Behavior: The Homosexual: Newly Visible, Newly Understood

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The strain of the covert life shows clearly in brittle homosexual humor, which swings between a defensive mockery of the outside world and a self-hating scorn for the gay one. Recent research projects at the Indiana sex research institute and elsewhere have sought out homosexuals who are not troubled enough to come to psychiatrists and social workers and have found them no worse adjusted than many heterosexuals. Nonetheless, when 300 New York homosexuals were polled several years ago, only 2% said that they would want a son of theirs to be a homosexual. Homophile activists contend that there would be more happy homosexuals if society were more compassionate; still, for the time being at least, there is a savage ring of truth to the now famous line from The Boys in the Band: "Show me a happy homosexual, and I'll show you a gay corpse."


What leads to homosexuality? No one knows for sure, and many of the explanations seem overly simple and unnecessarily doctrinaire. Sociologist Gagnon says: "We may eventually conclude that there are as many causes for homosexuality as there are for mental retardation—and as many kinds of it." The only thing most experts agree on is that homosexuality is not a result of any kinky gene or hormone predispositions—at least none that can be detected by present techniques. Male and female homosexuals do not constitute a "third sex"; biologically, they are full men and women.

The reason that the invert's sex behavior is not dictated by his anatomy is related to a remarkable finding of sex researchers: no one becomes fully male or female automatically. The diverse psychological components of masculinity and femininity—"gender role identity"—are learned. Gender is like language, says Johns Hopkins University Medical Psychologist John Money: "Genetics ordains only that language can develop, not whether it will be Nahuatl, Arabic or English."

This does not mean that homosexuality is latent in all mature humans, as has been widely believed from a misreading of Freud. In American culture, sex roles are most powerfully determined in the home, and at such a young age (generally in the first few years of life) that the psychological identity of most homosexuals—like that of most heterosexuals—is set before they know it. In the case of homosexuality, parents with emotional problems can be a powerful cause, leaving their child without a solid identification with the parent of the same sex and with deeply divided feelings for the parent of the opposite sex. In an exhaustive study of homosexuals in therapy, a group of researchers headed by Psychoanalyst Irving Bieber observed that a large number of homosexuals came from families where the father was either hostile, aloof or ineffectual and where the mother was close-binding and inappropriately intimate (CBI in scientific jargon). Bieber's wife, Psychologist Toby Bieber, has found many of the same patterns in the parents of lesbians, although in reverse.

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