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Participants who said they were 'highly straight' and found it difficult to sort images and words correlating to 'gay' and 'straight' were more likely to support anti-gay policies.
Are virulent homophobes more prone to repressed same-sex attraction? A new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests this is indeed the case.
In The New York Times, two of the study's researchers write that the connection between vocal opponents of homosexuality and so-called "self-loathing" homosexuals has been often surmised but never formally studied, much less proven.
"Freud famously called this process a “reaction formation” — the angry battle against the outward symbol of feelings that are inwardly being stifled," wrote Richard and William Ryan.
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Examples bolstering the supposition are fairly well-known: former Idaho senator Larry Craig, and other high-profile opponents of equal rights for homosexuals, such as megachurch leader Ted Haggard, have been exposed for same-sex dalliances.
Haggard, who once represented roughly one tenth of the American population as head of the largest evangelical organizations in the United States, resigned after a male masseuse claimed Haggard had paid him for sex and crystal meth.
His personal website now describes the episode as a resignation "after confessing to a personal moral failure. During a two- year period of quiet healing, Ted and Gayle rebuilt their marriage and emerged a stronger couple and family." Haggard now runs a new church, and he told GQ in 2011 "I think that probably, if I were 21 in this society, I would identify myself as a bisexual."
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The study does not suggest homophobes are necessarily gay, merely that they are more prone to some same-sex attraction. Writes Peter Tatchell in Huffington Post, "We already know, thanks to a host of sex surveys, that bisexuality is an fact of life and that even in narrow-minded, homophobic cultures, many people have a sexuality that is, to varying degrees, capable of both heterosexual and homosexual attraction."
"[S]exuality might be more flexible than many people assume," Tatchell wrote wrote.
Study participants self-identified as gay or straight and were then subjected to a computer-based test that flashed images and words that correlated to homo- or heterosexuality. "The twist was that before each word and image appeared, the word “me” or “other” was flashed on the screen for 35 milliseconds — long enough for participants to subliminally process the word but short enough that they could not consciously see it," wrote the researchers.
Researchers then looked at how long it took participants to sort the images and words into their respective categories. If the word "me" came before an image of a gay couple, a homosexual would more quickly sort it as "homosexual." Sorting delays helped researchers identify those with an inaccurate self-identified sexuality. 20 percent of the "highly straight" group had trouble disconnecting the "me" from gay photographs and words.
After conducting a survey, the researchers then found that those ostensibly "straight" people harboring latent same-sex attraction were more likely to support policies curtailing the rights of homosexuals; "to be willing to assign significantly harsher punishments to perpetrators of petty crimes if they were presumed to be homosexual; and to express greater implicit hostility toward gay subjects."
“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,” Richard Ryan, a researcher said, according to The Raw Story. “Homophobia is not a laughing matter. It can sometimes have tragic consequences.”