Sexual Identity and Heterosexual Male Students' Usage of Homosexual Insults: An Exploratory Study

By Brown, Tyler L.; Alderson, Kevin G. | The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, Spring-Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

Sexual Identity and Heterosexual Male Students' Usage of Homosexual Insults: An Exploratory Study


Brown, Tyler L., Alderson, Kevin G., The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality


Abstract: The use of different homosexual insults by heterosexual male students at a mid-sized Canadian university was studied. The types of insults included both those directed at sexuality and sexual orientation ("sexualized homosexual insults") and those related more to gender role behaviour and masculinity ("nonsexual homosexual insults"). Comparison groups for the type of insults used by participants were based on their heterosexual male sexual identity as reflected in scores for opposite-sex sexual orientation, masculine gender role, and adherence to traditional gender ideologies. The key measures employed were The Sexuality Questionnaire (Alderson, Orzeck, Davis, & Boyes, 2010) and a homosexual insult questionnaire developed specifically for this study. Participants varied in insult usage in relation to their scores on the sexual identity measures although some insults were used with similar frequency among men despite variations in these measures. The findings are discussed in relation to the issues of opposite sex sexual orientation, gender role, and gender ideology as well as age, education, religion, and ethnic background.

Acknowledgements: The research for this article was done by the first author in a year-long honours thesis project. The authors thank Dr. Tak S. Fung for assistance with statistical analysis.

Introduction

Heterosexual men relative to heterosexual women have more hostile attitudes toward gay men (Kite & Whitely, 2003) and they often use homosexual insults to deride one another (Burn, 2000). However, only about half of the men who use homosexual insults feel strongly negative toward homosexuality (Burn, 2000). Homosexual individuals are often seen as violating gender role norms (Eliason, Donelan, & Randall, 1992), resulting in disapproval by others (Rudman & Fairchild, 2004). Perhaps because of this social stigma against gender role violation, heterosexual men respond with more hostility toward feminine gay men than they do toward masculine gay men following a threat to their own masculinity (Glick, Gangl, Gibb, Klumpner, & Weinberg, 2007). The excessive regularity of homosexual insults by heterosexual men may signify a reaction to culturally-shaped pressures, internalized by heterosexual men, to demonstrate heterosexual masculinity (Theodore & Basow, 2000). The aim of the present study was to determine whether differences in heterosexual male sexual identity (HMSI) would influence the likelihood of heterosexual men using homosexual insults. If such differences in sexual identity are influential, certain forms of HMSI may be more reliant on homosexual insults to manage perceived threats against gender identity, suggesting a social significance for homosexual insults beyond homophobia. For this reason, we use here the term "homosexual insult", rather than "homophobic insult", to characterize both gendered and homosexual putdowns. This terminology avoids characterizing all such putdowns in advance as having an exclusively homophobic purpose.

Masculine identity and the struggle for status

The problem with heterosexual men and homosexual insults

Insults that imply homosexuality are perceived by some men as the worst type of insult (Preston & Stanley, 1987). Homosexual insults are often used to express sexual prejudice (D'Augelli, 1992) and serve to designate targets as outcasts (Dafnos, 2007). Possibly due to their connection with gender-role failure, homosexual insults play a pivotal role in the school bullying and victimization of both gay and heterosexual males (Kimmel & Mahler, 2003). Nevertheless, many homosexual insults within male discourse appear jovial and seem to facilitate "male bonding" (Silverschanz, Cortina, Konik, & Magley, 2008, p. 187). Armstrong (2006) proposes that certain insults, including homosexual terms, are only possible between equals, signifying inclusion. The interpretation of homosexual insults is complex in that such insults can be associated with both inclusion and exclusion, i. …

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Sexual Identity and Heterosexual Male Students' Usage of Homosexual Insults: An Exploratory Study
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