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Are Homophobes Really Gay?

Examining the complicated relationship between sexual orientation and homophobia

Despite recent gains in gay civil rights, including the recent US Supreme Court rulings on marriage, the overturning of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” as well as the legalization of same-sex marriage in many foreign countries, homophobia is alive and well both here and abroad. In several areas of the US, there has been an uptick in anti-gay hate crimes. Homosexuality is still a punishable offense in many nations and in some is punishable by death. There is good evidence to suggest that religious affiliation, culture, and beliefs about sex roles can contribute to one’s feelings of homophobia.

However, what about a person’s sexual orientation? Recently President Vladmir Putin signed an anti-propoganda law that resulted in the recent arrests of several gay Dutch tourists and may give police the right to arrrest anyone who portrays homosexuaity positively including LGBT teachers and parents ( Is a homophobic individual like Putin along with his supporters, possibly harboring same-sex attractions? Is expressed hatred or revulsion toward gay people a situation about which Shakespeare would say: “Methinks he doth protest too much?"

There is some evidence to suggest as much. In a 1993 study, levels of homophobia were assessed among 64 men along with their sexual arousal (measured by increases in penile circumference) in response to erotic videos of heterosexual, same-sex female, and same-sex male encounters. Those who scored high on homophobia were more likely to also manifest sexual arousal in response to the videos of male homosexual encounters.* In a more recent study it was found that men raised in authoritative households were more likely to repress same-sex attractions and to exhibit more hostility to gay people.**

Emile Griffith, a recently deceased welterweight and middleweight champion, pummeled an opponent to death after he had called him an anti-gay slur, Griffith continuing to punch him in the head well after he had clearly won the fight. Though he denied he was gay or bisexual at that time, later in his life Griffith admitted to having had affairs with several men including a male partner who cared for him up until his death.

Add this anecdote to several others including that of right wing politician Larry Craig, who pled guilty to lewd behavior toward other men in an airport bathroom but who also championed anti-gay legislation during his political career, and Ted Haggard, leader of the famously anti-gay National Association of the Evangelicals, who resigned after it was discovered he was engaging male prostitutes.

Same-sex attractions have proven intractable throughout history and are notoriously difficult to extinguish, either by people who harbor them or societies that seek to repress them. As stated previously, there are over a half a dozen countries, including Iran and Saudi Arabia where homosexual contact is punishable by death and many whose governments penalize such behavior with harsh prison sentences. However, Iran has a flourishing underground gay society and Pakistanis have been found to be the most frequent Googlers of gay porn. An acquaintance of mine who is a flight attendant and a gay male will attest that when he visits these homophobic countries, he is frequently approached by men for sex in hotels, gym saunas, parks and certain streets. So despite the obstacles of profoundly punitive laws and homophobic cultures, same-sex sexual behavior cannot be completely constrained—and this has been known for a long time.

Is Putin harboring secret same-sex attractions? Of course, I can't say. But I can tell you that his homophobic legislation will do little to stop same sex behavior. It will only lead to shame and repression, which in turn will contribute to an ongoing cycle of homophobia, anti-gay violence, and, of course, significant personal suffering

*Adams, H. E., Wright, L. W., & Lohr, B. A. (1993). Is homophobia associated with homosexual arousal? Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 105, 440-445.

** Weinstein, N., Ryan, W.S., DeHaan, C. R., Przybylski, A. K, Legate, N., & Ryan, R. M. (2012). Autonomy support and discrepancies between implicit and explicit sexual identities: Dynamics of self-Acceptance and defense. Journal of Personal and Social Psychology, 102, 815-832