Homosexuals: Deviant or Minority Group?
Helen M. Hacker Originally published 1971
At no time since the Civil War has American society been so conscious of the problem of minority groups. Not only has social action acquired a new impetus in the implementation of rights for the traditionally recognized minority groups, but ever widening social categories are being proposed as candidates for minority group status. The essence of the minority group concept is that persons with some socially defined characteristics or syndrome of characteristics are denied full participation in certain social roles for which these attributes are deemed irrelevant.
The question arises, though: In whose scheme of values does this irrelevance obtain? Only when there is some cleavage of values can we speak of minority group status, because obviously if everyone agreed on the criteria for entrance into a social status, there would be equal consensus on when exclusion was warranted or when it represented discrimination.
The relevance or irrelevance of a given characteristic for a given status can be viewed both objectively and subjectively. Skin color, for example, is objectively irrelevant to performance as a physician, but subjectively, a white patient may lack confidence in a black doctor, or a black student for similar psychological reasons may learn more readily from a black teacher. Usually, the group which sees itself as having minority status stresses the functional or objective irrelevance of the trait which members possess in common, and it is the dominant group which insists on the subjective relevance of the minority attribute.
A further distinction must be made in this matter of relevance. It may not be an all-or-nothing situation. That is, some degree, for example, of physical strength or intelligence may be required for a particular job, but not as much as the job definition specifies or which would prevent mentally or physically handicapped persons from performing adequately. In this instance, following the lead of Marx and Marcuse, one might speak of surplus-discrimination.
Thus we see that the minority group problem, as Myrdal pointed out so long ago in An American Dilemma,1 lies in the conflict between social values which push toward the increasing implementation of the democratic creed and those which make for the persistence and creation of groups defined by some common and negatively evaluated characteristic. The issue centers around the relevance of this characteristic to various kinds of social participation. Relevance may represent a continuum, and minority group status consist in being assigned to an erroneous and unwarranted place on this continuum. The error can arise from an unrealistic inflation of the requirements of the status which bars otherwise capable individuals from entering that status, or from an unrealistic and erroneous perception of the capabilities of a person or group seeking entrance to it. An example of the first kind of error might be the recent case of a Negro policeman who protested that the command of fine grammatical points tested in a promotional examination would not be required in the position to which he aspired. The second kind of error is seen, for example, in an inadequate appreciation of the extent to which a physically handicapped person may be able to compensate for his defect. Those making these two kinds of errors make some pretense at least of an objective assessment of the relationship between qualification and admittance. Overriding both of these is a simple dislike or rejection of the group in question on the basis of a negative evaluation of its defining characteristics.
This view of the minority group problem permits us to apply the concept to many social categories which in the past have been considered in terms of some other organizing principle, such as the family in the case of women, and deviance for homosexuals. The practical and theoretical importance of employing the minority group designation is to identify the locus of the problem presented by the differential treatment of a socially defined group or category of persons, whether it is to be found within the group itself or in the attitudes of the environing society. Thus, homosexuals and their sympathizers are quick to refer to that category as a minority group, whereas supposedly more neutral observers, including psychiatrists and sociologists, refer to its members as deviants. Reflective of social attitudes indeed is the fact that until quite recent years, the empirical study of homosexuals, both individually and collectively, was neglected by sociologists, presumably as either too difficult or too stigmatizing. (“If you can or want to study them, you must be one,” was the unexpressed slogan.)
The studies and analyses of homosexuals which have begun to emerge in the past decade, however, are to be found under the fashionable title of “deviance,” as in “deviant behavior” or “deviant group” or “deviant subculture.” In the professional sociological literature, one finds no reference to homosexuals as a minority group. One influential text on social problems2 underscores this approach. It distinguishes between problems stemming from deficiencies in the functioning of social systems or “social disorganization,” and those arising from the failure of individuals to conform to social norms. Homosexuality is discussed in the first portion of the book, the one devoted to deviant behavior, while race and ethnic relations find their place in the part on social disorganization. In the first case the problem is seen as inducing the individual or group to conform, and in the second as persuading the society to accept.
Differences between the “minority group” and the “deviant group” terminology, however, should not be exaggerated, since the convergence between them appears to be growing, as approaches to deviance recapitulate developments in the study of minority groups. First, it can be noted that in the nineteenth century attempts to explain prejudice against minority groups were often couched in terms of their biological and/or cultural differences from dominate groups; that is, the traits of the minority constituted an adequate theory of the dislike they encountered. Modern theories, on the other hand, are more concerned with how prejudice and discrimination serve personal, social, and economic needs of the dominant group.
Similarly, sociologists of deviance, such as Becker, Lemert, and Kitsuse,3 focus more on the social processes by which individuals and groups come to be labeled as deviant, the range of reactions in crystallizing deviance in persons who are so labelled, than on the causes of deviance, defined in some absolute way, even when these causes are ascribed to “society as the patient.”
Secondly, both minority group and deviance theorists lay stress on the question of social definitions and who has the power to make them. The earlier definition of deviant behavior as conduct that objectively appears to violate a social norm is being superseded by one which calls it conduct that is perceived by others as contrary to a norm. This relativistic point of view obtains also in the case of minority groups. There may be discrepancies in the judgments of members and nonmembers as to whether the group experiences discrimination. This distinction between the objective and subjective dimensions of the minority group problem is elaborated by the writer elsewhere.4 In like manner, a person may define himself as deviant, when others do not, or vice versa. For example, Albert J. Reiss5 points out that delinquent peers (another label!) who engage in sexual transactions with male homosexuals do not define themselves as homosexuals, for which they deem elements other than homosexual behavior, in and of itself, as more crucial. In his words, they have not converted deviant acts into a deviant role. By not defining themselves as homosexuals, which to these young people is the pejorative and stigmatizing status, they in effect escape self-definition as deviant.
In the third place, a bridge can be built between the deviant and minority group concepts by viewing them as possible successive stages in the life history of individuals and groups. Merton’s differentiation between aberrant and nonconforming behavior points the way.6 The nonconformist, in contrast to the aberrant, challenges the legitimacy of the social norms he rejects, and appeals to values which he hopes will one day be embodied in these norms. One does not, however, think of the nonconformist as joining with his fellows in an organized effort for social change. It may well be that many persons in their own self-definitions move through the statuses of deviant to nonconformist to minority group members in that they progressively legitimize their own departures from accepted norms and reject the propriety of societal sanctions for their behavior. Does this process describe the development of homosexuals in American society today?
Schofield suggests that it does.7 He sketches a four-stage progression in the homosexual career: (1) discovery of sexual persuasion; (2) fears and misgivings leading to social isolation; (3) learning to lead two lives, passing back and forth between the gay and straight worlds; and (4) moving exclusively in a homosexual group, with attendant feelings of hostility to outsiders. To this, a fifth stage might be added, that of active and sometimes open participation in the homophile movement. Obviously, individuals halt at various stages in the cycle, and a minority group consciousness need not be reserved for the later stages.
What basis can be found in the social attitudes surrounding homosexuals for considering them as a minority group? Note that a homosexual may be defined as a person who is perceived by himself and/or others as being primarily sexually responsive to members of his own sex.
Mutability of the Minority Group Characteristic
The immediate stimulus for differential treatment of members of a minority group is a characteristic or cluster of characteristics imputed to them, either validly or invalidly, which are evaluated negatively. Apart from the question of the justifiability of such evaluation is the matter of the involuntary nature of the characteristic. Obviously, Negroes cannot become white (although some do pass as white, always with the fear that they may be discovered); women cannot be transformed into men (again, a few pass, but many more retain female identification while gaining male privileges); nor can Jews be reborn as non-Jews (but a few do convert, not changing their original status). However, it may be noted that all three groups can, in a favorable social climate, modify some of the traits which have been ascribed to them. In a forceful statement contending that homosexuals do constitute a minority group, Kameny does not even consider the possibility of homosexuals changing into heterosexuals, nor does he raise the question of whether homosexuals are born or made.8 Homophile organizations and many homosexuals, however, claim that homosexual inclinations either are genetic or result from irreversible childhood experiences, and in either case they are powerless with therapeutic intervention, efforts of the will or by any other means, to change them. In this respect they feel that they can no more be held responsible for their minority characteristic than can those groups whose minority status rests on a biological factor. Theoretically, Catholics could change their religion, but it is unrealistic to expect people on any large-scale basis to overthrow their earliest emotional learnings. Like other socially disapproved groups, such as the KKK or the Communist Party in the United States, homosexuals for the most part are constrained to a secrecy about their intentions and actions, but unlike these groups, in their own minds, they are not able to change their affiliation, which in their case is a sexual one.9 As a sociologist sympathetic to the symbolic interactionist approach, I tend to believe that homosexuality can be unlearned, but that the definitive answer must be left to other disciplines.
Relevance of Homosexuality to Social Participation
Further, the homophile movement and many homosexuals emphatically reject any negative evaluation of their sexual preference. They consider homosexuality to be as normal, good, and healthy as heterosexuality. To them homosexuality is not a vice, a crime, nor a disease. It is simply a preference, and, as such, should no more be made the basis of social definitions nor differential treatment than should taste in food or furniture. They would be distinguished from age groups, the physically handicapped, and the mentally retarded on the grounds that these latter groups do raise the problem of the relevance of their physical characteristics to the opportunities from which they are excluded.
Let us grant for the moment the equal desirability of heterosexuality and homosexuality, and still inquire whether any justification can be found for placing social restrictions on homosexuals. First, it must be conceded that apart from its intrinsic worth, at the present time the majority of Americans favor heterosexual, just as they would like them to remain in the faith of their fathers. To protect this latter parental right, religious instruction has been barred from the public schools, and for those who wish it, parochial schools may be substituted. In positions which call for interaction with children, it is possible for sexual orientation to be relevant. The issue for the moment is not whether homosexuals are any more likely to seduce children and adolescents than are heterosexuals, but the kind of role model which they provide and emotional nuances which they may convey. Those who have this reservation in regard to the employment of homosexuals in “sensitive” occupations do not subscribe to “diaper determinism” in the formation of the sexual self, but rather regard sexual socialization as a lifelong process marked by crucial stages or turning points, particularly in early adolescence. What is being asserted, however, is not the inevitability but the possibility of the relevance of homosexual inclinations for a limited range of jobs. Still two qualifications must be made. First, the influence of any one person on a child should not be exaggerated. Secondly, it should not be assumed that every homosexual cannot guard himself, if he wishes to do so, against exerting any sway on psychosexual development of vulnerable persons in a close or subordinate relationship to him. Reference must be made again to the concept of surplus-discrimination. When homosexuals are barred from jobs which do not involve counseling, teaching, or supervisions of the young or if they are automatically excluded even from such positions on a categorical rather than an individual basis, then support is given to their claim on unwarranted discrimination.
What can be said about the allegation that homosexuals are more prone to seduce young persons, either physically or emotionally, than are heterosexuals? Both psychological and social explanations have been given of this supposed fact. On the psychological side it is sometimes stated that the sexual impulses of homosexuals are less susceptible to postponement in the demand for immediate gratification than those of heterosexuals and indeed are of a more imperious nature, and that homosexual are prepared to take greater risks to gain that gratification. From a social or structural point of view, it is asserted that since homosexuals have access to a much smaller pool of eligible [partners] than do heterosexuals, they are constrained to make the most of every opportunity. It may be just as plausibly argued, however, that this very circumstance would cause the homosexual to “go slow” under the fear of rejection, that the incentive to approach would be more than counterbalanced by the wish to avoid social sanctions.
Indeed, according to Simon and Gagnon, “Homosexuals vary profoundly in the degree to which their homosexual commitment and its facilitation becomes the organizing principle of their lives.”10 Further, some writers, such as Hoffman,11 contend that if the social obstacles to homosexual intimacy between consenting adults were removed, any need to exploit the young would be diminished in like measure. Exception could also then be taken to the notion of the paucity of available partners. Many minority groups of smaller size, such as Jews, are largely endogamous without suffering severe sexual frustration.
So far we have been concerned with the relevance of a homosexual propensity per se for certain kinds of employment. It is often assumed, however, that homosexuality is symptomatic or expressive of personality disorders which are not directly sexual. As Becker says, “Possession of one deviant trait may have a generalized symbolic value, so that people automatically assume that its bearer possesses other undesirable traits allegedly associated with it.”12 Thus, homosexuals may have been accused of being immature, irresponsible, overly impulsive, narcissistic, hedonistic, dependent, negativistic, and so on through a catalogue of traits in keeping with the “arrested development” theory of homosexuality.13 Whether homosexuality in and of itself constitutes a personality disorder is irrelevant to the consideration of homosexuals as a minority group, unless one can specify relevant behavioral manifestations of this so-called disorder. There is no evidence, however, to suggest that homosexuality as such prevents anyone from performing adequately in social and non-sexual roles. To date, psychological tests have not revealed any conclusive differences in the overall patterns of adjustment of comparable groups of homosexual and heterosexual males and females. That the homosexual career is fraught with such difficulties in our society as to cause some personality distortion cannot be denied and does not serve to distinguish homosexuals from other minority groups. A compromise position would be that a homosexual outcome may or may not be indicative of neurosis, and that any judgment on this point must be predicated on deep insight into individual cases. Certainly no blanket indictment of homosexuals as a group or prejudgment of individual homosexuals is warranted. So the upshot of this inquiry into the relevance of homosexual preference as a minority characteristic is that, given the prevailing sentiment endorsing heterosexuality in our society, a person’s homosexual proclivities are relevant only when there is some reason to believe in individual cases that he will exert an undesired influence on impressionable youth.
Homosexuals Yes, Homosexualism No
Representatives of the homophile movement assert that homosexuals are not accorded equal rights until homosexuality gains equal status with heterosexuality. As long as social values give preference to heterosexuality, homosexuals will suffer damaged self-esteem from being regarded at best as objects of compassion and condescension. Kameny14 makes an explicit parallel between anti-homosexualism and anti-Semitism, arguing that both represent ideological outlooks which must be overcome before individual homosexuals and Jews can feel secure in their equal humanity with others. This comparison seems to be a false analogy. In the twentieth century and in the United States at least, prejudice against Jews is not based on any adherence to Judaism as a religion, but on personality traits attributed to Jews on a biological basis. If some Jews adopt other religions to avoid discrimination, it is for the purpose of concealing their Jewish birth, not their religious beliefs. American Jews are not and have no need of propagandizing to place Judaism on a par with Christianity. Rather their problem is to counter a negative stereotype which has nothing to do with religion. In contrast, the minority characteristic which defines the homosexual is his very homosexuality. To the extent that the homosexual image has accretions which do not inhere in homosexuality per se, the problems of Jews and homosexuals are similar. Both must fight the ascription of false attributes.
A closer parallel to the homosexual situation is found in the relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and individual Catholics. In the recent past, opposition to certain doctrines, especially the social teachings, of the Catholic Church tended to increase the prejudice and discrimination manifested against Catholic individuals, even though these two aspects of anti-Catholic feelings are logically distinct. As the Roses state, “It should be possible for people to oppose each other’s doctrines much as do the adherents of two political parties without hating them personally and trying to hurt them materially.”15 In like manner, it should be possible to defend the rights of homosexual individuals without endorsing homosexuality. Granting equal opportunity to homosexuals need not be viewed as giving aid and comfort to homosexuality. Nor should homosexuals be asked to change their sexual persuasion any more than Catholics need change their religious persuasion. Homosexual organizations, like the Catholic Church, can be left free to proselytize, but social acceptance of homosexuality as being “just as good” as heterosexuality need not be a precondition of social acceptance of homosexuals as fully equal human beings.
There is one sense, however, in which the lower evaluation of homosexuality vis-à-vis heterosexuality does lend credence to the neurotic label so frequently attached to homosexuals. It has often been noted that homosexual unions are frequently of a transient and superficial character, exacting few of the responsibilities and obligations of heterosexual marriage. Hoffman believes that the withholding of community support provides an adequate explanation.16 To some observers the neurotic aspect of homosexuality lies in the lack of deep monogamous commitment rather than in the choice of sexual partner; and, in their eyes, part of the appeal of the homosexual way of life arises from this fact. One might suppose that the homosexual community substitutes for the larger society in providing regulatory norms, but studies of such communities in San Francisco and other areas reveal that it acts rather to legitimize instability.
It is not to be assumed that marriage and parenthood represent the achievement of psychological maturity for every individual, even if he be heterosexual. The criteria for mental health vary according to the aspirations and potentialities of the individual, but most psychologists agree that the ability to love someone other than the self is one of the characteristics of the mature personality. Whether the denial to homosexuals of a “normal” family life constitutes an important discrimination against them or an escape from the tasks of adulthood depends on the evaluation made of family institutions and their relationship to other important social structures. At the present time societal pressures confront the homosexual, especially the male, with a difficult dilemma. Patterns of sustained living together may testify to his psychological adjustment, but at the same time remove him from the possibility of fulfilling the culturally valued role of husband and father. This dilemma could be overcome if a system governing homosexual relationships, parallel to that governing heterosexual relations, were evolved.17 This institutionalization of homosexuality would involve such matters as marriage and divorce, age of consent, and the rights, duties, and role differentiation of homosexual partners. Further, children might be made available to homosexual couples either through adoption in the case of males or also through artificial (or natural, if so desired) insemination in the case of females. An alternative possibility is bigamy or a ménage à trois, permitting a man to have both a man-wife and a woman-wife, and similarly for a woman; or the man could be the husband to a woman and the “wife” to a man, even in the manner of Caesar. Of course homosexual marriage need not exclude the possibility of homosexual or heterosexual affairs, any more than heterosexual marriage does. Indeed, occasional homosexual “lapses” might enable bisexuals to perform in heterosexual marital and parental roles.
Theories of Anti-Homosexualism
Since a radical change in public attitudes is prerequisite to any institutionalization of homosexuality, it becomes pertinent to inquire into the social and psychological factors which enter into contemporary negative feelings. Conscious rejection of homosexuality is so strong and deep that few persons feel called upon to rationalize or justify their sentiments as they do in the case of racial and religious minorities.
The most prevalent explanation in modern sociology stems from the structural-functional approach to social institutions, and is best exemplified by Kingsley Davis.18 He holds that every society, in the interest of social order, must develop some set of social norms to regulate the powerful libidinal drive to prevent sexual exploitation and a sexual war of each against all, and to channel sexuality into socially useful ends. Davis writes:
In evolving an orderly system of sexual rights and obligations, societies have linked this system with the rest of the social structure, particularly with the family. They have also tended to economize by having only one such system, which has the advantage of giving each person only one role to worry about in his sex life—namely, a male or female role—which can thus be ascribed and will vary only with age. Homosexuality in itself cannot lead to reproduction and the formation of normal family life; it also involves, for one partner or the other, a reversal of sex role, though sex is one of the most fundamental bases for status ascription. A male who assumes the feminine role, or a woman who assumes the masculine role, is looked down upon—interestingly enough, even by homosexuals themselves.19
Davis does not think that a society can at the same time equally foster durable sexual unions between men and women and between persons of the same sex. Agricultural, handicraft societies had to protect the family in order to achieve a birth rate which was higher than the death rate, and so children were imbued with the notion of a complementary division of functions between the two sexes and the attitudes and behaviors appropriate to their own sex. These early emotional learnings about sex and gender form the core of the personality, and are strongly resistant to change. Thus, negative attitudes toward homosexuality are the expectable consequences of the socialization process which itself fulfilled a functional prerequisite of this type of society.
The Industrial Revolution, however, with concomitant advances in medicine and public sanitation, has lowered the death rate, modified the sexual division of labor, separated recreation from procreation, and in general altered the circumstances of life from which the traditional sex mores, with their proscription of homosexuality, grew. Does continued disapproval of homosexuality then represent a cultural lag? No, says Davis; it now serves another function: “…in urbanized, mobile industrial societies, familial relationships seem to be particularly valued because they are virtually the only ones that are both personal and enduring; marital and parental ties therefore receive strong sentimental support…. Homosexual relationships are notoriously ephemeral by comparison.”20 True, withdrawal of social disapproval and the normative regulation of homosexual relations, it has been claimed by some, might render homosexual unions more durable and a viable alternative to the heterosexual family,21 but the complications of such a dual system, even greater than those of the present single system, make it a doubtful prospect.
At the opposite end of ideology from Davis, Marcuse22 too has a functional explanation, a kind of synthesis of Freud and Marx, of the interdiction of homosexuality. He puts forward the thesis that contemporary industrial societies are characterized by a “suprarepressive organization of societal relationships under a principle which is the negation of the pleasure principle,” and which harnesses sexuality in alienated labor under an irrational authority. Homosexuality, symbolized by Orpheus, represents a protest “against the repressive order of procreative sexuality.” Orpheus, according to Marcuse, stands for a “fuller Eros” and the liberation of the world. In this view, the privilege group which exercises domination opposes sexual pleasure which is not a means for an end.
Homosexuals, for Marcuse, serve as a revolutionary vanguard in freeing society from genital tyranny and leading the way to a resexualization of the whole body of man. Only such a polymorphous perverse body, he believes, can resist being deformed into an instrument of labor. Those readers who may think that homosexuality partakes more of the “perverse” than of the “polymorphous,” in Freud’s phrase, may turn to another representative of the “Freudian left,”23 Norman O. Brown, for a more consistent interpretation. Brown believes that any form of sexual organization, including homosexuality, is repressive and that the full measure of human happiness must be sought in the anarchic eroticism of early infancy.
Both views postulate a societal need to limit sexual gratification in the interest of social order, though differing in their evaluation of contemporary social organization, but from either standpoint one can understand how deviations from strongly internalized sexual norms arouse defensive, rejecting attitudes. The strength and irrationality of majority reactions stem also from an important difference between homosexuals and the more traditional minority groups. Such traits as skin color, hair form, and dress, for example, are used by the dominate group mainly to identify a minority which may then be disliked in terms of the stereotype ascribed to it. Repressed desires of the dominate group may be projected onto the minority group in a symbolic way, but in this two-step process there is no real fear on the part of a white, for instance, that he will turn into a black, or that a Christian will become a Jew. Feelings about homosexuals, however, are not symbolic. The imputation of homosexuality to others presents a real threat to the self-conceived heterosexual. His conscious feelings of contempt, disgust, repugnance, pity, scorn, amusement, or even boredom and indifference may serve as insulation against contact with an ego-alien part of himself. The homosexual opens old wounds concerning feelings about parents, establishment of sexual identity, and unresolved negative Oedipal feelings, among others. And by the same token, homosexuals’ conscious hostility toward heterosexuals may represent not only a response to their negative attitudes and discriminatory treatment, but also a defense against their own heterosexual components, unresolved positive Oedipal feelings, and so on. There is more tension in the reciprocal attitudes of heterosexuals and homosexuals than in most minority group-dominant group relationships, because of the ambivalence centering in the power of the sex drive. Also, as mentioned above, in the absence of institutionalization of homosexual relationships, the heterosexual may envy the homosexual’s freedom from the responsibilities of sexual expression which are foisted upon the heterosexual, while the homosexual may envy the stability, security, and affection in the other group. To the extent that segregation of masculine and feminine social roles persists, the male homosexual is free from the burden of family support and the female homosexual from the maintenance of a home and the rearing of children. But since these activities imply privileges as well as obligations, one might equally say that the homosexual is shut out from them. In short, the plight of the homosexual in American society must be seen as a result of a complex interplay of psychological and social forces.
In the case of any large minority group, its own members constitute an important segment of the social environment. Further, the nature of the minority characteristic serves to define the kinds of social categories to be placed in juxtaposition or in opposition to the minority group. Thus, there are many religious, occupational, and racial groups in this county, but only, with minor exceptions, two sexes. If for the purpose of analytic simplicity, one ignores bisexuals and asexuals, the relevant categories, defined by sex and preferred sexual object, emerge as: male heterosexual, female heterosexual, male homosexual, and female homosexual. Table 1 suggests, in the form of an imaginative reconstruction, both negative and positive, conscious and unconscious, reciprocal attitudes among these four groups, with the exception of heterosexual reactions to heterosexuals, which would be irrelevant in this context.
Objective Evidence of Prejudice Against Homosexuals
There is little need to dwell on discriminations against homosexuals. In the words of Kitsuse, “Individuals who are publicly identified as homosexuals are frequently denied the social, economic, and legal rights of ‘normal’ males. Socially they may be treated as objects of amusement, ridicule, scorn, and often fear; economically they may be summarily dismissed from employment; legally they are frequently subject to interrogation and harassment by police.”24 While fewer disabilities are visited upon female homosexuals, they too may feel forced by public attitudes either to a humiliating concealment with concomitant fear of exposure or to a renunciation of many high status jobs, gratifying social contacts, and ordinary human respect.
Table 1. Reciprocal Attitudes of Heterosexuals and Homosexuals
1. Toward male homosexual
a. Conscious contempt, distrust.
b. Fear of seduction attempts.
c. Secret and unacceptable attraction.
d. Envy of “bachelor” life.
e. Seen as vicarious expression of own hostility to females, especially own mother.
f. Seen as vicarious expression of repressed love and contempt for own father.
g. Serves to reinforce own feelings of masculinity.
2. Toward female homosexual
a. Seen as embodiment of aggression because she rejects his masculinity, the power of his difference, source of humiliation.
b. Presents threat of castration, competitor in nonsexual areas, out to get his balls.
c. Seen as competitor for females.
d. Serves as challenge to conquest.
e. Expression of identification with female role so as to be passive and protected.
f. Feeling of relief at not having sexual and other demands made upon him.
1. Toward male homosexual
a. Resentment of denial of her femininity.
b. Rival in competition for men.
c. Supposition of hostility toward her.
d. Passive, so less threatening, can relax and be friendly.
e. Regret at diminution of male market.
f. Fears insight into “feminine wiles.”
g. Personal disappointment, if attracted.
2. Toward female homosexual
a. Fear of being seduced.
b. Pique, if no passes.
c. Strain of managing friendship while avoiding over-rebuff.
d. Envy of her aggression and freedom to act like a male.
e. No worry about her as a sexual rival.
f. Fears her competition in business and professions.
g. Some promise of maternal warmth and protection.
h. Reinforcement of own feelings of femininity.
1. Toward male homosexual
a. Bond of sympathy, in-group complicity.
b. Sexual and social competitor.
c. Sees conflict of friend and lover roles.
d. Hostility in intimate relationship, arising from competition in playing masculine roles, who will be the boss.
e. Fear of exposure by association or actual betrayal.
f. Feels contempt, if too effeminate, and fears contempt as symbol of self-hatred.
g. Opportunity for sexual gratification.
h. Relief from social pretence, opportunity to express feminine interests and identifications.
2. Toward female homosexual
a. Seen as embodiment of everything hateful in women, the arch-usurper of masculinity.
b. Contempt for self is projected onto her.
c. Potential accomplice in heterosexual masquerade.
d. Comrade in protest movement.
e. Trustworthy confidant.
f. Party and bar associate.
3. Toward male heterosexual
a. Feelings of inferiority and impotence vis-à-vis him.
b. Envy arising from self-hatred.
c. Desire for friendship and acceptance.
d. Symbol of sexual climbing.
e. Feelings of attraction to “trade.”
f. Feelings of own superiority from presumed greater self-insight.
4. Toward female heterosexual
a. Fear of excessive demands on her part.
b. Wish for sisterly or motherly affection.
c. Seen as rival for men.
d. Fear of her exploitation of him.
e. Wish for “understanding” and support in masculine role.
1. Toward male homosexual
a. Projected self-disdain; justification of contempt for men: “You are a man?”
b. Hostility for presumed anti-feminism.
c. Maternal compassion.
d. Seen as potential friend and confidante.
e. No danger of masculine demands.
f. No threat nor rival.
2. Toward female homosexual
a. Same as items a, b, c, e, g, and h in attitudes of male homosexual toward male homosexual.
b. Embarrassment, if too masculinized.
c. Hostility in intimate relationships arising from competition as to who will play feminine, protected role.
d. Opportunity to alternate mother and child roles.
e. Jealousy of her in regard to both sexes.
3. Toward male heterosexual
a. Deep-seated, intense feelings of competition, rival both in business and in love.
b. Pride in ability to “lead him on,” mixed with contempt for him as an insensitive simpleton.
c. Desire for brotherly good friend and pal.
d. Desire for affectionate, protective father.
e. Fear of derision as not a “real woman.”
f. Narcissistic wish to be desired.
4. Toward female heterosexual
a. Strong attraction, coupled with fear of rejection.
b. Fear of loss of friendship.
c. Mixed envy and contempt for her presumed feminine identification.
d. Maternal more than competitive feeling; a projected identification like that of a proud mother for a good representative of the female sex.
e. Jealousy toward and hatred of frustrating object.
Homosexuals feel that the root of their problem lies in social attitudes toward them. The question may be raised of the extent of this social prejudice. Is it true, as Cory states, that homosexuals “live in an atmosphere of universal rejections...of a social world that jokes and sneers at every turn?”25
To my knowledge, no survey data on a national scale exist on the attitudes of a representative sample of Americans toward homosexuals. Several small studies and my own informal interviewing on the subject, however, indicate that the present social climate is more favorable than many homosexuals may believe. Kitsuse, for example, interviewed seven hundred college undergraduates in regard primarily to how they came to think certain individuals they had encountered were homosexual and how they reacted to this definition of them. He found that a “live and let live” response was fairly common, and in no case was moral indignation or revulsion communicated to the putative homosexual:
...the interview materials suggest that while reactions toward persons defined as homosexuals tend to be negatively toned, they are far from homogeneous as to the forms or intensity of the sanctions invoked and applied. Indeed, reactions which may appear to the sociological observer or to the deviant himself as negative sanctions, such as withdrawal or avoidance, may be expressions of embarrassment or a reluctance to share the burden of the deviant’s problems... In view of the extreme negative sanctions against homosexuality which are posited on theoretical grounds, the generally mild reactions of our subjects are striking.26
Some limitations on the usefulness of this study must be noted. First, as the investigator himself acknowledges, college students may have more liberal views than less educated segments of the population, but the study does indicate that reactions to homosexuals are not uniform. This very unpredictability of response, as in the case of the marginal man, may contribute to the psychological tension of the homosexual in his perpetual conflict between the wish to reveal and the need to conceal.
Secondly, the respondents told of their experiences with homosexuals who were in varying kinds of relationships and degrees of closeness to them, ranging from stranger to a roommate. But except for the ever-present danger of arrest if caught in same blatant behavior, the homosexual is most concerned about the reactions of persons of long acquaintanceship or in important relationships to him. His problem is to keep his heterosexual and homosexual audiences separate. In view of this situation, it would be most interesting to administer social distance tests to see how a broad spectrum of Americans feel about homosexuals in a variety of relationships. Social distance tests, however, may provide information as much on the respondent’s estimation of the social standing of homosexuals as on his own attitudes. People who are themselves free of prejudice toward homosexuals may nevertheless feel impelled to act in accordance with their perception of the social climate in a manner reminiscent of Merton’s distinction between fair-weather and all-weather liberals.27 A white mother, for example, may frown on her daughter’s dating blacks, not because she personally objects, but because she anticipates social difficulties in an interracial marriage; or complicating this matter, may give one of these as the reason (both to herself and/or to others) when the other is the genuine motivation for the objection. Similarly, a homosexual may not be employed or retained in certain positions because the employer anticipates adverse reaction from his clients and other employees or, if only the employer is aware of the applicant’s homosexuality, he fears that the homosexual may be constrained to acts of disloyalty or malfeasance under the threat of disclosure.
While social attitudes toward homosexuals may be less punitive than formerly, it is probable that few Americans consider homosexuals to be “normal.” According to a 1965 study of a fairly representative sample of 180 persons, homosexuals were mentioned most frequently in answer to a question asking the respondent to name “deviants.”28 Other terms applied to homosexuals were, in rank order: “Sexually abnormal,” “perverted,” “mentally ill,” “maladjusted,” and “effeminate.” Undoubtedly, considerable modification of prevailing attitudes must occur before the status of the homosexual in the popular mind can be changed from that of deviant to non-conformist, let alone member of an unjustly treated minority group.
Frequency of Minority Group Feelings Among Homosexuals
Do homosexuals have a minority group consciousness? Again, systematic data are largely lacking. We do not know what percentage of homosexuals accept the “sick” or “deviant” label, with accompanying self-depreciation; nor how many regard homosexuality as a psychological and social adjustment commensurate with heterosexuality, and react to a hostile environment with resentment. The development of a homophile movement attests to a self-definition of minority status on the part of some homosexuals, but the proportion of the total homosexual population which participates in or is even aware of such organizations has been estimated as less than one percent.29
How homosexuals feel about being homosexual appears to be a matter of controversy. It is popularly supposed that they are ridden with feelings of guilt, inferiority, and self-hatred, as well as a defensive converse of these feelings. Indeed, current literary and dramatic productions by or about homosexuals seem to indicate these classic minority group symptoms. Thus, one of the characters in Mart Crowley’s play The Boys in the Band exclaims, “Show me a happy homosexual and I’ll show you a gay corpse.” Writing in the New York Times, Donn Teal,30 however, questions whether homosexuals are really anguished and protests the distorted way homosexuals are portrayed in this play, objecting particularly to the sadistic games and self-degrading confessions. He claims that the wail, “If we could just learn not to HATE ourselves so much!” represents only a minority of homosexuals. Without multiplying instances, it can be said that in the majority of novels, plays, and films dealing with homosexuals, even when authored by homosexuals, no happy outcome is given to the homosexual way of life and the homosexual characters rarely emerge as human beings with whom the average person can identify.
Letters to New York Times and discussions on radio and television programs testify to the wish of many homosexuals to change the public image from a self-demeaning to a self-respecting one. One recent television program, with Aline Saarinen as hostess, had two homosexuals disavowing any wish to be “cured.”31
Female homosexual: “Well, most of us do not want to be cured because we don’t regard our activities as disease. If I enjoy going to bed with another woman, and this is pleasurable, and does not debilitate me in any way, if I can fulfill my functions on the job, and enjoy myself, and subjectively feel that I am having a good time, I don’t see where the disease is...”
Male homosexual: “I have a nice relationship with another man, which has been going on for some time. I have a very nice group of friends. I function well. I make a living, and I do the things I want to do. I’m not very unhappy. I don’t feel like I’m sick...”
However, Sagarin found that many homosexuals described themselves or others as neurotic, sick, or disturbed.32
Regardless of psychological or moral self-evaluations or commitment to organized forms of social protest, many homosexuals manifest a feeling of group belongingness by their participation in a homosexual community. Such a community serves, in varying degrees, the following functions for individual homosexuals.33
- It provides a source of social support and validation of a positive self-image.
- It offers a shared set of norms and practices to overcome anomie.
- It confers a sense of identity in a world in which traditional group identifications are crumbling.
- It serves as a sexual marketplace.
- It affords opportunities for friendship, recreation, and other social gratifications which are not directly sexual.
- It permits the enjoyment of “camp” behavior in self or in others.
- It acts as an agency of social control in protecting individual homosexuals from impulsive sexual “acting out.”
- It represents a new kind of opportunity structure for upward social mobility.
- It reduces anxiety and conflicts, thus freeing the individual to perform more productively outside the community, particularly by relieving the tensions of concealment and fear of exposure by those who pass back and forth in two worlds.
- It dispenses social services to meet individual problems and crises.
The homosexual community, however, differs in important ways from other communities. Among the more traditional minority groups of race and ethnicity, a subculture is perpetuated by residential segregation and family inheritance. The homosexual community, based only on a similarity of sexual interest—though residential clusters of homosexuals exist—has very limited content. A shared sexual commitment is not sufficient to transcend larger social and cultural differences. For very few participants can this community be anything approximating a “total society.” In fact, immersion in the homosexual community often entails the sacrifice of family and friends in the larger community. Considering the cultural impoverishment of the homosexual community, the price of dropping the sexual mask may be too high.
This discussion should conclude with tentative answers to two questions. First, to what extent do homosexuals fit the definition of a minority group? Secondly, does viewing homosexuals as a minority rather than as a deviant group bring out sociologically important aspects of their situation which previously may have been obscured?
In regard to the first question, it may be said that homosexuals are the object of collective discrimination in that they are barred from social opportunities for which their sexual preference is functionally and objectively irrelevant. Further, they do possess in large measure many of the attributes of the more traditional racial, religious, and ethnic minorities: they resent the discrimination and pejorative attitudes directed against them; they have a sense of group identification and have developed a separate subculture with a distinctive argot, meeting places, leadership, and protective organizations; they often experience a conflict between their class status and their “caste” status; they are actively seeking to modify the present accommodation between them and heterosexuals which tends to segregate them occupationally and to drive them underground; they are subject to the psychological ravages of marginality since they can neither fully accept not completely disavow adverse social judgments of their sexual inclinations and activities; they have developed a double consciousness which can fix on the hypocrisy and sham of a sexually-repressive society, as well as a defensive ideology which legitimizes their claim to equal moral and psychological worth.
They differ from other minority groups in the following ways: the continuing involuntary nature of their minority characteristic is a controversial matter; they seek rather than are born into a minority subculture; their minority status is not based on birth or family inheritance, and the characteristic which gives them this status is direct rather than symbolic; their way of life rarely has religious sanction; differential treatment of them does not arouse as much guilt in the dominate group and indeed there is less value consensus regarding them; measurement of social distance toward them, as in the case of women but for a different reason, cannot specify marriage as the level of greatest intimacy; reciprocal minority-dominate group attitudes involve more complex cultural and psychological factors; the shared interest which unites the homosexual community is more specific and limited and thus less capable of superseding class and cultural divergences than the more diffuse bond which unites some ethnic and racial groups; and, finally, one of the strategies suggested to overcome social opposition, namely, the institutionalization of homosexual relationships, is unique to this group.
Turning to the second question, the tradition has been to treat homosexuals under the sociology of deviance, in which they were considered the social problem, similar to prostitutes, drug addicts, alcoholics, and the mentally ill. They constituted a social problem in the sense that their existence threatened strong social values. This definition of the problem posed by homosexuals suggested a two-pronged attack of societal prevention and individual cure: on the one side to determine what kind of social engineering would prevent persons from becoming homosexual, such as allowing greater freedom of heterosexual expression in early years, fostering less rigid social sex-role differentiation, diverting the energies of “close-binding” mothers into outside employment, and encouraging fatherhood, and, on the other hand, to seek therapeutic approaches which would transform homosexuals into heterosexuals.
Conceptualizing homosexuals as a minority group shifts the focus of attention from their libidinal drives to their social interaction with their own egos, other homosexuals, and heterosexuals, and to the various life styles they have adopted in reaction to their sexual proclivities and dominant group attitudes toward them. In this manner the minority group concept has greater explanatory power than the deviance concept. It sheds light on the problems of managing a homosexual career, on the characteristic features of homosexual unions, on the attraction and avoidance aspects of the homosexual community, on the tension between “secret” and “overt” homosexuals, and on a host of social phenomena which flow from the minority status of homosexuals. It also redefines the social problem as residing mainly in prejudicial attitudes towards homosexuals.
Consideration of homosexuals as a minority group opens the way for a fruitful reexamination of the minority group concept, suggesting extensions and refinements. Under what social conditions do new minority groups emerge? What kinds of societies are characterized by a continual process of the establishment and disestablishment of minority groups? Do findings with respect to one group stimulate new insights in regard to other groups? It would seem that in a pluralistic society, crisscrossed with conflict, with a variety of value standpoints, the relativism and the subjectivism connoted by the minority group approach represents a closer approximation to social facts than the assumption of an absolute and objective standard of values implicit in the notion of deviance.
1 Gunnar Myrdal. 1944. An American Dilemma. New York: Harper.
2 Robert K. Merton and Robert A. Nisbet, eds. 1966. Contemporary Social Problems. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World.
3 See Howard S. Becker. 1964. Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance. New York: Free Press of Glencoe; Becker, ed. 1951. The Other Side: Perspectives on Deviance. New York: Free Press; Edwin M. Lemert. 1951. Social Pathology. New York: McGraw-Hill; Lemert, Edwin M. 1967. Human Deviance, Social Problems and Social Control. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall; John I. Kitsuse. 1962. “Societal Reaction to Deviant Behavior.” Social Problems 9 (Winter): 247-56.
4 Helen Mayer Hacker. 1951. “Women as a Minority Group.” Social Forces 30 (October): 60-69.
5 Albert J. Reiss, Jr. 1962. “The Social Integration of Queers and Peers.” Social Problems 9 (Winter): 247-56.
6 Robert K. Merton, “Social Problems and Sociological Theory,” in Merton and Nisbet, eds., op, cit., pp. 808-11.
7 M. Schofield. 1965. Sociological Aspects of Homosexuality: A Comparative Study of Three Types of Homosexuals. Boston: Little, Brown.
8 Franklin E. Kameny. 1971. “Homosexuals as a Minority Group.” Pp. 50-65 in E. Sagarin, ed., The Other Minorities: Nonethnic Collectivities Conceptualized as Minority Groups. Waltham, MA: Ginn and Company.
9 The theme and the analogy are developed by Edward Sagarin, Structure and Ideology in an Association of Deviants, unpublished doctoral dissertation, New York University, 1966.
10 William Simon and John H. Gagon. 1967. “Homosexuality: The Formulation of a Sociological Perspective.” Journal of Health & Social Behavior 8 (September): 180.
11 Martin, Hoffman. 1968. The Gay World New York: Basic Books.
12 Becker, Outsiders, op. cit., p. 33.
13 The view that homosexuality is symptomatic of personality disorder is well put in a letter by Dr. Morton Friedman of the New Jersey College of Medicine, published in the New York Times on January 28. 1968:
While we can agree with the view recently expressed in “Homosexuals and Civil Rights” that the arbitrary abridgement of the civil rights on homosexuals is a wrong long practiced by our society, we must be careful not to be seduced into accepting the idea that the only difference between the homosexual and the heterosexual is the choice of sexual object.
One of the problems revealed by a study of the psychological dynamics in the development of the homosexuals is his (or her) poor identification with parental figures and therefore with the moral values of adult society. This poor identification leads to an arrest of psychosexual development, “immaturity,” evidenced in many aspects of both thought and behavior. In general, the homosexual tends to have poor impulse control and his values tend to be both narcissistic and hedonistic.
His tolerance for frustration, for delay of gratification, is much less than that of the average heterosexual, and this frequently leads to a compulsive quality in his sexual drive which is seldom seen in adult heterosexuals. Because of this, contrary to the anonymous opinion expressed in letters recently, the homosexual teacher is much more likely to become involved with his male students than the heterosexual teacher is with female students. The same likelihood has also been noted with female homosexual teachers.
The backlash of society’s persecution of homosexuals is being expressed today by our being too ready to declare all values as being equal in worth to humanity, even in the instance in which one set of values represents the infantile needs of individuals and is therefore harmful to a mature society. Much of the display of narcissism and the tendency toward irresponsible hedonism in contemporary society is rooted in and sustained by the homosexual “value system.”
14 Kameny, op. Cit.
15 Arnold and Caroline Rose. 1948. America Divided: Minority Group Relations in the United States. New York: Knopf.
16 See Hoffman, op. cit. This psychiatrist believes that “the social prohibition against homosexuality” is largely responsible for the impermanence of male homosexual relations. “To put the matter in its most simple form, the reason that males who are homosexually inclined cannot form stable relations with each other is that society does not want them to” (p. 76).
17 This discussion is based, though with a different bias, on Kingsley Davis, “Sexual Behavior,” in Merton and Nisbet, eds., op. cit., pp. 341-42.
18 Davis, ibid., pp. 323-25. Davis’s statement that even homosexuals look down upon the homosexual partner who assumes the role of the opposite sex is open to question. Given the dominance of masculine values in our society, it is probable that a man is exposed to greater social opprobrium than a woman.
19 Ibid, p.339.
20 Ibid, p.341.
21 Hoffman, op. cit.
22 Herbert, Marcuse. 1961. Eros and Civilization: A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud. New York: Vintage Books. See particularly Chapter 8, “The Images of Orpheus and Narcissus,” pp. 144-56.
23 See Paul A. Robinson. 1969. The Freudian Left: Wilhelm Reich, Geza Roheim, Herbert Marcuse. New York: Harper & Row, esp. pp. 207, 208, 228.
24 Kitsuse, op. cit, p. 250.
25 Donald, Webster Cory. 1951. The Homosexual in America. New York: Greenberg, p. 12.
26 Kitsuse, op. cit., p. 255.
27 Robert K. Merton. 1949. “Discrimination and the American Creed.” Pp. 99-126 in Discrimination and National Welfare, edited by Robert M. MacIver. New York: Harper.
28 J. L. Simmons. 1965. “Public Stereotypes of Deviants.” Social Problems 13: 223-32.
29 For a discussion of the homophile movement, and of the extent of support that it has in homosexual circles, see Edward Sagarin. 1969. Odd Man In: Societies of Deviants in America. Chicago: Quadrangle.
30 New York Times, June 1, 1969.
31 New York Times, March 30, 1969, p. 21 of Section 2, Arts and Leisure.
32 Sagarin, Odd Man In, op. cit., and in greater detail, Sagarin, Structure and Ideology in an Association of Deviants, op. Cit.
33 This list has been culled from the following sources: Maurice Leznoff and William A. Westley. 1956. “The Homosexual Community.” Social Problems 3 (April): 257-63; Simon and Gagnon, op. cit.; Hooker. 1967. “The Homosexual Community.” Pp. 167-84 in Sexual Deviance, edited by John H. Gagnon and William Simon. New York: Harper & Row; Nancy Achilles, “The Development of the Homosexual Bar as an Institution,” in idem, pp.228-44; Simon and Gagnon, “The Lesbians: A Preliminary Overview,” in idem, pp. 247-82; Edwin M. Schur. 1965. Crimes Without Victims. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, pp. 85-88; and Hoffman, op. cit., pp. 43-63.