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Homophobia and suppressed desire

Right now, my Twitter feed is filled with furious 144-character rants about Pastor Sean Harris of Berean Baptist Church in Fayettesville, North Carolina, who was recorded last Sunday in a sickening rant about children who behave outside gender norms, and who “act gay”.

I won’t even dignify his comments by quoting them, other than to say that Pastor Harris gives “dads” special dispensation to punch their gender non-conforming kids and snap their limp wrists. If you’re curious, hear the audio at the Huffington Post.

The reason I bring this hateful bile to your attention is that it brings to mind a recent study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, with the rather unwieldy title Parental autonomy support and discrepancies between implicit and explicit sexual identities: Dynamics of self-acceptance and defense.

The main finding of this paper is that homophobia can arise, at least in part, from the suppression of desire for members of the same sex. The paper rests on a contrast between what people tell you when you ask them, and the implicit associations they make between words and concepts presented in computerised tests. The authors find that over 20% of people who, when asked, identify themselves as “highly straight” make implicit connections indicating some level of same-sex attraction.

These same 20% were also far more likely than other participants to favour anti-gay policy ideas and to be more hostile toward subjects they were led to believe were gay. Two of the authors, Richard and William Ryan, wrote a pithy summary of their finding in last week’s New York Times (“Homophobic? Maybe You’re Gay').

With gender, sexuality, homophobia, parenting and religion all mixed up here, I’m guaranteed to get a few backs up. I don’t want to conflate gender with sexuality, but a listen to Pastor Harris' rant is enough to convince anyone that his loathing for effeminate little boys or for girls who don’t want to dress up and be pretty is wrapped up in his deep homophobia.

Where Harris' homophobia comes from, I don’t profess to know. But Ryan and Ryan point out that at least some people “who oppose homosexuality are likely to be individuals struggling about parts of themselves, having themselves been victims of oppression and lack of acceptance.”

Ryan and Ryan’s compassion toward the homophobes contrasts with the late Christopher Hitchens' delectably inflammatory thoughts on the same subject:

Whenever I see some Social Conservative from the Midwest Raging about the evils of homosexuality, I set my watch and wait patiently for the day he is found in a motel on his tired old knees, wallet empty, having grossly overpaid to give a blowjob to an Apache transvestite.

I can only imagine that hatred on the scale preached by Sean Harris is deeply self-perpetuating. Not only are the straight people in his congregation absorbing his bigotry, but the message urging fathers to violently suppress their children’s natural urges to explore their gender are forcing another generation into a cycle of hate and bigotry.

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24 Comments sorted by

  1. Mat Hardy

    Lecturer in Middle East Studies at Deakin University

    So because I have no problem at all with gay people, does this mean I am "highly straight"? Or am I "highly gay" because my daughter plays rugby?

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  2. Dale Bloom

    Analyst

    Where is Fayettesville, North Carolina, and does it have any world wide significance?

    Where are the reliable social science research studies undertaken in this country?

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  3. Michael Shand
    Michael Shand is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Software Tester

    Awesome Article, there is loads of research out there to support this. You can also jst take a look through recent history of the ted haagards and the like. Yes, it does seem to be a trend that the most out spoken anti gay proponents have homosexual tendencies....is anyone suprised? really? come on.

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  4. Regan Forrest

    logged in via Twitter

    This study makes intuitive sense. I've always suspected homophobia was covering latent issues. People who are comfortable in their own identities see no reason to denigrate those of a different ilk.

    Tangentially, I'm hoping that eventually sexuality will be as inconsequential as handedness. As recently as my grandparents' generation, left handers were beaten as children to use their "right" hand. Now that seems ridiculous. Maybe in a few generations' time we'll look at camps that "cure" homosexuality in a similar light.

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    1. Rob Brooks
      Rob Brooks is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Professor of Evolutionary Ecology; Director, Evolution & Ecology Research Centre at University of New South Wales

      In reply to Mat Hardy

      We are, all of us, flawed parents. You need to forgive yourself, Matt. It's really not your fault.

      Unless, of course, you're a leftie too and had the irresponsibility to inflict your genes on an innocent child.

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    2. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Regan Forrest

      It could also be said that people who constantly attack religions have a suppressed desire to belong to a religion.

      Someone can make up anything they want really, and call it a social science research study.

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    3. Regan Forrest

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Um, at what point did I mention religion in my comment?

      I for one don't think religion and homophobia go hand in hand.

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    4. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Regan Forrest

      The author is very anti-religion, but by using his logic and his cherry-picked research study, he could actually have a suppressed desire to be religious.

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    5. Mat Hardy

      Lecturer in Middle East Studies at Deakin University

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      It could also be said that those who repeatedly berate the Social Sciences have suppressed desires to become Gender Studies teachers.

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    6. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Mat Hardy

      Mat Hardy
      Yes it is easy isn’t it.

      Someone can now say anything they want in social science, and everyone would have to agree with them.

      If someone doesn’t agree with a social scientist, they have a suppressed desire to agree with them, so everything said by a social scientists is always true.

      A social scientist should rule the planet immediately, and we will all be saved.

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  5. Brendon Dunn

    Preacher

    Whilst I don't endorse the language used by the Pastor, I think it is inaccurate to say he gave "dads special dispensation to punch their gender non-conforming kids and snap their limp wrists."

    It should be obvious that his language was hyperbolic. He was not giving permission to abuse children, any more than Jesus gave permission to self-mutilate when He said, "If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out." The Pastor explained this when he was later interviewed.

    Aside from his poor choice of words…

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    1. Rob Brooks
      Rob Brooks is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Professor of Evolutionary Ecology; Director, Evolution & Ecology Research Centre at University of New South Wales

      In reply to Brendon Dunn

      I listened to the rant, Brendon, and I am quite confident that my paraphrase of his words is accurate. However you wish to view it, he was inciting child abuse and hatred. And to defend it is to condone those behaviours he was inciting.

      The fact that you leap to his defence is indefensible. I noticed you commenting in the thread on belief and science yesterday. Your defence of Sean Harris' right to just "teach what he believes are Biblical principles" very neatly demonstrates the point about religion…

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    2. Grendelus Malleolus

      Senior Nerd

      In reply to Brendon Dunn

      A few verses later Deuteronomy instructs "Thou shalt not wear a garment of divers sorts, as of woollen and linen together"

      Do you ever where polyester cotton blend clothing Brendon? Would you also support the stoning of any girl found not to be a virgin as Deuteronomy instructs in verse 22:21?

      Or force a girl to marry her rapist (22:29)?

      This is the book that suggess it is OK to eat your neighbours grapes and corn - just so long as you eat them right there in the field.

      Also - no bacon. Ever. Deuteronomy says no.

      Deuteronomy - making new non-believers of bacon lovers for thousands of years.

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    3. Grendelus Malleolus

      Senior Nerd

      In reply to Brendon Dunn

      "Here's a novel thought: maybe the Pastor isn't a closet homosexual or even "homophobic". Maybe he was just trying to teach what he believes are Biblical principles."

      Where in the bible does it suggest that hitting your toddler or child if they display any behaviour that you subjectively consider effeminate - or that such effeminate behaviour is wrong in any way?

      You really have made a meal of defending the indefensible here pastor.

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    4. Brendon Dunn

      Preacher

      In reply to Rob Brooks

      Thanks for taking the time to reply, Rob.

      My take on Sean Harris' preaching was different to yours, but you'll find nothing in my comments that defend child abuse. I don't agree with what he said. He shouldn't have said it. He was wrong to have said it. When I read his words, my first thought was that no one could take such idiotic remarks seriously. Clearly you think he was dead serious, that his subsequent statement was insincere, and that he would be happy for parents to break their kids' noses…

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    5. Rob Brooks
      Rob Brooks is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Professor of Evolutionary Ecology; Director, Evolution & Ecology Research Centre at University of New South Wales

      In reply to Brendon Dunn

      Brendon,

      I made quite some effort in the article not to blame Sean Harris' homophobia on him being gay ('Where Harris' homophobia comes from, I don’t profess to know.'), and I completely accept your reasoning that he probably got his attitudes from the bible. Those two explanations don't mutually exclude one another, and there are many other reasons, too that might come into play.

      I'm not really interested in Harris as an individual other than as an exemplar of a more general vileness that…

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    6. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Rob Brooks

      Rob Brooks,
      “But I am glad I chose a christian minister”

      So you did make a choice of who to condemn, and didn’t choose someone like Pol Pot, Hitler, Stalin or Mao Zedong, all atheists and mass murderers.

      I think your subjectivity and personal bias is showing.

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    7. Grendelus Malleolus

      Senior Nerd

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Or he could be glad that in this case he chose an example that elicited a response that illustrated the very point he was making.

      I think your underwhelming sense of significance is showing.

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  6. Tony Linde
    Tony Linde is a Friend of The Conversation.

    retired

    Good post, Rob. People like that really make me despair of the human race. I worked with someone like that many years ago. A pastor in one or other of the xian cults, he came into work one day with the highly amusing story about something one of his two young daughters had said. His wife was pregnant and the girl had said that if the baby was another girl rather than a boy, they should send it to live with Jesus. The guy thought this was so funny. I really do feel sick at the thought of children in the hands of these misogynistic religious bigots.

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