Are Homosexual Denialists Really Bisexual?

August 27, 2012 in Featured, Health Policy, Medical Ethics by RangelMD

Slate’s Jesse Bering has written an excellent primer on the various arguments employed by anti-gay bigots. But perhaps his most interesting claim is that bigots who argue that homosexuality is a choice are quite likely to be bisexual themselves. The reasoning goes like this.

Homophobes will claim that gays are inherently able to chose whether or not to commit homosexual acts. This reasoning seems reasonably straight forward in that it allows for the argument that homosexuality is strictly defined a an action – as opposed to an orientation -and as such is open to free will and choice which allows for moral judgement.

However, in recent years new data has come out that found seemingly paradoxical sexual arousal to male homoerotic pornography in ardently homophobic males.  In short, the most vocal (and often times the most violent) homophobes turned out to have surprisingly positive physiologic reactions to homoerotic images.

Further studies found that these same subjects had a tendency to exhibit very violent and aggressive feelings towards openly gay males. Some have suggested that these are males who are fully aware of their sexual preferences and they are overcompensating to hide their homosexuality in social situations where being gay has very negative coronations such as in a  strict conservative family or the military. And while this is certainly plausible, there are others who believe in a more Freudian explanation that these men are acting on repressed homosexual feelings.

A more contemporary explanation of Freudian repression would involve a person’s Theory of Mind and how we interpret the beliefs and intentions of others. It has been shown that people develop theories while trying to interpret what another person is thinking. People utilize both extrinsic cues such as the person’s movements and facial expressions as well as intrinsic factors such as their own beliefs and experiences in forming these theories.  For example, if I see a child in a pediatric waiting room with a frown and slightly trembling then my theory is that they are afraid of getting a vaccination based on my own experiences with vaccines and injections. This is simplistic but it illustrates the concept.

This Theory of Mind mechanism in the interpretation of the feelings and beliefs of others helps to explain why some people who are aggressively opposed to certain behaviors in others often turn out to be hypocritical in their own actions. These people probably strong tendencies towards addictive and/or destructive behavior (which they regard as “temptations”) and they tend to assume that most other people have the same strong temptations. Ergo, these are they types of people who are among the biggest advocates for strict morality based laws.

A very similar mechanism may be at work in those who vigorously claim that homosexuality is a choice. Bering asserts that for these people, homosexual activity really is a choice since they are themselves bisexual. Because they can choose their sexual orientation they assume via their theory of mind that homosexual males can choose as well. However, the vast majority of the population is  heterosexual or homosexual and so the vast majority of people tend to understand that one’s sexual orientation is “hard wired” and not subject to change.

The take home point seems to be that morality based beliefs do not necessarily have to have a straight forward explanation.


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