What Do You Know About Gay/Lesbian Lifestyles

For many people much of what they think they know about gay/lesbian lifestyles is based on myths and not reality.  Sorting out the myths and realities can lead to greater self-awareness which motivates us to learn more and become more accepting of those whose sexual orientation may be different from our own.    

Read each statement below and indiate next to each "SA" if you strongly agree with the statement, "A" if you agree with it, "N" if you are neutral, "D" if you disagree with it, and "SD" if you strongly disagree.

SA = Strongly Agree         A = Agree         N = Neutral         D = Disagree       SD = Strongly Disagree

  1. Gay/lesbian people can usually be identified by certain mannerisms or physical  characteristics.
  2. In a lesbian/gay relationship one partner usually plays the "husband"/"butch" role and the other plays the "wife"/"femme" role.
  3. We do not know what causes homosexuality.
  4. Most gay/lesbian people could be cured by having really good sex with a member of the other sex.
  5. The majority of child molesters are gay/lesbian.
  6. Most lesbians/gays regard themselves as members of the other sex.
  7. Homosexuality is not "natural", that is, it does not exist in nature; therefore, this proves it is dysfunctional.
  8. Lesbian/gay people should not be teachers because they will try to convert their students to their lifestyles.
  9. Gay/lesbian people have made a conscious decision to be gay/lesbian.
  10. There are very few "bisexuals"; most people are either completely  homosexual or heterosexual.
  11. There are some significant differences between the lifestyles of lesbians   and gay men.
  12. Homosexuality is a type of mental illness and can be cured by  appropriate psychotherapy.
  13. One homosexual experience as an adolescent will play a large part in determining whether a person will be homosexually-oriented as an adult.

Adapted from Obear, K. (1989, March).  Opening doors to understanding and acceptance:  Facilitating workshops on lesbian, gay and bisexual issues.  Materials presented at the ACPA meeting in Washington, DC.

What Do You Know About Gay/Lesbian Lifestyles? Supportive Data for Responses to Individual Items:

1.      Gay/lesbian people can usually be identified by certain mannerisms or physical characteristics.

Gays and lesbians come in as many different shapes, colors, and sizes as do heterosexuals.  Only a very small percentage can be identified by stereotypic mannerisms and characteristics.  In fact, many heterosexuals portray a variety of the so called gay stereotypic characteristics.  Some members of different subcultures may tend to mimic or imitate specific behaviors in an effort to "fit in."  (Note:  Discuss how members of "popular" subcultures tend to "look alike" and "act alike", such as:  members of fraternities and sororities; administrators; athletes; punkers and new wavers; etc.)

2.      In a lesbian/gay relationship one partner usually plays the "husband"/"butch" role and the other plays the "wife"/"femme" role.

This is an old pattern that was evident in some gay/lesbian relationships when they had only the traditional heterosexual relationship as a model.  Today, most lesbians/gays work to develop relationships based on the principles of equality and mutuality where they are loved and appreciated for "who they are", not for the roles they are supposed to play.  There is no right or wrong way that prescribes how to divide roles between partners.  Often lesbians/gays perform preferred tasks and share those that are less desirable (i.e., laundry, cleaning, paying bills, etc.)

3.      We do not know what causes homosexuality.

This is by far one of the more controversial issues for gays.  It is not yet known what specifically causes either homosexuality or heterosexuality.  Some believe it is predetermined genetically or hormonally.  Others maintain that all humans are predisposed to all variations of sexual/affectional behavior and "learn" a preference or orientation.  Clearly, further research is needed in this area.

Caution:  Some people may ask the question of causation in an attempt to "find a cure."  It may be more helpful to de-emphasize the importance of exploring the causation issue by citing how homosexuality has existed in cultures around the world for centuries.  It has been a constant part of societies throughout history.        The question, therefore, may not be what "causes" it, but how can we come to better understand and accept all of the complexities of sexuality.

4.      Most gay/lesbian people could be cured by having really good sex with a member of the opposite sex.

There are no "cures."  Many gays have had satisfying heterosexual experiences in their lifetime.  Gays who out of desperation or fear, choose to enter a heterosexual relationship "to get cured" may cause undue misery and pain to themselves and their partners.  Most gays would never choose to be sexually active with members of the other sex and would resent and challenge the inference that heterosexuals have a corner on the market of "good sex."

5.      The majority of child molesters are gay.

Over 90 percent of child molestation is committed by heterosexual men against young girls.  The overwhelming majority of gays have no interest in pre-adolescent children.

6.      Most lesbians/gays regard themselves as members of the opposite sex.

Most, if not all gays, are comfortable with their femaleness or maleness.  Being gay must not be confused with being transsexual, where one feels trapped in the body of the wrong sex, and therefore may seek surgery to "rectify" the matter.

7.      Homosexuality is not "natural", that is, it does not exist in nature, therefore, this proves it is dysfunctional.

From a scientific point of view, it is "natural."  Any animal, including humans, is       capable of responding to homosexual stimuli.  Research suggests that homosexuality is almost universal among all animals and is especially frequent among highly developed species.  There has been evidence of homosexuality in all human cultures throughout history.  In fact, one anthropological study of non-Western cultures found that 64 percent of their sample considered homosexuality "normal and socially acceptable" for certain members of the society.

8.      Lesbian/Gay people should not be teachers because they will try to convert their students to the gay lifestyle.

Homosexual "conversion"/seduction is no more common than is heterosexual seduction.  Most gay teachers live with the fear that they will be fired immediately if they are "found out."  Most, if not all, gays have no desire to "convert" students.  Unfortunately, their efforts to provide support for younger gays may be misconstrued and misrepresented.  If, in fact, the data are correct that suggest that sexual orientation is established by age 3 - 6, then contact with teachers would have no effect on students.

9.      Gay/Lesbian people have made a conscious decision to be gay.

(Refer to question #3 for the issue of causation.).  While researchers continue to disagree on the specific "causes" of homosexuality, they mostly agree that there is some sort of predisposition or genetic relationship involved.  The "decision" may not be whether one is going to be gay or not, but rather whether one is going to acknowledge the existence of personal homosexual feelings and behaviors.  "Coming out" is a very complex and difficult process.  It may take a long time for many gays to "choose" to accept their sexual orientation as valid and normal.  Those who struggle with their gay identity may suffer enormous anxiety, pain, and anger as they work to rectify the inherent incongruence between societal messages and their own feelings and preferences.

10.      There are very few "bisexuals"; most people are either completely homosexual or heterosexual.

Data suggest that few people are either predominantly heterosexual or homosexual.  Most people fall somewhere on the continuum between these two ends of the scale, and thus have the capacity to experience both affectional and sexual feelings for members of both sexes.

11.      There are some significant differences between the lifestyles of gay men and lesbians.

Ideally, there should be no inherent or "prescribed" differences in intimate relationships of any kind; however, current societal pressures on all men and women often result in distinct differences.  All men, not just gay or straight, are typically "expected" to be "macho" and allowed to engage in more short-term relationships than women.  Consequently, it may be more difficult for gay men to develop and maintain long-term and stable monogamous relationships.  In addition, many women are socialized to believe that long-term monogamy is "right."  Those who maintain that "people are people regardless of gender" may in fact feel more free to choose from among a variety of lifestyles.  Until this happens all gay men and lesbians suffer from the predominance of heterosexual sex roles in a society where few gays have chosen to provide alternative role models for the "public eye."

12.      Homosexuality is a type of mental illness and can be cured by appropriate psychotherapy.

In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders.  In 1975, the American Psychological Association went further to state that, "Homosexuality, per se, implies no impairment in judgment, stability, reliability, or general social or vocational capacities."  Most, if not all, psychiatrists have had little real success in their attempts to "cure" gays though psychotherapy.

13.      One homosexual experience as an adolescent will play a large part in determining whether a person will be homosexually-oriented as an adult.

Many young boys and girls (far more than 10 percent of our population) have homosexual experiences in their childhood as part of the natural exploration of one’s sexuality.  If this statement were true, then the percentage of gays in the population would be far greater than 10 percent.

Adapted from Obear, K. (1989, March).  Opening doors to understanding and acceptance:  Facilitating workshops on lesbian, gay and bisexual issues.  Materials presented at the ACPA meeting in Washington, DC.