Here’s why homophobic people are more likely to be gay
Homophobia is something a lot of us encounter on a daily basis. Whether it's outright judgement and disgust, or someone saying something as simple as "You're gay? You don't look gay?", prejudice towards homosexual people is something that, regretfully, is part of the tapestry of our society.
So, why do certain individuals despise people who they barely know and may have absolutely nothing at all to do with their own lives? Why on earth is the act of two people loving one another, or finding one another attractive, so horrendous to them?
Unsurprisingly, researchers have discovered that the answer to this question lies not in the homosexual people out there, but instead in the homophobic person's insecurities about themselves. In fact, a study found that homophobic people are actually more likely to be gay themselves.
When teams from the University of Rochester in New York, the University of California and the University of Essex analysed four separate experiments which had taken place in the US and Germany in 2012, they provided empirical evidence to suggest that in some individuals, homophobia is actually the external manifestation of repressed sexual desires they feel towards their own gender.
The experiment worked with students being shown connotative words and pictures of straight and gay couples and the computer tracking their reaction time. A split-second timed task deciphered how they reacted to words and images and researchers used this to measure the participants' implicit and explicit sexual orientation.
In addition, they were asked agree or disagree with statements like, "I felt controlled and pressured in certain ways" and "I felt free to be who I am", as well as being told to measure how democratic or authoritarian their parents were. Participants responded to statements like, "It would be upsetting for my mom to find out she was alone with a lesbian" and "My dad avoids gay men whenever possible" in order to gauge what sort of households they lived in during their upbringing.
Overall, researchers found that individuals who identified as straight often showed a strong attraction to the same sex in the psychological tests. Furthermore, subjects, who said they were heterosexual, but reported homosexual tendencies during tasks, were more likely to be hostile to gay people.
Their conclusion makes a lot of sense. In the 21st century, there have been several cases of homophobic people eventually coming out as gay. For example, researchers themselves cited the case of Ted Haggard, the founder and former pastor of the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, who opposed gay marriage yet was afterwards exposed in a gay sex scandal in 2006. They also brought up Glenn Murphy, Jr., the former chairman of the Young Republican National Federation and a vocal opponent of gay marriage, who was accused of sexually assaulting a 22-year-old man in 2007.
Richard Ryan, a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester in New York, summed up the study stating: "People who have homophobic attitudes, who are more prejudice or discriminatory against gay people, are themselves more likely to have a discrepancy between their unconscious attractions to same-sex partners than what they are aware of."
Professor Ryan added that people who are homophobic are more likely to come from conservative authoritarian households which forbade such desires. "Those people who have such discrepancies, who have really a split between their unconscious attraction and what they consciously say about themselves, are more likely to come from authoritarian homes," he said. "If you are a parent who really believes your child should be straight, and when you use whatever means you can to convince them that they're only good and worthy if they are, that would be very controlling and it creates a lot of conflict in the child."
Although it is most likely not the case for all homophobic people, the idea that people who are openly opposed to gay people are harbouring secret desires is not a new one. In an earlier study, conducted by the Department of Psychology at the University of Georgia in 1996, it was found that homophobia is associated with homosexual arousal that the homophobic individual is either unaware of or denies.
However, other experts have pointed out that fact that not all homophobic men are gay and some make homophobic and sexist jokes due to their fragile masculinity. Researchers from the Western Carolina University conducted two experiments in 2017 with 387 heterosexual men, determining that when they used sexist and anti-gay humour, they did so in order to reaffirm their own sense of self, particularly when they felt their masculinity was being threatened.
Many will find the news that homophobic people are more likely to be gay amusing and maybe even use it to make fun of people with. In spite of this, researchers made it clear that their study was no laughing matter and stressed the dangers of repression: "We laugh at or make fun of such blatant hypocrisy, but in a real way, these people may often themselves be victims of repression and experience exaggerated feelings of threat", Ryan said. "Homophobia is not a laughing matter. It can sometimes have tragic consequences."
Overall, although this research gives us all a chance to laugh and throw back a scientific study in homophobes' faces when they start spouting offensive drivel, the researchers make an incredibly worthwhile point: Homophobia is no laughing matter. So the next time someone utters the words "I'm not homophobic, but..." or "I have a gay friend, so I can say this", you're completely welcome to mock them and look at them like a piece of dirt on your shoe. However, remember, there's a chance they are deeply uncomfortable with themselves and that's why they feel the need to tear down others. So embrace your fabulous self and pity them.