Resources / Miscellaneous
Social Constructions of the Homosexual Phenomenon:
The Politics of Homosexuality in the United States
Third Place, 2003 Affirmation Writing Contest
By James Pate
In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality
from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders. Thirty
years later the debate rages on. Courts have been reluctant to grant homosexuals
equal rights and protections, and public opinion waivers as to whether
homosexuals should be considered normal and healthy. Why is the APA's
official position continually questioned? Why are people so entrenched
in their positions?
This research paper has been written as to provide the reader with a
broad overview of a complex subject with a rich history. It seeks to highlight
the social forces that mold people's beliefs, their customs, and directly
influence the construction of their lives. This paper is not meant to
be definitive or exhaustive. Much has been written -- and still has yet
to be written -- in exploration of the homosexual phenomenon. The reader
is encouraged to explore these additional resources.
In order to understand homosexuality in terms of the larger society,
a foundation must first be laid. First, the social constructions of fact,
morality, history, and medicine will be explored. Next, a brief history
of homosexuality in the Western world will take the reader from the time
of the early Christian Church up to the present day. In this review, homosexuality
will be framed as a sin, a crime, a third sex, a genetic defect, a psychological
pathology, and currently as a political agenda. Attention will be given
to the continuing debate over homosexuality between the extreme opinions
personified as the "gay militants" and the "religious right."
Finally, options will be explored for the homosexual in Western society.
The social construction of fact and morality
Do you see what I see?
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines culture as "the customary
beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or
social group." Culture provides its people with a hierarchy of goals,
priorities, tools, worldviews, and beliefs, but it also does more than
this. Because people observe the world around them through their cultural
lenses and filters, it is impossible for anyone to transcend his/her cultural
bias; it is impossible to remove oneself from his/her own culture from
where to make unbiased observations. The universal is always filtered
through an "empirical cultural grid" (Rapp, 1999). Even the
act of boxing things up as (1) "fact" independent of culture
and (2) the cultural manifestations of those "facts" is indeed
a cultural act. As such, all human theories, beliefs, and even "facts"
are completely vulnerable to and dependent on cultural influences and
frames; they are all social constructions.
Normalcy and deviance
While the statistical norm represents a specific location on a distribution
curve, cultural norms are not so easily defined because they are shaped
by complex social factors, not rudimentary statistics. Cultural norms
may not be statistically accurate.
Each culture is primarily free to define normalcy and deviance; they
are merely social constructions that form the moral standards of society.
Social prohibitions explicitly define deviance and social forces repress
it. However specific acts are not deviant in and of themselves; they only
become deviant when they are defined as such. Thus, there are no absolute,
universal standards of right or wrong that cultural concepts of normalcy
and deviance may be compared against. Instead, each culture forms and
enforces its own standards (Greenberg, 1988).
Conflict and power
While some norms may be the result of group adaptation or common beliefs,
they are often used to further social and political functions. Cultures
are composed of many overlapping subcultures, such as gender, religion,
and ethnicity that often have different interests, beliefs, and moral
values. What may be normal for one may be offensive to another; people
can disagree violently about what should be treated as deviant. Each desires
to impose their standards of morality on everyone else in order to maintain
their worldview. When there is conflict of opinion, it does not matter
who is right or wrong, what is truth and what is falsehood. All that matters
is who has the power to enforce their opinion. Thus, conflict arises and
is maintained in a sort of "deviance contest" by these different
groups and "moral entrepreneurs" as they compete with each other
to either maintain or to try to establish their own concepts of morality
for the rest of society (Greenberg, 1988). Thus, in a very real way, morality
is simply defined by those in power.
Establishment of consensus
Almost nothing is decided by absolute consensus; there is always disagreement
and dissension. However, consensus is easily manufactured. The very adoption
and enforcement of a law can sway public opinion (Greenberg, 1988). Politically
powerful groups exercise their hegemony by making decisions and imposing
them. For the most part, the masses are complacent and passively accept
the definition of reality as proposed by others; they do not believe that
their action or lack of action will make a difference and thus excuse
themselves from the consequences of their complacency. Vocal dissenters
are often framed as crazy extremists to de-legitimize them and their arguments.
Other times, more drastic measures are taken, such as incarceration, forced
"reeducation," or even execution. Finally, the new "reality"
is taught to the younger generations who readily accept it as natural
fact. Once any particular moral standard has been established, it can
be very difficult to change it. Only when a group can organize and gain
political power can the status quo be challenged.
The social construction of history
Just as fact and morality are social creations, historical accounts
are also distorted by the cultural bias of the authors that record them.
It is impossible for written history to be an accurate rendition of the
past, though it claims to be so. History is a narrative composed of disjointed
events selected out of a plethora of experience that are sewn together
to give the illusion of continuity. Its narrative is impotent in conveying
the "full picture" because omissions and distortions of events
are required in order for it to serve its function, to make a point. As
history is written, certain peoples and causes are given voice while others
are silenced. It frames the past in a specific way as to impose meaning
or moral significance, creating order out of the chaos of experience.
Coherence, logic, harmony, and the linear flow of events are merely illusions
of the narrative. Thus, history can be considered merely a fictitious
"wishful fantasy" that, like fact, is often used and manipulated
to further social functions and political agendas (Mattingly, 1998).
The social construction of medicine
"If one does not realize the nature of non-sickness, the
suffering of sickness is inconceivable" -- Milarepa
Medicine as a culture
Western biomedicine prides itself as being firmly rooted in science.
It also often boasts of being culture free. While the former statement
may be somewhat true, the latter is not. Science and its insights are
merely building blocks. Which ones are used, what shapes they assume and
what they are used to construct are all culturally driven. Like any other
human organization, western biomedicine is covered with the cultural fingerprints
of those that created it and those that operate it. Culture permeates
it, and also affects the way it is perceived and the way it is utilized.
Western biomedical science is not immune to social construction. Driven
by societal concerns, it is highly sensitive not only to public needs
for healthcare, but also to the social and political forces that gave
it life and continue to govern its existence.
"Biomedical science [is] a cultural object with enormous discursive
and practical powers to define what it is to be normatively human, and
to resist alternative versions and challenges to that normativity"
(Rapp, 1999). When an individual becomes ill, s/he looses her/his previous
healthy status and enters the liminal state of sickness. If an individual
becomes permanently ill, in a way her/his old self dies and a new self
must be created (Janzen, 2002). An organization with the power to define
and modify the very identities of individuals within a society is a very
powerful organization indeed. In the wrong hands, sickness and health
can be used as political weapons to weaken entire classes of individuals
and empower others (Scheper-Hughes, 1992). Thus, medicine is also susceptible
to greed and other evils, and can be manipulated to further social agendas
and political schemes. Indeed, some "totalitarian governments"
have incarcerated their dissidents and "reeducated" them as
treatment for their "mental illness." Other governments have
sought to indirectly cause genocide by forcing people to live in health
compromising ways (Janzen, 2002). In such circumstances, the division
of people into various groups has been used to stigmatize and abuse individuals
who have not fit the desired mold.
Muddy definition of disorder/disease
"At the core of medicine defined as a science lies the
conviction that precise disease causes can be identified and cures developed."
In the United States, health is defined as the absence of disease. While
this may at first seem obvious, in light of what has already been said,
the definition is quite problematic. What is disease? How does perception
of a disease/disorder influence its diagnosis? Who defines what is disease?
Can anyone be considered truly healthy with an ever-expanding list of
diseases? Who decides what is healthy/unhealthy, normal/abnormal? Who
enforces these standards?
When individuals are permitted to monitor themselves, then they can
evaluate their own state of health. However, each culture is primarily
free to make its own classification of diseases and to decide what treatment
options will be made available for or forced upon their "diseased"
members. A person deemed healthy by society, though claiming to be ill,
is largely ignored or perhaps branded a hypochondriac. However, society
can also diagnose people as sick who consider themselves healthy. In such
circumstances, who is right? As has already been stated, the rules, the
norms, and even standards of health are defined and maintained by those
The history of homosexuality
What is a homosexual?
Regardless of the cultural intolerance and sanctions that may exist
around it, it may be said that same-gender sex is, and has been, universal
throughout all cultures and human existence. However, the same cannot
be said about the homosexual.
Like most words, the meaning of "homosexual"
has changed with time. When it is used to denote a social category or
classification of individual, the homosexual is simply not cross-culturally
universal. Not all societies have felt the need to create a distinct social
category for individuals that participate in same-gender sex. In fact,
most non-western societies are more concerned about age, gender, and social
status as markers of identity than individual sexual preference (Greenberg,
Individual cultures can be very distinct from each other. While some
repudiate homosexuality in any form, many others around the world do indeed
have socially accepted forms of same-gender sex. In fact, some cultures
have so institutionalized same-gender sex that the practice is universal
among its members.
Same-gender sex plays an important role in male initiations rites or
other social functions in some cultures. The transmission of semen between
men has been correlated with the transfer of charisma, healing powers,
teachings, physical maturity, and life force. In others, same-gender sexual
relationships are not only tolerated, but common. These relationships
can be transgenerational (where the older partner assumes the masculine
role and the younger assumes the feminine one), transgendered (where one
partner assumes not only the role, but also the gender identity of the
opposite sex), and egalitarian (where both have comparable social status).
The social construction of homosexuality
Western concepts and beliefs concerning homosexuality have arisen from
a very complex, convoluted history. While certain trends can be identified
from the written records that are available, it is also important to remember
its cultural origin and inevitable distortion. The history of homosexuality
must be viewed in this light. Multiple ideas and competing beliefs have
been present at any time. Trends have risen and fallen, only to be later
reborn. Minority voices have been censored, silenced, and destroyed by
those in power. What historical records remain can only offer a distorted
glimpse of the way things really were.
Given the United State's predominant European Judeo-Christian roots,
these will be the focus of this historical overview. Since the United
States is a compilation of many different peoples, much more could be
written to give a more accurate rendition of the evolution of its social
climate. Again, the reader is encouraged to utilize additional resources.
Sodomy as a sin
While Paul of the New Testament merely discouraged Christians from marriage
so that their devotion could be singular to God, by the second century
the stigma against sex had grown to the point that it was considered the
"essence of carnality" and the "antithesis of spirituality"
even within the bonds of matrimony. Chastity and celibacy had become the
Eventually, the burden of celibacy was retracted from the faithful as
the institution of the clerical elite emerged and assumed it. However,
sex was still highly regulated. Sodomy, which was prohibited, came to
define all forms of non-procreative sex, including heterosexual oral sex
and masturbation. Married couples could be found guilty of sodomy, as
well as homosexuals, and were punished accordingly. By 1102, sodomites
were still only being threatened with excommunication, but the Council
of Nabuls in 1120 stipulated that sodomites were to be burned. This was
most likely due to the increasing association of sodomy with heresy. Lesser
forms of punishments that were occasionally meted out included fines,
confiscation of property, exile, and amputation. The Inquisition, created
by Pope Gregory IX in 1233 to combat and suppress heresy, quickly gained
jurisdiction over sodomy cases as well. Suspected sodomites were interrogated,
tortured, and finally handed over to the state to be executed.
Buggery as a crime
When Henry VIII broke with Rome, the state assumed prosecution of offenses
previously handled in ecclesiastical courts. As such, in 1533 the sin
of "sodomy" was redefined as the criminal offense of "buggery"
and was punishable by hanging, a trend that continued until 1861. This
trend spread to the New World, and in 1697 Massachusetts changed its prohibition
from "sodomy" to "buggery," masking its Christian
values with new secular wordage.
Over time, the public began to consider death an excessive penalty for
buggery, and gradually reduced it. France completely decriminalized homosexual
relations between consenting adults in 1791 and conquest spread French
law throughout Europe and Latin America. In England, the maximum penalty
for buggery was reduced to two years imprisonment in 1885 by the passage
of the Labouchere Amendment.
Homosexuality as a third sex
The idea that homosexuality is biologically determined is not new. In
fact, it has appeared in multiple forms across the centuries. In the past,
many had speculated that homosexuals were different physiologically, but
specific medical discourse grounding homosexual attraction in biology
did not arise until the late nineteenth century. The idea of a third sex,
or "psychic hermaphrodite," was spurred by the discovery of
the ambi-gendered fetus that differentiates its sex during normal development.
Thus, the first writings suggesting that homosexuality was congenital,
innate, and ineradicable were published in 1864, and Karoly Maria Benkert
coined the word "homosexual." This was a radical development
challenging old belief systems. Instead of classifying actions, it proposed
to classify individuals. No longer could buggery be considered just a
criminal act; homosexuals were a class of people distinct from the rest
of the population whose actions were the result of their natural biological
makeup. While some homosexuals hoped that grounding themselves in biology
and medicalizing their condition would end their legal persecution, it
did not. In spite of efforts by Karl Heinrich Ulrichs and others to justify
their resistance to change, gain sympathy, and seek legal immunity, negative
conclusions about biological causes quickly abased them.
Homosexuality as a genetic defect
The attribution of heredity to crime had already begun by some French
writers in the early nineteenth century. Later, degeneration theory explained
that criminals were "biological atavisms"; they had not evolved
to the same extent as modern man and they were incapable of functioning
in modern society. This line of reasoning was easily extended to homosexuality,
where homosexual acts and hermaphroditic organisms can be readily observed
in the animal kingdom. The theory spread rapidly and, coupled with Mendelian
genetics, created a strong argument for public health and sanitation reform,
sterilization and indefinite incarceration of "degenerates,"
and imperial expansion. Eventually, the earliest waves of the "homosexual
emancipation movement," which included the first historical and comparative
studies of homosexuality in 1883, were thoroughly destroyed by the Nazis
Homosexuality as a psychological pathology
In the late nineteenth century, medical leaders began to extend their
field of influence by medicalizing what was formerly perceived as social
problems. By reframing a "drunk" as an "alcoholic,"
they acquired another condition that they could treat. Violations of gender
roles, including homosexuality, were likewise considered biologically
determined. Though physicians were busily redefining causality of conditions
and creating new treatment plans, they did not attempt to redefine the
moral standards and criteria of normalcy of their conservative majority.
Eventually doctors began challenging legislators, lawyers, and judges
on the grounds of their medical expertise, but their advice has not always
The theory that homosexual attraction is learned and caused by environmental
factors can be traced back to at least the early eighteenth century. In
the early twentieth century, Sigmund Freud proposed that homosexuality
was a product of family interaction and thus a developmental disorder.
However, he also claimed that it was not a pathology or sickness. He did
not believe that psychoanalysis could successfully produce a heterosexual
orientation, and he refused to try. He believed that homosexuals could
be happy and productive members of society, and that punishing them was
an "extreme violation of human rights."
Unfortunately, new schools of psychoanalysis fed off of challenges to
Freudian theory rather than building upon it, and homosexuals were almost
always judged to be profoundly pathological by them. Instead of the instinctual
sexual preference proposed by Freud, sexual choice was simply a matter
of encouragement and discouragement. In 1965, Bieber concluded that a
"detached, hostile father" coupled with a "close-binding,
intimate, seductive mother" was the combination most likely to produce
a homosexual son. During this time period, behavioral therapists had began
using electric shocks, noxious chemicals, and other forms of adverse conditioning
to attempt to reprogram homosexuals, all without much effect. Aversion
therapy is only one of several contentious topics that continues to be
debated and practiced today.
Homosexuality as a political agenda
The social climate of the 1960's provided a much more welcome atmosphere
for the birth of a gay rights movement than ever before. Gender stereotypes
had relaxed and blurred, and sexual roles had been broken down and redefined.
All that was needed was a spark to start the fire. That spark came on
June 27, 1968 in what has been named the Stonewall Riot. Prior to this
time, raids on gay bars and other gay-friendly establishments had been
common, but on this particular night the gays fought back. The energy
caught like wildfire and within a short period of time, had spread to
Europe. No longer would homosexuals cower beneath the oppressive social
structures and laws of the land. A new liberation movement had been born.
These early activists began organizing, staging protests and demonstrations.
They began putting pressure on all sources of anti-gay sentiment, including
the American Psychiatric Association. Victory came in 1973 when leaders
finally removed homosexuality from its official listing of mental disorders.
But while homosexuality was no longer an "official" disorder,
it continued to remain so in the minds of most U.S. citizens and psychiatrists
as well. Much work remained to be done and it would take much more effort
to turn the tide of public opinion.
The social forces that have concern and voice in the debate surrounding
homosexuality are complex and diverse. However, the two most vociferous
camps can be stereotyped as the gay militants and the religious right.
The removal of homosexuality from the APA's list of mental illnesses
was one of the greatest, if not the greatest, victory in the gay rights
movement. Even though this was done without consensus, or even majority
vote, it opened the door for gays to be evaluated outside the box of the
mentally ill and humanized them. Experts form a crucial role in sustaining
the commonsense order of things in a society (Scheper-Hughes, 1992). The
dissention of medical professionals, the bourgeois agents of the social
consensus, from the conservative majority has largely effected advancement
in gay rights and popular approval of gays.
Echoing the APA verdict, the "gay agenda" is simply to be
considered normal. In the nurture vs. nature debate, discussed below,
gays favor biological causation to explain their existence. They feel
that homosexuality is natural, normal, and healthy. No one is to blame
for making them gay; it is either the result of evolution and natural
selection or God given diversity. Likewise, it is impossible to change,
and there should be no need to change. For them, homosexuality is not
a disease so there is nothing to cure. It is only the negative sanctions
from an intolerant society that force some gays to try to change their
sexual orientation. What gays really want is a socially accepted life
course in which they can live their lives without fear and enjoy the same
protections for their relationships and families that heterosexuals enjoy.
In order to accomplish this, they use the forms of personal communication,
relationships, multimedia, entertainment, and education to sway public
opinion. This is a slow process.
Gays have also aggressively sought social change through legislation.
Some of the legal issues important to them include discrimination in employment
and housing; marriage, partnerships, and benefits; child custody and adoption;
and hate crime legislation. Modest victories in these areas have often
been secured through the identification and utilization of legal loopholes.
However, on June 26, 2003, the second greatest victory for Gay Rights
occurred when the U.S. Supreme court invalidated state sodomy laws in
the landmark case, Lawrence v. Texas. With this ruling, no longer was
it possible to minimize the "gay lifestyle" as an illegal one.
It is expected that this ruling will have far reaching effects in knocking
down many of the legal barriers that have been erected and fortified against
gay people in such areas as listed above.
The Religious Right
The Religious Right believes that homosexuality is sinful, perverse,
immoral, and unnatural. A key belief held by many is that there is no
such thing as a homosexual person, only a person who commits homosexual
acts. In this way, they are able to separate the "sin" from
the "sinner." They believe that gays and lesbians could have
meaningful and lasting heterosexual relationships if they really wanted
it's their "nature." It is perversion that leads them
down the road to homosexuality and thus is a chosen lifestyle. According
to them, homosexuality is either a criminal behavior that must be controlled
and prevented, or a psychological disorder that must be treated and cured.
It is definitely not normal or healthy. Some of their goals include the
1. Protect gender norms. For many, homosexuality confuses
what it means to be male or female and calls into question the social
construction of morality, gender, sex, and family.
Their legal strategy has been to frame gay rights as "special"
rights instead of "equal" rights, "moral" issues instead
of "civil rights" issues. They seek to undermine the advancement
of homosexual individuals and their "agenda" through discrimination
and establishing and fortifying legal barriers. The 2003 Lawrence v. Texas
U.S. Supreme Court decision lead Justice Scalia to dissent, "Today's
opinion is the product of a Court
that has largely signed on to the
so-called homosexual agenda
It is clear from this that the Court has
taken sides in the culture war
2. Protect the institution of marriage. Many feel that allowing
gays to marry would weaken the institution of marriage and also open Pandora's
box, eradicating barriers to incest, bestiality, and other perversions.
3. Protect the children. A popular myth is that the youth are confused
and easily lead astray. The Right is afraid that homosexuals will recruit
youth in their impressionable years. There is also a common belief that
children need to be raised by both a male and a female in order to become
a healthy adult.
4. Protect society. For many years, as can be demonstrated through
history, preachers and doomsayers have warned that social acceptance of
homosexuality incurs the wrath of God. Such line of reasoning is what
prompted Rev. Jerry Falwell to blame homosexuals and other "secular"
groups for the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on September
Nature v. Nurture
"All phenomena arise from their causes
The nature versus nurture argument is not new. Carl Linnaeus' research
on plant sexuality stirred up debate on the roles of heredity and environment
on organism development that continues to this day (Rapp, 1999). Much
research has already been conducted and speculations made on the environmental
factors that may contribute to the formation of a homosexual psyche. In
the past few years, great strides have also been made in demonstrating
a clear biological component. Most scientists dismiss the debate by claim
that homosexuality is the complex product of both factors, but the public
remains divided. Why is there such a fuss? Why are we trying to find the
"cause" of homosexuality? What are the implications/consequences
of finding specific causes?
As stated above, homosexuals often place weight on the nature argument
to assert their own normalcy. On the other hand, other people are reluctant
to consider a genetic cause of homosexuality precisely because of this
implication. It is much easier to maintain the moral status quo by only
moderating deviance of conduct and not deviance of biology.
Regardless of the precise nature of the cause, however, history has
already made it clear that all factors of causality can have negative
implications for the homosexual. If homosexuality is genetic, then it
could be considered an unwanted genetic flaw, or a "biological error"
as Dr. Laura Schlessinger has so "politely" put it. If a genetic
marker were ever found, it would not take long for an amniocentesis test
to be developed that could screen for it. Homosexuality could eventually
be perceived as just another unwanted disability or birth defect. "Sexually
disabled" or "reproductively handicapped" fetuses could
be easily identified and aborted by people desiring to someday become
biological grandparents or by others who simply do not want to produce
a disgusting mutation or a "child of the damned." This scenario
is not far-fetched; the intersection of women's right to choose and disability
rights has clearly been demonstrated. And, many couples have already aborted
fetuses with sex-chromosome anomalies for fear that they might grow up
to be gay, in spite of genetic counselors' best efforts to clarify the
misunderstandings (Rapp, 1999). If this were the case with misinterpretation
of diagnoses, what would be the outcome if amniocentesis could test for
homosexuality? How many gay fetuses would be aborted?
If homosexuality is solely caused by environmental factors, then it
is a learned behavior. Many people assume that learned behaviors can be
unlearned and are easy to change. As already stated, the Religious Right
prefers to focus on this cause and advocates the use of aversion/reparative
therapy in spite of the dismal and often destructive results of such therapies.
In such a view, homosexuality is a disorder, and a SSAD one at that (it
is often referred to as Same-Sex Attraction Disorder). Since it can be
taught to others, they fear its propagation. Such fear is a great catalyst
for oppression, forced therapy, and criminal prosecution.
Thus, the focus on the causality of homosexuality creates a catch 22
situation. If the cause is nurture, then it is okay to discriminate against
homosexuals and to indirectly force change, because change is perceived
as easy to accomplish. If it is genetic, the extermination of gay individuals
could be easily accomplished through selective abortion or other means.
Options for the gay individual
If homosexuality is to be considered a disorder or a disease, there
must be treatment and hopefully a cure. "Even if there is a genetic
component," many reason, "then it must be like alcoholism. You
may have a strong tendency to become addicted; you may already be an addict
and will be one for the remainder of your life; but you still must avoid
alcohol for yourself and for society."
This line of reasoning has many faults. One is that alcoholism has many
known detrimental affects to the body, to mental ability, and judgment.
It destroys individual lives, relationships, and is often deadly to not
only the alcoholic, but others as well (drunk driving, abuse, assault/battery,
etc.). While many doomsayers are quick to claim that acceptance of homosexuality
would trigger the destruction of the family and society, clearly the evidence
does not stand in their favor. Gay couples can have meaningful and lasting
relationships and can also make good parents. The only real threat of
accepting homosexuality is to the existing moral code.
Secondly, to become an alcoholic, an individual must drink the first
drop. Someone with genetic tendencies toward alcoholism will never feel
drawn toward alcohol if they never drink it. However, many if not most
gay people feel strong sexual desires toward members of their same gender
long before they act on it.
Just like their straight counterparts, gay youth develop strong sexual
urges during puberty. While heterosexual youth are naturally attracted
to members of the opposite sex to the exclusion of their own, gay youth
experience sexual attraction completely in reverse. Not only are gays
sexually attracted to members of their own gender, but they also experience
a lack of attraction or even a sexual repulsion for the opposite sex.
This is the component of homosexuality that many people fail to recognize.
And it has come as a result of their own natural biological wiring, not
the result of perversion as many pulpit-thumpers have claimed.
Regardless of this awareness, reparative therapists have not been in
short supply of homosexuals to experiment on. Many right wing groups including
Exodus, NARTH, and Evergreen have espoused reparative therapy and have
been vociferous in their claims. However, after several decades of practice,
there has yet to be published a single reputable report demonstrating
that curing homosexuality is possible.
Aside from the questionable ethics of such therapy, the results have
been pathetic. There have been numerous reports of physical, emotional,
and mental trauma being sustained by individuals undergoing this kind
of therapy. And even if reparative therapists have sustained a 50% cure
rate as some claim, that means that 50% of gays that wanted to change,
strove to change, and did everything they could to change their sexual
orientation failed. Of the "ex-gays" that do claim to be cured,
none have been the subject of long-term studies that would prove the efficacy
of their treatment. Since only a small percentage of gay individuals would
consider undergoing such treatment anyway, reparative/aversion therapy
is simply not an option for the vast majority of gays.
Many counselors and church leaders have counseled homosexuals to enter
heterosexual marriages. Popular opinion and even the laws themselves strongly
promote this solution. Unfortunately, despite the claims, heterosexual
marriage does not cure the gay individual. While no statistics are available
for obvious reasons, it is not difficult to assume that many such relationships
fail. Several books have been written on the subject, including Goodbye,
I Love You (1989), When Husbands Come Out of the Closet (1989),
and The Other Side of the Closet (1994). This theme has even played
a major role in the recent mainstream movie: Far from Heaven (2002).
Why do such marriages fail? Due to the lack of sexual attraction for
the opposite sex, many gay men are physically unable to perform coitus
with women and thus are never able to consummate their straight relationships,
no matter how beautiful and sexy their wives may be. While other gay men,
and theoretically all lesbian women, are able to function sexually with
the opposite sex, their stronger sexual desire for members of their own
sex over their partners can create major problems in such mixed-orientation
relationships. Who would want to have sex on a regular basis with someone
that s/he is not really attracted to? Who would want to marry someone
that would never be fully attracted to her/him and always desire someone
else? Who would want his or her heterosexual son or daughter to marry
a homosexual individual?
When marriage does occur, divorce often follows. Unfortunately, the
courts have not been very sympathetic, and many judges have even denied
divorcing gays the right to see their own children. Thus, there are many
reasons why gay people are unwilling to enter into heterosexual relationships
and instead avoid the straight marriage trap.
The only other ethical option from the aforementioned is for society
to change its laws, to recognize and protect gay relationships. Love,
relationships, sex, and marriage are not only celebrated in our American
society, but they are also rites of passage. Relationships are key for
many social interactions and infrastructures. Unlike their straight peers,
homosexuals do not have a socially accepted and celebrated time to look
forward to, such as marriage, when their relationships may be validated.
Because gay relationships lack social and legal support, structure, and
protection, promiscuity often reigns. While gay men's promiscuity may
be partially blamed for the spread of AIDS in this country, as well as
other sexually transmitted diseases, the American society is also at fault
for its indirect promotion of that promiscuity. Going a step further,
couldn't the U.S. be seen as just another country that has "sought
to indirectly cause genocide by forcing [gays] to live in health compromising
ways"? Gays are often healthy individuals, good citizens, have meaningful
relationships, and make good parents. It is in their, their families',
and society's best interest to support and sustain them.
As long as religions and other social bodies declare that homosexuality
is immoral, there will always be people to parrot it. But their voice
is shrinking in volume. Society continues to evolve. As science makes
advances, and as people become more educated, there is more tolerance
of other peoples' differences. The "Us versus Them" mentality
is becoming more and more difficult to maintain as sons and daughters,
relatives, and friends come out as gay. A growing popular consensus recognizes
homosexuality as "normal." For the first time in recorded history,
homosexuals have had the opportunity to unite and organize and have increased
their political power on a global scale. There are only two directions
that we can go: toward division, hatred, and violence or onward toward
tolerance and peace. Medical science and countless testimonies have stated
that homosexuality is neither a choice nor a disease. It is time for our
laws to catch up. Hopefully, we've moved beyond the narrow-mindedness
that lead to the barbarity and atrocities of the Catholic Inquisition,
the medieval Crusades, and the condemnation of the McCarthy era. Maybe
someday, individuals will be granted freedom to think, believe, and behave
according to their own consciences, rather than be forced to adhere to
the oppressive dictates of the empowered group. Likewise, legislation
could be used to minimize the friction between groups and individuals
rather than elevating the needs of one over the abased needs of another.
- Because of the extent of his historical compilation, this section
on the history of homosexuality relies heavily on Greenberg. Return
Greenberg, D. 1988. The Construction of Homosexuality. University
of Chicago Press.
Janzen, J. 2002. The Social Fabric of Health: An Introduction to Medical
Anthropology. McGraw Hill.
Mattingly, C. 1998. Healing Dramas and Clinical Plots: The Narrative
Structure of Experience. Cambridge University Press.
Rapp, R. 2000. Testing Women, Testing the Fetus: The Social Impact
of Amniocentesis in America. New York, Routledge.
Scheper-Hughes, N. 1992. Death Without Weeping: The Violence of Everyday
Life in Brazil. University of California Press.