Academic journal article American Journal of Psychotherapy

Origins of Homophobia in Males: Psychosexual Vulnerabilities and Defense Development

Academic journal article American Journal of Psychotherapy

Origins of Homophobia in Males: Psychosexual Vulnerabilities and Defense Development

Article excerpt

Psychosexual Vulnerabilities and Defense Development*



Purpose: To better understand the origins of homophobia among males. Methods: Literature review and clinical illustration. Results: Data suggest that there is a range of homophobic attitudes. Conclusions: We illustrate how homophobic attitudes can be associated with a hierarchy of defensive styles. We propose that these defensive styles are used to manage a range of psychosexual developmental anxieties in boys and men.

In order to better understand the origins of homophobia, we explore the relationship between normal psychosexual developmental tasks, the function of defenses, and homophobic attitudes in males. Data support the view that there is a range of homophobic attitudes-from those that are so severe that they lead to aggressive or self-destructive behaviors to ones that are based in religious or philosophical differences.1 This also suggests that there is a range of possible origins for homophobia, including fear of sexuality in general, a societal need for scapegoats, and intrapsychic strategies to manage specific gender and homosexual concerns. We focus on males because the research literature suggests greater problems with homophobia and males. In addition, males appear to be at a greater psychosexual developmental risk for vulnerability in terms of gender, gender-role, and sexual-orientation anxieties.

Our interest is in the intrapsychic strategies where homophobic attitudes are defensive attempts to manage internal anxieties. We agree with past psychological theorists that these may represent unresolved psychosexual issues from childhood development.2 We attempt to refine this proposition by seeing the range of homophobic attitudes as related to a hierarchy of defensive styles. Further, we propose that the most severe homophobic attitudes are associated with narcissistic defenses maintained into adulthood, while less severe attitudes are associated with immature, neurotic, or mature defensive styles. This hierarchy of defensive styles is correlated with normal developmental psychosexual tasks of childhood. Thus, we will review the psychological characteristics of male homophobics, describe the defensive management of a range of anxieties associated with developmental issues, and provide clinical vignettes to illustrate the relationship between a particular developmental task and a characteristic defense.


The term homophobia was coined in 1972 by Weinberg to signify irrationally negative attitudes toward homosexual people.3 It was initially employed to describe the phenomenon in heterosexuals of the "dread of being in close quarters with homosexuals," and its counterpart in gay persons of "self-- loathing." Evidence suggests that homophobia is a problem for a significant number of persons.4 Homophobia contributes to problems for both heterosexuals and homosexuals. Reviews of these issues have been recently published.5

A review of the empirical research using Herek's Attitudes Toward Lesbians and Gay Men Scale (ATLG) has determined through a variety of studies that it is a reasonably reliable, valid scale, with good construct validity (coefficient alpha of .95).4 Substantive studies using this measure over the past 10 years yield results not dissimilar from historical studies and can be summarized as follows: Greater hostility toward homosexuals is predicted by acceptance of traditional gender roles, high religiosity or membership in a conservative or fundamentalist denomination, political conservatism, lack of known personal contact with homosexuals, and a perception that their friends agree with their attitudes. In addition, in all studies using the ATLG, heterosexual males score consistently higher on negative attitudes than heterosexual females. Heterosexuals also tend to score higher on negative attitudes targeting their own gender. …

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