The Nazis vilified and exterminated an entire race of people. Their anti-Semitic propaganda machine spewed venom against innocent men, women and children. Everything from their dress to their religion was attacked.
We gays are going through such a phase, albeit in far subtler ways. Psychologists dealing with the dynamics of prejudices say that stereotypes, prejudices and discrimination go hand in hand. Homophobic people perform generalizations on the behaviors of gays.
Here is an example: “See that guy walking like a girl? He is GAY. Is Deep also gay? Hmmm, no wonder I saw him buy a tube of fairness cream at Shopper’s Stop last night”!
A miniscule number of these generalizations are positive: “Artistic = Gay”.
Some of these are pseudoscientific: “It’s a chemical imbalance”.
When stereotypes are widely quoted they assume the halo of “facts”. For example the 1999 edition of Merriam-Webster (the largest dictionary publisher in the United States) listed thesaurus terms for homosexual such as “fruit” and “pederast”. In India, doctors go through a five and a half year M.B.B.S. degree course with Psychiatry as one of the minor subjects. One of the prescribed textbooks being studied by our future pain alleviators is the 3rd edition of Mayer-Gross, Slater and Roth’s “Clinical Psychiatry”. It clearly lists “treatments” for gays. It quotes “recent” studies by scientists, “as late as 1957″ in support of “aversive deconditioning”!
Sadly no mention is made of DSM IV TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, textual revision) published by the American Psychiatric Association or the ICD-10 (International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems) published by the WHO. These works published after 2000 clearly do NOT list homosexuality as an illness needing a cure and are the “de-facto” modern benchmarks of Psychiatric care in the western world.
Rigid categorical thinking is central to prejudice. Let me quote from a famous book by Gordon Allport, “The Nature of Prejudice”:
The human mind must think with the aid of categories….Once formed, categories are the basis for normal prejudgment. We cannot possibly avoid this process. Orderly living depends upon it.
However, categorical thinking tends to distort perceptions by either minimizing or exaggerating the differences between categories. Here is an example:
“Snakes have fangs, poison and bite. That big, fat earthworm looks like a snake. It will bite!”. Or, “That serial killer used to have sex with his wife and men. I knew it! Gays are like this only”.
According to the “outgroup homogeneity effect” any numbers of people who do not belong to the majority “ingroup” are all lumped under one “outgroup” having the same characteristics.
Hence, in India, till not so long ago people thought of “lower casts” as dark skinned, low intelligence, violence prone, poverty stricken wretches. In other words, any one who does not “fit” is an outsider. And every outsider looks, thinks and acts alike. A member of the “ingroup” is less likely to come in contact with a member of the “outgroup” and hence remains unaware of the diversity of members of the “outgroup”.
Here is an example: “My wife and I have one homo friend, but we don’t let him come into our house and meet little Bunty. I have heard of a friend who had a homo neighbor who used to have sex with kids!”
In 2002 Brett Pelham and his colleagues carried out a study which indicated that in each one of us there exists an “implicit egotism” or an unconscious preference for things associated with the self. Thus, a straight teenager will more likely associate with other straight teens even though he does not have any overt animosity towards gays.
The straight teen maintains his self esteem by identifying with the “ingroup” of heterosexuals. It is when he detects a drop in self esteem that he is likely to become prejudiced. Hence, a weak, pimply faced teen whose “self esteem” has been challenged by a personal failure (maybe rejected by his macho group or girlfriends) will abuse gays loudly enough to bolster his “ego”. Hence prejudice represents a way to maintain self esteem. One of the ways to counter that is to ask the homophobic straight teen to write down ten things he values about himself.
When a child is growing up, society shapes his implicit attitudes and beliefs by a process known as “priming”. Thus, in the school books of thirty years ago (and, sadly, even now in some cases) the word “woman” is more likely to be read in the same location as “home”, “kitchen”, “cooking”, “housewife” and the word “man” with “doctor”,”pilot”, “army”, “brave”. Hence a child’s mind is “primed” by words or images that thematically relate ideas or associations. “Priming” continues in the adult modern world. Here is an example from a recent report in a leading Indian newspaper: “the beggar was a drug addict, a gay and a serial killer in Mumbai”. Has any news reporter used the phrase “the heterosexual serial killer of Noida”?!
All human beings observe the environment through a process known as “automatic filtering of salient stimuli”. Things which “stand out” seem more important to us than those which do not. Hence a doctor’s effeminate behavior and homosexuality is quickly commented upon, only as an afterthought is his profession mentioned.
Categorical thinking and focus on salient stimuli allows us to observe the environment efficiently. Yet both can lead to distortions in perception, and, at times, to prejudice and stereotyping.
Stereotypes can become self-perpetuating when stereotyped individuals are made to feel self-conscious or inadequate. Hence a man whose effeminacy and homosexual feelings is ridiculed by his peers and parents is more likely to perform badly in college and his career thus giving rise to the stereotype “gays are losers and queer”.
It is up to us gay men and women to counter homosexual prejudice at every level in society.
Image Credit: Did By Graham