Because Blogger's "Adult warning" often goes into a perpetual loop (isn't working properly), I will be making all new posts at my WordPress blog. You can follow it even if you do not have a WordPress Account. There're also my Twitter and my Tumblr blog, my Facebook and my Google+ page and my group.
(Update: Blogger hasn't fixed its problem with the "adult warning". Will go back to posting at my WordPress blog)

Monday, September 6, 2010

Homophobia and behaviour modification

Years ago I read about a psychology class who decided to test the theory of behaviour modification. Their professor used to lecture peripatetically*, wandering from one side of the lecture room to the other. They wanted to see if they could stop him doing this. So, every time their prof spoke on the left side of the room, they would all hum, look out of the window, scratch, and pretend not to listen. When he was on the right side of the room they listened avidly, in absolute silence, rapt. It took just one lecture to get him to stop going from side to side and to lecture only from the right side of the room. Elated by their success, they decided to try to get him to talk from the left side of the room in the next lecture. But he abruptly cottoned on their plan, and resolutely and ostentatiously began to once again walk from one side of the lecture theatre to the other.

Now what is this telling us?

If you don't know about other people's attempts to try and influence you without your noticing it, you may be subtly persuaded to do what they want. But once you do become aware, subtle persuasion can have the opposite effect: it can make you obstinately do the opposite of what they want. It can make you annoyed, angry, furious.

Why does this matter to us?

Well, let me give you a personal example. My upper back, just below my neck has been aching and hurting for a while now. It gave me headaches and made me feel sick. The muscles either side of my spine were too sore to touch. It was horrible. But all at once I realised that I had been walking around avoiding others' eyes, bending my head forward so I didn't have to look at them. Because I was ashamed. No, not for being gay. For being old. And poor. I recalled both previous occasions when I was laid off from work. I felt that I was no longer a worthwhile human being, that I had failed, that I was a nobody. And I avoided their gaze. I tried to avoid being noticed. I realised that I was doing it again.

If you are a rich old person, you are looked up to. Rupert Murdoch, you may be sure, does not hide his head. He is powerful and rich. He is respected because he is powerful and rich. He respects himself. He feels confident and proud of what he is and what he's done. (Without good reason in my opinion, but that's neither here nor there.) I am neither powerful nor rich. I -- unconsciously -- felt ashamed that I had failed to earn a vast salary, drive a Mercedes-Benz coupé, go on holidays to Paris flying business class. Now you may say this is foolishness, and so it is. But once I realised it I was angry at myself. In a rueful sort of way. I started walking upright again. I have to keep reminding myself, because I had fallen into bad habits, but I started walking upright, strongly, proudly. I may be poor, but being poor is not a moral failing. At least not to normal people. I can't answer for the neo-cons and others of their ilk -- for them poverty is a sign of moral turpitude. As good as reason as any to reject their philosophies with contempt and derision.

This train of thought was prompted by the news item I linked to in Darl. In the article, the writer talks about elderspeak, a patronising and belittling way of talking to older people:

'Elderspeak sends a message that the patient is incompetent, and begins a downward negative spiral for older persons, who react with decreased self-esteem, depression, withdrawal and the assumption of dependent behaviours.'' Researchers found that those who have a positive attitude towards ageing live an average of 7½ years longer than those who don't.
Obvious when you think about it. And it applies to everyone. Talk down to a homeless street person and their self-esteem is damaged even more. Love one another as I have loved you. Love means respect, it means having compassion, it means stepping outside your own skin to imagine what it's like to inhabit someone else's.

We gays and gay-shaded blokes are subject to a constant barrage of implicit and subliminal negative behaviour modification. Straights can get married. They can have children. Magazines, and newspapers and TV and films and songs and opera and ballet are filled with heterosexual love, happy or otherwise. Their love is sacred, uplifting, God-given. Ours is profane. It is constantly implicitly made clear to us that we are inferior, that we do not count. And that's without even mentioning the explicit hate-filled comments and opinions and behaviour of the Christian-Fascists and Islamofascists.

Our reaction is like those of the professor I started this rant with. If we are unaware, we unconsciously accept the negative impact, we develop internalised homophobia, we grow to hate ourselves and our tribe. We all know about closeted religious homophobes -- Ted Haggard, for example. Once we become aware, though, we get angry. I have a straight friend (of sorts) who asks me "why do gays make so much fuss?" Well, it's because we have to constantly struggle against the negative treatment of society. We have to fight back. We have to make a fuss. Or we are lost. Anger is liberating. It makes us walk upright -- and proud.

For decades gays survived in ghettos, just like Jews. In a gay ghetto, our tribe could ignore the hatred and the silent (but no less potent) disdain of society. And we didn't need to get angry. Other gays understood us. We were with our tribe. But even there there was deep self-hatred. I asked in the Darl post why so many gay men advertise for "straight-acting" contacts. I think you can see what my answer is going to be. But I'll leave that for next time.

(BTW, if you click on the pics, you can see where they come from. My way of giving credit where it's due. The lower image comes from a particularly interesting blog)

* another nice Greek word: peripateo means 'I wander around'.

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