To this point, we have examined the general socio-historical context of sexuality in the U.S.A. and reviewed evidence concerning what may be called mainstream sexual behaviors, in the sense that a majority of Americans engage in these activities. Our review of autoerotic behaviors and the development of heterosexual patterns throughout the life cycle may be seen in this light. We did occasionally mention less-common patterns. For example, the review of childhood sexuality did note that homosexual activities do occur in childhood, and research that examined the development of homosexual behavior was briefly discussed. However, the focus of the chapter so far has clearly been on mainstream, and essentially heterosexual, patterns.
Our review will now shift to an examination of a variety of sexual patterns that are less common, as this has also been a prime concern of sexuality professionals in the U.S.A. We hope that the reader will note that many of the general themes we have stressed so far - change and diversity, for example - are applicable to these patterns as well. In reviewing heterosexual lifestyle patterns, we stressed that researchers have tended to focus on the incidence or frequency of sexual behaviors and less likely to investigate relationship dynamics or theoretical explanations of behavior. These same trends also tend to characterize the study of less-conventional sexual behavior.
A. Children and Adolescents
ROBERT HAWKINS AND WILLIAM STACKHOUSEAlthough research on childhood sexual activity in the United States is limited, what little we know (and can remember on a personal level) indicates that a great deal of same-gender sex play takes place among children, usually of an exploratory nature. Occasionally a lesbian, gay, or bisexual adult will recall such childhood activity as being different from exploratory activity with someone of the other gender, and therefore indicative of an early awareness of orientation. But it appears that, for the majority of people, childhood sexual play, while it includes same-gender activity, has little implication for adult orientation.
Some research shows a relationship for males between cross-gender behavior as a child (known as sissy behavior) and homoeroticism as an adult, but that relationship has not been shown to be causal and may be more a result of the patriarchal homophobic character of the culture than any innate biological characteristic of the child. This is more apparent when one compares the research on females who engage in cross-gender role behavior as a child (known as tomboy behavior), wherein the same relationship is not present. Even the labels for the person engaging in cross-gender role behavior carry different connotations in the culture. For a boy, being called sissy is considerably more detrimental to healthy development than is being called tomboy for a girl (Green 1987).
When the American child is developing a lesbian, gay, or bisexual identity, the heterosexism and homophobia of the culture dictates that this is not an acceptable orientation, and it becomes difficult at best for the child to develop into an adolescent or adult with a positive self-image. Lesbian and gay youth, particularly those from small communities, seldom receive support from their peers or from the sex education and family life courses in their school. Books that could be supportive, such as Leslea Newman's Heather Has Two Mommies (1989), or Gloria Goes to Gay Pride (1991), are usually banned from school curricula or simply not considered appropriate for children, even though they were written specifically for all children to read. Counselors and teachers generally assume that all of their students are heterosexually oriented, even though some students in any school will have a same-gender orientation.
As children grow into adolescents and attempt to deal constructively with the tensions and uncertainties of adolescence, gay, lesbian, and bisexual teenagers have to confront the question of the gender of the person to whom they find themselves sexually attracted. Do they surrender to peer and cultural pressure and date only members of the other gender? Do they tell a best friend of their orientation and risk losing that friend or being ostracized or physically attacked? Should they get sexually involved with someone of the other gender to attempt to prove that they really are straight? Just what do they do when they find themselves sexually attracted to someone of the same gender? Fortunately, the number and quality of resources that lesbian and gay teens can use are increasing, both on national and local levels. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, many books, pamphlets, and other resources have been published, providing practical guidelines and insights into what lesbian and gay youth should know about dating, living together, and coping in a hostile world.
However, the resources that are available for them are usually available only through homophile groups and a few commercial bookstores, and are generally not available through school libraries or other youth agencies. For example, the Boy Scouts organization has been explicitly noninclusive for both homosexual youth members and adult leaders. In rare cases, such as in New York City, a special high school has been established for gay and lesbian youth who are unable to cope with the discrimination that they face in a regular school setting. This discrimination comes from other students, as well as teachers, administrators, and counselors, making it difficult for these students to obtain an education.
Although this discrimination is still rampant in elementary and secondary schools, it is lessening somewhat in colleges and universities. Most American public and large private colleges and universities recognize and fund student organizations such as a Gay and Lesbian Alliance (GALA) or a Lesbian and Gay Organization (LAGO). Several chapters of gay fraternities and lesbian sororities have been organized. However, even where such organizations exist, many lesbian and gay collegians avoid them or keep their membership quiet. Even at religiously based institutions of higher education, there are differences with respect to the acceptance of these organizations. As late as 1995, one university, the Roman Catholic-affiliated Notre Dame, refused to allow any homophile organizations, and even denied the availability of counseling-center-sponsored group-support activities for lesbians, gays, and bisexuals. At the same time, a large Jewish orthodox-affiliated university, Yeshiva, provides numerous opportunities and funding for gay and lesbian organizations at both the graduate and undergraduate levels.
Even though information on issues confronting lesbian, gay, and bisexual adolescents may be available in printed form, the difficulty in gaining access to such materials, the anti-homoeroticism that is rampant in the media, the negative stereotypes that are still being touted as representative of all who are homoerotic, and the silence on ambieroticism or bisexuality all combine to make life unnecessarily difficult for the adolescent lesbian, gay, or bisexual person in this country. One result is that almost one third of adolescent suicides are related to the issue of homoeroticism. The data on attempted suicide among adolescents are also informative. About 10 percent of heterosexual male and female adolescents attempt suicide, while twice as many lesbian adolescents and three to four times as many gay adolescents attempt suicide (Youth Suicide National Center Report, 1989). The lack of support and acceptance of these young people is undoubtedly a factor in this difference.
ROBERT HAWKINS AND WILLIAM STACKHOUSEResearch on Gender Orientation
The question of gender orientation and the definition of orientation is complex and confusing for both sexuality researchers and the layperson alike. Several researchers have concluded, after extensive study, that there is no clinical description that can be applied to the label homosexual - that there is virtually no single phenomenon that can be labeled homosexuality and then described in clinical terms. Yet, some theorists have suggested models to define and categorize. When researchers then indicate that they are using a specific model, usually there is no internal consistency. Take, for example, the Kinsey continuum of orientation. After interviewing 5,300 men and 5,940 women in the 1940s, Kinsey and associates developed a continuous scale based on the ratio of sexual fantasies and physical contacts with one's own gender and with the other gender. Along this continuum are seven points, labeled from 0 to 6, with a Kinsey 0 being a person whose behavior and fantasies have always involved persons of the other gender, and a Kinsey 6 being a person whose behavior and fantasies have always involved persons of their own gender.
Even where researchers have indicated their use of the Kinsey scale, the actual definitions of research subjects have varied significantly from the original and also varied from study to study. In some instances, fantasy data are not available and consequently not considered; in other instances, behavior alone is the criteria for being placed in a Kinsey category, with no recognition of the difference in subjective experience of the sexual activity. In other studies, subjects are placed on the continuum solely according to the gender of the partner with whom they are living.
There are other models available that begin to reflect some of the complexities of gender orientation. Moses and Hawkins (1982; 1986) indicated that the minimum data necessary for identifying orientation in subjects were an assessment of the gender of emotional relationship partners, the gender of sexual attraction partners, and the gender of partners in sexual fantasy content, and that all three of these should be considered from a past and a present perspective, implying that although orientation may be consistent throughout one's life, it is not necessarily so. It is seen as a potentially dynamic characteristic.
An even more complex model was developed by Fred Klein, a physician and gender-orientation researcher. Klein indicated that an assessment of orientation needed to consider seven criteria over three time periods, resulting in a Sexual Orientations Grid of 21 cells. The criteria are: (1) sexual attraction; (2) sexual behavior; (3) sexual fantasies; (4) emotional/affectional relationship preference; (5) social relationship preference; (6) lifestyle; and (7) self-identification, with each of these criteria being assessed over three time periods: the past, the present, and the future ideal. This was the first model to present the notion that one's self-label might be an important facet of one's orientation, and the time factor was an acknowledgment of the potentially dynamic character of orientation. Research subjects can rate themselves on these criteria using a three-by-seven grid and the Kinsey ratings, summing the ratings, and then dividing by 21 to produce a position on a scale identified popularly as The Kinsey Scale (Klein 1978; Klein, Sepekoff, and Wolf, 1985). Although the initial response to Klein's model was that it was more comprehensive and realistic, its complexities have kept most researchers from using or disseminating it widely. It has thus remained unfamiliar to many.
Developmental Biological Insights
Several studies in the past decade have attempted to identify biological determinants for adult homoeroticism from a heterosexist theoretical base, in which heterosexual behavior is viewed as the basic, natural human behavior, and anything else is deviant. There is usually little recognition of definitional complexity or the possibility of precursors rather than determinants. Subjects are typically placed in the dichotomous classification so prevalent in the culture - that one is either gay or straight, homosexual or heterosexual - with no recognition of the Kinsey continuum, and especially no recognition of Klein's model. Researchers have purported to examine twins, siblings, adopted children, and brains of people who are homosexual and those who are not.
For example, Simon LeVay (1991) reported finding a portion of the hypothalamus that was smaller in homosexual men than in heterosexual men and was equal in size to that portion in heterosexual women. There were no lesbian brains identified as such in this study. The finding was quickly seized by the popular media and soon became what is called common knowledge. There were many problems with the study, but these were generally ignored, even in the scientific press. The definitional problem, whereby subjects were classified according to whether they were known to be gay or not (obviously all subjects were no longer living, so no information could be garnered from the subjects), has been ignored. The size of the sample (nineteen men previously identified as gay, sixteen men identified as not known to be gay and, therefore, heterosexual; one man known to be identified as bisexual and included in the study as such; and six women, all classified as heterosexual) has also generally been ignored. The fact that the size of another part of the hypothalamus in the women's brains did not coincide with other research on women's brains was ignored in discussions, and the possibility that what was found may have had something to do with body build and general physical characteristics rather than directly with sexual orientation was also never discussed. The overly simplistic design was convenient, because including even a few of the other variables, such as body build or sexual history, would mean that the sample size would have to be considerably larger to enable any conclusions to be drawn.
Dean Hamer and his research team (1993) have reported the discovery of a genetic region, the Xq28 region on the X chromosome, that is claimed to be associated with male homosexuality in about three quarters of gay men and inherited on the maternal side of the family. Similar research on lesbian women does not show similar findings. There is also no attempt in all of this research to explain the exceptions that are reported. If there is a gay gene, then why is it that all men who are gay do not show it? Most biologically focused studies suffer from similar problems, first with the issue of definition, then with the exclusion or nonsimilarity of research on women who are attracted to women, and finally with assumptions, conclusions, and discussions of results that assume the natural state of the human being is exclusively heterosexual.
Although the question of a biological basis for homoeroticism has, in recent years, seen increased interest and attention, such research consistently does not consider the complexities of orientation, such as emotional attraction, behavior, and other criteria that constitute sexual orientation in Klein's model. Most of the classification methods for identifying orientation of subjects in these studies are overly simplified. Although there may be biological precursors to orientation, no well-designed, appropriately controlled study has been done to support that conclusion.
One positive side effect of the popular interpretation of research into possible biological roots of homoerotic orientation has been in easing the acceptance of gay and lesbian persons by some churches. One can paraphrase a common response among some mainstream Protestant church people and leaders: If homosexual orientations are not a freely chosen preference but in some way rooted in prenatal genetic, hormonal, and/or neural templates, then God and nature made them this way, and we and the church must accept that reality.
The research on bisexuality or ambieroticism is even more scant. It is very difficult to do research on bisexuality if one cannot define it, and there is no simple, dichotomous cultural model as is available with research on homosexuality. In a 1994 book, Dual Attraction, Weinberg, Williams, and Pryor report that using the Kinsey scale with sexual behaviors, sexual feeling, and romantic feelings, they identified five different types of bisexuals in their study of 435 men and 338 women:
1. The Pure Type, scoring at least 3 on all criteria;Additionally, it is only in the recent past that models for development of a bisexual identity have been proposed, and further research into ambieroticism, such as was begun by Fred Klein, has moved very slowly. The heterosexist nature of the culture, combined with the indigenous psychological and sociological perspectives of many researchers, has precluded the acceptance of a somewhat radical notion that the basic state of the human sexual orientation is ambierotic and mutable, with exclusive heterosexual or exclusive homosexual behavior being equally deviant from the biological norm. Further research on bisexuality appears to be moving in that direction. (See Section C below for more on bisexuality.)
2. The Mid Type, scoring 3 on one criteria and 2 to 4 on the other two;
3. The Heterosexual-Leaning Type, scoring 0-2 on each of the three criteria;
4. The Homosexual-Leaning Type, scoring 4 to 6 on each dimension; and
5. The Varied Type, whose scores did not fit any of the first four categories or types.
In much of the public discussion of homoeroticism, there is a preoccupation with the general question, How many are there? The answer to this question carries political and economic implications, and there is a need to understand the extent of the economic power and political power that this group wields. For example, is the culture required, in policy decisions, to provide for this group, or is it such a small number that policymakers are not required to respond to identified needs of this population? Commerce is in a strategic position to profit from this population, and economically driven decisions in the marketplace are taking these numbers into serious account. For example, in 1994, advertisements focusing directly on lesbian women and gay men as consumers were introduced in popular television and print media, and more mainstream commercial advertisements were being placed in homoerotically focused magazines, such as The Advocate, and in programs for fund-raising benefits for homoerotic communities.
Another area where numbers are considered in policy decisions is the increasing recognition and development of domes tic-partner benefits, such as health insurance and death benefits. This began in the early 1990s when some employers became aware that lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals comprise enough of the work force to have an effect on productivity and efficiency, and that accommodating their needs is beneficial to the company so that it can have and keep well-qualified people.
Ignoring the basic fact that there is no definition of what a homosexual or a bisexual person is, until the mid-1990s the most-often cited figure for incidence of homosexuality came from the research of Kinsey and associates carried out in the 1940s. These data have been used to estimate the number of homoerotic people in the population without any indication of the simplistic nature of the definition. The commonly cited figure that 10 percent of American men are homosexual is a combination of Kinsey's finding that 4 percent of his sample were exclusively homosexual (Kinsey 6) and 6 percent were predominantly homosexual (Kinsey 5) (Kinsey et al. 1948). His data on homosexual activity in women indicated approximately 9 percent were either exclusively or predominantly homosexual (Kinsey 5 or 6) (Kinsey et al. 1953).
Laumann et al. (1994) found that almost 3 percent of their subjects were homosexual. Although these two sets of figures may, at first, seem at odds, the 1994 figure had a 1 percent error rate, and the Kinsey figure for exclusive homosexuality was 4 percent, so the two major studies do not differ greatly. There were some other problems with the 1994 study, such as the use of females as interviewers and the tendency of males in this culture to deny homosexual activity, even in anonymous questionnaires, but especially in face-to-face contact with anyone else; however, even with those design problems, the numbers are similar (Schmalz 1993).
In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This was a major turning point, both in the United States and worldwide, in the clinical acceptance of homosexuality. Homosexuality was no longer to be viewed as an illness. The impact within psychology and psychiatry was profound, and has influenced many aspects of society. The basis for this change was the scientific conclusion that, among individuals who were not in clinical treatment, it was impossible to distinguish heterosexual and homosexual persons. Evelyn Hooker first arrived at this conclusion in 1957 with the first controlled study to include a comparison on a non-clinical sample of heterosexual and homosexual men.
Since then, research designs employing the principle that such non-clinical participants exist have resulted in many studies confirming that, in itself, homosexuality is not an illness. The illness model of homosexuality that had existed as the basis for so much discrimination is no longer supported by the psychiatric and psychological establishments. In 1973, the Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry was revised to state: many homosexuals, both male and female, function responsibly and honorably, often in positions of high trust, and live emotionally stable, mature, and well adjusted lives, psychodynamically indistinguishable from well-adjusted heterosexuals, except for their alternative sexual preferences.
This has led clinicians to change their point of reference regarding homosexuals, from a pathological frame to a counseling frame, from looking at persons as sick to looking at how persons may maximize their human potential in society. Since then, many studies and books have examined aspects of the development of gay men and lesbian women, looking at identity development (social, sexual, and psychological), family issues, relationship issues, work and career development, and other dimensions of identity and lifestyle. There now exists a large body of American literature, in both the professional and general press aimed at maximizing the health and wholeness of gay men and lesbians.
Still, gay and lesbian individuals often have difficulty with their own self-acceptance and the process of deciding just how to live as gay or lesbian persons. Mental-health professionals who specialize in working with gay and lesbian clients offer individual and group counseling throughout the U.S.A. Various organizations also routinely offer support groups for a wide range of concerns. In addition, counseling is now available to the family members and friends of gay and lesbian persons who have difficulty in accepting the homosexuality of their loved ones.
In examining the legal status of lesbians, gays, and bisexuals, one needs a rudimentary understanding of the legal system in the United States. There are levels of jurisdiction throughout the country; each jurisdiction, from local villages, to city, county, state, and the federal governments, has its own legal codes. In addition, the military has its own legal code. The issue of rights for lesbians and gays has been raised at all levels of jurisdiction. Supposedly, all of these laws are subject to the provisions of the Constitution of the United States, which provides consistency. Each state has its own state constitution, which is also to be consistent with the federal Constitution, as are the governing documents of cities and local communities.
Generally, lesbian women and gay men have no protection against discrimination based on orientation or the perception of orientation, and in 1995, only nine states had laws including sexual orientation as a minority protected from discrimination. Historically, attempts to obtain protection have followed the patterns of other oppressed groups in the United States. First, there were attempts to gain protection against discrimination in public accommodations and employment. More recently, this has expanded to include equal treatment with regard to employment-related benefits accorded to married heterosexual relationships. Examples include the benefits accrued to persons by their legally married status (as of 1995 same-gender partners are not allowed to marry legally in any state in the U.S.), as well as benefits in relation to parental status (such as adoption or custody issues), and bereavement leave with respect to family members.
Opposition to these attempts to expand discrimination protection either takes the stance that homosexual activity is immoral and, therefore, not deserving of consideration for equal protection, or suggests that lesbian women and gay men are seeking special treatment. There is even an argument put forth that suggests that lesbian women and gay men are not an oppressed minority and should not be treated as such. Where legal protections have been instituted, it has usually been based on the need for equal treatment.
In the past decade, some local jurisdictions have passed laws recognizing the civil rights of same-gender couple relationships and of homoerotic individuals. Similarly, many corporations, of all sizes, have granted gay and lesbian couples the same benefits as heterosexual couples. For example, in Dallas, Texas, a major corporation threatened not to locate a new corporate facility in that city if the corporation's policy on domestic partnership benefits for same-gendered couples was declared illegal by virtue of the city's discriminatory laws. The economic impact of this decision caused the city government to rescind the law.
In May 1993, a court case highlighted a conflict between the antidiscrimination clause in the Constitution of the State of Hawaii and that state's ban on the recognition of same-gender unions. The state's Supreme Court asked the state to prove its compelling interest for continuing the discrimination or to end it. Lawyers generally admit that it will be very difficult to prove a compelling interest, and if it cannot be done, the state will be forced to grant legal recognition of same-gender partnerships. Currently, all fifty states grant reciprocal recognition of the legality of heterosexual marriage, but if Hawaii legalizes homosexual marriages, the other forty-nine states will have to decide whether to continue that reciprocity. In early 1995, several states sought to pass legislation that would limit their reciprocity to heterosexual marriage, in the event that Hawaii recognized same-gender marriages (Rotello 1996; Eskridge 1996; Sullivan 1996).
Lesbians and gays are also treated differently with respect to serving in the United States armed forces. For many years, they were specifically excluded in official policy, yet were differentially managed in individual cases. For example, when the war in Kuwait broke out, some lesbians and gays who were scheduled for separation from the service were required to serve until the end of the conflict. In another instance, an enlisted man, Perry Watkins, repeatedly told the military that he was gay, but they kept reenlisting him until someone finally decided that he should be separated from the service, and the legal process to do so was instituted (Shilts, 1993).
In 1994, the military instituted a policy called Don't ask, Don't tell, in which recruits were no longer to be asked if they had homosexual tendencies, but were also forbidden from telling anyone if they were homoerotic. Prior to this, the official policy being enforced was one in which activity was not a requirement for dismissal; simply acknowledging one's homoerotic orientation was enough to cause separation from the service. For example, Joseph Stephan, a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy, was only three months from graduation when he was asked if he was a homosexual. He indicated that he was, but never was asked, nor did he ever acknowledge any homosexual activity. He was separated from the navy and was denied his bachelor's degree from the Naval Academy (Rotello 1996; Eskridge 1996; Shilts 1993; Sullivan 1996).
Lesbians and gays have to pay special attention to wills, as biological families have successfully contested wills that left nothing to the blood relatives and everything to the person's life partner. This situation has led to the development of agencies and books focusing specifically on estate planning for lesbian and gay couples and individuals.
The legal issues for bisexuals generally focus on that part of their lives that includes someone of the same gender, so it is the homoerotic aspect of their ambieroticism that suffers from the lack of legal protection. Additionally, there is no legal option for triangular relationships that provides legitimacy, so if a bisexual person has a primary relationship simultaneously with a man and a woman, that relationship cannot be legitimized as a marriage.
With the removal of homosexuality from the category of mental illness in 1973, the major foundation for legal discrimination against homosexuality was removed. As a result, religious intolerance of homosexuality, which had always been present, took on a more significant role in the debate on homosexuality within American social and political dialogue. Those who believe homosexuality to be immoral on religious grounds have since become more vocal in their quest to have their particular moral positions on homosexuality and other religious and moral issues inserted into the nation's laws (see also Section 2 of this chapter).
At the same time as Americans witnessed the radical change in the clinical view of homosexuality and the emergence of the gay-liberation movement, religious bodies in the U.S. were challenged on their stances with regard to homosexuality. Within Christian and Jewish sects, the debate generally has centered on the interpretation of sacred Biblical texts (Boswell 1980; Countryman 1988; Curran 1993; Francoeur in Gramick and Furey 1988; Gold 1992; Kosnick et al. 1977; Helminiak 1994; McNeill 1976; Presbyterian Church 1991; Thayer et al. 1987). The central locus of the debate is concerned with certain Old Testament texts, particularly the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the New Testament comments of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and I Timothy 1:9-10 (Helminiak 1994), which appear to condemn homosexuality. In actuality, the debate is waged on the basis of how ancient texts are interpreted and used for modern guidance. Many fundamentalist and traditional sects accept the ancient texts for their literal meaning and condemn all homosexual expression (Presbyterian Church, Part 2, 1991). These sects, however, generally do not address the extent to which they completely ignore many other Biblical texts and do not use them for modern guidance. Other, liberal, bodies interpret the ancient texts in their historical context in the light of current biological and psychological knowledge about the origins and nature of homosexual and other orientations. These bodies, particularly liberal reformed - and to some extent conservative - Judaism, the Episcopal Church, and the United Church of Christ, frequently welcome homosexual men and women to membership, and even to the ministry (Heyward 1989; Presbyterian Church 1991; Thayer 1987). Within the Catholic Church in America, there is a quite-visible split that, on the grassroots level, constitutes a silent schism on the issue of homosexuality. On the pastoral level, many, perhaps a majority of the clergy, accept the tolerant and liberal position expressed by the Catholic Theological Society of America (Kosnick et al. 1977), and quietly ignore the dogmatic condemnation of homosexuality by the Vatican (Curran 1993; Francoeur in Gramick and Furey 1988; McNeill 1976).
Among American religious bodies, the major continuing issues regarding homosexuality center on welcome, support, and affirmation of members within congregations and on the presence of openly gay and lesbian persons in religious leadership. Recently, support for gay and lesbian members has often led to performing holy unions for gay and lesbian partners. Given that the legal option of marriage has not been available, religious bodies have been the logical place for couples to seek such recognition and support. Many congregations have offered these services to both their members and to gay and lesbian persons in their communities. Although there are gays and lesbians in leadership in some religious bodies, they are few and often do not receive the support of predominantly heterosexual congregations. The one religious place where gay and lesbian persons have found a guaranteed welcome has been in the special ministries that exist for gay and lesbian persons. This includes a variety of individual denominations and individual congregations with a special outreach to gay and lesbian persons.
The growing visibility of homosexuals in American society and the scrutiny of the press probing the private lives of public figures have led some politicians to acknowledge publicly their homoerotic orientation. In 1980, Robert E. Bauman, a leading conservative Republican Congressman from Maryland, lost his bid for reelection after revealing his homoerotic orientation. About the same time, Congressman Gerry E. Studds from Massachusetts revealed his homoeroticism and he served in the House of Representatives until 1996. Elaine Noble was the first openly lesbian legislator in the state of Massachusetts. On the federal level, Representative Barney Frank, also from Massachusetts, disclosed his homoerotic orientation in 1987, and also continues to serve. In 1994, President Bill Clinton named Roberta Achtenberg as his highest-ranking lesbian appointee, and she was confirmed by the Congress as assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity in the Department of Housing and Urban Development. In 1995, she announced that she was leaving that post to run for mayor of San Francisco.
Thanks to the political and educational activism of a wide variety of gay and lesbian individuals and groups, American society is becoming increasingly sensitized to the prevailing discrimination of heterosexism and homophobia. On the negative side, there has been an apparent increase in violence against people perceived to be homosexual. Studies have indicated increases in the reporting of violent crimes that are based on the perceived homosexuality of the victim, and students have reported witnessing harassment of students and teachers thought to be homosexual. In some instances, the growing hostility is purported to be linked with fear and anxiety about AIDS, but lesbian and gay leaders suggest that this is simply a convenient new excuse to further hate and discrimination. Lesbians, gays, and bisexuals see themselves as the last large minority that is not legally protected from discrimination, and thus, as a group, they fulfill the need of some people to find scapegoats for whatever social ills occur. The other negative aspect of this increased visibility is that it causes the opposition to become aggressive. Observing the progress made by lesbians and gays in attempting to obtain equal rights, those opposed have taken a proactive approach in attempting to limit the rights and opportunities for lesbians and gays to enjoy a full and unrestricted life. This has taken many forms, including the development and dissemination of a video filled with partial truths and false information designed to arouse fear of and hatred toward homoerotic individuals and groups. There have also been referendums on ballots to deny homosexuals equal protection. While some of these have been passed in several jurisdictions, some of them have subsequently been declared unconstitutional by state and federal courts. That has not deterred others from developing similar referendums. In September 1996, Congress voted to deny Federal benefits to married people of the same sex and to permit states to ignore such marriages sanctioned in other states. A separate bill that would have banned for the first time discrimination against homosexuals in the workplace was defeated by a single vote.
On the positive side, openly gay or lesbian people have been elected to almost every level of government, with the exception of the executive branch of the state and federal governments (governors and the president and vice president). Voters in several jurisdictions have enacted legislation to protect the civil rights of lesbians and gays. The amount of literature and published research on lesbian and gay issues has increased exponentially in recent years, and the arts have moved to include lesbian, gay, and bisexual subjects in other than classically stereotypic and tragic roles. Research and commentary regarding gay, lesbian, and bisexual issues in the academic disciplines has become acceptable, and the result has been a concomitant exponential increase in published works in all the academic disciplines. There are even a few departments in universities specifically devoted to studies of lesbian, gay, and bisexual issues. In all the arts and literature, there are more and more instances of openly lesbian and gay themes, stories, and characters. And there are more openly gay, lesbian, and bisexual people in professional and amateur sports (such as Martina Navratilova in tennis, and Greg Louganis, the Olympic multiple-gold-medal diver), and in commerce (billionaire David Geffan).
Some people who are known privately but widely to be lesbian or gay are challenged by the gay and lesbian communities to be open. On occasion they are outed, that is, they are publicly announced to be lesbian or gay. Whether this is appropriate and ethical, given the extent of the homophobia in the culture, is a question. Originally, this practice was instituted only in cases where a person was widely known to be homoerotic and was not only keeping that information secret, but also was engaging in antihomosexual activity, such as gay public officials supporting antigay, antilesbian legislation. It later developed into a more-general application of outing, which many have questioned and challenged.
One of the major problems for lesbian, gay, and bisexual adolescents is the lack of positive role models available in the homophobic, heterosexist culture. This lack contributes to the lowered self-esteem of lesbian and gay youth. The increased visibility of lesbian women and gay men throughout all levels of the society means that younger lesbians and gays are able to see others of identical orientation who have succeeded in whatever their chosen career. This has a positive effect on ego and the development of self-image.
Gay and lesbian people have been at the forefront of defining operative, nontraditional, nonbiological family concepts. Although this may have grown from the difficulties of association with biological families and the impracticality of the heterosexual husband-wife with children relationship model, it has resulted in the active development and maintenance of alternative family structures of great depth and commitment that have subsequently provided an alternative model for the heterosexual society. This includes not only nonmarital couples and their children, but also committed long-standing friendship circles that constitute a chosen extended family, a set of associations often with stronger bonds than those that may exist through the unchosen avenue of blood relatives.
The depth and extent of these intentional relationships have become dramatically evident in the caring provided to those within such networks in the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The depth and extent of this caring has provided incontrovertible evidence of the wholesomeness and loving nature of these associations, and has significantly challenged the remainder of society.
The social, familial, and internalized heterosexist homophobia sometimes creates a situation in which the lesbian or gay man sees heterosexual marriage as the only public option for life. They may or may not include secret homosexual activity while married. With the increased visibility of lesbians, gays, and bisexuals, this pattern of behavior is less likely to occur without conscious awareness and dissonance on the part of both marital partners. Sometimes, but rarely, the only way a gay man or lesbian can cope successfully with the social pressures is to find a homoerotic person of the other gender to agree to a marriage of convenience, in which they might live as roommates and have separate sexual lives.
Some lesbians and gay men choose to have children. Women have the option of childbearing through the medically established procedure of donor insemination available in this country, or they can, and sometimes do, seek and find a man who will biologically impregnate them. Men obviously do not have this option. Therefore, the issues for lesbians who want a child are different from those for a gay man who wants one. In keeping with the resourcefulness and creativity of many lesbians and gay men, there are many patterns that have been developed to achieve biological parenthood.
Support organizations for the heterosexual relatives of homoerotic individuals have formed and become available. Most notable is the organization Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, (PFLAG), with headquarters in Washington, D.C. and groups throughout the United States. Where there are lesbian and gay community centers, usually one finds programs for children of lesbian and gay parents, such as The Center Kids, a program at the Lesbian and Gay Community Center in New York City. These centers also usually have support groups and education sessions for the biological families of lesbians and gays, as well as for the chosen families.
American lesbian women and gay men have many of the same health issues as their heteroerotic counterparts, but there are some issues that are unique, including the fact that the assumption of heterosexuality for individuals in the culture in general continues into the sphere of the health-care consumer. When the health-care professional is taking a history and asks, Are you married or single or divorced? there is little room for the lesbian or gay individual to indicate that she or he is in a long-term relationship with another person. And if the person is bisexually active, the answer to that question could be very misleading to the professional who should be concerned with whatever may impact the patient's health.
Lesbian women and gay men also have to interact with hospitals and other health-care facilities that often do not recognize the rights of a nonmarital partner to determine the course of treatment or to visit in an intensive-care unit unless they have obtained either a power of attorney or have officially been designated as a health-care proxy.
Although lesbians have the lowest rates of sexually transmitted diseases of any orientation group, they also have some special concerns that would not apply to heteroerotic women, but would apply to bisexual women. Those issues are related to the fact that this person is sexually active with another woman. There is some debate concerning whether lesbians who are not sexually active with a man should have a Pap smear as often as a woman who is sexually active with a man. Additionally, if a patient tells the health-care professional that she is a lesbian, the assumption is then made that she is not being sexually active with a man. This assumption should always be checked, because it is not necessarily true. A comprehensive sex history is needed to avoid incorrect assumptions, but is seldom done.
Gay men, on the other hand, have a high rate of sexually transmitted diseases. Prior to the 1980s, there was no major push for these men to wear condoms to prevent STDs, because most of the diseases could be cured by medical intervention. However, with the advent of HIV/AIDS, that situation changed, and the increased use of condoms in this population has significantly decreased the incidence of other STDs. The high frequency of sexual activity in many gay men means that their health care needs include concerns for the many diseases that can be transmitted sexually - and a comprehensive sex history is mandatory if the professional is to provide appropriate health care.
In the early 1980s, what we now know as AIDS was called GRID, Gay Related Immunodeficiency Disease, and it was believed that gay men were the only people who had it. While that has changed, the largest percentage of cases of AIDS in the United States continues to be among gay men, and part of gay-male identity is now referenced to HIV status, i.e., whether he is HIV-positive or HIV-negative. There is some concern about the effect that this has on one's psychological health, with some people questioning the acceptance of that reference to Gay Related when the infectious potential of HIV is not influenced by a person's sexual orientation.
Additionally, gay men have been likened in a psychological manner to Vietnam veterans in that both have experienced the death of many people with whom close bonds had been established. There has been a suggestion that many gay men, particularly in the regions of the country that are hardest hit by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and are in need of psychological treatment. Those lesbians who are very involved in the care of and are friends of HIV-positive gay men, are also experiencing trauma associated with multiple bereavement.
Another group that is receiving little attention in this epidemic are those gay men who are HIV-negative, who have lost partners to AIDS, and who are having to deal with survivor guilt and associated issues. Many of these men must also cope with the very strong feelings of pleasure that were associated with sexual activity before HIV became a threat. These men are at great risk for HIV infection; yet in the mid-1990s, the public-health focus has turned to women and children at risk, generally ignoring gay men.
Homosexuality in the Later Years
Very little is known about sexuality and aging among the estimated 3.5 million American men and women over age 60 who are homosexual. For gay men and lesbians, aging can create unique conflicts and problems. The death of a partner in a long-term relationship may bring out homophobic reactions among family members that lead these relatives to ignore the bereaved partner or contest a will and estate. Gay men and lesbians who decide to acknowledge their orientation after years of passing as heterosexual face the possibility of quite different outcomes when loved ones, children, and grandchildren, learn of their relative's sexual orientation. Gay men, who are fearful that their orientation will be discovered as it becomes evident they are not going to marry, may adopt a loner life with relatively little sexual and social intimacy. Lesbian couples have to cope with two female incomes, which would usually be lower than most dual-career gay male or heterosexual couples (Friend 1987).
By necessity, gay men and lesbians develop skills in coping and crisis management, which give them an advantage in the aging process. More-flexible gender roles may allow older homosexuals to take aging more in stride and develop ways of taking care of themselves that seem comfortable and appropriate. These skills may not be developed to the same degree among heterosexual men or women, who may be used to having or expecting a wife or husband to look after them (Friend 1987, 311). Gay people tend to plan ahead for their own independence and security, whereas heterosexuals are more likely to assume that their children will take care of them in their old age. Homosexual men and women have significantly more close friends who serve as a surrogate family than do heterosexuals. In larger urban areas, organizations like Senior Action in a Gay Environment (SAGE) provide a variety of social and support services for older homosexuals.
Gay Men, Lesbian Women, and Bisexuals - Comparisons
Because gay men are socialized as males and generally perceive themselves as males, their socialization process is somewhat different from that of lesbian women, who are socialized as females and generally perceive themselves as being female. This means that, from a general perspective, just as there are differences in male and female socialization, there are differences between lesbians and gay men, as well as differences among them. For example, in general analyses of gay and lesbian relationships, one difference often noted between the two is the role of sexual activity and sexual exclusivity. Generally, lesbian relationships are sexually exclusive and gay male relationships are not. This appears to be especially true of long-term relationships, and can be explained by the differences in socialization of women and men around sexual activity issues.
When gay men and lesbian women join together to form groups working toward a common goal, sometimes there are issues of power differentials and attitudes toward sexual activity that prevent the original goals from being reached by dividing the group along gender lines. Again, this can be explained by the differential socialization process.
It was not until the late 1980s that people identified as bisexual were welcomed into what were previously lesbian and gay organizations, and they are still viewed with caution in many circles. Bisexuals are sometimes accused by heterosexual people of being gay or lesbian and are labeled homophobic and fake by some homoerotic people. There are few bisexual support groups, most of them in large cities. The United States is only just beginning to attempt to understand the bisexual phenomenon.
CAROL QUEEN WITH ROBERT MORGAN LAWRENCEThe ambivalence about bisexuality is reflected in the history of the concept. For several years after the terms homosexuality and heterosexuality were coined in the late 1800s, bisexuality was largely ignored by the physicians and sex researchers who had newly medicalized sex. Sigmund Freud, with his theory of sexual development borrowed from Darwinian evolutionary models, helped to change that. By the 1920s, when Wilhelm Stekel wrote Bi-Sexual Love, the erotic capacity to desire both males and females could be envisioned as universal, if likely to be outgrown by adulthood. Havelock Ellis, by contrast, viewed bisexuality as a distinct sexual-orientation category, comparable to both homo- and heterosexuality.
Alfred Kinsey (1948, 1953) conceptualized bisexuality not in evolutionary terms, as the Freudians tended to do, but in simple behavioral terms. In his sexual-orientation scale, bisexuality was represented on a continuum between exclusive heterosexuality (the 0 end of Kinsey's scale) and exclusive homosexuality (at 6), with a Kinsey 3 equally attracted to or having had sexual experience with males and females.
Since most humans experience their erotic desires and relationships in a social context, many (perhaps most) bisexuals have more sexual experience with one or the other gender, depending upon whether their social affiliations tend to be mostly heterosexual or homosexual. Indeed, researchers have noted that many people who have displayed bisexual behavior over the lifespan - that is, people who have had sexual experience with both males and females - tend to identify sexually according to the gender of their current partner (Blumstein and Schwartz 1983). This is reported as especially true of women. When the current partner is female, women are more likely to identify themselves as lesbian, and when the current partner is male, as heterosexual. Factors such as political or social affiliation can also lead an individual to - or away from - a bisexual identity.
One common stereotype about bisexuals suggests a person is not really bisexual unless he or she is a Kinsey 3. This is related to the presumption that the individual is really homosexual but hiding behind a heterosexual relationship. The notion that all, or most, people are really homosexual or heterosexual has been termed monosexuality. Monosexuals are individuals who desire members of only one gender, whereas bisexuals desire both. The term was apparently first used to describe hetero- and homosexuals by Stekel (1922). Today this term has gained new currency in the American bisexual community as bisexuals seek to understand and combat the sources of stereotyping and social opprobrium they term biphobia (Hutchins and Kaahumanu 1991). Expressions of biphobia encompass caustic dismissals, such as Bergler's (1956) Nobody can dance at two different weddings at the same time; difficult relations between bisexual women and some lesbians (Weise 1992); and media-fed concerns that bisexual men are spreading AIDS into the heterosexual population. (The latter concern ignores the possibility that bisexual men can be as responsible about safe-sex practices as anyone else, that heterosexuals may also contract HIV from other heterosexuals, and that bisexual men may choose to live monogamous lives with female - or male - partners.)
Until recently, American bisexuals had few sources of support for their sexuality unless they derived it from the gay community - which has been far from uniformly supportive. In fact, it should be noted that many gays deny the reality and/or possibility of bisexuality. In the 1970s, a few support groups for bisexuals were formed; the best known of these was San Francisco's Bisexual Center. By the late 1980s, groups and organizations had emerged that aimed specifically to develop a supportive bisexual community; at the time of this writing, these are extensively networked and are producing their own publications and conferences.
Due to insufficient support, the influence of negative and alienating stereotypes, and the apparent fact that many bisexuals have lived as lesbians, gay men, or heterosexuals, it has been difficult to estimate what percentage of the population is, or has been, bisexual. It is probable that many more people have bisexual histories than would answer affirmatively to a survey researcher asking Are you bisexual? Too, many researchers have conflated or collapsed homosexuality and bisexuality (for a recent example, see Laumann et al. 1994), a further indication that many still consider one a variant of the other.
To stress the multidimensional nature of sexuality, Fred Klein (1985) developed his Sexual Orientation Grid, which expands Kinsey's concept of the continuum. He considers not only experience and desire, but also dreams, fantasies, social networks, relationships, ideal sexual orientation, and other variables. Additionally, Klein breaks the scale into temporal units (adolescence; early adulthood; present) so it can better reflect changes in behavior and sexual identity over the lifespan. Coleman (1987) has also developed a scale that takes factors like these into account and that serves as a clinical interview tool. Researchers using these scales, as well as Kinsey's, find that, although some display continuity of sexual identity over the lifespan, other individuals change identity over time. Many rate themselves near the middle of the Kinsey scale when asked their ideal, but report their relationships fall closer to one or the other end.
That behavior and identity are not fixed (and are sometimes not even consonant) is of special interest and relevance to researchers of bisexuality. The differences between homosexual and heterosexual may be less important and intriguing than those between monosexual and bisexual. Why, for example, is a prospective partner's gender of primary importance to some (monosexuals) and not to others (many bisexuals)? Other researchers note that bisexuality assumes different forms in different cultures, subcultures, and individuals. Klein (1978) suggests four primary types: (1) sequential (in which an individual will alternately partner or engage in sex with only men, then only women); (2) concurrent (in which an individual partners and/or engages in sex with both genders during the same period of time); (3) historical (bisexual behavior in an individual's past, especially adolescence); and (4) transitional (through which a heterosexual moves toward homosexuality or a homosexual moves toward heterosexuality).
Other American researchers have concentrated not on the taxonomy of bisexuality, but on the development and adjustment of bisexuals in day-today life. Some of this research has been incidental to studies done on gay and lesbian or heterosexual populations; other researchers have looked at self-identified bisexual populations. Just as estimates on the percentage of bisexuals in the population are inconclusive, so is information about what percentage of people who have a history of sexual experience with both genders defines themselves as bisexual. What differentiates those who do from those who do not is still a matter of speculation, although research into the formation of bisexual identity suggests that, at least for them, identity formation is more open-ended than linear.
A common monosexual accusation is that bisexuals are confused. Although this may be descriptive of some bisexuals before they find the label with which to self-identify, and some may also experience ongoing distress or uncertainty due to the dearth of societal validation (Weinberg and Williams 1994), some research has indicated that self-identified bisexuals are high in self-esteem, self-confidence, and independence of social norms (Rubenstein 1982; Twining 1983).
Much more attention has been given to bisexuals, especially males, who are heterosexually married than to those whose primary relationships are homosexual. These marriages are most successful when the partners communicate openly, the spouse is aware and accepting of the bisexual partner's sexuality, and both partners are committed to the relationship. Especially as the bisexual community brings self-identified bisexual people together, more bisexuals are choosing to partner with other bisexuals. These relationships may be monogamous, open, polyamorous, or - much more rarely - triadic.
Bisexuals bringing issues related to their sexual identities into therapy may seek help in interpreting their attractions to both genders; other issues are isolation and alienation, fears about coming out or about nonvoluntary disclosure of their sexuality, and relationship concerns.
What bisexual community spokespeople call bisexual invisibility hinders many individuals from easily resolving their concerns about adopting a non-normative sexual identity. Many do not know about the existence of a community of peers. While some individuals move towards a bisexual identity after considering themselves heterosexual, others have previously been gay- or lesbian-identified. As such, diversity in the bisexual community is broad, and will undoubtedly become broader as more people gain access to its institutions.