Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Am I a Secret Homophobe?

I will preface this post by acknowledging that I'm not a mental health professional. Anyone out there who is, I'm particularly interested in what you think about the contents of this post.

Recently, I came across Project Implicit, a study that allows participants to study their own hidden biases. As the website explains:

"Psychologists understand that people may not say what's on their minds either because they are unwilling or because they are unable to do so."

Thus, even though many of us would not be comfortable expressing homophobic, racist, or any other -ist thoughts in the company of others, many of us nonetheless hold such beliefs. Sometimes, even we do not know we hold these beliefs. In order to measure these "hidden beliefs," participants in Project Implicit are asked to sort different words, such as "homosexual" and "heterosexual" into "good" and "bad" categories, as quickly as they can, as these words flash across the screen. The idea is that the more strongly we associate certain words with certain categories, the more quickly and easily we will be able to sort these words.

Intrigued, and somewhat (over)confident that I have become resistant to the effects of living in a homophobic society, I took the sexuality quiz. About halfway through my participation in the quiz, it became uncomfortably clear that it was significantly easier for me to associate "heterosexual" with "good" than it was to associate "homosexual" with "good." When I received my quiz results demonstrating that I have a "preference" for heterosexual, I was hardly surprised. What did surprise me was the magnitude of my preference for heterosexuality. Most people, as it turns out, do associate heterosexuality with "good," and homosexuality with "bad," even if they are not aware of explicitly doing so.

Now some, any by "some" I mean overtly anti-gay individuals, would undoubtedly interpret such results to mean that homosexuality is inherently bad, immoral, and/or worse than heterosexuality. They would totally disregard the sociocultural influences of pervasive homophobia and heterosexism.

To burst the anti-gay's bubble, however, the research regarding this issue suggests that these results would be different if done on a population within a society where homosexuality was accepted. For instance, some of the papers written about this research support the idea that a person's scores on these tests "reflect the associations a person has been exposed to in his or her environment rather than the extent to which the person endorses those evaluative associations." Thus, the test reveals the extent of exposure to anti-gay conditioning, rather than (a) the quality of heterosexuality or homosexuality, or (b) whether the tested person actually agrees with the social conditioning.

Indeed, the Project Implict site acknowledges that it allows participants "to experience the manner in which human minds display the effects of stereotypic and prejudicial associations acquired from their socio-cultural environment" as the level of bias existing in a person's immediate environment was found to modify people's levels of implicit bias.

Thus do I strongly believe that my strong implicit "bias" against homosexuality is due to my own frequent and deliberate exposure to anti-gay blogs, writings, and speech. Regularly reading the writes of those who describe gay people as wrong, bad, sick, selfish, disgusting, and immoral- and who devote significant time, energy, and resources into doing so- undoubtedly takes some sort of psychological toll on a person, especially a gay one. In fact, I believe that many LGBT bloggers, and readers of LGBT and anti-LGBT blogs, would likewise have results similar to my own.

As a blogger, I am not entirely comfortable with this. Intellectually, I know that homosexuality isn't "bad." Mentally, I know I've overcome a lot of the internalized homophobia that I dealt with in my younger days. If readers' comments and emails are an accurate indication, many of you- like myself- are resilient and somewhat resistant to harmful social conditioning. In no way do I think we should stop countering the anti-LGBT (and sexist, racist, and ableist) hostility, lies, and dehumanization that's obsessively put out into the world. Has complicity ever stopped oppression?

I am not sure how to resolve my discomfort with the social conditioning that oppressors enforce and that many of us, with good intentions, perpetuate. Perhaps it is a discomfort that does not need to be resolved, but one to be mindful of.

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