Attitudes Toward Sexual and Gender Minorities (page 2)
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).
Researching These Attitudes
Recent empirical research has sought to identify variables, such as gender, race, ethnicity, political affiliation, and religion, that correlate most closely with homophobic attitudes. The results suggest that the majority of the American public holds negative attitudes toward sexual minorities (Herek, 2000). Further, they seem to converge in suggesting that persons who report negative attitudes toward gay men and lesbians are less educated (Herek & Capitanio, 1996), are religiously and politically conservative (Yang, 1997), are less likely to have close contact with persons who identify themselves as sexual minorities (Herek & Capitanio, 1996), and are more likely to be African Americans (Herek, 2000).
One consistent and compelling finding that emerges from surveys of attitudes toward homosexuality (i.e., Herek, 2002a; Whitley, 2001) is the association among homophobia, sex, and gender. In a meta-analysis of 112 studies, Kite and Whitley (1996) reported that heterosexual men held more negative attitudes toward homosexuality in general and toward gay men in particular than did heterosexual women. Studies in which male participants expressed hypermasculine identifications reported significantly more negative attitudes toward gay men (Davies, 2004; Herek, 2002b; Kite & Whitley, 1996; LaMar & Kite, 1998; Parrott, Adams, & Zeichner, 2002; Theodore & Basow, 2000).
In contrast to the research on attitudes toward gay men and lesbians, the literature exploring public attitudes toward bisexual men and women is scarce. This gap is not surprising, given the general sense of invisibility many bisexuals experience in our culture. Bisexual persons can potentially shift between gay/lesbian and heterosexual identities, depending on the sex of their partner (Weinberg, Williams, & Pryor, 1994). For example, when a bisexual man becomes romantically involved with a male partner, he is assumed by others to be gay and/or pressured to self-identify as gay. Alternately, should he become romantically involved with a female partner, he feels compelled to self-identify as heterosexual.
In one of the few studies to specifically address beliefs and attitudes toward bisexuality, Spalding and Peplau (1997) asked undergraduate students to read differing versions of vignettes in which the sexual orientations of the partners were randomly assigned. Participants believed that bisexual men and women were more apt to infect others with sexually transmitted diseases, to cheat, and to become bored with and leave their partners than were heterosexual men and women, gay men, or lesbians. More recently, Herek (2002a) reported that among his national sample of 1,335 adults, heterosexual men and women rated bisexuals less favorably than all other social groups except drug abusers.
Many of the variables identified as correlates of homophobia are similar to those connected to biphobia, including being religiously conservative and male (Israel & Mohr, 2004). Eliason (1997) reported that male heterosexual college students were less accepting of bisexual men than of lesbians, gay men, or bisexual women. Likewise, Mohr and Rochlen (1999) conducted extensive research among undergraduates to develop an instrument to assess attitudes toward bisexuality in men and women. In their series of studies, they found evidence that heterosexual men viewed male bisexuals as less moral and tolerable than female bisexuals and that attitudes regarding bisexuality correlated with religious attendance, conservative political ideology, and lack of personal contact with a bisexual person.
Although gender minorities have recently become more visible in our culture, largely through media portrayals (e.g., Boys Don’t Cry, The Crying Game, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Transamerica), there has been remarkably little systematic research on the public’s understanding of and opinions toward gender minorities. In 2002, the Human Rights Campaign, a national advocacy organization for GLBT persons, commissioned a separate polling group to conduct a national telephone survey of 800 registered voters (Mubarak, 2002). Once surveyors provided respondents with a definition of transgender, described as a “person who may do certain things so that their outward appearance fits who they feel they are on the inside” (p. 38), attitudes toward transgender persons became less favorable than without such a definition. Roughly 31% indicated they felt generally “unfavorable” toward transgender people.
In another published study, Ceglian and Lyons (2004) explored undergraduate students’ attitudes toward a specific segment of the transgendered population, male cross-dressers. The authors invited two heterosexually identified members of Tri-ess, a national organization for men who cross-dress, to come to their classes to speak about their cross-dressing experiences. Male undergraduates in their sample showed a sizeable increase in their acceptance of cross-dressing when assessments of their attitude before and after the classroom visits were compared. Interestingly, their post-visit ratings were similar to the women’s scores. Ceglian and Lyons speculated that the dramatic increase in men’s acceptance of cross-dressing behaviors might be attributed to the disclosure made in the context of the classroom visits that both cross-dressers were heterosexually married with children.
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