Society and the Healthy Homosexual

Society and the Healthy Homosexual

by George Weinberg

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The man who popularized the term homophobia examines its causes and its disastrous, but often subtle, effect on gay people.


The man who popularized the term homophobia examines its causes and its disastrous, but often subtle, effect on gay people.

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St. Martin's Press
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Society and the Healthy Homosexual

By George Weinberg

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 1972 George Weinberg
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-7346-5



I would never consider a patient healthy unless he had overcome his prejudice against homosexuality. Of course if the person is himself homosexual, the prejudice he holds is barring the way to easy expression of his own desires. But even if he is heterosexual, his repugnance at homosexuality is certain to be harmful to him. In my experience, such a prejudice is more rife among heterosexual men than among heterosexual women.

The person who belittles homosexuals with evident enjoyment is at the very least telling me that he wants to establish his own sense of importance through contrast with other people — a tenuous business. He says with revulsion that someone he knows is "a faggot," or he lowers his voice when describing a sexual advance that a man once made to him.

Do you know how certain female impersonation clubs survive? Nonhomosexual men, who want to convince themselves and their wives or girl friends of their masculinity, throng them.

They sit at ringside — or pay one of the transvestites to come over and sit with them. They pinch the lesbians and ask jocularly, "Are you a boy or a girl?" Some of them chew fat cigars. When the stage show begins and the drag queens come out, they whistle. The lion is allowing the lamb to live and bleat.

At three o'clock in the morning our so-called head of the household says raucously, "Check please!" and overtips the waitress. On the stairway he puts his arm around his woman's waist. He is assuring her by his firm hold that he is with her, that the time has come when he is to take her away from this sordid atmosphere.

On the street he mutters something to the effect that the people below are sick and "really sad." He finds a cab immediately, since the customers in such places are known to be showoffs with money, and a line of cabs is waiting for people like him. In the cab he smooches with his woman and they feel like a normal couple.

This is the identity that the patient who slurs homosexuality assumes in my mind while he is talking. He is bracing himself and trying to bolster his relationship by presenting it against a contrast. But in so doing, he is increasing his fear of sordidness — and heightening his fear of witnessing human variety.

Moreover, he is inhibiting himself. He is depriving himself not of homosexual experiences, which he truthfully does not want, but of all else that he connects with homosexuality. For instance, he makes it impossible to have friends who are homosexual, and thus loses the possible benefit of a viewpoint that would have widened his. And if he regards even so natural an attitude as passivity as homosexual, he has sentenced himself to renouncing receptivity as an attitude for himself.

This last is a very severe loss. A fellow looked at a reproduction of Michelangelo's painting of Adam on the wall of my office, and turning away, told me he hated it.

"Why?" I asked.

"He's too passive. He's not doing anything."

"Well, he was just created, seconds ago. He's got a good excuse," I said.

"That doesn't matter," he said bluntly, and he turned away in disgust from perhaps the finest nude ever drawn, sickened because the character was delicate and lolling, doing nothing more than absorbing experience.

Most men who loathe homosexuals have a deathly fear of abandonment in the direction of passivity. The surrender of control signifies to them a loss of masculinity, and their demand for control produces narrowness. To condemn passivity is like condemning your eyeballs. We need passivity to see, to discover, to learn.

The person I am describing usually feels under tremendous pressure to be the aggressor in sex, and he expects conformity and passivity on the part of his woman. He is easily undone when he does not find it. He inflicts ludicrous role-expectations on his children. In some cases the fear of being in any way womanish has so invaded the crannies of the person's mind that it affects his attitudes toward the use of color in his home and in his clothing. He has almost defined himself out of existence by the very contrast he is fighting so hard to establish.

If a son is homosexual, he goes berserk. To reassure himself that he himself has not also succumbed, and is still tough, he might take a punch at the boy. "That fellow is never coming into this house again!" he shouts at his wife, his eyes popping, after the boy has stormed out. It seems unmanning to him to have given birth to an unmanly son.

I am describing a clear-cut but prevalent form of phobia. It has not been identified as such by the experts because the sufferer's viewpoint jibes with most experts' opinions that homosexuals are disturbed. If we liken homosexuality to an illness, the father's distress looks reasonable. We expect despair and hair-pulling when someone close to us is desperately ill. But why his assault? One does not assault someone merely because he is ill. One assaults him because one is mortally afraid of him.

What causes homophobia — the dread of being in close quarters with homosexuals — and in the case of homosexuals themselves, self-loathing? Volumes have been written — by psychologists, sexologists, anthropologists, sociologists, and physiologists — on homosexuality, its origins and its development. This is because in most western civilizations, homosexuality is itself considered a problem; our unwarranted distress over homosexuality is not classified as a problem because it is still a majority point of view. Homophobia is still part of the conventional American attitude.

Despite massive evidence that homosexuals are as various in their personalities as anyone else, the public at this time still holds many misconceptions which in some cases are thought to justify our discriminatory practices. Among these misconceptions are the belief that homosexuals seduce young children (child molestation is preponderantly a heterosexual practice); the belief that homosexuals are untrustworthy; that homosexual men hate women; that homosexual women hate men — all beliefs unsupported by evidence, but held unquestioningly by millions.

If there is any doubt of the existence of homophobia, consider that in England and the U.S., for hundreds of years, homosexuality was unmentionable. In the courts, homosexual crimes were alluded to in Latin, or implied by circuitous language, and judges have sentenced people to languish in jail for acts considered so vile that they should not be talked about. For this reason, homosexuality has sometimes been called "the crime without a name."

There is a certain cost in suffering from any phobia, and that is that the inhibition spreads to a whole circle of acts related to the feared activity, in reality or symbolically. In this case, acts imagined to be conducive to homosexual feelings, or that are reminiscent of homosexual acts, are shunned. Since homosexuality is more feared by men than women, this results in marked differences in permissiveness toward the sexes. For instance, a great many men refrain from embracing each other or kissing each other, and women do not. Moreover, men do not as a rule express fondness for each other, or longing for each other's company, as openly as women do. Men tend not to permit themselves to see beauty in the physical forms of other men, or enjoy it; whereas women may openly express admiration for the beauty of other women. Men, even lifetime friends, will not sit as close together on a couch while talking earnestly as women may; they will not look into each other's faces as steadily or as fondly. Ramifications of this phobic fear extend even to parent-child relationships. Millions of fathers feel that it would not befit them to kiss their sons affectionately or embrace them, whereas mothers can kiss and embrace their daughters as well as their sons.

The fear of homosexuality is inculcated in early life. Studies have been done in which children are asked to place paper figures on a background, to indicate the degree of closeness between imaginary persons represented by the figures. The children are asked to indicate that the play figures like each other, or are acquaintances, or are frightened of each other. In one study, sixth-grade boys and girls were subjects, and the cutouts were of children their own age. The girls showed a strong tendency to indicate fondness by putting the cutouts close to each other; by comparison, the boys did not put the cutouts of boys near to each other. The differences were so systematic as to meet stringent scientific criteria. The researcher concluded:

It is common knowledge that in our society females are allowed to assume closer physical interaction distances than males are. ... Sex differences in interpersonal spacing have been found on numerous occasions ... and observation shows that females can tolerate closer physical presences than males in this culture. (Guardo)

Society's fear of intimacy between males has implications far beyond the sexual realm. Apparently, boys learn it by the age of eleven, and it results in a significant deprivation of freedom for them. For instance, millions of heterosexual men who suffer from homophobia find it almost impossible to gaze at the bodies of other men, though they are understandably curious about them.

As Australian psychiatrist named Dr. N. McConaghy conducted a study typical of many in which the aim was to help perfect a device for spotting homosexuals. In this study, he puts the penis of each of his subjects into an apparatus designed to measure whether it expanded or contracted as the subjects viewed pictures of nude men and women engaging in somewhat suggestive acts, like towelling themselves. Eleven heterosexual medical students served as the controls for a homosexual population. In responding to the pictures of the nude males, the penises of the heterosexual young medical students shrank! One understands easily why they did not expand, since presumably the medical students were not erotically aroused at the sight of the nude males. But why did they shrink? The answer is: fear. And consider the implication of this. If the sight of the naked body of the male had this effect on the medical students, how will it influence them as practitioners, when they will be called upon to look at and handle the naked bodies of men?

When a phobia incapacitates a person from engaging in activities considered decent by a society, the person himself is the sufferer. He loses out on the chance to go skiing perhaps, if it is acrophobia, or the chance to take the elevator to the street each day if it is claustrophobia. But here the phobia appears as antagonism directed toward a particular group of people. Inevitably, it leads to disdain of those people, and to mistreatment of them. This phobia in operation is a prejudice, which means that we can widen our understanding of it by considering the phobia from the point of view of its being a prejudice and uncovering its chief motives.

Here are the chief ones that I have been able to identify. There are five of them.

The Religious Motive

In his celebrated work The Nature of Prejudice, Gordon Allport tells of having examined numerous definitions of prejudice. Each definition refers to an "unfounded judgment" with an accompanying "feeling tone." Technically, a prejudice may be pro or con, but as Allport intimates, the word "prejudice" is applied almost exclusively to antagonistic attitudes. Allport thoughtfully defines a prejudice as "an avertive or hostile attitude toward a person who belongs to a group, simply because he belongs to that group, and is therefore presumed to have the objectionable qualities ascribed to the group."

In accounting for attitudes of long standing in a society, the approach of historians is to identify the forces that introduced the attitude back in the past.

Much of our present tradition around homosexuality, and sexuality generally, goes back to the Judaeo-Christian code. The Biblical stricture against "spilling the seed" covered homosexuality too, and there are explicit prohibitions against homosexuality in the Bible. Oppression of homosexuals became most atrocious when ecclesiastic powers brought their backing to it. As part of its wider campaign against pleasure, the Church evolved an enormously strict system. The Christian ideal was complete celibacy — accompanied by a craving for asceticism, purity and poverty. For hundreds of years Christianity set itself to distinguishing possible sources of pleasure and prohibiting them.

Not even sexual intercourse between husband and wife for procreation was fully above reproach. The Church catalogued variants of that act too, and banned most of them in the belief that they involved choices aimed at enjoyment. It banned nudity, and the sexual intercourse position using entry from the rear, because this position was thought unduly pleasurable. To implement its bans, Christianity set up its own courts and developed its own brand of law, called canon law. Whereas common law was concerned chiefly with protecting people from damage inflicted by others, canon law dealt with offenses to the Church. It punished people for actions that harmed no one, and justified itself by calling them sinful and arguing that they were damaging to the performer. Supposedly for their own sakes, thousands found guilty of homosexual acts were executed. As an obvious seeker for sexual pleasure without the excuse of child-getting, the homosexual came to seem a living rebuke to Christianity. Under its influence, emperors borrowed the tactic of putting homosexuals to death, and the public embraced this view of homosexuals as heretics and sinners.

The great attraction of the Church was its professed power to remit sins. Its followers' very observance of Christianity in all its detail renewed in them their belief in eternal damnation as a possibility or them after death. By renouncing pleasure and condemning those who sought it, they kept alive the belief that enjoyment itself is detrimental to one's chances for escaping Hell.

The influence of ecclesiastical thinking is still to be found, not just among Christians but everywhere among us. Sometimes the Bible itself is blamed for this. But, as the Reverend Troy Perry notes in public appearances, those who base their condemnation of homosexuality on Biblical admonitions are exercising considerable personal judgment over which Biblical teachings to accept and which to disregard. Perry often refers to Leviticus, where the recommendation is made that two men who engage in a homosexual act should be stoned. He observes that in the same book of the Bible, it is said to be wrong for a woman to wear a scarlet dress or for anyone to eat shrimp. And yet people who wear scarlet and eat shrimp continue to cite Leviticus as their authority for condemning homosexuality.

Reverend Perry, who is pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church in Los Angeles, is the best known of an increasing number of religious leaders who give services for homosexuals. In only two years Perry won a following of 16,000 homosexuals in eleven major cities in the United States. The main issue for these men and women is not whether one believes in God, but whether belief in God is incompatible with homosexuality. Reverend Perry's own answer is repeated as a chant by those who attend his services: "The Lord is my Shepherd and He knows I'm gay." To blame the Church alone for the phobic attitude toward sexuality held today is to overlook ongoing dynamic attitudes, which must always be present in a population when a prejudice persists.

The Secret Fear of Being Homosexual

A second motive for the homophobic reaction is the fear of being homosexual oneself.

When Dick Leitsch, who was then head of the New York Mattachine Society for the rights of homosexuals, was on a speaking tour of the colleges, he would sometimes encounter opposition in an unexpected form. At Ohio University in Athens, a man stood up out of the audience and roared at him after his speech: "But you see, Mr. Leitsch, if you take the laws away, and the social stigmas too, against homosexuals, then everyone will be homosexual." Apparently, the man perceived the law as a vital help in deterring him from becoming homosexual himself.

Similarly, in discussing a file clerk who, for homosexual acts committed as a minor, had been fired from his job as an adult and was later reinstated, Presidential Assistant Walter W. Jenkins, gave assurance in 1964 that the man "would not actually control air traffic." Months later, this very man who had tacitly granted the irresponsibility of homosexuals left the government after being discovered in a homosexual act.

In both cases we see what Freud called reaction formation, the mechanism of defending against an impulse in oneself by taking a stand against its expression by others.


Excerpted from Society and the Healthy Homosexual by George Weinberg. Copyright © 1972 George Weinberg. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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