The enemy within.
in other people is the thing you hate in yourself. It doesn't take
Freud to figure out that those who hate gay people with the
most passion may be suppressing a considerable amount of gay
passion of their own.
The idea was never scientifically tested, however, until last
year, when Henry Adams, a professor of clinical psychology
at the University of Georgia, conducted the first study to
measure quite literally--the homosexuality of homophobes.
Adams recruited 64 straight white male college students,
rated their level of homophobia according to a standard
psychological test, and divided the men into two groups:
those who were homophobic and those who were not. Then
came the good part. He hooked up the men to devices called
penile plethysmographs, which measure arousal, and showed
them three different kinds of porn videos: heterosexual,
lesbian, and gay male. And you'll never guess what. The men
who tested nonhomophobic were, for the most part, left cold
by the gay porn. But the men in the homophobic group were
How turned-on? Well, plethysmographs can measure
physical changes in tiny, otherwise undetectable increments,
but in this case they didn't have to. "With college students,
they mostly get full erections," says Adams. "Here you're
talking about averages of 60% to 80% of full erection within
four minutes." Impressive. And what kind of porn videos
produced this priapic surge? "We used commercially available
videos," says Adams, ones that were judged to be highly
erotic, at least to people who respond to the sex of the
Adams seems a pretty rigorous, scientific fellow, and he
doesn't want people poking holes in his work. Since anxiety
has been known to lead to hominess, some critics have
proposed that the phobes may have developed their
impressive tumescences out of panic or disgust. So just to be
sure, Adams is conducting a new study that will be just like
the first but will also measure something called "startle
responge," using another standard test that registers shock,
upset, revulsion. But Adams does
not expect that this will change his result, and
neither did any other experts I spoke to.
People who are habitually anxious may be
more easily aroused, but people who are
grossed out or startled by something do not usually respond
with full-fledged erections in four minutes. Not even college
This study raised a host of questions, not least of which is
why it was never done before. According to Adams, penile
plethysmographs are frequently used to study the sexual
response of rapists and other sexual aggressors, and such
studies are easy to conduct, inexpensive, and considered
highly accurate. So why did it take decades? And why haven't
similar studies been mounted to clear up other simmering
controversies? Like, for example, all those claims about
therapies that supposedly "cure" homosexuality. If the penis
never lies, why not wire up a bunch of "cured" ex-gays and let
their phalluses do the talking?
But the study also has troubling implications. Many gay
people seemed thrilled with the result, since it bolsters the
idea that homophobia is indeed a phobia, a maladjustment to
something deep inside yourself. That's certainly true, and I
suppose I should be happy that someone has finally proved
that many of those
parading fanatics, religious-minded prudes, and censorious
busybodies are in the throes of repression and self-revulsion
and are merely projecting onto me and those I love the thing
they hate in themselves. In a way I am. But not that happy.
Because what Adams's study also means is that many of the
most maladjusted homophobes are really homosexual men.
And that means that when we get dissed and discriminated
against and bashed, we are often getting bashed by ourselves.
That the men who hate us the most are us.
This hardly seems like a victory. It seems terribly sad.
Homophobia has many victims--indeed, we're all its
victims--but it hardly makes me jump for joy to realize that
among those victims are the homophobes themselves. I
can barely imagine how it must feel to be so repulsed
by my own desire that my only response is to hate
those who have come to terms with
themselves. Back in the swinging '60s there was a
popular bumper sticker: CHASTITY IS ITS OWN PUNISHMENT.
I guess you could say the same
for this. In that sense the final goal of gay liberation
ought not be the liberation of just the openly gay
but the antigay as well. We need liberation from
them. And they need liberation
I wouldn't trade places
in a second.
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|Publication:||The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)|
|Date:||Apr 1, 1997|
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