Kinder, gentler
homophobia

Kinder, gentler
            homophobia

When it comes to
the state of things today in the LGBT community, most of
us would be inclined to think the glass half-empty rather
than half-full. The “religious” right
continues to fulminate, and bans against same-sex
marriage are working their way though sundry states with
varying results.

Yet the public as
a whole, according to the latest polls, doesn’t find
the subject a rallying point. And as more of us live our
lives openly and freely, forming families complete
with children, the facts of LGBT life have been faced
in courts throughout the land, no matter what
“moral” opinion any heterosexual jurist
might harbor.

And then
there’s Brokeback Mountain. 

So it’s
with some surprise that we watched the venerable 60
Minutes
’ March 12 segment “The Science of
Sexual Orientation,” replete with the sort of
clichés about gay men and effeminacy that
haven’t been seen in a network news context since the
1967 CBS broadcast The Homosexuals, narrated by
the now-just-about-to-retire Mike Wallace.

Leslie
Stahl—lower lip quivering and eyes trying desperately
to focus as always—did the honors on the 60
Minutes
piece, which featured a set of 9-year-old
fraternal twins, one effeminate, the other interested
in toy trucks. “Science,” we were solemnly
informed, had verified that the two boys were
respectively gay and straight even prior to puberty.
The main deliverer of this news was J. Michael Bailey, a
psychology professor at Northwestern University in
Evanston, Ill., described by the program as “a
leading figure in the field of sexual orientation.”

What 60
Minutes
failed to note is that Bailey resigned as
chairman of the university’s psychology
department in October 2004 after being investigated in
2003 for his research practices when formal complaints
were filed against him by several transgender women who
declared they were his unwitting subjects. Part of
that research was disseminated in Bailey’s book
The Man Who Would Be Queen—which became
something of a scandal in and of itself when its
nomination for a 2003 Lambda Literary Award in
transgender studies was withdrawn.

“We
decided we would just look into what the science was showing
and report on that, and let people react to what was
out there however they will,” 60 Minutes
segment producer Shari Finkelstein said. That meant
not including what Finkelstein called “people more
associated with the cultural debate, such as those who
argue that homosexuality is a choice, a position most
scientists reject. We just did not want to get into
that controversy, because it was not about the
science.”

Many would argue
that what Bailey has confected isn’t science either.
But when proffered a list of authorities on the
subject, including gender researcher Judith Butler,
historian Jonathan Ned Katz, journalist Michael
Bronski, and world-famous bisexual Gore Vidal, Finkelstein
replied, “The 60 Minutes story
‘Gay or Straight’ is a fair and accurate
report on the state of scientific research into the
origins of sexual orientation and conforms completely
to CBS News standards.”

CBS News
“standards” being what they are, I sought out
Professor Bailey myself. While he’s far from an
acolyte of NARTH (the rabidly antigay and antiscience
National Association for Research and Therapy of
Homosexuality), Bailey’s insistence on his authority
in defining what does and doesn’t qualify as
gay and his dedication to discovering a
“cause” for gayness is only temperamentally
different from those who insist on finding a
“cure.”

Bailey’s
“research” is most remindful of
“Culture of Certainty”—one of the
best production numbers from John Greyson’s 1993 AIDS
musical Zero Patience:

Let’s all
be empiricists Victors of the brain
Through our wit and brilliance We can know the
world again We’ll classify and label
Find the answers out A culture of certainty
will banish every doubt A culture of
certainty will banish every doubt

On behalf of
The Advocate, I reached Bailey by telephone.
Following is the essence of our conversation:

How did you come to appear on 60 Minutes?I believe their initial interest was motivated by a
Boston Globe magazine article by Neil
Swidey [“What makes People Gay?” August
14, 2005]. It’s a very well done interesting article
if I may say so. 60 Minutes is interested in
genetics, and the environment—whether
there’s a social environment and what the biological
environment might be [that results in homosexuality]. They
were interested in the link between sexual orientation
and gender-related traits.

Well the article is certainly highly complimentary of
you. In your book you claim “most gay men
are feminine, or at least they are feminine in
certain ways.” It’s the “in certain
ways” that I’m questioning. What
does that mean? That’s a hugely vague designation.
These things would include their pattern of
recreational occupational interest, their ways of
moving or speaking—and there are ways in which
gay men are not at all feminine. This would include their
anatomy and some of their sexual
patterns—casual sex.

There are any number of boys who might be considered
feminine in speech or manner or are interested in
dolls or getting into women’s clothing, but
wouldn’t be as insistent upon it as Danny, the
child you deal with in your book. You seem to be
drawing a lot of conclusions from what I would
call a very extreme example.
I very much made the point that most cases were
not like him; they were less extreme in their
femininity. We have studies of gay men and straight
men which show a large difference in recalled femininity.
Most gay men don’t recall wanting to be girls.

But you never write about such men.We study all gay men who volunteer for our studies. Our
results include these gay men who are just as
masculine as straight men. I have said nothing
inconsistent, and we are not hiding or excluding the
masculine gay men.

The focus of your work is entirely feminine-identified
gay men. It hardly takes any amount of scientific
research to guess that a feminine-acting child
will probably grow up to be gay—or even
transgender. What about those who don’t and what
about everybody else? Apparently you don’t
believe in bisexuality.
Only among men. I certainly don’t doubt
that women can be bisexual. But for men we have done a
study that questions whether bisexuality exists as a
sexual orientation as distinguished from an identity.

If there are men capable of having satisfactory sexual
relations with both men and women, would that man
not qualify as bisexual?
Well, we’re talking about sexual
orientation. So, for example, if a hypothetical man is
married to a woman and only has sex with her, but in
order to do so fantasizes about men, and all his sexual
fantasies are about men, but he thinks of himself as a
heterosexual man, what’s his sexual
orientation?

That’s one very singular instance. I’ve
known men who started out as gay, got married, and
were entirely heterosexual for the rest of their
lives. I’ve known men who’ve done the
opposite, and I’ve known men who’ve
gone back and forth throughout their lives.
You’ve got to be precise. Obviously you
know people who in terms of their sexual behavior, or
in terms of their sexual identity—what they call
themselves—go back and forth. In terms of sexual
orientation I don’t think that there’s
any evidence that people go back and forth. What I
think sexual orientation is for men is a directed sexual
arousal pattern. If they’re strongly aroused by
men, they’re homosexual in respect to their
sexual orientation. Much more strongly aroused to men than
to women—they’re homosexual. If
they’re much more strongly aroused to women
than to men, they’re heterosexual. If they got
strongly aroused to both sexes, they’re
bisexual, but that’s what we found no evidence for.
Even men who claim bisexual feelings in the lab are
aroused to one sex more than the other.

You’re setting a very particular bar on all of
this that seems to be discounting heterosexual
activity entirely and places you and other
researchers as the sole arbiters of sexuality.
We identified a group of men who claimed strong
bisexual feelings and measured their erections to male
and female, and we had precise predictions on what we
should find under the hypothesis that true bisexuality
exists as an orientation.

Doesn’t this amount to “It’s not
bisexuality unless I say it is”? I gather
you would dismiss Kinsey’s 1–6 scale. I
also gather that unless the men you’ve
studied react to heterosexual erotic stimuli in
precisely the same way they react to homosexual
erotic stimuli they’re not bisexual.
Aren’t you privileging homoerotic response?
For years sex researchers have been using
techniques like we used to measure men’s true
sexual orientations in circumstances when men may not
be open about them (e.g., pedophilia). It is obvious that
some men who are homosexual do not admit this to
others (sometimes to themselves). You suggest that we
have been arbitrary in “privileging” objective
physiological measures over self report. I think we are
being reasonable and good scientists, and furthermore,
we don’t deny that bisexual men may be
different in some respects. They must be, because they call
themselves bisexual. We simply doubt that these
difference reflect sexual orientation.

There have also been some studies recently that have
claimed that homophobes, particularly violent ones
who wanted to attack gay people, were aroused by
gay pornography.
I’m very familiar with one of those
studies. These were college students who scored high
on a psychometric scale in terms of sexual attitudes.
I’m not sure exactly what to make of that
study. It might be true. There might be a
technological or methodological flaw in it. I don’t
have a big problem believing that it might be true
that guys who are struggling with their homosexuality
might react by kind of trying to convince other people
and perhaps even themselves that they’re not gay
because they hate gays. On the other hand
there’s a technical issue that makes me believe
the study should be repeated before I’m going to put
much stock in it.

You seem unconvinced.Well, I’m resistant to believing anything unless
it’s been well established. Even my own
data—I try to repeat them. It’s got to be
consistent with a lot of other things before I insist that
people should believe it. But the particular issue
here is that the apparatus used to measure erections
is not very sensitive at low levels of arousal. In
fact, as the penis initially gets erect the circumference
gets narrower because low levels of arousal can cause
reversals of the apparent basis.

You deal with gayness continually in terms of the
visible. On the show, for example, there are these
twins. One is exhibiting obviously feminine
behavior, painting his fingernails, playing with dolls,
even talking about the concept of being a girl.
The other twin playing with trucks and G.I. Joe
dolls is seen as completely unproblematic. Who is to
say that the other twin isn’t gay?
Well one couldn’t be absolutely sure. But
just on base rates alone, 3% or so, it’s
possible, and that’s not even knowing how he plays.
These are fraternal twins.

Why is gayness always problematized?To be honest about honest average differences is not the
same as problematizing. It seems to me, for 25 years
studying this area, you’re always supposed to
say gay and straight men are just alike other than who
they want to have sex with—otherwise you’re
stigmatizing gay men.

Well, in terms of the law that would be the case. A gay
man should have as much right as a straight man to
a full and successful life.
Why does saying gay men tend to be feminine mean
gay men have less of a right to live than straight
men? On average gay men have more feminine
occupational interests than straight men.

Maybe.That’s true on average. That’s what
science has shown repeatedly.

There are huge numbers of gay people in the world whose
lives science doesn’t touch. You have no
way of knowing the occupational interests of gay
men outside the particular individuals you choose to examine.
I’m trying to get to something you were
worried about before, which is that legally gay and
straight men are different.

Different before the law in that anything related to
femininity is downgraded in this culture.
Well, women certainly get equal rights.

The struggle for equal rights is far from
over—especially now with antiabortion laws
being instituted in South Dakota, thereby making
women’s uteruses the property of the state.
I think that feminine men are great and deserve every
bit of the rights as masculine men. I would rather
hang out with feminine men.

Gee, that’s swell. I think a lot of gay men have an issue with
femininity, and I think that’s too bad.

It has been traditionally a way of putting us down.Yes, that’s right. I agree with you. But I
don’t think the solution to that is to say that
gay men are not at all feminine. It avoids the real
issue, which is, Why is it wrong to be a feminine man? Why
is that bad?

But it’s not as simple as that, because
“masculinity” in all its forms is
never problematized, never examined, never questioned.
There’s a considerable imbalance here that
creates a vast array of problems for people both
gay and straight.
You’re preaching to the choir. I’m
straight, but given the choice of hanging out at a gay
bar or a straight bar, I’d prefer the gay one.I’ve no doubt your remark was intended in good
faith; nevertheless there’s more than a
dash of patronization to it. Huge numbers of gay men
give nary a thought to falling within your good graces.
I don’t know how to respond to this. I
must say that your questions are unnecessarily
aggressive, and they suggest a bit of defensiveness to me.

And as we all know, aggressiveness is such an
unattractive quality in a “woman.”
 

Tags: World, World

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