Behavior: The Homosexual: Newly Visible, Newly Understood

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Yet scientists have begun to realize that the homosexual hang-up is not exclusively homemade. For one thing, social pressures can unbalance parents' child-raising practices. Marvin Opler, an anthropologist trained in psychoanalysis who teaches at the State University of New York at Buffalo, says that Western culture generally, and the U.S. in particular, puts such a high premium on male competition and dominance that men easily become afraid that they are not measuring up, and take out their frustrations by being hostile to their sons.

The accepted notion that boys and girls should ignore each other until puberty and then concentrate heavily on dating can also distort parental attitudes. If a mother catches a little boy playing doctor with a little girl under the porch and tells him he has been bad, says Gebhard, she may be subtly telling him that sex with girls is bad: "Anything that discourages heterosexuality encourages homosexuality." If an uptight parent or teacher catches an impressionable adolescent boy in sexual experiments with other boys and leaps to the conclusion that he is a homosexual, the scoldings he gets may make him freeze up with girls in another way. He may start to think that if everyone considers him a homosexual, he must be one. Many schools compound the problem by enshrining the supermale and overemphasizing sports. The inevitable peer group yelling "Sissy!" at the drop of a fly ball can also start the long and complicated process by which a boy can come to think of himself as "different."

So potent is the power of suggestion, says Psychologist Evelyn Hooker, that one male need never have been sexually aroused by another to begin thinking of himself as gay. The unathletic, small, physically attractive youth is particularly prone to being singled out for "sissyhood," and authorities agree that it is this social selection rather than anything genetic that makes homosexuality somewhat more common among so-called "pretty boys."

Most experts agree that a child will not become a homosexual unless he undergoes many emotionally disturbing experiences during the course of several years. A boy who likes dolls or engages in occasional homosexual experiments is not necessarily "queer": such activities are often a normal part of growing up. On the other hand, a child who becomes preoccupied with such interests or is constantly ill at ease with the opposite sex obviously needs some form of psychiatric counseling. While only about one-third of confirmed adult inverts can be helped to change, therapists agree that a much larger number of "prehomosexual" children can be treated successfully.


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