Attitudes Toward Sexual and Gender Minorities
The attitudes toward sexual and gender minorities are evident in the following key terms.
Homophobia has been widely adopted to refer to negative reactions toward persons who are gay or lesbian. In its most literal sense, homophobia refers to feelings of aversion toward homosexuality (Weinberg, 1972). Interestingly, many (e.g., Hoffman et al., 2000) take issue with the reference to phobia because this usually connotes a clinically significant fear and avoidance (American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or DSM–IV–TR, 2000). Yet, in many instances, homophobia is accompanied more by feelings of anger and aggressive behaviors than by fear (Haaga, 1991; Hoffman et al., 2000). Some recommend replacing the term homophobia with such alternatives as homoprejudice and homonegativity. Another closely related term, heterosexism, has also been used to describe the assumption that the only healthy and legitimate type of sexual and affectionate relationship is heterosexual (Pharr, 1988).
Biphobia describes the denigration of bisexuality. Like gay men and lesbians, bisexual persons can provoke aversive reactions in others. Various hypotheses have been advanced to explain biphobia, including the notion that bisexual persons are threatening because they challenge the heterosexual/homosexual dichotomy (Ochs, 1996) and the cultural idealization of monogamy (McLean, 2004). Bisexual persons are commonly assumed to be incapable of monogamy, simply confused and in a transitional phase from heterosexuality to homosexuality, or repressed lesbians and gay men who are in denial about their homosexuality (Rust, 2002).
Bisexual persons have also been marginalized and rejected by gay men and lesbians who sometimes view bisexual persons as reverting to heterosexuality to avoid the hardships associated with being openly gay or lesbian (Rust, 2002). Some gay activists view bisexuality and the implication that sexuality is chosen as a threat to the argument that sexuality is inborn and unchangeable (Potoczniak, 2007). Rust (1996) asserts that cultural stereotypes affect bisexual men’s and women’s experiences, particularly in terms of finding and sustaining relationships. She writes that non-bisexual persons are often hesitant to form relationships with bisexuals and that averse attitudes towards bisexuals may have intensified as a result of the onset of aids (Rust, 1996, 2002).
Negative emotions, thoughts, and behaviors can be easily provoked when someone’s biological sexual and gender identities seem incongruent. Often this incongruence is not physically visible but is experienced internally and subjectively. Early on, many gender minority men articulated the experience as feeling trapped in the wrong body. The term transphobia is used (LaFramboise & Long, n.d.; Raj, 2002) to refer to prejudicial attitudes and behaviors directed toward persons who are or appear to be transitioning from their natal or biological sex to their internalized gender identity.
Transphobia can be expressed in a myriad of ways:
- The conviction that gender minority persons are “sick” or psychologically unstable;
- The insistence on referring to gender minorities in ways that are inconsistent with their self-presentation;
- The destructive behaviors, including violence, against transgender persons; and
- The insistence that persons who have hormonally and surgically transitioned are not “true” women/men.
Like bisexual persons, gender minority persons have been marginalized and sometimes rejected by gay and lesbian communities. Female-to-male transsexuals have been especially maligned by lesbians because of fears that these persons will reinforce cultural stereotypes about lesbians wanting to be men (Pearlman, 2006).
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