Adverse Responses to Homosexuality
While adverse responses to behavior viewed as deviant is a common and sometimes essential element of social order, too frequently this tendency goes overboard, such that these adverse responses actually end up disturbing social harmony far more than the perceived deviance. This is nowhere more true than in the case of homosexuality, because not only do homosexuals continue to face adverse responses to their sexual orientation, recent research has demonstrated that homosexual behavior is not actually deviant in terms of frequency or distribution; instead, when homosexuality is criticized as being deviant, in reality it is the acknowledgment of homosexuality as a common and “natural” state of being that deviates from relatively long-standing social conventions. Examining a few specific adverse responses faced by homosexuals alongside recent social and biological research into the phenomenon reveals not only the extent of these adverse responses, but also the way in which these responses, far from being unique responses to homosexuality, are instead generic attempts to maintain social controls that legitimize a worldview rapidly divorced from reality.
At first glance, the suggestion that the adverse responses faced by homosexuals are not “unique” to homosexuality may appear to diminish the very real hardships faced by many homosexuals in contemporary society, but in reality, this acknowledgment actually legitimizes homosexuals’ identity and orientation while demonstrating how these adverse responses are effectively the last gasp of a dying worldview; in other words, the move to label homosexuality as deviant and treat it as such, both personally and politically, is in actuality an attempt to hide the fact that anti-homosexual ideas are themselves rapidly becoming deviant, as a result of broader social acceptance and research demonstrating both the frequency of homosexual behavior and its social and evolutionary benefits. Thus, to accurately describe the adverse responses and social controls aimed at homosexuals, it is necessary to first address this research, in order to better understand how homosexuality functions as a social and biological phenomenon.
Over the last decade one of the most heated debates surrounding homosexuality was the question of whether homosexual orientation is a choice, meaning that someone could actively choose whether or not they were attracted to members of the same or opposite sex. Obviously, the question itself is considered offensive to a number of homosexuals due to what it implies, namely, that if homosexuality was a choice that would somehow delegitimize homosexual behavior or identity. Thus, in an actually free society that is respectful of individual autonomy, the correct answer to this question would be “it does not matter.” However, numerous and sometimes powerful groups have pressed the issue, to the point that an entire industry of “gay therapy” programs exist as a way for homosexuals to “cure” themselves of their orientation (frequently in the context of religious ideology) (Beeler & DiProva, 1999, p. 444). As a result, it is necessary to examine the social and biological underpinnings of homosexuality, particularly because behavior viewed as deviant is met with harsher responses when that behavior appears to be entirely voluntary, rather than the result of in-born or biological factors (Gomme, 2007, p. 7). Furthermore, appreciating the biological underpinnings of homosexuality will actually allow one to better understand the concept of deviancy as such, because the logical disconnect between the reality of homosexuality and the justifications for labeling it as deviant demonstrates that the concept is almost entirely dependent on subjective cultural factors, rather than any actual “deviance” from quantitative or qualitative standards.
Although something like sexual behavior and attraction is of course mediated by environment, experience, and social pressure, recent research has identified a number of biological factors that, while not “proving” that homosexuality is the product of genetics, do demonstrate that homosexuality has biological underpinnings. Perhaps more interesting that this discovery, however, is the fact that identifying some of homosexuality’s biological roots allows one to subsequently analyze homosexual behavior as an evolutionarily-developed trait, one that seems to be beneficial enough that it continues to be passed down, despite the fact that in many cases throughout history open homosexuality was met with physical reprisal. Understanding how homosexuality can be viewed as an evolutionarily advantageous trait subsequently allows one to better understand the perceived link between homosexuality and deviance, and helps reveal how the adverse responses and social controls faced by homosexuals are ultimately based on a worldview that is entirely inconsistent with the available evidence.
Discussing the entirety of the biological research on the issue is far beyond the scope of this study, so it will suffice to summarize the major findings thus far. In short, researchers have found certain gene alleles that contribute to personality differences, and that some of these differences result in homosexual identification as a result of more “feminine” traits being expressed (although the use of “feminine” to describe traits such as “sensitivity, empathy, tendermindedness, and kindness” is problematic from the perspective of gender normativity, this remains the vocabulary of choice within biological literature and thus will be used here) (Miller, 2000, p. 1). In some cases the influence of these gene alleles is heightened by hormonal changes in the birth mother, such that subsequently born sons are more likely to be homosexual (Miller, 2000, p. 12-13). Again, while this does not “prove” that homosexuality is entirely dependent on genetic lineage and a mother’s hormones, it does demonstrate that homosexuality has some biological origins entirely independent of any particular individual’s voluntary choices.
In turn, this reveals the evolutionary advantage of homosexuality, which is namely that homosexual individuals contribute to the welfare of the larger social structure (whether family, village, or country) by reducing the competition for sexual reproduction and subsequently creating an entire subset of adults able to care for the well-being of the community and next generation rather than competing to birth that next generation (Miller, 2000, p. 15-16). Furthermore, the variability in personality types that arises from the same gene variability that produces homosexuality ensures that the population as a whole is more varied, which contributes to both biological and social resiliency (Miller, 2000, p. 16). Obviously this is a rather quick and generalized description of homosexuality’s evolutionary advantages and characteristics, but it is enough to now consider the adverse responses and social controls that continue to face homosexuals, because it will now be possible to understand the underlying motivation and ideological purpose of these responses and controls.
Although one could an entire book on the adverse responses facing homosexuals (and many have), for the purposes of this study it will be useful to highlight a few of the most obvious, such as “gay-bashing,” opposition to gay marriage, and opposition to gays in the military, because taken together they help demonstrate the underlying anxiety and deviance that is the root of practically all adverse responses to homosexuality. To begin, one must note that the vast majority of opposition to homosexuality is rooted in religious ideology, and as such cannot be taken seriously because by definition, religious ideology is based on sheer assertion and belief without evidence (faith). While other justifications for opposition to homosexuality may be just as spurious, they cannot be as easily dismissed as subjective, arbitrary standards, because they do not take as their basis the dictates of imaginary beings.
One may begin, then, by remarking that the primary opposition to gay marriage is based on one of two beliefs (and frequently a combination of the two): that homosexual behavior is “unnatural,” and thus should not be encouraged, or that heterosexual marriage is a key, sustaining element of modern society, and thus cannot be diminished or altered in any way. The first belief is obviously false, as research has repeatedly demonstrated that not only is homosexuality relatively common in humans, it is seen throughout the animal world as well. However, homosexuality is rarer that heterosexuality (with best estimates suggesting roughly ten percent of population), and because “there is a certain intuitive appeal in the notion that part of defining something as deviant depends on the rarity with which it occurs,” homosexuality has historically been labeled deviant regardless of the fact that it is both relatively common and evolutionarily advantageous (Gomme, 2007, p. 5). The second argument, that heterosexual marriage is a long-standing and integral part of human society, simply disregards the wide swaths of history in which homosexual marriage and relationships were accepted and even lauded, from the Platonic relationships of ancient Greece to the ceremonies honoring “spiritual brotherhoods” performed by Christians all the way up to the 1300s.
Similarly, opposition to gays in the military is itself based on a kind of willful ignorance. This opposition stems from a faulty assumption, buttressed by a misunderstanding of the potential problem being described. Initial opposition is based on the idea that homosexual men and women would somehow be unable to control themselves when placed in close contact with individuals of the same sex, but this is rooted in a long-standing trope that homosexuals are somehow more sexual than heterosexual individuals. While there is no verifiable evidence for this assumption, it is reasonable to presume that it is born out of the fact that due to homosexuality’s perceived deviance, all homosexual behavior appears to somehow be excessively sexual, in that existing at all is “excessive.” Thus, when a film or television show features heterosexual relationships nothing is made of it, but when homosexual relationships are included, the focus almost inexorably goes towards those relationships and their sexual elements, such that even texts which purport to normalize homosexual behavior actually end up further ostracizing it. (Piontel, 2012, p. 123-124). Obviously, homosexual people can control their sexual interests as well as heterosexuals, which is actually evidenced by the fact that homosexuals have already been serving in the military, albeit not openly.
From here, however, those forces that continue to react adversely to the idea of having homosexuals serving in the military make a curios movement, suggesting that allowing homosexuals to serve openly would create problems with unit cohesion, as heterosexual service members might feel uncomfortable around homosexuals. It is this argument that reveals the underlying deviancy of opposition to homosexuality, because the argument attempts to portray the illogical discomfort of a heterosexual homophobe as an acceptable, non-deviant position, when in fact this position is more damaging and socially disharmonious than simply being homosexual. In short, the deviant, problematic idea or behavior is not that of being homosexual, but rather of being uncomfortable with homosexuality, and as this becomes a more widely accepted position, opponents of homosexuality will only attempt to make it appear more and more deviant, as a means of keeping their own worldview from appearing deviant itself.
Karen Tulchinsky explores this concept in her story “A Different Kind of Love,” which deals with a mother coming to accept her daughter’s lesbian relationship, acknowledging that her daughter’s love for her partner is similar to her love for her husband, except “it’s just a different kind of love. That’s all” (Tulchinsky, 1995, p. 10). Although Tulchinsky’s story is fairly predictable and ends rather more neatly than most real-life discussions of the issue, it is nevertheless helpful for understanding the adverse reactions faced by homosexuals as a result of homosexuality’s perceived deviance, and furthermore, how opposition to homosexuality is itself becoming a deviant attitude. At first the narrator has an issue with her daughter’s relationship, but by the end of the story, she comes to realize that how deviance is defined by society is more dependent on arbitrary standards than any integral attributes. The narrator realizes that in the same way that her daughter’s relationship might be viewed as deviant, her own decision to start dating “so soon” after her husband’s death would likely be viewed in the same manner by some people (Tulchinsky, 1995, p. 10).
However, although homosexuality is gradually gaining greater acceptance (to the point that a U.S. President has felt comfortable endorsing gay marriage), the fact remains that homosexuals continue to face a number of adverse responses and social controls that inhibit their ability to participate fully in society. Some of the more obvious social controls, like laws prohibiting gay marriage or openly serving in the military, are being challenged directly, and all the evidence indicates that they will be overturned, altered, or done away with in relatively short order. As these are the most obvious forms of social control, in many ways they are the easiest to change, because there are preexisting avenues of influence (such as voting, lobbying, etc.) with which to alter these explicit, codified responses to homosexuality.
More pernicious are the less codified but no less important adverse responses and social controls that continue to face homosexuals, such as bullying and “gay-bashing.” This can range from simple linguistic issues such as the use of “homo,” “gay,” and “fag” as insults, to more directly serious problems like assault and murder. It is important to acknowledge the connection between these issues, because the less dramatic responses ultimately serve to reinforce the more violent ones. Furthermore, as opposition to homosexuality becomes increasingly unacceptable in contemporary society, it seems reasonable to presume that this opposition, while diminishing in size, will increase in volume and ferocity; after all, an ideology based on oppressing and ostracizing a significant portion of the population based on arbitrary standards of sexual deviancy seems unlikely to retreat quietly, but will instead fight harder and harder.
Despite recent advances, homosexuals continue to face adverse responses and social controls due to their perceived deviancy, ranging from subtle insults to legislation and physical attacks. While this is lamentable, especially in a society as supposedly advanced as the twenty-first century world is, it does at least offer a useful case study in the way deviancy is defined and acted upon. In terms of sheer frequency, homosexuality is not so rare that it can be considered exceptional, and the supposed negative social effects of homosexuality are actually contradicted by the social and biological evidence, which shows that not only is homosexuality evolutionarily advantageous on the scale of populations, but that the same mechanisms responsibility for homosexuality are responsible for the wide varieties of personality that allow human society to function. Recognizing that reality does not comport with the given justifications for labeling homosexuality deviant allows one to better understand how deviancy is largely a subjective label, and changes depending on the time, place, and culture. In fact, examining the adverse responses and social controls still faced by homosexuals actually leads one to the inevitable conclusion that opposition to homosexuality is itself becoming a deviant position, and that the recent heated debates over the issue are likely the result of their likely fate and fighting against it.
Beeler, J., & DiProva, V. (1999). Family adjustment following disclosure of homosexuality by a member: Themes discerned in narrative accounts. Journal of Marital and Family
Therapy, 25(4), 443-59.
Gomme, I. (2007). The shadow line. (4th ed.). Scarborough: Nelson Education Ltd.
Miller, E. (2000). Homosexuality, birth order, and evolution: Toward an equilibrium reproductive economics of homosexuality. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 29(1), 1-34.
Piontek, T. (2012). Tears for queers: Ang lee’s brokeback mountain, hollywood, and american attitudes toward homosexuality. The Journal of American Culture, 35(2), 123-134.
Tulchinksy, K. (1995). A different kind of love. In her nature. Toronto: Toronto Women’s