Homosexuality is said to be a preference for affiliation and sexual activity with a person of the same sex. The potential for homosexual behavior appears to be a basic part of human sexuality, since many people experience homosexual interest, curiosity, or activity at some point in their lives. Homosexual behavior has also been observed in most animal species. Many homosexuals prefer to be called gay or, in the case of women, lesbian because of the exclusively sexual connotation of homosexual. When individuals engage in both heterosexual and homosexual behaviors, they are said to be bi-sexual.
A wide degree of diversity exists among the types of individuals who identify themselves as homosexuals. The popular stereotype of the homosexual as a sexually promiscuous make who cannot or will not maintain a relationship reflects one type. There are, however, many other gay people, female and male, who have formed long lasting, sometimes lifelong relationships. Additionally, many homosexuals raise children, alone or with partners. (Bullough 35)
Gay persons are in every kind of job and are of every political persuasion. Some are very open about their homosexuality, and some are more private. Some view their orientation as a biological condition and others as a preference. Some lesbians claim
men’s dominance over women as one of the reasons they choose women as partners. (Bullough 43)
Homosexuality has been common in most cultures throughout history. Despite tolerant periods, however, in ancient Greece, for example, homosexuality has been widely condemned. Both Judaism and Christianity view homosexuality as sinful. This condemnation was put into written law, and as a result, homosexual activity was considered to be a crime; the penalty in early courts was death. Homosexual behavior is still illegal in many countries and U.S. states. Homosexuality occurs, however, even in societies that strongly condemn it. (Boswell 5, 120-124)
With the advent of modern psychiatry, homosexuality came to be seen more as an illness than a sin. Opinions as to the origin and nature of homosexuality were once based solely on the study of maladjusted psychiatric patients. Theories formed from such research suggest that disorders in family relationships, particularly between mother and son, are responsible for homosexual behavior. These theories are not convincing, not only because they are based on the assumption that homosexuals are psychologically abnormal, but also because many heterosexuals also come from families in which there are relationship disorders. (Thompson 12, 228) In 1973 homosexuality was removed from the American Psychiatric Association’s official list of mental disorders. Although none of the mental health professions now officially considers homosexuality an illness, there are still prominent theorists who insist that it is. (Ruse 48)
More recent theories to account for homosexuality have included those based on biological and sociological factors. Chromosomal studies attempting to isolate genetic
prison inmate might participate in homosexual activities while in prison but return to heterosexuality upon release. Such approaches suggest the sometimes-transient nature of homosexuality and point up the difficulty in identifying homosexuality as an exclusive, clear-cut phenomenon. While such theories can offer explanation about why homosexuality offers in some situations, to date there are no conclusive general theories that can explain the cause of homosexuality. (Ruse 67) Because homosexuality is so controversial and the heavy social pressure against it, many individuals are reluctant to reveal that they are gay. Estimates of the incidence of homosexuality have not only been misleading but inaccurate. (Duberman 20)
Attitudes toward homosexuality have begun to change in recent decades. Gays attribute this, in part, to their own increasing assertiveness about their rights and about pride in their orientation. Gay activism, which began in the late 1960s as a civil rights movement, has helped to change people’s thinking. While some attitudes change, however, prejudice against homosexuals still exists. The AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, to which many male homosexuals fell victim, may have affected antigay prejudice. (Thompson 13-14) As more gays have identified themselves publicly, they have also formed more public organizations. There are gay newspapers and journals, gay political groups, and gay legal action committees. These groups support candidates for public office, fight battles in cases such as child custody, and work in other areas to eliminate discrimination.
Duberman, M. Hidden From History. New York, NY: NAL Books, 1989.
Ruse, M. Homosexuality. New York, NY: Blackwell, 1988.
Thompson, M. Gay Spirit: Myth and Meaning. New York: St. Martins Press, 1987.