The secret lives of homophobes

It is a truth universally acknowledged that all the most virulently homophobic wingnuts must eventually be discovered trolling for male escorts on rentboy.com.

Or so it often seems. And from this Sunday’s New York Times comes the news that social science seems to confirm this impression.

Researchers Richard M. Ryan and William S. Ryan write about a series of studies they conducted that were designed to measure an individual’s “implicit sexual orientation.” Their experiments uncovered “a subgroup of participants who, despite self-identifying as highly straight, indicated some level of same-sex attraction [. . .] Over 20 percent of self-described highly straight individuals showed this discrepancy.”

The fact that a significant number of gay people are in denial about their sexuality is not exactly news. But what’s intriguing, and extremely relevant politically, is what the researchers discovered about the underlying ideology of these closeted types:

Notably, these “discrepant” individuals were also significantly more likely than other participants to favor anti-gay policies; to be willing to assign significantly harsher punishments to perpetrators of petty crimes if they were presumed to be homosexual; and to express greater implicit hostility toward gay subjects (also measured with the help of subliminal priming). Thus our research suggests that some who oppose homosexuality do tacitly harbor same-sex attraction.

This makes a lot of sense to me. I never fail to be astonished by the depth and intensity of some conservatives’ obsession with LGBTQ folks. Why in the world would someone take such a passionate, all-consuming interest in the private sexual behavior of such a small minority of the population? I know that many of the wingnuts use religious arguments as a justification for their hate, but those arguments tend to be unpersuasive in the extreme. IIRC, Jesus didn’t have a whole lot (or actually, anything) to say about teh butt sex — though interestingly, he did teach that “[i]t is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” (Fyi, if you’re interested in what the Bible does actually say about homosexuality, I highly recommend that you take a look at this wonderful little pamphlet).

Unsurprisingly, the authors of the Times piece report that the self-hatred of these closet cases is associated with being raised in unsupportive, homophobic families:

What leads to this repression? We found that participants who reported having supportive and accepting parents were more in touch with their implicit sexual orientation and less susceptible to homophobia. Individuals whose sexual identity was at odds with their implicit sexual attraction were much more frequently raised by parents perceived to be controlling, less accepting and more prejudiced against homosexuals.

The authors take pains to emphasize that “[n]ot all those who campaign against gay men and lesbians secretly feel same-sex attractions.” Still, the implications of the research are fascinating. I can’t resist speculating: does Rick “Man on Dog” Santorum struggle with his inner Liza Minnelli fan? If that were indeed the case, I seriously would not be at all surprised.

Kathleen Geier

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee