosexual acts were illegal and in which homosexuality itself was treated by psychiatrists as a mental illness, The alternative being a prison sentence, Turing was forced to undergo hormone “therapy” in which his body was pumped full of estrogen, causing him to grow breasts. Turing was found dead on 8 June 1954, apparently having committed suicide by biting into and eating part of an apple laced with cyanide. Although the cause of death was established by the autopsy as cyanide poisoning, the apple itself was never tested for cyanide, leaving open the question as to whether Turing had indeed committed suicide, was the victim of an accident (his mother vehemently asserted that Turing was careless in handling and storing dangerous chemicals), or was assassinated (his homosexuality was certainly perceived as a security risk). Oscar Wilde – the brilliant playwright, novelist, and poet – was convicted under the same statute on 25 May 1895 and was sentenced to two years’ hard labor (scholars agree that the prison sentence at Reading Gaol ruined Wilde’s health and contributed to his early death a mere two years following his release). Sex between men eventually became legal in the UK, but the age of consent for gay sex was set at 18, whereas the age of consent for heterosexual sex was set at 16. In July 2000, the European Court of Human Rights heard an appeal from a gay man from Yorkshire who had been prosecuted for engaging in group sex and who had been conditionally discharged for two years in November 1996 – the Court of Human Rights vacated his conviction, and the man received almost GBP 21,000.00 in damages and slightly over GBP 12,000.00 in costs. It is against this backdrop of harsh oppression that the law was finally modified to recognize the equality and dignity of the lives of gay citizens in the UK. Now, gay marriage is legal throughout the UK, at all levels, in all but name (mocking those “civil unions” in those US states that permit them). A gay man or woman may enter into a civil partnership with a citizen of another nation, and may sponsor that person into the UK in the same way that a man or woman may enter into a marriage with a citizen of another nation and sponsor that non-citizen into the country. The age of consent for gay sex is now the same as the age of consent for heterosexual sex (16).

Another important difference -- a difference that resonates throughout the broader culture -- lies in the fact that the UK Armed Forces no longer discriminate against gay servicemembers. Whereas it was once legal to discharge a member of the Armed Forces merely for being gay, servicemembers in the UK are now no longer subject to such naked discrimination. In September 1999, the European Court of Human Rights held that the ban on openly gay men and women serving in the UK Armed Forces was a clear-cut breach of the Human Rights Convention. This unanimous ruing, handed down by judges in Strasbourg, held that the ban violated the privacy rights of gay men and women who wished to serve in the UK Armed Forces. In 2000, the UK officially ended its ban on openly gay personnel from serving in th Armed Forces, and firmly asserted that servicemembers could no longer be discharged merely for being gay. It is important to bear in mind the fact that legal discrimination against gay men and lesbians in the Armed Forces can be "borrowed" to justify other forms of government-sponsored discrimination against gay men and lesbians, as Boushka has noted elsewhere (see "Do Ask, Do Tell").

It is indeed ironic that gay people have made so much progress in the UK, given the fact that the US was founded following a revolution in which the American colonies broke away from the UK in search of greater freedom. It is ironic in the extreme that gay sex in the US only became legal in all 50 states following the handing down, in 2003, of a US Supreme Court opinion (Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003)) holding that state sodomy statutes violated the rights of gay Americans under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (A.J. O’Connor’s concurrence relied not on the reach of the Due Process Clause, but on the protective ambit of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause to arrive at the same result). Just 17 years before Lawrence was handed down, the US Supreme Court mockingly dismissed a Due Process challenge to the Georgia sodomy statute filed by a man (Michael Hardwick) who had been arrested, but ultimately not prosecuted, for having oral sex with another man in the privacy of his own bedroom (see Bowers v. Hardwick, 478 U.S. 186 (1986)). The Court, in Bowers, made the infamous assertion that the privacy challenge (grounded in the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause) mounted by Hardwick in response to his arrest for consensual oral sex was “at best, facetious.” That ruling is now history -- the Lawrence Court went to considerable pains to acknowledge that it had erred in handing down Bowers, opining that "[i]ts continuance as precedent [Bowers] demeans the lives of homosexual persons...Bowers was not correct when it was decided, and it is not correct today. It ought not to remain binding precedent. Bowers v. Hardwick should be and now is overruled."It is the fervent hope of this commentator that the overwhelming majority of the citizens of the US will, one day in the not too distant future, see their fellow gay Americans as equals, both before the bar of justice and in the eyes of broader society, just as the majority of the citizens of the US now reject the days of Jim Crow and have no desire to return to such a legally and morally destructive social order.