It’s a popular thought that people who are hateful towards the LGBTQ community are actually struggling with their own homosexual feelings. This idea is comforting because it not only explains their anger, but humanizes them and highlights their vulnerability. Is it true though, or is it just a lie that we tell ourselves in an attempt to make sense of irrational violence and prejudice?
Buy an “Intelligence is sexy” t-shirt!
We were not the only ones who found this question to be compelling. Researchers from the University of Rochester, the University of California, and the University of Essex conducted a study that examined homophobia, sexual desire, and upbringing. They included four different experiments that covered hundreds of students throughout Germany and the United States. Implicit sexual desire was measured through word and picture tests that gauged the subject’s unconscious reactions to a wide variety of verbal and visual stimuli. Whether or not the subject was homophobic was measured in the same way – and also, they just asked. Sadly, many subjects were much more forthcoming in regards to their hatred than their genuine desires (which, I guess, is the whole point.)
Unsurprisingly, the subjects who were identified as closeted homosexuals were overwhelmingly the same ones who exhibited high levels of hostility towards gay people. “Individuals who identify as straight but in psychological tests show a strong attraction to the same sex may be threatened by gays and lesbians because homosexuals remind them of similar tendencies within themselves,” explained Netta Weinstein, a lecturer at the University of Essex and the study’s lead author.
The closeted subjects were also much more likely to report being raised in authoritarian households by parents who were not comfortable with homosexuality. They reported that their parents were very controlling throughout their childhood, and that they did not feel free to express their individuality at home. They had little say in how they lived their lives. Sadly, it would appear that this mindset followed them into adulthood.
It’s ironic, in a way. The firm discipline that these parents undoubtedly believed would ensure good behavior actually led their children to become violent and hateful – both to others and to themselves. “In many cases these are people who are at war with themselves and they are turning this internal conflict outward,” added study co-author Richard Ryan. “We laugh at or make fun of such blatant hypocrisy, but in a real way, these people may often themselves be victims of repression and experience exaggerated feelings of threat. Homophobia is not a laughing matter. It can sometimes have tragic consequences.”