Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind. -Dr. Seuss
What is it about homophobes that make them so gay? If this questions sounds controversial to you, then you may need to hear the science behind the answer. New research is showing that there actually is a link between homophobic rhetoric and homosexual tendencies. This article is about the notion that if you’re homophobic, you might just be compensating.
A Recent History of Hypocrisy
America is an amazing place, where around half of the country believes things about homosexuality that echoes the opinions of people in third-world countries with immense restrictions on freedoms. The other half considers homosexuality a total non-issue. Of course there are many levels to the issue of homosexuality in the US, but many people’s rhetoric is very clear.
“Homosexuality is a sin” – as seen in the image above – is a sentiment repeated throughout the country. This type of religious language is one that Christian pastor Ted Haggard preached for a long time before he was “busted,” paying for a male prostitute in 2006 – something which had already been going on for three years at that time. Virginia congressman Edward Shrock, a known opponent of LGBT rights, resigned in 2004 after it was reported that he left voicemail messages on a gay phone sex hotline.
Alabama Attorney General Troy King‘s anti-gay sentiments was called into question in 2008, after his wife found him in bed with a male assistant. California State Senator Roy Ashburn repeatedly voted against gay rights legislation, but he was arrested in 2010 for driving under the influence of alcohol after having left a gay bar with a male passenger. In the same year, one of the country’s most avid anti-gay activists, George Alan Rekers, was photographed with a “Rent Boy” – which is just as bad as it sounds.
And 2011 had plenty of scandals. For starters, homophobic Puerto Rican Senator Roberto Arango resigned after photos of him on a gay internet app surfaced. Also, New York Senator Carl Kruger, who would later plead guilty to corruption charges in 2011, had voted against marriage equality despite using bribe money for a mansion with another man. And let’s not forget the anti-gay Indiana lawmaker Phil Hinkle, who solicited “a really good time” (i.e., sex) from a young man on Craigslist in 2011.
However, my favorite of all the busted hypocrite stories comes from 2007. An avid anti-gay Republican Senator, Larry Craig, was in a public toilet. As I’m sure you can tell, this story is picking up. He silently propositioned the person at the next stall for sex by trying to play footsie under the partition separating the stalls. Unbeknownst to him, that individual was a police officer, who then flashed his badge under the partition, and consequently arrested him. His excuse – and if you really want a laugh, I encourage you to check the excuses of all of the people above – was that he has a “wide stance” while using the toilet.
These are by no means the only examples of hypocrisy that otherwise perfectly normal gay people spew; but it’s the degree to which they so vehemently attack other homosexuals that makes these cases important.
Guilt and Overcompensation
Last year, researchers including Richard Ryan and William Ryan conducted a fascinating study about this very topic. They wrote an article in the New York Times (NYT), in which they said this:
One theory is that homosexual urges, when repressed out of shame or fear, can be expressed as homophobia. Freud famously called this process a “reaction formation” — the angry battle against the outward symbol of feelings that are inwardly being stifled. Even Mr. Haggard seemed to endorse this idea when, apologizing after his scandal for his anti-gay rhetoric, he said, “I think I was partially so vehement because of my own war.”
It’s a compelling theory — and now there is scientific reason to believe it.
The researchers looked at six studies from the US and Germany involving 784 university students. The participants rated themselves from gay to straight on a 10-point scale. Then they took an implicit sexual orientation test via computer, where participants are shown images and words associated with heterosexuality or homosexuality (such as “gay”) and asked to sort them into the appropriate category as fast as possible. Their reaction times were measured.
But before each word came up, the word “me” and “other” was flashed on the screen for 35 milliseconds – just enough time to subliminally perceive the word without being aware of it. The hypothesis was that when “me” precedes words that reflect their sexual orientation, those images will be sorted quicker. This is how researchers also try to determine things like implicit racist beliefs in individuals.
Over 20% of self-described highly straight people indicated some level of same-sex attraction – by which I mean they were faster at sorting “me” with pictures and words associated with homosexual than with heterosexuality. I have my own reservations about these kinds of studies – because I hesitate to call someone gay or racist by simple matching and reaction-time methodologies. However, it’s extremely difficult to measure something like this, and the next part of the study regarding this 20%+ group is fascinating. From the NYT:
Notably, these “discrepant” individuals were also significantly more likely than other participants to favor anti-gay policies; to be willing to assign significantly harsher punishments to perpetrators of petty crimes if they were presumed to be homosexual; and to express greater implicit hostility toward gay subjects (also measured with the help of subliminal priming). Thus our research suggests that some who oppose homosexuality do tacitly harbor same-sex attraction.
What leads to this repression? We found that participants who reported having supportive and accepting parents were more in touch with their implicit sexual orientation and less susceptible to homophobia. Individuals whose sexual identity was at odds with their implicit sexual attraction were much more frequently raised by parents perceived to be controlling, less accepting and more prejudiced against homosexuals.
Of course, the researchers are not suggesting that everyone who expresses homophobia is a latent homosexual, but in places like the Republican party of American politics, it very well may be true. That’s why you can tell that formerly anti-LGBT Fox News pundits Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck are not gay. O’Reilly now says that “the compelling argument is on the side of homosexuals,” while Beck says that the “principle of it is right.”
America needs more of this kind of rhetoric from the right wing, because such homophobia is both the fuel and the flame (no pun intended). That is to say, when you get so many people saying that homosexuality is wrong, people start believing it; and that’s when people start feeling guilty, which makes them lash out against others in denial. The lashing out then affects the next gay person who hears that homosexuality is wrong, and then the cycle repeats.
However, such intolerance is not uniquely American. Many parts of the world do not accept, or even acknowledge, homosexuality. Yet it’s in these extreme anti-gay places where the most homosexual erotica is consumed online.
Gay Pornography Consumption
In 2007, to an audience of Columbia University students, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad 2007 said “We don’t have any gays in Iran;” but recent data from Porn MD – a site that measures the internet pornography consumption around the world – suggests otherwise. Five of the ten top porn searches in Iran were, in fact, for gay porn. In fact, the IBTimes reports other interesting results from Porn MD:
In Kenya, homosexuality is a crime and an overwhelming 96 percent of Kenyans think it is unacceptable. Yet the second most popular search in the country was “gay monster cock”.
Nigeria has similar homophobic attitudes woven in to its criminal justice system. However, web users there sought out “gay South African” on their computers and made it the fourth most popular search.
[. . .] In Libya the most searched XXX term was “gay silver daddies” despite homosexuality being outlawed and a strong Islamist presence there. In total, 30 percent of the most popular sex search terms were gay-related in the north African country.
Also telling is that in the Bible Belt of America – the Southern part of the country that’s characterized by religiosity, right-wing politics, and conservatism – the top search in almost all of those states was “ebony,” a term used for pornography featuring black people. In fact, “black gay porn” and other hardcore porn searches were also up at the top in many of those states, such as Mississippi, which is considered by many Americans to have the most instances (and perhaps the darkest history) of racism in the country.
[June 16 Update: The following excerpt is more evidence that the most anti-gay places in the world consume the most gay pornography.]
As eagle-eyed Alex Park pointed out in a recent Mother Jones post, Pakistan is, according to Google Trends, “by volume the world leader for Google searches of the terms ‘shemale sex,’ ‘teen anal sex,’ and ‘man f-cking man.’”
Both Pakistan and Nigeria rank in the top five for Google searches of the term “gay sex pics” and “anal sex pics.” Kenya, another vehemently anti-gay nation, ranked first for both searches.
When the results of a recent Pew Research Center poll on LGBT acceptance around the globe was published last week, Nigeria and Pakistan emerged as two of the world’s most brutally LGBT intolerant societies.
The Bottom Line
Is it possible that the link between vocal homophobia and homosexuality is the same as the link between the homophobic rhetoric and the porn consumption of a taboo population (e.g., racists searching for black people, homophobes searching for gay people)? I think it’s possible, but it’s very hard to say. Sexuality is a fundamentally natural part of one’s existence, whereas something like racism is totally environmentally learnt. Therefore, while one may feel guilty about hiding their sexuality, there may be no inherent reason to feel guilty about being a racist. But still, it’s something to consider.
Hopefully one day, it may be considered egregious to be homophobic. We know that yesterday, New Zealand became the 13th country to legalize gay marriage, and this is a good sign. But there is still persistent anti-gay rhetoric and serious violence against gay people throughout the world. Despite the fact that last week France became the 14th country to legalize gay marriage, there have been increasing protests and random assaults against gay people in recent months.
As for the hypocrisy, we see this kind of thing in situations that have nothing to do with sexuality. For example, Lance Armstrong and his crew were so vehemently opposed to anyone who dared accuse him of doping – something which would later be proven, and he would go on to confess to. Or the Nevada casino worker, Roxanne Rubin, who – like most Republicans in the country – insisted that the state of Nevada needs to have strict voter ID laws to get rid of voter fraud, actually commit voter fraud herself. It’s not exactly the same thing, but the point is that people often overcompensate for their guilt by doing what turns out to be hypocritical.
The most twisted aspect of this is also the hardest to believe, until you look at the science. As the above research suggests, some of the protestors and assailants who attack gay people may actually be homosexuals themselves. What kind of shameful irony would that be?
Weinstein, N., Ryan, W., DeHaan, C., Przybylski, A., Legate, N., & Ryan, R. (2012). Parental autonomy support and discrepancies between implicit and explicit sexual identities: Dynamics of self-acceptance and defense. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102 (4), 815-832 DOI: 10.1037/a0026854