Behavior: The Homosexual: Newly Visible, Newly Understood

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A more elusive question is whether or to what extent homosexuality and acceptance of it may be symptoms of social decline. For varying reasons, homosexual relations have been condoned and at times even encouraged among certain males in many primitive societies that anthropologists have studied. However, few scholars have been able to determine that homosexuality had any effect on the functioning of those cultures. At their fullest flowering, the Persian, Greek, Roman and Moslem civilizations permitted a measure of homosexuality; as they decayed, it became more prevalent. Sexual deviance of every variety was common during the Nazis' virulent and corrupt rule of Germany.

Homosexuality was also common in Elizabethan England's atmosphere of wholesale permissiveness. Yet the era not only produced one of the most robust literary and intellectual outpourings the world has ever known but also laid the groundwork for Britain's later imperial primacy—during which time homosexuality became increasingly stigmatized.

In the U.S. today, homosexuality has scarcely reached the proportions of a symptom of widespread decadence (though visitors sometimes wonder as they observe the lounging male whores on New York's Third Avenue or encounter male couples embracing effusively in public parks). Still, the acceptance or rejection of homosexuality does raise questions about the moral values of the society: its hedonism, its concern with individual "identity." The current conceptions of what causes homosexuality also pose a fundamental challenge to traditional ideas about the proper role to be played by all men and women. In recent years, Americans have learned that a man need not be a Met pitcher or suburban Don Juan to be masculine: the most virile male might well be a choreographer or a far-out artist. Similarly, as more and more women become dissatisfied with their traditional roles, Americans may better understand that a female can hold a highly competitive job—or drive a truck—without being forced to sacrifice her sexuality or the satisfactions of child rearing. A nation that softens the long and rigid separation of roles for men and women is also less likely to condemn the homosexual and confine him to a netherworld existence.


The case for greater tolerance of homosexuals is simple. Undue discrimination wastes talents that might be working for society. Police harassment, which still lingers in many cities and more small towns, despite a growing live-and-let-live attitude, wastes manpower and creates unnecessary suffering. The laws against homosexual acts also suggest that the nation cares more about enforcing private morality than it does about preventing violent crime. To be sure, it is likely that a more permissive atmosphere might convince many people, particularly adolescents, that a homosexual urge need not be resisted since the condition would, after all, be "respectable." On the other hand, greater tolerance might mitigate extreme fear of not being able to live up to exaggerated standards of heterosexual performance—and might thus reduce the number of committed homosexuals.

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