Protesting too much? The problem of self-homophobia

May 2, 2012 By Josh Steichmann

self-homophobiaPolitical opponents to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality who end up outed is so popular a trope that many of us can recite the names from memory. Roy Cohn. Ted Haggard. Larry Craig. George Rekers. Sometimes it seems like the more homophobic you are, the more likely it is you’re closeted.

And a new study seems to confirm a lot of that narrative: Researchers at the University of Rochester, University of Essex, and University of California at Santa Barbara published a paper that ties anti-LGBT attitudes toward a disjunction in what they call implicit and explicit sexual orientation, and grounds that in a theory of parental autonomy. Briefly, the more likely parents are controlling and homophobic, the more likely their gay children will repress their LGBT identity and respond negatively toward other LGBT folks. It’s all very Freudian.

There are some big caveats though — “Implicit sexual orientation” is a fuzzy thing to judge, especially in folks who identify as straight, and the Implicit Association Test that the researchers used is noisy and has severe replicability problems. But the numbers they generated lined up with an earlier study, one that found that homophobic men tend to be more aroused by gay pornography

Further, it’s important to remember that the homophobes that lingered on images of same-sex romance were still a minority of homophobes overall, with those who exhibited implicit gay, lesbian or bisexual orientation only accounted for about seven percent of the variance between the control group and the tested group’s homophobia. Significant, but small. (And similar to another study from the same authors that found about the same relationship between parental support and religious identity. PDF handout.)

What does this mean for us? Well, it’s tempting to simply throw this back in the face of any opposition that we get. “Of course you’re against LGBT equality — you’re probably closeted and hate yourself.” But that’s counterproductive in a handful of ways, from making equality purely an issue between “good” LGBT folks and “bad” LGBT folks, to ceding the ability to meet the moveable middle where they are (alleging psychological conflict is not a way to win anyone over), to missing the larger picture that a great many obstacles to full equality come from archaic social prejudices that hold everyone back.

The study does show us that raising your children with unconditional love and support for their identity, no matter whom that may be, ends up with better outcomes. Freedom makes everyone happier.

And it also shows us that while the initial impulse of schadenfreude is delicious, people who are struggling with their sexuality need support in embracing their healthy selves, and that removing barriers and working to broaden social acceptance for LGBT folks will help a lot of people resolve their inner pain, with the superseding benefit that LGBT people will be more accepted and equal under the law.

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