The social phenomenon that is of paramount interest to me is the sociological process that young homosexual men and women go through known as “Coming Out.” This is of interest to me, because of my personal experiences coming out, and of a personal desire to understand the struggles of homosexuals, especially young homosexuals on both a theoretical and individual basis.
To provide a proper examination of the process coming out of the closet homosexuality must be examined throughout the history of America and Europe. Homosexuality has been noted since the Greeks. (Plato ) During much of the history of Europe after the Greek’s dominance, homosexuality was considered a deviant behavior, and records of it are sporadic and unreliable. What is important is that during the dominance of the Catholic Church up until the 1880’s the roots of homophobia were predicated on biblical interpretation. During this time the science embraced the ideology of progress and perfectibility. A discipline known as alienism, which applied a medical model to human behavior, interpreted homosexuality in terms of a sickness versus a theological root as sin or evil. These alienismists suffered from the Darwinian ideas that promoted “natural” as a part of “natural selection.” They also considered if environmental conditions. These American scientists looked at and rejected the work of Magnus Hirschfeld and the Scientific Humanitarian Committee that called for the “normalization” and ‘emancipation’ of homosexuals, instead they participated in the stigmatization and marginilzation of the American Homosexual. American scientists tended to discuss the isolation of homosexuals via castration, sterilization, and confinement. The isolation and marginlization of homosexuals was symptomatic of the desire to increase social control, and reduce social evils through interventionist methods. The official medical marginilzation of homosexuals continued until 1973 when the American Psychological Association removed homosexuality as a pathology. (Hatheway 1999) Several fringe medical professionals continue normalization efforts of homosexuals.
Much of the theoretical explanations of could be crudely extrapolated from the several analyses of gender and heterosexuality, the first notable study concerning the psychological and sociological adjustments needed by gay men to accept, commit, and settle into the self-image as a homosexual man had several positive psychological benefits. (Hammersmith, and Weinberg 1973) A later study concerned themselves with the effects of stereotypes on both homo- and heterosexual men. They concluded that all men generally hold the same networks of stereotypes and the same perceptions of gay and straight men. It also concluded that a homosexual identity as expected by social identity theory, was highly identifying but unsatisfying. (Simon, Gl ssner-Bayerl, Stratenwerth 1991) Later research confirmed that a gay-identity provided a strong basis for sexual freedom, but was still somewhat unsatisfying. Three fundamental steps of realizing a gay identity were identified an engaging in the mass heterosexual society; discovery of difference via sexuality; and a complete realization based on relationships that erotize similarity. (Connell 1992) Other researchers have also identified that establishing a gay-identity is a part of a much larger realization that all young men progress through. (Schiltz 1998)
+ Connell, R. W., 1992. “A Very Straight Gay: Masculinity, Homosexual Experience, and the Dynamics of Gender.” American Sociological Review 57:735-751.
+ Hammersmith, Sue Kiefer., Martin S. Weinbert. 1973. “Homosexual Identity: Commitment, Adjustment, and Significant Others.” Sociometry 1:56-79.
+ Simon, Bernd., Brigitta Gl Gl ssner-Bayerl, and Ina Stratenwerth. 1991. “Stereotyping and Self-Stereotyping in a Natural Intergroup Context: The Case of Hetrosexual and Homosexual Men.” Social Psychology Quarterly 54:252-226.