The description of homosexuality as an orientation also suggests, as some contemporary theorists have argued, that the boundaries between "homosexual" and "heterosexual" are not necessarily rigid. Some studies have indicated that most individuals have some erotic interest in both sexes, whether overt or not. The open expression of interest in both sexes is known as bisexuality. Transsexuals are distinguished from homosexuals by the feeling that they are really members of the opposite sex. Male and female homosexuals are now commonly known as gays and lesbians, respectively.
Psychiatric theories of homosexuality have included the following: that homosexuality is a regression to the earliest (oral) stage of development; that most families of homosexuals are characterized by an overprotective mother and an absent father; or that homosexuals fear engulfment by a dominant mother in the pre-Oedipal phase. Some authorities have suggested that homosexuality may be an expression of nonsexual problems, such as fear of adult responsibility, or may be triggered by various experiences, such as having sexual relationships with members of one's own sex at an early age that prove to be very satisfying. Arguments regarding the roots of lesbianism include disappointing heterosexual love experience, a father who displays distaste for men who express interest in his daughter, and memories of abusive relationships with men.
Many of these theories have been discredited in recent years, particularly by those who cite biological causation. Some researchers have contended that a disruption in the hormonal processes of the mother while she is pregnant may be one explanation. Simon Levay, a neurobiologist at the Salk Institute, has suggested that homosexuality may be related to brain functioning, as part of the hypothalamus in homosexual men is about a quarter to half the size it is in heterosexual men. Subsequent studies have shown that homosexual men react to certain substances believed to be human pheromones differently from heterosexual men. Several studies have pointed to a genetic predisposition governed by one or more genes on the X chromosome.
Other recent studies, while not directly supporting biological explanations for homosexuality, suggest that it may be a predisposition that can be detected at an early age among children who do not appear to have traditional gender identification. Whether it can be easily detected or not, most theorists agree that homosexual orientation tends to arise at an early age. Substantially fewer studies of homosexuality have been performed among lesbians, perhaps because of the greater stigma which is often attached to male homosexuality in many Western cultures.
The American Psychiatric Association no longer considers homosexuality a disorder, unless sexual orientation becomes an object of distress for the individual. In such cases, the individual—referred to by psychologists as ego-dystonic—may choose to seek psychiatric treatment. Also, beginning in the late 20th cent., biologists more openly examined and discussed the occurrence of homosexual behaviors among animals, which has been documented in several hundred species. Such behaviors, which may include courtship, sexual contact, bond formation, and the rearing of young, are found both in wild and captive animals. Many gay-rights activists have criticized the various theories which try to "explain" homosexuality, particularly those that treat it as an illness in need of treatment.
In the United States today, the law's approach to homosexual acts has varied from state to state: In most states, unharmful private sexual acts of any kind between consenting adults were by the late 20th cent. considered to be outside the province of legal authority. The Supreme Court upheld state laws prohibiting homosexual conduct in 1986, and gay activists subsequently focused their efforts on overturning antisodomy laws in those states that retained them; in most, the laws applied also to heterosexuals but were seen as likely to be used chiefly against homosexuals. By 2003, when the Supreme Court reversed its 1986 decision and voided all antisodomy laws, 13 states still had such laws. In recent years, gays and lesbians have struggled to gain rights accorded other Americans as well as public acceptance, but the Judaeo-Christian tradition's condemnation of homosexuality as immoral has made such goals as acceptance of same-sex marriage and adoption by gays elusive. The Clinton administration's much discussed "don't ask, don't tell" policy, announced as a way to allow gays in the military to serve without fear of discharge or other penalty as long as they did not reveal their sexual orientation, appears to have done little to change the precarious status of gay soldiers.
The outbreak in the early 1980s of AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), which initially came to public notice as occurring among male homosexuals in the United States, galvanized the American gay community and brought support also from the wider community for recognition of the menace posed by AIDS, for increased funding for AIDS research, for wider access to information regarding safe sexual practices, and even, to some degree, for legal recognition of same-sex couples. But AIDS, even as it appeared in the nonhomosexual population (e.g., hemophiliacs), also sparked moralistic reactions; some felt, for example, that it represented a form of judgment on homosexuality.
See also gay-rights movement.
See K. J. Dover, Greek Homosexuality (1978); L. Nungesser, Homosexual Acts, Actors and Identities (1983); B. Cant and S. Hemmings, Radical Records: Personal Perspectives on Lesbian and Gay History (1988); D. Greenberg, The Construction of Homosexuality (1988); R. Troiden, Gay and Lesbian Identity (1988); D. Halperin, 100 Years of Homosexuality (1989); J. Boswell, Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe (1994); D. Hamer and P. Copeland, The Science of Desire (1994); A. Sullivan, Virtually Normal (1995); J. Loughery, The Other Side of Silence (1998); B. Bagemihl, Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity (1999); L. Crompton, Homosexuality and Civilization (2003); G. Robb, Strangers: Homosexual Love in the Nineteenth Century (2004).
Sexual interest in and attraction to members of one's own sex. Female homosexuality is frequently referred to as lesbianism; the word gay is often used as an alternative for both “homosexual” and “lesbian,” though it may refer specifically to male homosexuality. At different times and in different cultures, homosexual behaviour has variously been encouraged, approved of, tolerated, punished, and banned. Homosexuality was not uncommon in ancient Greece and Rome, particularly between adult and adolescent males. Jewish, Christian, and Muslim cultures have generally viewed it as sinful, although many religious leaders have said it is the act, and not the inclination, that their faiths proscribe. Attitudes toward homosexuality are generally in flux, partly because of increased political activism (see gay rights movement). Until the early 1970s many medical organizations, such as the American Psychiatric Association, classified homosexuality as a mental illness, but that designation was widely dropped in subsequent years. Longstanding beliefs about homosexuals (including the stereotype that gay men are weak and effeminate and lesbians aggressive and masculine) have also largely faded; some countries, cultures, and religious groups, however, continue to view homosexuality as deviant. Homosexual orientation, like sexuality in general, apparently results from a combination of hereditary factors and social or environmental influences, and it tends to coexist with heterosexual feelings in varying degrees in different individuals.
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Homosexuality: Opposing Viewpoints is a book, in the Opposing Viewpoints series, presenting selections of contrasting points of view on four central questions about homosexuality: what causes it; whether homosexuals face serious discrimination; whether society should encourage increased acceptance of it; and whether society should sanction Gay and Lesbian families. It was edited by Mary E. Williams.
|Why Consider Opposing Viewpoints?|
|Chapter 1: What Causes Homosexuality?||1. Homosexuality Is Biologically Determined||Steve Kangas||Reprint of "Gay Politics, Gay Science," web article dated November 7, 1997.|
|2. A Biological Basis for Homosexuality Has Not Been Proven||Steve Calverley and Rob Goetze||Reprint of " Are People 'Born Gay'? A Look at the Most Cited Biological Research Studies," web article from New Direction for Life Ministries, September 22, 1998.|
|3. The Causes of Homosexuality Are Probably Genetic||Richard Pillard||Excerpt from " The Genetic Theory of Sexual Orientation," The Harvard Gay and Lesbian Review, Winter 1997.|
|4. The Causes of Homosexuality Are Probably Environmental||Part I: Illinois Family Institute, Part II: Cal Thomas||Part I: Excerpt from " Summary Statement on Homosexuality," 1997. Part II: Reprint of "Gay Conversion: A Reality Psychologists Ignore," Christian American, January/February 1998.|
|5. A Variety of Factors May Cause Homosexuality||Charles Lopresto||Reprint of " Lopresto's guest column" on The Gay Gene website edited by Chandler Burr.|
|6. The Causes of Homosexuality Are Irrelevant||Erin Blades||Reprint of " The Gay Gene: What Does It Matter?," The Peak, February 1996.|
|7. The Causes of Homosexuality Are Not Irrelevant||Simon LeVay||Reprint of "The Queer Gene Unleashed," The Mail and Guardian, December 17, 1996.|
|Chapter 2: Do Homosexuals Face Serious Discrimination?||1. Homosexuals Are an Oppressed Minority||Brian R. Allen||Excerpt from "Do Homosexuals Constitute a Legitimate Minority?," web article, 1996.|
|2. Homosexuals Are Not an Oppressed Minority||Elizabeth Wright||Excerpt from " In the Name of 'Civil Rights'," Issues and Views, Spring 1996.|
|3. Homosexuals Need Antidiscrimination Laws||American Civil Liberties Union||Reprint of the ACLU's testimony on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — H.R. 1863 before the Subcommittee on Government Programs, Committee on Small Business, U.S. House of Representatives, July 17, 1996.|
|4. Homosexuals Do Not Need Antidiscrimination Laws||Concerned Women for America||Excerpt from " Big Bad Wolf in Sheep's Clothing: The Employment Non-Discrimination Act," November 1997 policy paper.|
|5. Homophobia Increases the Suicide Risk for Gay Teens||Frances Snowder||Reprint of "Preventing Gay Teen Suicide," in Open Lives, Safe Schools, edited by Donovan R. Walling (Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation, 1996, ISBN 0-87367-485-5).|
|6. The Problem of Gay Teen Suicide Has Been Exaggerated||Philip Jenkins||Excerpt from "One in Ten: A Gay Mythology," Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, October 1996.|
|7. The "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Policy Is a Failure||Andrew Sullivan||Reprint of " Undone by 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'," The New York Times, April 9, 1998.|
|8. The "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Policy Could Be Beneficial||Lars-Erik Nelson||Reprint of "Straights, Gays, False Charges," Liberal Opinion Week, March 25, 1996.|
|Chapter 3: Should Society Encourage Increased Acceptance of Homosexuality?||1. Society Should Encourage Increased Acceptance of Homosexuality||Rayford Kytle||Adapted from Kytle's speech to employees of the U.S. Public Health Service, December 1993.|
|2. Society Should Not Encourage Increased Acceptance of Homosexuality||The Ramsey Colloquium||Excerpt from " Morality and Homosexuality," First Things, March 1994.|
|3. Christians Should Accept Homosexuality||Alice Ogden Bellis||Reprint of "When God Makes a Way," The Other Side, March/April 28, 1995.|
|4. Christians Should Not Accept Homosexuality||D. James Kennedy||Reprint of "Leading Voices Under Attack," Moody, March 1996.|
|5. Schools Should Stress Acceptance of Homosexuality||Shelly Reese||Reprint of "The Law and Gay Bashing in School," High Strides, 20 May 1997.|
|6. Schools Should Not Stress Acceptance of Homosexuality||Ed Vitagliano||Abridged from AFA Journal, June 1997.|
|7. Therapists Should "Help" People Overcome Unwanted Homosexuality||National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality||Reprint of " New Study Confirms Homosexuality Can Be Overcome," NARTH Bulletin, August 1997.|
|8. Therapists Should Not Try to Change Anyone's Sexual Orientation||American Psychological Association||Reprint of " Answers to Your Questions About Sexual Orientation and Homosexuality," July 1998.|
|Chapter 4: Should Society Sanction Gay and Lesbian Families?||1. Society Should Allow Same-Sex Marriage||Ralph Wedgwood||Reprint of "What Are We Fighting For?," The Harvard Gay and Lesbian Review, Fall 1997.|
|2. Society Should Not Allow Same-Sex Marriage||Burman Skrable||Excerpt from " Homosexual Marriage: Much to Fear," Culture Wars, October 1996.|
|3. The Roman Catholic Church Should Sanction Gay Marriage||Andrew Sullivan||Reprint of "What You Do," The New Republic March 18, 1996.|
|4. The Roman Catholic Church Cannot Sanction Gay Marriage||Joseph Charron and William Skylstad||Reprint of " Statement on Same Sex-Unions," Origins, August 1, 1996.|
|5. Homosexual Parenting Is Harmful to Children||Robert H. Knight and Daniel S. Garcia||Reprint of " Homosexual Parenting: Bad for Children, Bad for Society," Family Research Council Insight, May 1994.|
|6. Homosexual Parenting Is Not Harmful to Children||Gary Sanders||Reprint of "Normal Families: Research on Gay and Lesbian Parenting," In The Family, Nov/Dec 1997.|
|For Further Discussion|
|Organizations to Contact|
|Bibliography of Books|