The Social Meaning of Sexual Preference
In their summary, Bell, Weinberg, and Hammersmith comment that one of the major contributions of their study is "the lack of support it gives to many of the traditional notions about the causes and development of homosexuality." Indeed, they found nothing to be very important in accounting for homosexuality except gender nonconformity and homosexual ideation and experience, all of which are at least partially connected by definition and are therefore tautological. In the end, the authors suggest that perhaps biological factors are involved, but their study was not designed to provide any direct evidence concerning how such factors might operate. They presume that if sexual preference is a biological phenomenon, no one can be blamed. These conclusions tend to fit well with the liberal stance I outlined at the beginning of this section.
Reviews of this research in the popular press have emphasized the probable biological basis of sexual preference and have emphasized the degree to which parental factors were found not to be critical. In a sense this emphasis is all to the good. Of course, par-
ents do not cause homosexuality; to say they do simply reflects the nuclear family ideology (which psychoanalytic thinking has supported), which makes the family, and no one else, including the child, responsible for how children "turn out." Because the nuclear family has until very recently been central to a majority of children's upbringing, however, it stands to reason that parents would in fact be important mediators of societal expectations. Parents themselves are representatives of basic family roles in this society: mothers, fathers, wives, and husbands. It would be highly unlikely that parents and parental relations would have no connection whatsoever to their children's orientations given the salience of the nuclear family as "ideal" in this society and given the child's almost total material and emotional dependence on parents.
What neither Bell, Weinberg, and Hammersmith nor the popular press were able to deal with, and did not even attempt to deal with, were the findings concerning fathers. The authors argue that their findings disconfirm those psychoanalytic explanations of homosexuality that trace it back to unresolved oedipal feelings. But this is only half true. They note that "the connection between boys' relationships with their mothers and whether they become homosexual or heterosexual is hardly worth mentioning" and that they found "no evidence that prehomosexual girls are 'Oedipal victors'—having apparently usurped their mothers' place in their fathers' affections" (p. 184). This much may indeed be true, but they do not deal with the evidence that prehomosexual boys and girls have negative relationships with their fathers.
It is impossible from this kind of data to speculate in any detail about the causes of sexual preference, either biological or psychological, but the findings concerning both male and female homosexuals are compatible with Freud's version of the Oedipus complex, which makes the father the central character for both girls and boys. In effect, "feminine," that is, heterosexual and passive-submissive, girls (Freud's normal outcome) never really give up their fathers, and masculine, that is heterosexual and active-dominant, boys (Freud's normal outcome) internalize the father's rules. I will discuss the significance of Freud's ideas for the transmission of "patriarchy" in the next chapter. The differing perceptions of the father held by homosexuals and by heterosexuals certainly suggest that the system of male dominance is somehow involved.
Heterosexuals, both male and female, are accepting male dominance or are at least coming to terms with it, whereas homosexuals are refusing to play the male game, which in this society has come to mean male-dominated heterosexuality. The reasons or more proximate causes for this refusal may be varied and have by no means been sorted out. But many lesbian feminists and some gay male feminists have increasingly come to see being homosexual as a statement of resistance to the male dominance attaching to heterosexual institutions, including male-dominated heterosexual intercourse. The negativity toward fathers found among gay males may represent a rejection of the male peer groups insistence on both heterosexuality and doing male-typed things. Joseph Harry suggests that gay males' tendency to have been loners in childhood and adolescence was a defense against the pressures they knew they would get from their male peers to do male things and be heterosexual.
In 1963 I reported data that supported the hypothesis that "feminine" women are male-"identified," in terms of "felt identification," "assumed identification," or "solidarity" with the father. In other words, girls who understood, sympathized with, and were close to their fathers were likely to be "feminine" and, not surprisingly, well adjusted in our culture. They were not well adjusted because they were like their father, but they were well adjusted because they liked and understood their father. The reverse with men and their mothers did not hold. "Courtship progress" is a case in point. The sociologist Robert Winch showed long ago that whereas males who were attached to their mothers made slow progress in courtship, females who were most attached to their fathers were most advanced in courtship, and by that measure presumably well adjusted.
Nowadays, feminists sometimes refer to a lesbian as a "woman-identified woman," meaning a woman who likes and respects women. Would a gay male ever be referred to as a "man-identified man"? I think not. As far as I know, the phrase is never used and seems meaningless. Certainly, heterosexual males are not likely to call male homosexuals "male-identified." The unspoken understandings involved in this asymmetrical usage reveal that heterosexual women and heterosexual men are both seen as being identified with men in the sense of liking and respecting men. In a male-
dominant culture, the assumption is made that a real woman (as opposed to a lesbian) needs a man, while a real man may use a woman for sex but is essentially self-sufficient with his male peers. Real women "identify" with men, and real men "identify" with men. The data I have presented is consonant with this picture—a disturbing testimony to how gender difference has become defined in terms of male dominance.