Growing up in the 1990s, it is extremely confusing to be a homosexual teenager. Between conflicting messages in school, at home, and through church, and news stories that alternate between assuring me that it’s ok to be gay and telling me that I could change if I wanted to, it’s hard to distinguish what is and is not acceptable, and deal with how to live my own life. Because I feel a degree of shame about being a homosexual male, it would be uncomfortable to seek out someone I know to discuss my sexual orientation. Not only am I afraid of their reaction to what I reveal, I am also afraid of how I will react myself, based on what I am told. Instead, I will spend time researching homosexuality on the World Wide Web, and try to figure out who I am and what I should do about what I find.
In 1992, Steven Goldberg published an article in National Review entitled “What is Normal – heredity and homosexuality”. I find myself wondering the same question quite often, as it seems that normal changes dependant upon who defines it. Goldberg begins his article by discussing a recent study that provided evidence of a link between homosexuality and heredity. The conclusion of this study, Goldberg paraphrased, is that “to the extent that homosexuality is innate, it should be considered a psychologically normal variation”. (Goldberg, 1992) It seems comforting that as early as 1992, someone found that because one does not have a choice to be homosexual, it is therefore normal to be homosexual. Goldberg goes on to say, however, that the conclusion of this study is misunderstood because it fails to distinguish “between a predispositional and a determinative physiological factor”. (Goldberg, 1992) The distinction between predispositional and determinative is that in the first, certain factors exist within an environment an individual is raised within that may lead to a certain behavior – homosexuality – while in the second, an individual is destined to take on certain characteristics no matter the environment in which he is raised. I find this an interesting thought to ponder – could something in my childhood have shaped me into who I now am, or is it possible that no matter who raised me or where I was raised, I would still be homosexual? It is encouraging that Goldberg says “such a factor would render indefensible and cruel any assessment of homosexuality as psychologically abnormal”. I am, however, discouraged, when he goes on to say that the results of the study speak against such a factor. Goldberg leaves me with more questions than answers, so more research is necessary.
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One year after Goldberg’s article, Carlton Cornett published a work in Insight on the News called “Gay ain’t Broke; no need to fix it”. The title itself is encouraging, as it seems to indicate that I should be safe to reveal myself as a homosexual male to the world without recriminations or adverse reactions. Unlike Goldberg, who, while not against homosexuality, discredits a determinative heredity factor as a cause, Cornett instead chooses to focus on the “what” not the “how” – who cares why you’re gay, but since you are, there’s nothing wrong with it. Cornett makes the statement that “the vehement belief that homosexuality is a form of emotional illness is predominantly an American phenomenon”. (Carlton, 1993) That makes me wonder how teenagers around the world are dealing with their own homosexuality – are their cultures perhaps more accepting? Even in America, where homosexuality has been viewed as an illness one can be cured of, Cornett notes that “attempts to change sexual orientation, however, have been noteworthy mostly for their lack of success.” (Carlton, 1993) Cornett speaks of the former classification of homosexuality as a disease by the American Psychiatric Association, and tells that many psychiatrists, psychologists and psychoanalysts were against the removal of it as a disease in the 1970s. He speculates, however, that some of these individuals may have been motivated to keep homosexuality listed as a disease not out of concern for their patients but out of concern over being paid by insurance companies for treatment of homosexual patients. Cornett continues his assault on self-serving individuals by noting that many organizations exist that seek to strip away one’s homosexuality, and speculates that “for some, the impetus for “repairing” other homosexual people may lie in an externalization of their own shame and self-hatred.” While I was left confused after reading Goldberg, I am not so after reading Cornett. He has a firm stance that there is nothing wrong with being gay, and that gives me confidence to be who I am. Two opinions, though, certainly do not represent the entire spectrum.
In 1995, Cort Kirkwood produced an article called “Homosexuality as a Protected Political Class” in Insight on the News, where he looks at the attempt of the state of Colorado to pass an anti-homosexual amendment. The case, Evans v. Romer, concerns legislation that reads “homosexual, lesbian or bisexual orientation, conduct, practices or relationships shall [not]… entitle any person or class of persons to have or claim any minority status, quota preferences, protected status or claim of discrimination.” (Kirkwood, 1995, from CO Amendment 2) Before reading the rest of Cornett’s article, I pause to consider the wording of Colorado’s legislation. On one hand, one could interpret it to say that people who are homosexual are no different than people who are heterosexual, and therefore afforded no special rights. On the other hand, it could also be interpreted as a repression of homosexuals, as inherent bias can exist, and because no special status will be granted, that bias cannot be overcome. Taking the second interpretation, Evans v. Romer made the point that this amendment excluded gays from the political process. Kirkwood makes arguments for both sides of the case, leading to the insightful remark that “sexual behavior is not equivalent to an immutable characteristic such as skin color”. Kirkwood’s overall tone in his article seems to show that he believes that homosexuals should not be allowed any special favors or protections, and states that should the Supreme Court find against Colorado, citizens needed to rise up to tell their legislators “to stop clear-cutting the nation’s moral timber”. Although I felt more confidence after reading Cornett, Kirkwood has left me feeling let down, and so my research will continue.
Skipping ahead a few years to 1997, Laura Louiderback and Bernard Whitley wrote about the attitudes of heterosexual college students towards gay and lesbian students. I am especially interested in the conclusion of this article, as it discusses peer perception. The start of the article, however, is not encouraging towards revealing ones homosexuality – the very first sentence reads “two of the most consistent findings in attitude research have been that heterosexuals’ attitudes toward lesbians and gay men are negative and that American society finds this negativity to be acceptable”. (Louiderack & Whitley, 1997) I am even less encouraged when I read about my own status – a homosexual male. Louiderback and Whitley write “because society expects men to avoid female traits or activities and because gay men are often thought to possess inappropriate sex roles, men may feel pressured by society to have negative feelings toward homosexuality and especially toward gay men”. Highly statistical in nature, the remainder of the article goes on to discuss differences in how straight women view gay men, how straight women view lesbian women, how straight men view gay men, and how straight men view lesbian women. The conclusion is that the harshest thoughts are felt against gay men by straight men. The confidence built by the Cornett article is being further eroded, and I continue research in hopes of finding another positive source.
The last source I read gives nominal further encouragement. Titled “It’s All In Your Head”, David Eidenberg discusses current psychological thoughts about whether homosexuality ought still be considered a disease. Eidenberg notes that “over the past five years there seems to have been a restoration of the “homosexuality as pathology” movement within psychiatry and psychology. Perhaps it is a reaction to the political correctness of the early ’90s”. (Eidenberg, 1998) Although Eidenberg notes studies and quotes from those in the psychiatric community that lean towards acceptance of homosexuality, he concludes by stating that “in the end it’s clear that both patients and therapists still exist in a homophobic society. As these attitudes become less pervasive and as practitioners become more knowledgeable, psychological services for gay men and lesbians will improve.” (Eidenberg 1998) This final statement, in itself, contains a double message – it discusses homophobic attitudes becoming less pervasive, but then states that psychological services for homosexuals will improve. Wouldn’t it be more accurate that if attitudes become less pervasive and homosexuals have less cause to doubt themselves, those psychological services would render themselves moot?
In the present day, it is almost amusing to look back on the turmoil of the 1990s and the
result that turmoil had on homosexuals. In this day and age where several states have either approved gay marriage or gay civil unions, it seems impossible to think about Colorado’s amendment affording gays no special status. What a shift in thought over such a short length of time! It seems there’s been an equally enormous shift in the psychological community, as homosexuality seems to be flaunted in this day and age, rather than repressed and dealt with as a deviation or illness. As more and more prominent figures come out of the closet, society seems to show more and more acceptance of homosexual individuals. In the 1990s, it is hard to remember who might have been a prominent icon of homosexuality – in the year 2007, one can name several big names without even trying. The most important lesson I have learned from this exercise is just how far society has advanced – it seems that far more than one decade must have passed since these articles were written.