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248 CHAPTER 9
A Continuum of Sexual Orientations
What percentage of people are asexual?
How does Kinsey’s continuum measure sexual orientation?
What are the difculties in dening bisexuality?
What are the characteristics of sexual uidity?
Approximately what percentage of men and women are exclusively
homosexual?
What Determines Sexual Orientation?
What psychosocial theories have been advanced to explain sexual
orientation?
What biological factors may inuence sexual orientation?
Societal Attitudes Regarding Homosexuality
How have Western religious views and the views of medical and
psychological professionals changed concerning homosexuality?
What are some of the indications of homophobia?
What causes homophobia and hate crimes?
The Gay Rights Movement
What was the Stonewall incident, and what impact did it have on the
gay community?
What are some of the decriminalization, antidiscrimination, and
positive rights successes and goals of the gay rights movement?
Coming Out
What steps are involved in coming out as a lesbian or a gay man?
Homosexual Relationships in Context
What is the “gay lifestyle”?
How are gay and straight relationships the same? How are they
different?
Does research nd more interpersonal strengths in homosexual or in
heterosexual couples?
What has research shown to be the effects on children of being
reared by lesbian mothers?
What effects on children do gay parents have compared to
heterosexual parents?
248
© Ron Royals/Corbis
9
Sexual Orientations
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Sexual Orientations249 249
My life as a young lesbian was very different from the lesbian youth I see today.
No one I knew talked about homosexuality, and I dated boys because my friends
did. I was in my early thirties before my first sexual experience with a woman,
but even that blissful experience didn’t make me think of myself as a lesbian.
It was several more years before I identified myself as a lesbian and had gay
friends other than my partner. Today young lesbians have lots of positive infor-
mation and images to help them understand and accept themselves. But they
also face intense negativity from conservative reactions to gay rights. In my era
the fact that homosexuality was so “hush-hush” gave us considerable privacy
and protection by being overlooked. We never confronted the harassment, vio-
lence, or antigay activism that is now part of the picture. (Authors’ files)
A Continuum of Sexual Orientations
We begin this chapter with a discussion of the continuum and characteristics of sexual
orientations. Homosexuality, bisexuality, heterosexuality, and asexuality are words that
identify various sexual orientations. Multidimensional components indicate a specific
sexual orientation and can include whether an individual:
1. Engages in sexual behavior with men, women, both, or neither.
2. Feels sexual desire for men, women, both, or neither.
3. Falls in love with men, women, both, or neither.
4. Identifies himself or herself with a specific sexual orientation.
The complexity and ambiguity of defining sexual orientation result from the varying
combinations and degrees of these four components. For example, how much sexual
attraction to and experience with the same sex can someone have and still be hetero-
sexual? And, vice versa, how much sexual attraction to and behavior with the other
sex can someone have and still be homosexual? Or, is everyone who does not con-
sistently and completely meet these four components bisexual? Further, can someone
who self-identifies as heterosexual but is sexual exclusively with same-sex partners
really be heterosexual? Even scientists who do research about sexual orientation do not
use consistent criteria in categorizing subjects according to sexual orientation. In some
studies, subjects are included in the bisexual/homosexual category if they have had any
element of same-sex attraction, behavior, or self-identity. In other studies, subjects are
not considered homosexual unless their sexual behavior, attraction, and self-identity
have been consistently with the same sex since puberty.
inking of sexual orientation as a multidimensional phenomenon likely provides
the most valid conceptualization of this complex human dimension (Jordan-Young,
2010; Laumann et al., 1994). However, in the most simplistic denitions, exclusive and
consistent attraction to and sexual involvement with same-sex partners is a homosex-
ual orientation: Gay is a common term for homosexual men, as lesbian is for women.
Exclusive and consistent attraction to and sexual behavior with other-sex partners is
a heterosexual orientation, also referred to as straight. Bisexuality refers to degrees of
attraction to both sexes. Asexuality is a lack of sexual attraction to either sex. Because
sexual orientation is only one aspect of a persons life, we use these four terms as descrip-
tive adjectives rather than as nouns that label ones total identity.
Figure 9.1 shows the seven-point continuum that Alfred Kinsey devised in his analy-
sis of sexual orientations in American society (Kinsey et al., 1948). e Kinsey scale did
not include asexuality. e scale ranges from 0 (consistent and exclusive contact with and
bisexuality
Sexual attraction to both men and
women.
asexuality
A lack of sexual attraction to either
sex.
sexual orientation
Sexual attraction to one’s own sex
(homosexual), to the other sex (het-
erosexual), or to both sexes (bisex-
ual), or lack of sexual interest in either
sex (asexual).
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250 CHAPTER 9
erotic attraction to the other sex) to 6 (consistent and exclusive contact with and attrac-
tion to the same sex). Category 3 represents equal same- and other-sex attraction and
experience. In between 0 and 3 and 3 and 6 are various combinations of same- and other-
sex attraction. e terms heteroflexibility and homoflexibility are new terms that may
be useful to describe individuals who are primarily heterosexual or homosexual, yet have
some degree of sexual interest in and/or experience with both sexes. A recent research
study found that almost 13% of women and over 5% of men in the United States had
experienced sexual contact with both same- and other-sex partners (Chandra et al., 2011).
Self-identity with a particular sexual orientation is one of the variables of sexual orien-
tation.
Table 9.1 shows what percentages of 15- to 44-year-olds in the United States
dened themselves as having a specic sexual orientation. e totals do not add up to
100% because some respondents were not certain how to dene their sexual orientation.
Sexual Fluidity
The Kinsey scale may be interpreted incorrectly to indicate that all people have a fixed,
stable sexual orientation. In fact, sexual orientation is more accurately determined
by patterns over time rather than at any given point in time (Baumgardner, 2007).
Psychologist and researcher Lisa Diamond (2008a) uses the term sexual fluidity to
describe variability in same-sex and other-sex attraction and/or involvement at various
times and situations throughout the life span. Her research indicates that, for some
women, sexual self-identity and the biological sex of preferred sexual partners can vary
over time and experience unexpected transitions.
Lisa Diamond’s research on sexual uidity followed almost 80 women ages 18 to 25 over
a 10-year period. At the beginning of the study, all the subjects were involved with other
women and labeled themselves variably as lesbian, bisexual, or unlabeled. At the end of the
study, about one third of the women were consistent in their self-identication as lesbian
and in their attraction to and sexual involvement with women. However, the remaining
women—initially self-identied as lesbian, bisexual, or unlabeled—had changed their
self-identication at least once during the 10 years. Notably, these changes were variable:
Lesbian changed to bisexual or unlabeled, bisexual changed to lesbian or unlabeled, unla-
beled changed to bisexual or lesbian, and some previously self-identied lesbian, bisexual,
and unlabeled changed to heterosexual. Some of the changes in self-labeling were due
to sexual and/or romantic attraction to or involvement with men. However, the women
who became involved with men continued to feel the same amount of attraction toward
other women as they had at the beginning of the study 10 years earlier
(Diamond, 2008b).
Conversely, women who have identied themselves as lesbians well
into adulthood sometimes develop relationships with men. Feminist
folksinger Holly Near and JoAnn Loulan, a longtime lesbian activist
and the author of Lesbian Sex, were prominent in the gay community
for many years prior to establishing relationships with men. is shift
occurs often enough that a woman who becomes involved with a man
TABLE 9.1 Self-Identied Sexual Orientation
WOMEN MEN
Self-identify as homosexual 1.1% 1.7%
Self-identify as bisexual 3.5% 1.1%
Self-identify as heterosexual 94% 96%
SOURCE: Chandra et al., 2011.
543210 6
Exclusively
heterosexual
with no
homosexual
Predominantly
heterosexual,
only
incidentally
homosexual
Predominantly
heterosexual
but more than
incidentally
homosexual
Equally
homosexual
and
heterosexual
Predominantly
homosexual
but more than
incidentally
heterosexual
Predominantly
homosexual
but incidentally
heterosexual
Exclusively
homosexual
with no
heterosexual
Figure 9.1 Kinsey’s continuum of sexual orientation, based on both feelings of attraction and sexual behavior.
heteroexibility
Individuals who are primarily het-
erosexual and have some degree of
sexual interest in and/or experience
with the same sex.
homoexibility
Individuals who are primarily homo-
sexual and have some degree of
sexual interest in and/or experience
with the other sex.
sexual uidity
Variability in same-sex and other-sex
attraction and involvement at differ-
ent times and in different situations
throughout the life span.
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Sexual Orientations251 251
after being known as a lesbian may be labeled a hasbian (Diamond,
2008a; White, 2003).
For men, unless they identify themselves as bisexual, sexual uid-
ity between same-sex and other-sex attraction and relationships is
less common than it is for women (Mock & Eiback, 2011). Scien-
tists tend to agree that the male–female dierences in sexual uid-
ity may be due to variations in biological developmental pathways
(Diamond, 2008a). e extent to which the greater social stigma
directed toward male homosexuality than toward female homosexu-
ality restricts sexual uidity in men is unknown, but it may also be
an even more signicant variable. As stigma toward male homosexu-
ality continues to lessen, greater sexual uidity in men may become
apparent in younger men who tend to be more accepting of homo-
sexuality. For example, in a large study of young people ages 12 to 25,
males and females who identied as a sexual minority were equally
likely to change their sexual orientation identity during the 13 years
of the study (Ott et al., 2011).
Let’s now take a closer look at the four categories of sexual ori-
entation—asexuality, bisexuality, homosexuality, and heterosexual-
ity—keeping in mind the understanding that these are not static
categories but are merely a way to orient ourselves when discussing
the uid and complex nature of our sexuality.
Asexuality
According to the Asexual Visibility and Education Network, “An
asexual is someone who does not experience sexual attraction.
Unlike celibacy, which a person can choose, asexuality is an intrin-
sic part of who we are’” (Asexual Visibility and Education Net-
work, 2009, p. 1). The Asexual Visibility and Education Network,
founded in 2001, has 35,000 members worldwide, about 60% of
whom are women in their teens through 30s. A national probability
study of 18,000 people in Britain found that 1% of those surveyed
said they were asexual (Bogaert, 2004).
Most asexual men and women have been asexual throughout their lives. Although
they lack sexual attraction toward others, they vary in their interests in friendships,
aection, romance, and partnerships, including marriage (DeLuzio, 2011; L. Harris,
2010). Another study found that the majority of the respondents did not feel distressed
about their asexuality. Seventy-three percent of individuals who identied themselves as
asexual had never engaged in sexual intercourse and felt no interest in partnered sexual
expression. However, most respondents (80% of males and 77% of females) did mastur-
bate (Knudson et al., 2007). Further evidence that asexuality is usually not related to a
lack of sexual response was found in a small study involving women who self-identied
as asexual, bisexual, lesbian, and heterosexual. While watching erotic audiovisual mate-
rial, the asexual women experienced subjective and physiological sexual arousal similar
to that of the other groups of women (Brotto & Yule, 2011).
Bisexuality
The parameters for bisexuality can be difficult to establish. At present “no scien-
tific or popular consensus exists on the precise cluster of experiences that qualify
When sexually uid relationships involve prominent
women in the entertainment industry, they are widely
publicized. For example, prior to 2004, actress Cynthia
Nixon (Miranda on the
TV show Sex and the City) had
been with a man for 15 years and had two children with
him. She then became involved with a woman whom she
married in 2011 after marriage was legalized in New York.
Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic/Getty Images
Critical Thinking Question
Where would you place yourself on the
Kinsey scale?
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252 CHAPTER 9
an individual as lesbian, gay, or bisexual [or heterosexual] instead
of just curious, confused, or experimenting” (Diamond, 2008a,
pp. 26–27). As seen in Table 9.1, 3.5% of women and 1.1% of
men identify themselves as bisexual (Chandra et al., 2011). Even
when people consider themselves bisexual, their bisexuality is
often unknown to others because of the common assumption that
people are either straight or gay, based on the sex of their current
partner (Plato, 2008).
Research about bisexuality is quite limited, but what does the
available research tell us? One study of men indicated that sexual
arousal in self-identied bisexual men is associated with a unique
and specic pattern. e researchers measured the subjective—how
aroused they felt—and erectile responses of bisexual, homosexual,
and heterosexual men while they watched various sexual videos—
male–male, male–female, and a man having sex with both a woman
and another man. As anticipated, homosexual and heterosexual men
demonstrated arousal, respectively, to male–male videos and male–
female videos. Bisexual men were aroused by both gay and straight
videos, but their arousal by the video of a man engaging in sex with
both a man and a woman was signicantly higher than gay and straight mens arousal by
the same video (Cerny & Janssen, 2011).
Several research studies have found that more women than men feel sexual attrac-
tion to both sexes (Lippa, 2006). Further, women who identify themselves as straight
or lesbian may actually experience a greater range of sexual attraction and arousal
than they are aware of. Laboratory research examined heterosexual and homosexual
mens and women’s physical and subjective arousal patterns by having the subjects
watch movie clips of heterosexual, gay, and lesbian sexual encounters; a man mastur-
bating; a woman masturbating; and bonobo apes mating. While watching each clip,
subjects rated their subjective arousal on a keypad. Simultaneously, researchers mea-
sured women participants physical arousal with a tampon-sized device that monitored
increases in vaginal blood ow and resultant lubrication. Men wore an apparatus that
t on the penis and measured the degree of erection. e study found that women—
regardless of their self-identied sexual orientation—experienced varying degrees of
genital arousal in response to all of the video clips, including the mating bonobos.
However, the women said that they were aroused only while viewing sexual activity
that was compatible with their self-identied sexual orientation: Heterosexual women
said that they were aroused only by heterosexual clips, and lesbians only by clips of
women being sexual together or masturbating. In contrast, gay and straight men were
physically aroused by the clips that they said they found arousing. Further, what turned
men on was consistent with their sexual orientation. Gay men were aroused only by
male–male sexual interaction and straight men by male–female and female–female
material (Chivers et al., 2005).
Research with people who have high sex drives suggests further variability in the way
sexual orientation expresses itself. Data from more than 3,600 research subjects showed
that high sex drive in women who identied themselves as heterosexual was associated
with increased sexual attraction to both men and women. e higher a womans sex
drive, the more likely she was to feel sexual desire for both sexes. In contrast, high sex
drive in straight men, gay men, and lesbians was associated with increased sexual attrac-
tion only to one sex or the other. ese ndings are consistent across age groups and
have been replicated in many regions of the world, including Latin America, Australia,
India, and Western Europe (Lippa, 2006).
How do you account for the discrepancies
between subjective reports and physical
arousal in women? Do you think women
aren’t aware of their vaginal arousal
because it is internal and not as obvious as
an erection? Are they too uncomfortable
acknowledging that bonobo sex and gay sex
scenes turn them on? Or . . . ?
Critical Thinking Question
A recent study found that heterosexual and homosexual
women experienced genital arousal in response to video
clips of mating bonobos, but the women subjects reported
arousal only while viewing sexual activities that were
compatible with their self-identied sexual orientation.
Gallo Images/Corbis
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Sexual Orientations253 253
It’s Not Always Easy Being Bisexual
Both heterosexual and homosexual individuals are sometimes judgmental toward
those who identify themselves as bisexual and would feel more comfortable if bisexu-
als adhered to a single orientation (Baumgardner, 2008). In addition, gay men and
lesbians sometimes view a bisexual person as someone who is really homosexual but
lacks the courage to identify himself or herself as such. These views can be difficult for
bisexual individuals. A bisexual woman says,
I dont feel like I fit anywhere. I don’t feel straight’ enough in the straight world, and
I don’t feel ‘gay’ enough in the gay world. I cant be all of who I am anywhere. (Levy,
2010, p. 66)
One study compared male and female heterosexuals attitudes toward bisexuality.
e researchers found that straight women equally accepted bisexual men and women,
but straight men were less accepting of bisexual men than of bisexual women. Hetero-
sexuals of both sexes doubted the validity of bisexuality. However, their beliefs about
bisexual men were the opposite of their beliefs about bisexual women. ey maintained
that the male bisexual individuals were really gay,” but the female bisexuals were “really
heterosexual” (Yost & omas, 2012).
“Performative Bisexuality”
Professor Breanne Fahs, author of Performing Sex: The Making and Unmaking of
Wo me n ’s E ro t ic L ives , characterizes heterosexual-identified women who interact sexu-
ally with other women for the purpose of pleasing and arousing men as engaging in
performative bisexuality.In performative bisexuality, women are not being sexual
with other women from feelings of inherent desire and intrinsic pleasure. Women
are motivated to perform as bisexual in order to appear sexy and desirable to men
and to accommodate mens fantasies of two women together. Performative bisexu-
ality has become common enough that some men feel entitled to use considerable
pressure to persuade their female partners to interact sexually with other women.
You nge r wom en, i n par ticula r , ca n fee l th at bein g sexu a l w ith oth er wo men i s p art o f
the contemporary expectation for good femininity.Some examples of performative
bisexuality include the middle-class college women in Girls Gone Wild DVDs who
kiss, fondle, and perform oral sex with each other as requested by the director of the
DVD. Performative bisexuality also occurs publicly at fraternity parties, bars, and
clubs or privately in the context of a threesome with two women and one man or dur-
ing group sex (Fahs, 2011, p. 102).
Homosexuality
Numerous studies over the years have attempted to establish the percentage of men
and women who are homosexual, and the percentages vary from study to study. As
noted earlier in the chapter, the 2011 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG),
based on in-person interviews of 13,495 individuals ages 15 to 44, found that 1.1% of
women and 1.7% of men identified themselves as lesbian or gay. A greater percentage
of respondents had experienced at least one same-sex contact in their lifetime—13%
of women and 5.2% of men (Chandra et al., 2011).
e common synonym for homosexual is gay. e term has moved into popular
use to describe homosexual men and women as well as the social and political concerns
related to homosexual orientation. It has also come to be used, mainly by teens, as a
negative label, as in at is so gay!” (Caldwell, 2003). Pejorative words such as faggot,
fairy, homo, queer, lezzie, and dyke have traditionally been used to demean homosexuality.
Critical Thinking Question
Is performative bisexuality sexually liberating
or exploitative for women? Does it create
new possibilities for women to explore same-
sex experiences? Or does it take women
farther away from their own genuine sexual
self-expression to accommodate the sexual
interests of men?
gay
A homosexual person, typically a
homosexual male.
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254 CHAPTER 9
However, in certain gay and lesbian subcultures, some people use these terms with each
other in positive or humorous ways (Bryant & Demian, 1998).
Many men and women born after 1970 call themselves queer and refer to queer culture
to defuse the negativity of the word and blur the boundaries between subgroups of gay men,
lesbians, bisexuals, and all variations of transgendered people belonging to the queer nation.
e inclusive acronym LGBTQ—lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and questioning—is
often used in discussions of civil rights for nonheterosexual people (Vary, 2006).
What Determines Sexual Orientation?
Psychosocial explanations of the development of a homosexual orientation versus a
heterosexual orientation relate to life incidents, parenting patterns, or psychological
attributes of the individual.
Psychosocial Theories
Bell and his colleagues (1981) conducted a comprehensive study about the develop-
ment of sexual orientation. They used a sample of 979 homosexual men and women
matched to a control group of 477 heterosexual people. All research subjects were asked
questions about their childhood, adolescence, and sexual practices during 4-hour, face-
to-face interviews. Bell then used sophisticated statistical techniques to analyze pos-
sible causal factors in the development of homosexuality or heterosexuality. We cite
this research frequently throughout this section because of its excellent methodology.
The “By Default” Myth
Some people believe that unhappy heterosexual experiences cause a person to become
homosexual. Statements such as All a lesbian needs is a good lay” or He just needs
to find the right womanreflect the notion that homosexuality is a default choice for
people who have not had satisfactory heterosexual experiences and relationships. Con-
trary to this myth, Bells analysis of the data indicated that homosexual orientation
reflects neither a lack of heterosexual experience nor a history of negative heterosexual
experiences (Bell et al., 1981). Bell and his colleagues found that homosexual and het-
erosexual groups did not differ in their frequency of dating during high school, but
fewer homosexual subjects reported that they enjoyed heterosexual dating.
The Seduction Myth
Some people believe that young women and men become homosexual because they
have been seduced by older homosexual people or because they have been “turned”
by someone else—particularly a well-liked and respected teacher who is homosexual.
Contrary to these myths, research indicates that sexual orientation is most often estab-
lished before school age and that most homosexual people have their first sexual expe-
riences with someone close to their own age (Bell et al., 1981). In addition, most gays
and lesbians have identified themselves as homosexual prior to their first same-sex
contact (Calzo et al., 2011).
Freud’s Theory
Another prevalent theory has to do with certain patterns in a persons family back-
ground. Psychoanalytic theory implicated both childhood experiences and relation-
ships with parents. Sigmund Freud (1905/2000) maintained that one’s relationship
with one’s father and mother was crucial. He believed that in “normal” development,
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Sexual Orientations255 255
we all pass through a “homoerotic” phase. Boys, he argued, could become fixated at
this homosexual phase if they had a poor relationship with their father and an overly
close relationship with their mother; the same thing might happen to a woman if she
developed envy for the penis (Black, 1994). However, this particular family dynamic
is occasionally present in the family backgrounds of both gay and straight individuals
and is absent in the family life of many homosexual individuals. Bell and his colleagues
(1981) concluded that no particular phenomenon of family life could be singled
out as “especially consequential for either homosexual or heterosexual development”
(p. 190)—a conclusion supported by subsequent research (Epstein, 2006).
In the next section we discuss the most relevant and current research that attempts
to understand the biological factors that may inuence sexual orientation.
Research Into Biological Factors
Although considerable research exploring biological factors contributing to homosex-
uality has been done over the years, many of the findings are contradictory, and still no
definitive scientific answers exist. The lack of clear-cut, consistent research findings is
likely due in large part to the unique physiological and environmental factors underly-
ing each individuals development of sexual orientation. A behavior pattern as complex
and variable as homosexuality is unlikely to be due to a single, simple biological cause.
In fact, as we mentioned earlier, researchers do not appear to agree on what character-
istics define where one sexual orientation begins and another ends. Some examples of
these differences are detailed in the Spotlight on Research box.
Researchers often use twin studies to better understand the relative inuences of
social environment (nurture) and genetic makeup (nature). Identical twins originate
from a single fertilized ovum that divides into two separate fetuses with identical genetic
codes. erefore, any dierences between the twins must be due to environmental inu-
ences. In contrast, fraternal twins occur when a womans ovaries release two ova and
each ovum is fertilized by a dierent sperm cell. Because fraternal twins result from the
fertilization of two separate eggs, their genetic makeup is no more alike than that of any
other siblings. Physical and behavioral dierences between fraternal twins may be due
to genetic factors, environmental inuences, or a combination of the two. When identi-
cal twins are more alike (concordant) than same-sex fraternal twins in a particular trait,
we can assume that the trait has a strong genetic basis. Conversely, when a trait shows
a comparable degree of concordance in both types of twins, we can reasonably assume
that environment is exerting the greater inuence.
e most recent twin study recruited subjects from a twin registry in Australia.
Over 1,500 same-sex identical and fraternal male and female twin pairs were included
in this study. Each participant completed an anonymous questionnaire that addressed
broad areas of sexuality, including items pertaining to sexual orientation. Using a strict
criterion for determining homosexual orientation, the researchers found a concordance
rate (the percentage of pairs in which both twins are homosexual) of 20% among iden-
tical male twins and 0% among pairs of male fraternal twins. e corresponding con-
cordance rates for female identical and fraternal pairs were 24% and 10.5%, respectively
(Bailey et al., 2000). e higher concordance rates for identical twin pairs than for fra-
ternal twin pairs provide strong evidence of a genetic component to sexual orientation
in some individuals. Two other studies that used broader criteria for inclusion as homo-
sexual reported much higher concordance rates for a homosexual orientation among
male and female identical twins (52% and 48%, respectively) compared to same-sex
male and female fraternal twin concordance rates of 22% and 16% (Bailey et al., 1991;
Bailey et al., 1993).
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256 CHAPTER 9
Gender nonconformity is the extent to which an individual diers from stereo-
typical characteristics of masculinity or femininity during childhood. A biological pre-
disposition toward homosexuality in some individuals is indicated by the strong link
between adult homosexuality and gender nonconformity as a child (Bailey et al., 2000;
Ellis et al., 2005). In a recent study, the researchers viewed home videos of children from
infancy to 15 years of age. Without knowing the sexual orientation of the adults whose
childhood videos they saw, the researchers rated the children on gender conforming and
nonconforming characteristics. e results indicated that homosexual male and female
adults exhibited signicantly more gender nonconformity as children than did hetero-
sexual adults (Rieger et al., 2008).
Research using brain scanning technology, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and
positron emission tomography (PET) has typically found male–female dierences in
brain areas related to emotional expression and verbal skills. A 2008 Swedish study
Research about sexual orientation would ideally use the
same criteria for categorizing subjects as homosexual,
bisexual, or heterosexual. If identical criteria were used,
study results could build upon and be compared with one
another. In practice, however, great variations exist in stud-
ies of the characteristics of individuals included in a specic
sexual orientation (Jordan-Young, 2010).
Figure 9.2 uses
the Kinsey scale to show how differ-
ently researchers group subjects into
sexual orientations.
As seen in the gure, individuals
considered heterosexual can range
from exclusive and lifelong to almost
equal other- and same-sex sexual
attraction, behavior, and self-identity.
The range of parameters for including
individuals in the bisexual/homosexual
category is broader—including, in the
Gastaud study, all individuals who did
not have an exclusive and lifelong het-
erosexual orientation.
Another variable
not evident in the gure is that some
studies exclude individuals who iden-
tify themselves as gay or lesbian from
the homosexual category if they were
not consistent in sexual fantasies and
sexual behavior since puberty—which
actually excludes “the majority of self-
described lesbians and many gay men
from studies on sexual orientation”
(Jordan-Young, 2010, p. 172).
When reading about research in
this text and the media, it is important
to keep in mind that research ndings
about sexual orientation are not based
on the same uniform criteria for inclusion in a gay, bisexual,
or straight research group. The most important implication
of these variations in sexual orientation categories is that
they are often based on groupings that will show the stron-
gest differences between the characteristics the researchers
are studying. Consequently, differences reported between
groups tend to be exaggerated (Jordan-Young, 2010).
RESEARCH
SPOTLIGHT ON
Where Does Straight End and Gay Begin?
Study authors and research topics
1
Variations in research criteria for sexual
orientation according to Kinsey scores
2 345
0 6
Glaude et al. 1990 – spatial
ability and sexual orientation
McCormick &
Whitelson,1991-cognitive
profiles and sexual orientation
Hall & Kimura, 1995-motor
tasks and sexual orientation
Bailey, Willerman & Parks,
1991-maternal stress and
sexual orientation
Meyer-Bahlburg et al.
1995-prenatal estrogens and
homosexuality
Gastaud et al. 2007 – impaired
sexual outcomes with women
with CAH
Heterosexual Bi/Homosexual Homosexual
Key:
Figure 9.2 Subjects grouped by Kinsey scores.
Adapted from R. Jordan-Young (2010).
gender nonconformity
A lack of conformity to stereotypical
masculine and feminine behaviors.
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Sexual Orientations257 257
used brain scanning technology to compare these areas
of the brains of homosexual and heterosexual subjects.
ese researchers found sex-atypical brain character-
istics in the homosexual research subjects. e brain
structures related to language and emotional expression
were similar for gay men and heterosexual women. To
a lesser extent, these areas in lesbians’ brains had simi-
larities to those in straight mens brains. ese ndings
demonstrated dierences in adult brain structure and
function based on sexual orientation. e researchers
concluded that “the results cannot be primarily ascribed
to learned eects, and they suggest a linkage to neuro-
biological entities (Savic & Lindstrom, 2008, p. 9403).
Left- or right-handedness appears to be established
before birth; when observed by ultrasound, a fetus indi-
cates right- or left-handedness by thumb-sucking choice
and greater movement of one arm. In a meta-analysis of
studies with a combined total of almost 25,000 subjects,
homosexual participants had 39% greater odds of being
left-handed than did heterosexuals (Lalumiere et al.,
2000). Later research found that gay men had far greater
odds of being left-handed than did lesbians (Lippa,
2003). ese types of studies typically create compari-
son groups that are limited to individuals at the ends of
the Kinsey scale in order to increase the chance of nd-
ing dierences (Jordan-Young, 2010).
Patterns of nger length tend to dier in males and females. Heterosexual womens
index ngers tend to be about the same length as their ring ngers, but heterosexual
mens ring ngers are often considerably longer than their index ngers. Researchers
have compared these nger length patterns to lesbians and gay mens nger length ratios.
e various studies have produced widely mixed ndings—some reported that gay men
had nger length ratios more similar to those of straight women and that lesbians had
ratios more similar to those of straight men, but several studies found no dierences
between nger length ratios between homosexual and heterosexual subjects. On bal-
ance, research does not compellingly suggest that gay men and lesbians dier in nger
length patterns from heterosexual men and women (Jordan-Young, 2010).
Variation in Research Findings Between Homosexual Men and Women
In some research, gay men are more likely than lesbians to have characteristics that
are not typical of heterosexuals. This finding indicates that biological influences may
affect men and women somewhat differently. The timing of the onset of puberty is one
example. The onset of puberty in the general population is typically 12 months later
for boys than for girls. However, numerous studies have found that gay and bisexual
men begin puberty earlier than heterosexual men, but the timing of puberty for lesbi-
ans is the same as for straight women (Bogaert et al., 2002).
Some research has found a correlation between being homosexual and having older
siblings for men but not for women. ese studies reported that men with older broth-
ers have a statistically signicant increase in their chance of being homosexual, and each
older brother increases the odds. No such relationship with older siblings of either sex
has been found for lesbians. Researchers speculate that a maternal immune response
to male fetuses occurs and increases with each pregnancy of a male fetus, and that this
response inuences prenatal sexual dierentiation of the brain (Bogaert, 2005; Schagen
Two male whales rub their penises together as one example of
homosexual behavior in animals. The world’s rst museum exhibition
about homosexuality among animals opened in 2006 at the Oslo
Natural
History Museum in Norway. Male and female homosexuality
has been observed in more than 1,500 animal species and is well
documented for 500 animals. Giraffes, parrots, penguins, beetles, and
hyenas exhibit some of the bisexual behaviors of the bonobo, a type
of chimpanzee, which has sexual interactions with both males and
females as a means of social bonding (Doyle, 2006).
Marinethemes.com/Stephen Wong
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258 CHAPTER 9
et al., 2011). However, most of the studies excluded volunteer subjects who, although
they identied themselves as gay or straight, did not meet the studies’ criteria of con-
sistent sexual fantasies and behavior. One study excluded 33% of the subjects (Jordan-
Young, 2010). Further, other research that used a nationally representative sample of
men and women ve times larger than the sample size of other studies did not nd a
statistically signicant correlation between male homosexuality and older brothers, call-
ing into question those ndings (Francis, 2008).
In conclusion, research suggests that a biological predisposition to homosexuality
and bisexuality may exist for some individuals. However, in general, the causes of sexual
orientation remain a matter of speculation. Rather than thinking in terms of a single
cause for sexual orientation, it seems more appropriate to consider the continuum of
sexual orientation as being inuenced by dynamic interactions among various biologi-
cal, environmental, and cultural factors, which are unique to each person and can vary
over the life span. As researcher Lisa Diamond states, Sexual and emotional feelings—
like all complex patterns of human experience—develop as a result of dynamic inter-
changes among innate, environmental, and cultural factors” (2008a, p. 250).
Implications if Biology Is Destiny
The evidence for biological causation of homosexuality raises important issues: Would
people be more accepting of homosexuality if a clear biological basis for it were estab-
lished? Recent research indicates that people who do believe that homosexuality is biologi-
cally based—that people are born gay—have more positive feelings toward homosexuals
and are more supportive of gay civil rights, including marriage, than are people who believe
that homosexuality is learned or an individual choice (Jones, 2011). How common is the
belief that homosexuality is innate? Approximately 40% of the population thinks a person
is born gay, and 42% believe it is due to upbringing and environment (Jones, 2011).
If homosexuality were labeled as biologically defective, would that promote medi-
cal treatments during pregnancy or after birth to eliminate factors that contribute to its
development? In 2010 a controversy developed that emphasized this question. CAH
(congenital adrenal hyperplasia) is a genetic disorder in girls that creates unusually high
levels of exposure to androgens during prenatal development and childhood. ese girls
engage less in typical female gender-role behaviors, they develop large clitorises, facial
hair, and deep voices, and they are more likely to have lesbian and bisexual orientations.
When the steroid desamethasone is given during pregnancy and during childhood, it
counters the masculinizing eects of the genetic disorder. e controversy centered on
whether the treatments were motivated too strongly by social pressure for gender-role
conformity and heterosexuality (Begley, 2010; Dreger et al., 2010).
Societal Attitudes Regarding Homosexuality
Around the world societal attitudes toward homosexuality vary considerably, as we
learn in the following Sexuality and Diversity discussion.
SEXUALITY and DIVERSITY
Homosexuality in Cross-Cultural Perspective
Attitudes toward homosexuality vary considerably across cultures. A number of stud-
ies of other cultures, including ancient ones, have revealed widespread acceptance of
homosexual behaviors. For example, over 50% of 225 Native American tribes accepted
male homosexuality, and 17% accepted female homosexuality. In ancient Greece homo-
sexual relationships between men, especially between men and boys, were considered a
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Sexual Orientations259 259
superior intellectual and spiritual expression of love, whereas heterosexuality provided
the more pragmatic benefits of children and a family unit (Pomeroy, 1965).
Some societies require their members to engage in homosexual activities. For example,
all male members of the Sambia society in the mountains of New Guinea engage in exclu-
sively homosexual behaviors from approximately 7 years of age until the late teens or early
20s, when men marry. Sambian men believe that a prepubertal boy becomes a strong war-
rior and hunter by drinking as much semen as possible from postpubertal boys’ penises.
Once a boy reaches puberty, he must no longer fellate other boys but can experience erotic
pleasure from fellatio by boys who cannot yet ejaculate. From the start of their erotic lives
and during the years of peak orgasmic capacity, young men engage in frequent obligatory
and gratifying homoeroticism. During the same period, looking at or touching females
is taboo. Yet as they approach marriage, these youths create powerful erotic daydreams
about women. During the rst weeks of marriage, they experience only fellatio with their
wives; thereafter they make intercourse part of their heterosexual activity. After marriage
they stop homosexual activity, experience great sexual desire for women, and engage exclu-
sively in heterosexual activity for the rest of their lives (Stoller & Herdt, 1985).
We previously discussed self-identication as asexual, homosexual, bisexual, or het-
erosexual as one component of sexual orientation. In the Pashtun tribe in Afghanistan,
self-denition is almost completely unrelated to actual sexual behavior. A United States
and British Forces research team recently reported on the long-standing cultural tradi-
tion of Pashtun men in which they predominantly have sex with prepubertal boys and
other adult men. However, even men who have had sex only with other men do not
label themselves or their partners as homosexual. Homosexuality is dened narrowly
in this Muslim culture as the love of another man, not as the use of another male for
sexual gratication. Homosexuality is an enormous sin in Islam, and self-denition as
homosexual could be a life-and-death matter (Cardinalli, 2010).
In contrast to accepting same-sex behavior or not dening it as homosexuality,
extreme violation of basic human rights for gays and lesbians is common in many places
around the globe. Homosexuality is illegal in 76 countries and punishable by death in
ve countries—Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Yemen—and in sections of
Nigeria and Somalia (Bruce-Jones & Itaborahy, 2011).
Since the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, the government has executed 4,000
people charged with homosexual acts (Shah, 2011). Extreme abuses occur in coun-
tries without the death penalty, including social cleansing death squads in Colombia,
illegal clinics in Ecuador that use physical and mental abuse to attempt to cure homo-
sexuality, and persecution of gay and AIDS activists in many countries (Luongo, 2007;
Romo, 2012; Samuels, 2008). In the United States since 1990, the Immigration and
Naturalization Service has granted political asylum to people eeing persecution based
on sexual orientation (Burr, 1996). Currently, most LBGT asylum seekers come from
Jamaica, Russia, Grenada, Peru, and Uzbekistan. Few asylum seekers come from the
Middle East because it is much more dicult for them to get visas to the United States.
A trend toward increased approval of homosexuality is occurring in most nations
around the world (T. Smith, 2011). Events in Cuba demonstrate how a society can
make rapid positive changes regarding homosexuality. During the rst 35 years of the
Communist revolution, lesbians and gay men were seen as deviant antirevolutionaries
and were expelled from the Communist Party and from state and university jobs. Some
were sent to labor camps. In 1992 Cuban leader Fidel Castro blamed the previous
homophobia on ingrained attitudes of machismo. He expressed support for gay rights
and described homosexuality as a natural human tendency that must be respected. Cas-
tros niece, Mariela Castro, has been instrumental in working through a government-
funded organization to promote acceptance of lesbians, gay men, and transgendered
individuals. As a consequence of this and other eorts, in 2008 Cuba passed a resolution
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260 CHAPTER 9
allowing transgender individuals to undergo sex-reassignment surgeries free of charge
(Rowe, 2009).
In other places, equal rights have increased. Countries that are most supportive of
homosexual rights tend to have high levels of economic development, advanced levels of
education, and lower levels of religiousness (T. Smith, 2011). Fourteen countries, mostly
European, have established national laws that protect gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals
from discrimination. (e United States is not included with these countries because
it has yet to pass a federal law against discrimination based on sexual orientation.)
Domestic partnerships have legal status in Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Ice-
land, Norway, the Netherlands, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, and Sweden. Twenty
countries have eliminated bans on gays in the military (Quindlen, 2009a). Notably, in
2011 the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution arming human
rights based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Judeo-Christian Attitudes Toward Homosexuality
According to the Judeo-Christian tradition that predominates in our own American
culture, homosexuality has been viewed negatively. Many religious scholars believe
that the condemnation of homosexuality increased during a Jewish reform movement
beginning in the 7th century BCE, through which Jewish religious leaders wanted to
develop a distinct closed community. Homosexual activities were a part of the religious
practices of many peoples in that era, and rejecting such practices was one way of keep-
ing the Jewish religion unique (Fone, 2000; Kosnik et al., 1977). The Old Testament
included strong prohibitive statements: You shall not lie with a man as one lies with
a female; it is an abomination (Lev. 18:22; Leviticus also deems the eating of shellfish
[Lev. 11:10] and the cutting of mens hair [Lev. 19:27] abominations). Today Jewish
people are divided over their religious stance toward homosexuality. In Israel in 2002
the first openly gay man was appointed to the Knesset, or parliament, drawing dissent
from Orthodox Jews (Landsberg, 2002). Reform Judaism sanctioned same-sex mar-
riages in 2000, and conservative Jewish leaders are reexamining their ban on same-sex
marriages and the ordination of openly gay and lesbian clergy (Friess, 2003).
Laws against homosexual behaviors, which stem from biblical injunctions against
same-sex contact, have historically been exceedingly punitive. People with homosex-
ual orientations have been tortured and put to death throughout Western history. In
the American colonies homosexual people were condemned to death by drowning
and burning. In the late 1770s, omas Jeerson was among the political leaders who
suggested reducing the punishment from death to castration for men who committed
homosexual acts (Fone, 2000; Katz, 1976).
Current Christian theological positions toward homosexuality express a great range
of convictions. Dierent denominations, and dierent groups within the same denomi-
nation, have taken dierent stances. In many mainstream denominations, groups such
as Armation (United Methodist Church), Dignity USA (Catholic Church), and
Integrity (Episcopal Church) are working to open their congregations to gay and lesbian
parishioners and clergy, while fundamentalists in the same denominations oppose such
inclusion. Conicts between these two positions are likely to increase as denominations
attempt to establish clear positions and policies about homosexuality, particularly as
younger church members become more accepting of homosexuality. For example, one
poll found that 44% of young (ages 18–29), White evangelicals support gay marriage,
compared to around 20% of evangelicals ages 65 and over (Nolan, 2011).
e Unitarian Universalist Association, the United Church of Christ, and the Evan-
gelical Lutheran Church in America are the only Christian denominations that ocially
How do your religious beliefs, or absence
of beliefs, inuence your attitudes toward
homosexuality?
Critical Thinking Question
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Sexual Orientations261 261
sanction the blessing of gay and lesbian unions. Although many churches ocial poli-
cies do not allow church bonding ceremonies for gays and lesbians, some clergy support
and perform these ceremonies for homosexual couples.
In 2003 the Right Reverend V. Gene Robinson was consecrated as a bishop in the
Episcopal Church, becoming the rst openly gay bishop in any mainstream denomina-
tion. Many members left the Episcopal Church to form the Anglican Church of North
America in a protest against Robinsons position as bishop (Martin, 2009). In 2010
Mary Glasspool became the Episcopal Churchs rst openly lesbian bishop, resulting
in further controversy within the church (Harmon, 2010). In 2011 the Presbyterian
Church (U.S.A.) approved ordination of gay people in same-sex relationships as minis-
ters, elders, and deacons (Goodstein, 2011).
From Sin to Sickness
In the early to mid-1900s, societal attitudes toward homosexuality shifted. The belief
that homosexual people were sinners was replaced to some degree by the belief that
they were mentally ill. The medical and psychological professions have used drastic
treatments in attempting to cure the “illness of homosexuality. Surgical procedures
such as castration were performed in the 1800s. As late as 1951, lobotomy (surgery
that severs nerve fibers in the frontal lobe of the brain) was performed as a cure for
homosexuality. Psychotherapy, drugs, hormones, hypnosis, shock treatments, and aver-
sion therapy (pairing nausea-inducing drugs or electrical shock with homosexual stim-
uli) have all been used to the same end (Murphy, 2008).
In 1973, after great internal conict, the American Psychiatric Association removed
homosexuality from its diagnostic categories of mental disorders. In light of contem-
porary research on homosexuality—and the fact that both the American Psychiatric
Association and the American Psychological Association no longer categorize homo-
sexuality as a mental illness—most therapists and counselors have changed the focus of
therapy. Rather than attempting to cure homosexual clients by changing their sexual
orientation, therapists provide gay-affirmative therapy to help them overcome any
internalized negative feelings about their sexual orientation and to cope with a society
that harbors considerable hostility toward them (American Psychological Association,
2012; Bolton & Sareen, 2011; Kuyper & Fokkema, 2011b).
Some religious groups and mental health practitioners who believe that homosexu-
ality is symptomatic of developmental defects or spiritual and moral failings advocate
therapy to help dissatised homosexual individuals control, lessen, or eliminate their
homosexual feelings and behavior through conversion therapy or sexual reorientation
therapy. Ministry groups such as Exodus International, a nondenominational Chris-
tian organization, blend religious teachings with group counseling to focus on child-
hood traumas believed to have caused the participants homosexuality: abandonment
by fathers, absent mothers, sexual abuse, or violent parents. Individuals who belong to a
fundamentalist religion and whose families react negatively to homosexuality appear to
be most likely to participate in sexual reorientation therapy (Maccio, 2010).
e American Psychological Association maintains that conversion therapy is, at
best, ineective (American Psychological Association, 2009). For many people who can-
not make the changes they wish for, the belief that one can only be with God or be gay”
presents irreconcilable choices, and such a dilemma can contribute to depression and
suicide (Crary, 2009; Reitan, 2011). However, a recent longitudinal study of religiously
based support groups found that some degree of change in sexual identity, attraction, and
functioning were possible for some individuals (Jones & Yarhouse, 2011). Ninety-eight
subjects (72 men and 26 women) began the 7-year study, and a total of 65 participants
gay-afrmative therapy
Therapy to help homosexual clients
cope with negative societal attitudes.
conversion therapy/sexual reorien-
tation therapy
Therapy to help homosexual men
and women change their sexual
orientation.
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262 CHAPTER 9
completed it. At the beginning of the study, most participants indicated some degree of
heterosexual attraction along with their predominant homosexual attraction. e 23%
who reported increased heterosexual self-identity, attraction, and behavior still main-
tained varying degrees of homosexual attraction. ese subjects appear to have shifted
from the homosexual to the heterosexual direction on a bisexual continuum, rather than
from exclusive homosexuality to exclusive heterosexuality (rockmorton, 2011).
Homophobia
The term homophobia describes antihomosexual attitudes that stigmatize and deni-
grate any behaviors, identities, relationships, and communities that are not heterosex-
ual (Van Voorhis & Wagner, 2002). Irrational fears of homosexual people or fear and
loathing of homosexual feelings in oneself are also characteristics. Homophobia can be
best thought of as a prejudice similar to racism, anti-Semitism, or sexism. Heterosexism
is the belief that heterosexuality is superior to homosexuality; such a belief can often
lead to discrimination and the stigmatization of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender
people. The recognition of homophobia and heterosexism as the problem represents a
significant shift from the view that homosexuality itself was the problem.
e degree of homophobia has lessened greatly in the United States (Ahmad &
Bhugra, 2010). For example, a study found that gay athletes who came out between
2008 and 2010 obtained better support from their teammates compared with those
who came out between 2000 and 2002 (Anderson, 2011). Unfortunately, homophobia
is still common and often plays a big role in the lives of many gay men, lesbians, and
bisexuals. Its most extreme form is revealed in hate crimes. Hate crimes include assault,
robbery, and murder committed because the victim belongs to a certain race, religion,
or ethnic group or has a certain sexual orientation (Ghent, 2003; Herek et al., 1999).
Hate Crimes
Hate crimes are subject to severer sentences than other crimes. In 2009 the U.S. Con-
gress passed the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which included attacks motivated by
sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability. Previously, federal hate crime law
pertained only to attacks motivated by race, color, national origin, or religion. Prior to
the federal legislation, about 33 states had established hate crime laws.
Causes of Homophobia and Hate Crimes
Voting to allow discrimination against homosexual people in employment and the
right to marry, calling a lesbian a dyke to insult her, and murdering a gay man may
seem unrelated, but they have some key elements in common. First, they reflect at the
most fundamental level humankind’s poor record of accepting and valuing differences
among people. The lack of acceptance of racial, religious, and ethnic differences has
fueled vicious, inhuman events such as ethnic cleansing, the Holocaust, and the Inqui-
sition. The many religions that define homosexuality negatively also predispose groups
and individuals to assume the same view (Negy & Eisenman, 2005).
Second, homophobia and hate crimes are usually related to traditional gender-role
identication: Individuals who hold traditional gender-role stereotypes tend to have
more negative feelings about homosexuality than do others (Merek & Gonzalez-Rivera,
2006; Morrison & Morrison, 2011). Furthermore, men typically have more negative
attitudes toward homosexuality than do women—reecting, perhaps, the more rigid
gender-role parameters for boys and men compared with girls and women in our culture
(Herek & Capitanio, 1999; Kite & Whitley, 1998b). Lesbians do not evoke as negative
feelings in heterosexual men as gay men do (Mahaey et al., 2005). is may be, in part,
homophobia
Irrational fears of homosexuality, the
fear of the possibility of homosexual-
ity in oneself, or loathing toward one’s
own homosexuality.
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Sexual Orientations263 263
because heterosexual men do not feel uncomfortable about their sexual feelings toward
women in general.
Homophobia can have an especially signicant eect on the depth of intimacy in
male friendships. Mens fear of same-sex attraction often keeps them from allowing
themselves the emotional vulnerability required for deep friendship, thus limiting their
relationships largely to competition and “buddyship. Conformity to stereotypic mas-
culine norms and disdain for homosexuality are even correlated with reduced academic
motivation in males (Kahn et al., 2011).
Researchers have found that most perpetrators of antigay hate crimes—only males,
to date—claim that homosexualitys violation of male gender norms is the primary moti-
vation for their violence. Perpetrators, often acting in pairs or in larger groups, try to
reassure themselves and their friends of their masculinity” by assaulting a man who has
stepped outside the rigid boundaries of male gender roles. e same motivation makes
transgendered individuals frequent targets of violence. Increased collaboration for social
change between transgendered individuals and groups and gay rights organizations
evolved, in part, from understanding the importance of gender diversity (Coleman, 1999).
Another element involved in homophobia and hate crimes may be an attempt to
deny or suppress homosexual feelings in oneself. Uncomfortable with his or her own
sexuality, the homophobic person focuses on what is “wrong” with the sexuality of other
people. However, research studies on the correlation between antigay bias and hidden
attraction to men have yielded inconsistent ndings (Mahaey et al., 2011).
Some of the most virulent antigay rhetoric has come from deeply closeted men in
positions of religious leadership. For example, the Reverend Ted Haggard promoted
antigay sentiments and policy as president of the 30-million-member National Asso-
ciation of Evangelicals and senior pastor of the 14,000-member New Life Church
in Colorado Springs, Colorado. A regular consultant to former President George W.
Bush, the married father of ve children admitted in 2006 to participating in sexually
immoral conduct” and left both leadership positions after a man claimed that Haggard
had paid him for sex nearly every month for 3 years (Dokoupil, 2009; Signorile, 2009a).
e Reverend Steven Baines, an elder in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ),
explains this dynamic: “[W]hen religion is used to bring repression and darkness rather
than liberation and light, it is toxic to both leaders and followers” (Baines, 2006, p. 2).
Public awareness of hate crimes
against gays rose sharply after the
1998 death of Matthew Shepard.
Shepard was an openly gay, 21-year-
old University of Wyoming student
who hoped for a career in diplomacy
and human rights. After two 21-year-
old high school dropouts pistol-
whipped Shepard, crushing his skull,
they tied him to a fence outside town
and left him to die. Most people were
horried by this crime; 700 mourners
came to his funeral. But outside the
church, other people carried signs
with such messages as “No tears for
queers” and “No fags in heaven.
© Mark Richards/PhotoEdit
Homophobia is infrequently directed
toward lesbians. Female same-
sex sexual behavior is sexually
arousing to many people, and ads
suggesting lesbian sex are common
in advertising.
Image courtesy of The Advertising Archives
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264 CHAPTER 9
Increasing Acceptance
Individuals homophobic attitudes can change with deliberate effort, experience, or
education. Individual acts of courage can also make an impact; the college student who
invites people regardless of sexual orientation to his party, the gay accountant who has
his partner’s photo on his desk at work, or the straight doctor with a lesbian sister who
confronts someone making a derogatory gay joke all help make a difference (Solmonese,
2005). Acceptance of homosexuality is increasing in the United States: In 2011, 56% of
respondents viewed homosexual relations as morally acceptable, and for the first time
national polls found over 50% support for marriage equality (Jones, 2011; Movement
Advancement Project, 2011). People who personally know someone who is gay are usu-
ally more accepting of homosexuality (Fingerhut, 2011; Span & Vidal, 2003). Young
adults (ages 18–29) are significantly more accepting of gay rights than are people over
30, who are still more tolerant than those over 50. The increased acceptance may have
to do with the fact that 65% of people younger than age 50 have a homosexual friend or
acquaintance, whereas only 45% of people older than age 50 do (Leland, 2000b). Women
have more accepting attitudes toward gay men than men in general do, but womens and
mens attitudes toward lesbians are similar (Petersen & Hyde, 2011).
e gay rights movement, which began in the 1960s, has provided sup-
port for many homosexual men and women and promoted greater knowledge
and acceptance in the general community. In the following section, we describe
some of the movement’s activities.
The Gay Rights Movement
Forty years before World War II, the first organization promoting education
about homosexuality and the abolition of laws against homosexuality was
founded in Germany. However, the Nazis’ rise to power ended the homo-
sexual rights movement in Germany, and about 50,000 gay men were sent to
death camps (Schoofs, 1997).
Not until the 1950s did people in the United States found organizations for
homosexual men and women, despite the conservative atmosphere of the time.
e Mattachine Society had chapters in many cities and provided a national
network for support and communication. e Daughters of Bilitis, an orga-
nization of lesbians, published a journal called e Ladder, which contained
ction, poetry, and political articles. e goals of both organizations were to
educate homosexual and heterosexual people about homosexuality, increase
understanding of homosexuality, and eliminate laws discriminatory to homo-
sexual individuals (Katz, 1976).
The Stonewall Incident and Beyond
During the 1960s many people began to question traditional attitudes in Amer-
ican society in all areas, including the sexual. In this atmosphere, more and more
homosexual people began to challenge the social problems they faced. The sym-
bolic birth of homosexual activism occurred in 1969 in New York City when
police raided a gay bar, the Stonewall Inn. Police raids on gay bars were common,
but this time the bar’s patrons fought back. A riot ensued and did not end until
the following day. The Stonewall incident served as a catalyst for the formation
of gay rights groups, and activities such as Gay Pride Week and parades are held
The Nazis linked homosexuality to a Jewish
plot to weaken the masculinity of
Aryan men.
Nazi Germany decimated the base of the
world’s gay rights movement in Berlin. Forced
to wear a pink triangle symbol on their sleeves,
more than 100,000 gay men were arrested and
about 50,000 were sent to death camps.
The
U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s exhibit The
Nazi
Persecution of Homosexuals, 1933–1945,
illustrates this persecution of gay men (Karlin,
2003). In 2006, Berlin added a monument to
gay victims of Nazi persecution to the city’s
Holocaust memorial.
USHMM, courtesy of KZ Gedenkstaette Dachau
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Sexual Orientations265 265
yearly to commemorate the Stonewall riot. In 1999 the Stonewall Inn was added to the
National Register of Historic Places (Ring, 2012).
Since the early 1970s various groups and individuals have worked to promote
civil rights for lesbians, gays, and bisexual and transgendered people while others have
worked against these goals. Homosexual civil rights eorts fall into three general areas:
decriminalization of private sexual behavior, antidiscrimination, and positive rights
(Stein, 1999).
Decriminalization of Private Sexual Behavior
The United States had a long history of laws declaring sodomy illegal. Sodomy was legally
defined as oral and/or anal sex between adults of any sexual orientation, but these laws
were selectively enforced against homosexual individuals and couples. In 2003 the U.S.
Supreme Court, basing its decision on the constitutional right to privacy, overturned a
Texas sod omy law that made private same - sex sexu al contact i llega l. T he Lawrence et al.
v. Texas ruling also overturned laws in four other states that banned same-sex sex and
in another nine states that banned sodomy between partners of any sexual orientation.
Supporters of gay rights applauded the ruling, as did the majority of U.S. citizens, who
believe that government should stay out of the bedrooms of consenting adults.
Antidiscrimination
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force was founded in 1973 to help meet the sec-
ond goal of the gay rights movement: ending various kinds of discrimination against
homosexuals. Enormous progress has been made in nondiscrimination in employment:
Ninety-nine percent of major U.S. companies now have nondiscrimination policies
(Movement Advancement Project, 2011).
Table 9.2 shows the states that have estab-
lished laws and policies prohibiting antigay discrimination. The District of Columbia
and many city governments have also done so (National Gay and Lesbian Task Force,
2012).
Gay civil rights supporters hope to see the U.S. Congress pass the Employment
Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would prevent employers from discriminat-
ing on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Another
major legislative goal of gay civil rights advocates is to amend the
1964 Civil Rights Act to include “aectional or sexual orientation
along with race, creed, color, and sex (Wildman, 2001). is amend-
ment would make it illegal to discriminate in housing, employment,
insurance, and public accommodations on grounds of sexual orienta-
tion. With regard to global issues, in 2009, the Obama administra-
tion endorsed the United Nations statement calling for worldwide
decriminalization of homosexuality, which former president George
W. Bush had previously refused to endorse (Lee, 2009).
In September 2011 the U.S. military’s Don’t ask, dont tell” policy
was repealed. Implemented in 1992 by Congress and signed by Presi-
dent Bill Clinton, the policy allowed homosexual individuals to serve
in the military—even though the military considered them unt for
service—provided that they kept their orientation secret. An esti-
mated 13,000 gays and lesbians were expelled from the military dur-
ing the years this policy was in eect (Miklaszewski & Kube, 2011).
is policy compromised U.S. military eorts by needlessly
removing capable service members. It also resulted in unnecessary
Two linguists in the Army—one uent in Korean, the
other uent in three languages and training to be an
interrogator—were among the 322 linguists discharged
from the military under the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy
(Curtis, 2005).
© Christopher Lane
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266 CHAPTER 9
TABLE 9.2 States With Nondiscrimination Laws for Sexual Orientation
California Colorado Connecticut
Delaware Hawaii Illinois
Iowa Maine Maryland
Massachusetts Minnesota New Hampshire
New Jersey New Mexico New York
Nevada Oregon Rhode Island
Vermont Washington Wisconsin
SOURCE: National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (2012).
hardships for the gays and lesbians who served in the military. For example, during the
Iraq occupation, partners at home had no access to support services that the military
provides families; consequently, they were unlikely to be informed if their loved ones
were wounded, captured, or killed (Biederman, 2003). Ironically, closeted gay and les-
bian U.S. troops served alongside openly homosexual troops from Great Britain and
Australia (Ne, 2004).
Legal Civil Marriage for Same-Sex Couples
Many gay–civil rights advocates are currently striving to have the United States join
Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, the Netherlands, Portugal,
South Africa, Spain, and Sweden in recognizing the legal right of homosexual people
to marry. Why is securing this right important?
First, it would end discrimination in marriage and provide equality under govern-
mental laws (Olson, 2010). In good conscience, how can a democratic country withhold
the civil right of marriage from law-abiding, taxpaying same-sex partners? As a graduate
student claried this view, I feel about marriage the same way I do about the military:
It isnt an institution I wish to join, but if it exists, it ought to be open to everyone”
(Gaboury, 2005, p. 29).
e U.S. government has changed marriage laws based on equal rights many times
in its history. It ended the legal subordination of women in marriage by eliminating laws
that prohibited married women from owning property and entering into contracts. It
made marital rape illegal. Federal law established the right of people of dierent races
to marry. Laws also changed to give couples, not the government, the right to decide
to divorce. Such changes have helped evolve marriage into a union of equals who are
together because of love and a desire to make a commitment to build a life with one
another (Coontz, 2005).
Each time in the past when a law was changed to establish greater equality and
privacy in marriage, opponents fought the change, many claiming that it went against
God’s will and would ruin the institution of marriage. A large portion of the funds for
current legislative campaigns against gay marriage come from religious groups (Kirch-
ick, 2009b). However, U.S. democracy is based on the principle of separation of church
and state, and religion should not dictate to government which couples can obtain civil
marriage licenses (Sullivan, 2011). Freedom of religion guarantees the right of every
church not to marry any specic couple for any reason, but religion is a common basis
for opposition to same-sex civil marriage, as expressed by William Bennett, editor of
e Book of Virtues and codirector of Empower America:
The legal union of same-sex couples would shatter the conventional definition
of marriage, change the rules which govern behavior, endorse practices which are
completely antithetical to the tenets of all of the worlds religions, send conflicting
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Sexual Orientations267 267
signals about marriage and sexuality, particularly to the young, and obscure mar-
riage’s enormous consequential function—procreation and child-rearing. (Ben-
nett, 1996, p. 27)
In contrast, a proponent of gay marriage, Andrew Sullivan (formerly a senior editor of
The New Republic and author of Virtually Normal: An Argument About Homosexual-
ity), stated:
What we seek is not some special place in America but merely to be a full and equal
part of America. . . . Some of us are lucky enough to meet the person we truly love.
And we want to commit to that person in front of our family and country for the rest
of our lives. . . . Why indeed would any conservative seek to oppose those very family
values for gay people that he or she supports for everybody else? (Sullivan, 1996, p. 26)
A signicant setback to civil rights in marriage for sexual minorities occurred in 1996
when the U.S. Congress passed, and President Clinton signed, the Defense of Marriage
Act (DOMA). is act denied federal recognition of same-sex marriages that were made
legal in individual states, and it gave states the right not to recognize such marriages
performed in other states. With DOMA in place, gay and lesbian families and their chil-
dren in the United States lack the 1,000-plus federal benets that married heterosexual
couples have, including benets regarding inheritance; Social Security; child custody;
immigration rights; joint insurance policies for health, home, or auto; and status as next
of kin for hospital visits or even for making funeral arrangements for a partner (Move-
ment Advancement Project, 2011; Murphy, 2011). Ironically, although the ban on gay
men and lesbians serving in the military no longer exists, DOMA prohibits active-mil-
itary same-sex couples from receiving standard service benets such as housing, health
insurance, death benets, and shopping privileges at the base commissary (Dao, 2011).
In 2011 President Obama directed the Justice Department to stop defending DOMA in
court on the grounds that it is unconstitutional. However, at the time of this writing the
law remains in eect, and it is unknown whether the current Congress and the Obama
administration will revoke the Defense of Marriage Act (Savage & Stolberg, 2011).
Many are perplexed by the name “Defense of Marriage Act,wondering how pre-
venting same-sex marriages defends heterosexual marriages. As conservative Repub-
lican Bob Hall states, e anti-same-sex-marriage amendment isnt going to help my
marriage by so much as a red whisker. If you think it will protect your marriage, that
marriage is already shot” (Hall, 2006, p. 1). Ironically, in 2003, Massachusetts, where
same-sex marriage is legal, had the lowest divorce rate in the United
States: 5.7 divorces per 1,000 married people. In contrast, some of
the states where strong opposition to same-sex marriage predomi-
nates have the highest rates: 10.8 divorces per 1,000 married people
in Kentucky and 12.7 in Arkansas (Goldberg, 2006).
At the state level, in 2011, 37 states had discriminatory laws
dening marriage as a union between a man and a woman (National
Conference of State Legislatures, 2011b). In contrast, in 2004 Mas-
sachusetts armed a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, mak-
ing it the rst state to issue fully legal marriage licenses to gay and
lesbian couples. Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Iowa, Maine,
Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, and Washington
subsequently legalized same-sex marriage (National Gay and Les-
bian Task Force, 2011). Some states that have not established gay
marriage have approved civil unions or domestic partnership laws
that provide some or all of the 300 rights, benets, and responsi-
bilities that states provide to married heterosexual couples. ese
Cindy McCain, wife of U.S. Senator John McCain, and
Laura Bush, wife of former president George W. Bush,
came out in support of gay marriage in 2010.
iStockphoto.com/GYI NSEA
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268 CHAPTER 9
include California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois,
Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin.
About 22% of all same-sex couples in the United States
have formalized their relationships under state laws of vari-
ous types (Badgett & Herman, 2011). Some same-sex couples
consider the increased legitimacy and benets of civil union to
be highly important, while others do not consider civil union
to be signicant in comparison to marriage (Rothblum et al.,
2011). e percentage of same-sex couples who marry is sig-
nicantly higher than the percentage of couples who estab-
lish civil unions and domestic partnerships, indicating that
the meaning of marriage goes beyond the practical aspects of
a legally recognized relationship (Gates et al., 2008). Being
married may provide psychological as well as practical ben-
ets for gays and lesbians (Bue, 2011; Shulman et al., 2012).
Research does indicate that discriminatory laws and antigay
political initiatives against same-sex marriage create psychological stress for sexual
minorities and their families (Fingerhut et al., 2011; Frost, 2011; Herek, 2011).
In 2011, for the rst time several national polls of the general population found over
50% support for same-sex marriage. Younger people, women, liberal Democrats, and peo-
ple who were not aliated with a religion tended to view same-sex marriage more favor-
ably (Sherkat et al., 2011). Support for same-sex marriage has increased and is expected
to continue to do so because of younger peoples more accepting attitudes. In addition, in
May 2012, President Obama announced his personal support of same-sex marriage.
Controversy over legal civil marriage for gays and lesbians will play out at the state
and national levels for years to come. e conict is about much more than two same-
sex people marrying; it is also about what kind of country the United States will be: Is
America indeed to be a nation where we all, minorities as well as majorities, popular
as well as unpopular, get to make important choices in our lives, or is it to be a land of
liberty and justice for some?” (Wolfson, 2005, p. 18).
Homosexuality and the Media
The media have both reflected the changing attitudes toward homosexuality and influ-
enced public awareness and attitudes. Making gays more commonly known in the main-
stream media provides an opportunity for greater familiarity with and understanding
of homosexuality. Since the mid-1960s, daytime talk shows have brought previously
unknown visibility to gays, lesbians, and bisexual people. Talk shows focus on contro-
versial topics gave homosexual guests unprecedented opportunities to represent their
own lives and issues. Homosexuality also became more visible—and was portrayed in a
more positive light—in films during the 1990s. For example, the 1993 film Philadelphia,
starring Tom Hanks, was the first major Hollywood feature to confront homophobia
and AIDS and was a box-office success. In the later 1990s, movies such as My Best
Friends Wedding began to portray homosexuals in more ordinary roles. The movie
Brokeback Mountain, a love story of two Wyoming cowboys, won numerous awards and
was the first same-sex romance to be number one at the box office (Vary, 2006).
Gay, lesbian, and bisexual characters now appear in many TV shows. Some that
are particularly popular with critics and viewers include Glee, True Blood, e Good
Wife, Grey’s Anatomy, and Modern Family. For the 2011–2012 television season, the
ve broadcast networks—ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, and e CW—had 19 gay, lesbian,
and bisexual characters, and mainstream cable had approximately 28 gay, lesbian, and
bisexual characters on regular series programs (GLAAD, 2011).
© Mike Luckovich
In 2009 Ellen DeGeneres became the
celebrity spokesperson for CoverGirl
and Olay Simply Ageless makeup.
The Advertising Archives
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Sexual Orientations269 269
Coming Out
We look now at how gay people must deal with the conflict of
being gay in a predominantly heterosexual society, and the poten-
tially hostile social environment that is posed to them as a result.
The decision to be secretive or open about their sexual orientation
affects the lives of all gay men and lesbians.
e extent to which homosexual individuals decide to be secre-
tive or open about their sexual orientation signicantly impacts their
lives in profound ways. ere are various degrees of being “in the
closet, and several steps are involved in coming out—acknowledg-
ing, accepting, and openly expressing one’s homosexuality (Patter-
son, 1995). Gays, lesbians, and bisexual people base decisions about
coming out on issues of safety and acceptance for themselves and
others. Individuals come out at all ages, including at advanced ages,
as portrayed in the 2011 lm Beginners. Being openly lesbian, gay,
or bisexual can be personally liberating but may not be adaptive in
every situation (Legate et al., 2012). Passing as heterosexual can help
an individual avoid negative social consequences but exacts its toll
in the stresses of maintaining secrecy (Malcolm, 2008). Individual
circumstances signicantly aect decisions about coming out.
Historical context also inuences coming out, as indicated in a
study of three dierent generations of lesbians:
1. Lesbians who became adults before the gay rights era began
in the 1970s
2. Lesbians who became adults during the gay rights era,
between 1970 and 1985
3. Lesbians who became adults after 1985
With each consecutive age group, womens awareness of their
sexual orientation, initial same-sex sexual experience, labeling of
themselves as lesbian, and disclosing to others occurred earlier in
life. For example, women in the youngest group were, on average,
20 years old when they identified themselves as lesbian, whereas
women in the oldest group were 32 years old. The most significant change over time
was that more and more women had sexual experiences with other women before
having such experiences with men. This was true for most women in the youngest
group, whereas the opposite was true for most women in both older groups (Parks,
1999).
Although coming-out decisions are unique to each individual and situation, many
have common elements: self-acknowledgment, self-acceptance, and disclosure. We look
at each of these in the following sections.
Self-Acknowledgment
The initial step in coming out is usually a persons realization that she or he feels dif-
ferent from the mainstream heterosexual model (Meyer & Schwitzer, 1999). Some
people report knowing that they were attracted to the same sex when they were small
children. Many realize during adolescence that something is missing in their hetero-
sexual involvements and that they find same-sex peers sexually attractive (Cloud,
2005). Some may feel uncertain of their sexual orientation: One study found that
2% of youth ages 12 to 25 reported being “unsure” of their sexual orientation (Ott
et al., 2011).
Modern Family began its rst season in 2009 on ABC and
has won numerous awards as well as receiving criticism
for reinforcing sexist stereotypes. The sitcom features
three families, one of which is a gay couple with an
adopted Vietnamese baby girl.
ABC/Photofest
coming out
The process of becoming aware of
and disclosing one’s homosexual
identity.
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270 CHAPTER 9
Once individuals recognize homosexual feelings, they must
usually confront their own internalized homophobia as they deal
with the reality that they belong to a stigmatized minority group
(Herek et al., 2009). Some lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals
attempt to conceal or suppress their sexual orientation, even from
their own awareness. ese people actively seek sexual encounters
with members of the other sex, and it has not been uncommon
for them to marry in an attempt to convince themselves of their
normalcy” and avoid openly confronting their sexual orientation
(Hudson et al., 2007; Malcolm, 2008). Marrying in spite of same-
sex orientation is more likely the more stigmatized and taboo
homosexuality is. For example, although prejudice against homo-
sexuality has lessened slightly in China, nearly 80% of men who
identify themselves as homosexual either are married or intend to
marry (Cui, 2006).
Self-Acceptance
Accepting one’s homosexuality is the next important step
after realizing it. Self-acceptance is often difficult, because it
involves overcoming the internalized negative and homopho-
bic societal view of homosexuality. When individuals belong
to a socially stigmatized group, self-acceptance becomes a dif-
ficult but essential challenge (Ryan & Futterman, 2001).
Coming out can be especially problematic for teenagers.
Most gay and lesbian teens experience confusion about their
feelings and have few places to go for support and guidance.
At a stage of development when a sense of belonging to their
peer group is especially important, almost half of gay and les-
bian teens lost at least one friend after they came out (Ryan &
Futterman, 1997). Especially if they exhibit gender nonconfor-
mity, they may encounter considerable hostility, bullying, and
rejection that can negatively aect psychological well-being
(Rieger & Savin-Williams, 2011). Prompted by media reports
of teen suicides from bullying, sex columnist Dan Savage
launched the It Gets Better” project on YouTube in 2010. e
project shows LGBT adults telling their personal stories about
overcoming stigma during their lives.
Judgment from their own families is another source of
stress for people who come out. Some parents throw their gay
children out of the house or stop providing support for their
education. A study of 60,000 high school students in Massachusetts found that 25%
of gay and lesbian students were homeless, compared to 3% of heterosexual students
(Lazar, 2011). In addition, lesbian, gay, and bisexual young adults who experienced fam-
ily rejection during their adolescence due to their sexual orientation were over eight
times more likely to have attempted suicide, almost six times more likely to report high
levels of depression, and over three times more likely to have used illegal drugs and to
have engaged in unprotected intercourse compared to peers who experienced little or no
family rejection (Ryan et al., 2009). Conversely, research has found that a positive reac-
tion from the mother to the youths coming out serves as a signicant protective factor
(Padilla et al., 2010).
In the 2005 lm Brokeback Mountain, two ranch hands
fall in love with each other and struggle with their lives
and a community that has no space or tolerance for their
relationship. The movie won three Academy Awards.
FOCUS FEATURES/THE COBAL COLLECTION
RODGER MALLISON/MCT/Landov
The president of a high school Gay Straight Alliance holds a
badge she wears at a White
House LBGT Conference on Safe
Schools and Communities in 2012.
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Sexual Orientations271 271
Despite the discrimination that homosexual adolescents face, many of them can
cope eectively and develop an integrated and positive identity (Savin-Williams,
2005). Sexual orientation itself is not correlated to poor psychological well-being
of high school students (Rieger & Savin-Williams, 2011). It is helpful for gay and
lesbian adolescents to nd at least one supportive, nonjudgmental adult with whom
to talk. e Internet provides teens with sexual health education and connections
to others to help reduce their isolation (Mustanski et al., 2011). Support groups
and gay teen organizations are emerging to help teens deal with the diculties they
face. More than 3,600 high schools sponsor gay–straight alliances to foster accep-
tance of sexual minority students (Setoodeh, 2008). e rst accredited public high
school for gay students, Harvey Milk School, in New York City, opened its doors
in fall 2003 to provide students with a safe and supportive learning environment
(Henneman, 2003).
Disclosure
Following acknowledgment and self-acceptance is the decision to be secretive or open.
Occasionally, a gay man, lesbian, or bisexual individual will find others abruptly open-
ing the closet door for him or her. Outing is the term for the public disclosure of some-
one’s secret homosexual orientation by someone else. Otherwise, being homosexual
usually requires ongoing decisions about whether to be in or out of the closet as new
relationships and situations unfold. Passing is a term sometimes used for maintain-
ing the false image of heterosexuality. Passing as heterosexual is usually easy because
most people assume that everyone is heterosexual. Heterosexual people sometimes do
not understand disclosure issues, as exemplified by the following comment:
I don’t see any reason why they have to tell anyone. They can just lead their
lives without making such a big deal out of it. (Authors’ files)
In some daily interactions, sexual orientation is irrelevant, but sexual orienta-
tion is a strong undercurrent that touches many parts of life. Imagine being a clos-
eted homosexual person and hearing a friend make a
derogatory reference to “fags or dykes”; being asked,
When are you going to settle down and get mar-
ried?”; being invited to bring a date to an oce party
where acceptance is uncertain; or not ever being able
to hang out with your signicant other with friends,
family, or in public at all.
With some exceptions, the more within the sys-
tem one is or desires to be, the more risk there is in
being open about one’s sexual orientation. Jobs, social
position, and friendships can all be placed in jeopardy.
e conservativeness of the surrounding community
or time in history can further aect ones decisions
about whether to come out and to whom. Urban set-
tings often increase the likelihood that individuals will
express their gay or lesbian sexual orientation (Chiang,
2009). In the Let’s Talk About It box,Guidelines for
Coming Out to Friends, we oer some suggestions for
coming out.
Jason Bartlett won reelection as a state representative in Connecticut
after coming out to his constituents during his rst term, becoming the
rst openly gay African American state legislator in the United States.
Courtesy of Representative Jason Bartlett
passing
Presenting a false image of being
heterosexual.
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272 CHAPTER 9
Telling the Family
Disclosing ones homosexuality to family can be more difficult than disclosing it to
others. Coming out to one’s family is a particularly significant step, as the following
account by a 35-year-old man illustrates:
Most of my vacation at home went well, but the ending was indeed difficult.
Gay people kept cropping up in conversation. My mother was very down on
them (us), and I of course was disagreeing with her. Finally she asked me if
I was one of them.I said yes. It was very difficult for her to deal with. She
asked a lot of questions, which I answered as calmly, honestly, and rationally
as I could. We spent a rather strained day together. It was so painful for me to
see her suffering so much heartache over this and not even having a clue that
the issue is the oppression of gay people. I just wish my mother didn’t have to
suffer so much from all this. (Authors’ files)
Parents may react with anger or guilt about what they did wrong. Research does
indicate that as societal attitudes become more positive about homosexuality, parents
react more receptively to disclosure (Pearlman, 2005). Families that are less rigid and
Guidelines for Coming Out to Friends
LET’S TALK
ABOUT IT
If you are a gay man or lesbian, the unexpected is to be
expected when you come out to a friend.
A friend who is
“liberal” may have more difculty than a more “conserva-
tive” person. It is essential to remember that your friend’s
reactions say more about his or her own strengths and weak-
nesses than about you. The following guidelines are meant
to help you begin devising your own plan of disclosure.
They
are adapted from the book Outing Yourself, by Michelangelo
Signorile (1995).
1. Form a support network. You should have a support net-
work of gays in place, especially those who have come out
to lots of different people in their lives. Their experiences
and support will give you a solid base from which to act.
2. Choose the rst person to tell. Try to make your rst
disclosure to a heterosexual person an easy one. You
might not choose your best straight friend, because the
stakes are high. Pick someone whom you would expect
to be accepting.
The person also needs to be trustworthy
and capable of keeping your news private for a while as
you come out to others.
3. Practice mentally. Practice imagining yourself com-
ing out in realistic detail.
Picture yourself in a familiar
setting where both you and your friend will be comfort-
able. Envision feeling pleased with yourself for shar-
ing something you feel good about (not something
you have to apologize for). Practice saying, There’s
something I want to tell you about myself, because our
friendship is important to me. I trust you, and you’re
close to me. I am a lesbian/I am gay.
4. Plan in advance. Plan the time: Be sure to allow enough
time to talk at length if things go well.
Plan the place: Be
sure it is somewhere both of you will be comfortable.
Arrange to have at least one of your gay friends avail-
able for support afterward and for debrieng. Be pre-
pared to calmly answer such questions as, How do you
know you’re gay?”
How long have you known?” “What
caused it?” “Can you change?” “Do you have AIDS?”
5. Rely on patience. Remember that you are telling your
friend something he or she has not had a chance to
prepare for, whereas you have had a lot of time to
prepare. Many people are surprised, shocked, and
confused and need some time to think or ask ques-
tions. An initial negative reaction does not necessarily
mean the friend will not accept it. If a friend reacts
negatively but shows respect, stay and talk things
over. Sympathize with his or her shock and confusion:
“I can see this news upsets you.
6. Control your anger. If the person becomes hostile or
insulting, politely end the meeting: “I’m sorry you aren’t
accepting my news well, and its best for me to go now.
Don’t give your friend a real reason to be mad at you
by being mean or rude or ying off the handle. As you
come out to people, you will nd that some are not able
or willing to maintain their friendship with you. With
others, letting them know you more fully will allow the
meaning and closeness in the relationship to grow. Over
time you will create a network of friends with whom you
can enjoy the freedom of being your full self.
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Sexual Orientations273 273
authoritarian and more cohesive are more likely to react with less stress to disclosure
of homosexuality (Willoughby et al., 2006). e organization Parents, Families, and
Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), which has over 350 chapters nationwide, helps
parents and others develop understanding, acceptance, and support. Potentially more
problematic than coming out to ones parents is coming out to ones spouse and children.
A gay man or lesbian closeted in a heterosexual marriage may have grave concerns about
the reactions of his or her spouse and children, who indeed tend to struggle with the
disclosure (Sanders, 2000).
To a greater extent than White homosexual people, gay, lesbian, and bisexual people
from other racial and ethnic groups are more likely to stay in the closet with their fami-
lies and community than to be open and face alienation, not only from their families but
also from their heritage (Span & Vidal, 2003). For example, traditional Asian cultures
place greater signicance on loyalty and conformity to ones family than on individual
needs and desires. Being openly homosexual is seen as shaming the family, and not mar-
rying and creating heirs to carry on the family name is a failure for the whole extended
family. In addition, lesbianism is an aront to the traditions of an ethnic group that
expects virginity for unmarried women and views good women as primarily nonsexual.
e emphasis on masculinity as the ideal gender norm in the lower socioeconomic
segment of the African American community—and the emphasis on machismo for His-
panic men—creates particular diculty for gender-nonconforming individuals. In one
study, more Latino gays reported negative family reactions to their sexual orientation
as adolescents than did any other group of lesbian, gay, or bisexual teens (Ryan et al.,
2009). Another study found that suicide risk among young African American and His-
panic lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals may be greater than for Caucasian LGB youth
(O’Donnell et al., 2011).
In general, the African American community has stronger negative views of homo-
sexuals than does White society. Consequently, African American lesbians and gay men
have a greater incidence of psychological distress than do White homosexual people
as a result of racism and homophobia (Szymanski & Gupta, 2009). Although leaders
such as the Reverend Al Sharpton, Coretta Scott King, and the Reverend Jesse Jackson
have supported gay civil rights, the inuence of strong fundamentalist Christian beliefs
contributes to the higher degree of intolerance in the Black community. Many African
American lesbians and gay men who were aliated with the Black church as children
nd continued participation untenable as adults due to church-sanctioned antigay prej-
udice (R. Miller, 2008). Unfortunately, antigay prejudice has gravely hindered African
American communities from proactively addressing the AIDS crisis (Bond, 2006).
Involvement in the Gay Community
The need to belong is a deeply felt human trait. For many, the sexual minority com-
munity helps provide a feeling of belonging and the affirmation and acceptance that are
missing in the larger culture (Russell & Richards, 2003). Social and political involve-
ment with other homosexual people is another step in coming out. Homosexual people
have helped found service organizations, educational centers, and professional organiza-
tions, such as the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association and Gay and Lesbian Crimi-
nal Justice Professionals. Gay fraternities have formed on college campuses across the
United States. Homosexual retirement communities provide alternatives to traditional
retirement communities, in which older gays and lesbians may have to be on their guard
against negative attitudes of other residents (Rosenberg, 2001). Religious organizations
for homosexual people have been established, including the 43,000-member Metropoli-
tan Community Church, with 300 congregations in 22 countries, and denominational
groups such as Dignity for Roman Catholics and Integrity for Episcopalians. In addi-
tion, the Internet has provided a gay virtual community in ways never before possible.
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274 CHAPTER 9
e AIDS crisis precipitated increased community involvement and coherence.
e gay and lesbian communities mobilized educational eorts, developed innovative
programs for caring for AIDS patients, created an impressive network of volunteers to
provide needed support for persons with AIDS, and lobbied—often quite visibly—for
increased AIDS awareness and medical research funding.
Homosexual Relationships in Context
We sometimes hear references to the gay lifestyle in popular vernacular. What is the
gay lifestyle exactly? The term does not imply that all gays engage in the same work,
recreation, and spiritual activities. The word lifestyle seems to be a euphemism for
sexual conduct between same-sex partners (Howey & Samuels, 2000). There is no
gay lifestyle just as there is no straight lifestyle.” Homosexuals live as varied a life as
heterosexuals. All social classes, occupations, races, religions, and political persuasions
are represented among homosexual people. The only characteristics that homosexual
people necessarily have in common are their desire for emotional and sexual fulfillment
with someone of the same sex and their experiences of oppression from a hostile social
environment.
Some people mistakenly think that homosexual partners always enact the stereo-
typically active “male and passive “femaleroles. However, more egalitarian relationships
are being followed by both heterosexual and homosexual couples today. In regard to
gender roles, a homosexual relationship may well be more exible than a heterosexual
one in our society.
Gay and lesbian couples face challenges similar to those heterosexual couples face
in creating and maintaining satisfying relationships. In addition, they have distinctive
concerns as members of a stigmatized minority (Mohr & Daly, 2008). Developing self-
acceptance can be important because research nds that internalized homophobia is
associated with increased relationship problems (Frost & Meyer, 2009). In the absence
of social acceptance, couples face challenges regarding disclosing their relationship in
their personal and work lives and coping with the stress from antigay discrimination and
prejudice (Otis et al., 2006), such as we discussed in the previous section on coming out.
Comparison of Gay and Straight Relationships
The Gottman Institute conducted a 12-year study of gay and lesbian couples to exam-
ine what makes same-sex relationships succeed or fail (Gottman et al., 2004). When
the researchers compared the findings to results of their investigations with hetero-
sexual couples, they discovered that overall relationship satisfaction and quality were
similar for lesbian, gay, and straight couples. However, most of the differences between
gay/lesbian and straight couples revealed more strengths in the same-sex relationships.
Compared to straight couples, gay and lesbian couples:
1. Used more affection and humor in the face of conflict and disagreement.
2. Were more likely to remain positive after a disagreement.
3. Displayed less belligerence, fear, and domineering behavior with each other.
However, gay men were less skilled at making up after a disagreement than were
straight and lesbian couples.
Additional studies have found greater relationship quality, compatibility, and inti-
macy and lower levels of conict in gay and lesbian relationships; lesbians were espe-
cially eective at working harmoniously together (Balsam et al., 2008; Roisman et al.,
2008). Researchers speculate that the greater strengths of same-sex couples may be due
to the lack of the gender-role conicts that are inherent in heterosexual relationships.
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Sexual Orientations275 275
With regard to sexual interactions, lesbian sexual patterns tend to have more of the
characteristics often associated with greater sexual enjoyment for women. A review of
the research comparing lesbians and heterosexual womens sexual experiences found
that lesbian couples had more nongenital sexual interaction before genital contact, took
more time in a sexual encounter, felt more comfortable using erotic language with each
other, were more assertive sexually, and had lower rates of problems with orgasm than
did straight women (Iasenza, 2000). Further research that compared the subjective sex-
ual experiences of partners in heterosexual relationships to those of partners in same-
sex relationships found that heterosexual men derived somewhat less satisfaction from
tender, sensual, and erotic sexual activities than did heterosexual women and gay and
lesbian couples (Holmberg & Blair, 2008).
Differences Between Gays and Lesbians in Sexual
Attitude and Behavior
Homosexual men and women differ in the average number of their sexual partners.
Lesbians are likely to have had far fewer sexual partners, and lesbian couples are much
more likely than male couples to have monogamous relationships (Dubé, 2000; Roth-
blum, 2000). Lesbians associate emotional closeness with sex more than do gay men,
a finding consistent with the male/female heterosexual patterns discussed in Chapter
7. One study found that most lesbians waited to have sex with a partner until they had
developed emotional intimacy. Although 46% of gay men had become friends with
their partners before having sex, as a group they were more likely than lesbians to have
had sexual experiences with casual acquaintances or people they had just met (Sand-
ers, 2000).
Beginning in the 1980s a lesbian radical sex” subculture began to develop that
was unparalleled among heterosexual women. Involvement in recreational sex, anony-
mous sex, kinky” sex, group sex, sadomasochistic sex, and role-polarized sex play went
beyond the typical boundaries of female sexuality. Organizations sprang up for lesbians
who pursue these sexual expressions, and this subculture continues to grow (Bonet et
al., 2006; Nichols, 2000).
Before the AIDS epidemic some homosexual men had frequent casual sexual
encounters (Bell & Weinberg, 1978; Kinsey et al., 1948). ese encounters were
sometimes exceedingly brief, occurring in bathhouses, in public restrooms, or in lm
booths in pornography shops. is type of brief recreational sexual contact is on the
rise again, as AIDS has become less of a death sentence (Jeerson, 2005). However,
sexual involvement with many partners is not universal among homosexual men (Kur-
dek, 1995a). Some men want to have a strong emotional relationship before becoming
sexually involved. And for some men, being involved in an ongoing relationship elimi-
nates sexual interest in other men.
Family Life
Traditionally, a family has been considered to consist of a heterosexual couple and
their children, but many forms of family life exist in contemporary society. Surveys
indicate that between 45% and 80% of lesbians and between 40% and 60% of gay men
are currently in a steady relationship, and many have long-term cohabiting relation-
ships (National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 2003). Homosexual people also form
family units, either as single parents or as couples, with children, who are included in
the family through a variety of circumstances. Census data show that 17% of lesbian
and gay couples are raising children (Gates & Cooke, 2011). Many have children who
were born in previous heterosexual marriages. Others become parents with foster or
adopted children: In the last 10 years the number of same-sex couples who adopt has
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276 CHAPTER 9
tripled to almost 22,000 (Seager, 2011). A gay man or couple may enlist the help of a
surrogate to have a baby. In 2010 CNN presented a documentary titled In America:
Gary and Tony Have a Baby, which followed the gay couple through their decision to
become parents, their surrogacy process, and the first 6 months of their sons life.
Most laws about adoption by homosexual parents are ambiguous, and in many cases
homosexual people have to adopt as individuals rather than as couples. In 1998 New
Jersey became the rst state to allow partners in gay and lesbian couples to jointly adopt
children, and California, Colorado, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Florida, Illi-
nois, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, and Vermont have since established laws
to permit such adoptions (Human Rights Campaign, 2011).
People have questioned the ability of homosexual parents to provide a positive family
environment for children. However, research has found that concern to be unfounded.
e U.S. National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study (NLLFS) has followed lesbian
mothers and their children since 1980, and the study’s results show that children of les-
bian mothers are essentially no dierent from other children in terms of general devel-
opment, self-esteem, gender-related problems, gender roles, and sexual orientation (Bos
& van Balen, 2008; Bos et al., 2008). After analyzing scientic research on gay and les-
bian parenthood, the American Academy of Pediatrics decided to endorse adoption by
gay and lesbian couples to provide children with the security of two legally recognized
parents (Contemporary Sexuality, 2002). e American Psychiatric Association also
supports the rights of gay and lesbian parents (Gartell et al., 2011).
Unfortunately, children with gay or lesbian parents often face various expressions of
homophobia, such as bullying, name-calling in school, or being forbidden by friends’ par-
ents to visit those friends at home (Signorile, 2011; van Gelderen et al., 2012). Research
has found that attending schools with curricula that include discussions of homosexual-
ity and socializing with other lesbian families helped to lessen the impact of the homo-
phobic stigma the children encountered (Bos, van Balen et al., 2008). A comparison
between children of lesbian mothers in the United States and the Netherlands found
that the Dutch children were more open with their peers about having lesbian parents,
reecting the diering levels of acceptance in the two countries. For example, 49% of
people in the United States compared to 66% of people in the Netherlands said that they
believe homosexual couples should have the legal right to adopt a child (Bos, van Balen
et al., 2008). As acceptance of homosexuality increases, the well-being of gay and lesbian
parents will benet from a favorable legal climate, gay-friendliness of the neighborhood,
and support in the workplace and from friends and families (Goldberg & Smith, 2011).
A Continuum of Sexual Orientations
Asexuality is a lack of sexual attraction to either sex.
Kinseys seven-point continuum ranges from exclusive
heterosexuality to exclusive homosexuality. Kinsey based
his ratings on a combination of erotic attraction and overt
sexual behaviors.
Bisexuality can be characterized by overt behaviors and/or
erotic responses to both males and females. It is dicult to
establish a clear-cut denition of bisexuality.
Sexual uidity appears much more often in women than in
men.
According to estimates from the National Health and Social
Life Survey, approximately 2.8% of men and 1.4% of women
identify themselves as homosexual.
What Determines Sexual Orientation?
A number of psychosocial and biological theories have
attempted to explain the development of homosexuality.
Summary
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