Thursday, October 18, 2012

Masculinity and Homophobia as the Underlying Reasons of Aggression Against Sexual Minorities


Masculinity and Homophobia as the Underlying Reasons of Aggression Against Sexual Minorities

Paraskevi  Palmou

Clinical Psychology MA 

BA Paper 2001


Homophobia and heterosexism work as a continuum that drives the individual to aggressive behavior against sexual minorities. This type of aggression has little to do with the victim or the condition under which aggression takes place; this type more has its roots inside the structure of personality deeper than any other type of aggression. This paper tries to present homophobia as the underlying reason of aggression against sexual minorities, and will approach the subject by using as many psychological approaches possible.

Numerous incidents of aggression against sexual minorities are presented by the news and recorded by the newspapers. The groups labeled as sexual minorities, such as gays, lesbians, bisexuals and the transgender, are the victims of all types of aggressive acts that range from minor verbal aggressive harassment, to extremely serious physical injuries that can result to death.  The purpose of this paper is to present the development of a masculine identity in relation to homophobia and establish a connection between these personality characteristics and the possibility of exhibiting overt aggression against sexual minorities. Aggressive acts that seem unnecessary, irrational or without any observable cause, are in fact based and guided by an interaction of social and psychological dynamics. An effort will be made to analyze this complex dynamics and provide some partial answer to the phenomenon.

The term of homophobia is defined by the Journal of Abnormal Psychology as “self-reported negative affect, avoidance, and aggression towards homosexuals” (Bernat; Calhoun; Adams; Zeicher, 2001). The irrational fear, disgust and violent attitudes that an individual expresses is by definition related to homophobia, so by definition we can view homophobia as an important element of violence against sexual minorities. Another attitude that is closely related to homophobia and aggression is heterosexism, which is defined as “the belief that heterosexuality is the only legitimate sexual orientation and alternatives need no to be agnowleged”(Roslyn, 2000). Those who have internalized these beliefs are personalities which will tolerate the existence of any type of sexual orientation that is different from their own, and will be easily driven to bias crimes. They will actively try to oppose and eliminate even the idea of this diversity having as allies prejudice, stereotypes, gender roles, religion and the notion of “proper” socialization. The question is how all these different terms mentioned form a psychological “chain reaction” that leads to observable aggression? Most importantly why people tend to react aggressively under these conditions and do not form alternative reactions?

In a recent study concerning physical violence against homosexuals the participants after viewing videotape with a homosexually oriented topic where asked to deliver electric shocks to either a homosexual or a heterosexual opponent. The results supported an increase of punitive behavior of the homophobic group when the opponent was homosexual. The homophobic group reported more negative affect, anxiety, and anger hostility after the movie (Bernat 2001). The important finding of this experiment is that it relates homophobia with negative affect, anxiety and aggression. Based on the previous findings one could hypothesize that a group of males that see a homosexual in the street automatically are in a state of negative affect accompanied by anxiety.

If we try to explain the mechanism that underlies aggression in a biological or behavioral model we would that this meeting with a homosexual is perceived as an unpleasant environmental event which according to Berkowitz (1993) will lead to a fight or flight response. This theory can provide the answer in terms of why an individual becomes aggressive and does not have an alternative pattern of actions. If the biological response it’s supported by attitudes as homophobia and heterosexism (which are inconsistent with more elaborated higher order thinking) the individual is unlikely to try to escape the situation and will automatically fight experiencing anger the available target (Bergowitz, 1993). Homophobia theoretically could be one of the stages in the frustration aggression hypothesis proposed by (Dollard, 1944). Homophobia is a very basic reason that produces frustration, which in turn leads to aggression against sexual minorities.

Even the fact it self that this groups are perceived as minorities by the society and the individual undermines their position as equal members compared to the normal majority. Belonging to a minority reduces the power and the prestige of these groups that are viewed as inferior by those who belong the “normal” sexual orientations.
Since the relationship of homophobia and aggression is adequately established an effort will be made to include the development of masculine identity to this aggressive mechanism by the use of the Freudian psychoanalytic model and the social identity theory. It is comic and tragic at the same time how the masculine role it self is related to aggression. Because not only masculine heterosexual men assault gay man or lesbian woman, but lesbian woman who label them selves as “butch” and have internalized the masculine identity are very aggressive to same or different sex individuals.

Aggressive behavior can also be viewed as just a part of the role individuals are “forced” by socialization to play. Freud would probably say that an encounter with a homosexual would automatically remind the male individual of the unconscious fear of castration that he has experienced during childhood. And in the case of a lesbian woman (who has internalized a male role) a male especially homosexual, will remind her how inferior she is and will unconsciously regress to the feeling of “penis envy”(Freud, 1922). Lesbians who are aggressive just act upon their role, as heterosexual man do. So aggression is not so much affected by the biological sex, but if affected by the perceived gender roles.

Freud viewed homosexuality as an effort to replace a sexual “object” that is perceived as unreachable (as a member of the opposite sex), by an object that is tangible (Clark, 1964). If we accept this theory as a logical urge that provides safety than that idea goes against the development of a ‘normal’ masculine identity. One could hypothesize that the existence of homosexuals poses a direct threat to the identity of homophobic individuals because they remind them of the possibility to have a contact with a more “available” sexual object. What better proof can one give to him self that his not attracted by the homosexual person than physically abuse the person to death. We can also hypothesize that unconscious homosexuality urges and latent homosexual preferences are transformed to aggressive acts by the defense mechanism of reaction formation and displacement that tries intensively to keep the ego intact by external threats. Especially since many studies support that most of the aggressors have had at least one experience that can be termed as a homosexual one. The hatred that they experience towards them selves and their guilt for their own action that goes against the superego is displaced and externalized with violence. If others are around to watch the individual behavior is reinforced throughout his effort for impression management and with the fact that he will prove not only to him self but to everyone else in the environment how masculine he is. The peer pressure it self will reinforce his action. 

The Journal of Homosexuality supports that “ a more developed social identity is associated with diminished levels of negative attitudes towards non-heterosexuals”(Jane; Karina, 2001). Only people who are ambiguous about their own identity perceive homosexuality as a threat and their self-esteem is very fragile to accept situations in the environment that are anxiety provoking. Most people do not have the stability to cope with situations that differ from their selves and what they have learned, it is proven that “heterosexism and Homophobia are institutionalized into the culture of schooling” (Friend, 1998).

In a recent study concerning the motivations of antigay violence it was found that the aggressors: a. Held more negative attitudes towards homosexuals, b. Reported more negative social norms among their friends, d. Had higher levels of masculinity ideology, d. Reported greater likelihood to drink in social settings (Franklin, 1997). It is proven by these findings that homophobia, heterosexism and aggression work as a continuum that cannot be controlled. In this case social norms and sometimes laws assist violence due to sexual orientation because we cant forget that police officers and judges can be homophobic also. Thousands of incidents are reported every year where the aggressor is a law enforcement organ who has decided to amuse him self by “cruising” males restroom in order to abuse a homosexual and arrest him for alleged sexual harrasment. This quote is taken from a national gay and lesbian magazine “people are treated without human dignity and without human respect. It doesn’t matter how they identify. The tool that was used to stigmatize and destroyed them was homophobia” (Blocher, 2002).

Since homophobia and heterosexism guide violence against sexual minorities, and are elements of the structure of the personality of millions of people the only way fight this type of violence is to radically chance the basic structure of personality and that is socialization. Such a change for the time been is probably a utopia and homophobia is a “normal” attitude that is supported by the majority.  


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