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The enemy within.

IT HAS LONG BEEN A STAPLE OF PSYCH 101 THAT THE THING YOU hate most 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 turned-on.

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 actors.

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 horniness, 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 response," 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 students.

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 from themselves. I wouldn't trade places in a second.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:homophobia among gay men
Author:Rotello, Gabriel
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Apr 1, 1997
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