Society

Are Homophobes Really Just Repressed Homosexuals?

Some provocative studies are cited as the debate heats up in France over a law to legalize gay marriage.

Why all the hate?
Why all the hate?
Laurent Bègue*

Massive demonstrations are set for Sunday across France by opponents of a new government proposal to legalize gay marriage. The protesters say they have nothing against homosexuals, while gay rights activists denounce the homophobic tendencies of opponents of same-sex marriage. Social psychologist Laurent Bègue, author of “Right and Wrong Psychology,” is convinced that the line between homophobia and homosexuality is thin.

PARIS - In Sam Mendes’ film “American Beauty,” a former US marine and convinced conservative expresses his disgust with homosexuality (and humiliation) by ultimately shooting his neighbor – Lester Burnham, played by Kevin Spacey -- who had refused his sexual advances. This strange and tragic paradox may not remain pure cinematographic fantasy since, statistically, where you find communities that can be usually affiliated with homophobia (not necessarily homophobes), the violence of the words don't always correspond with the needs of the flesh.

Pope Benedict XVI was forced to remove German Bishop Walter Mixa, a man who had repeatedly pronounced violent homophobic discourses, even as he was himself homosexual according to the weekly “Der Spiegel.” There are other similar examples, such as American televangelist Ted Haggard.

How to test the theory?

To be taken seriously, the possible link between homophobia and homosexuality needs more substance than some anecdotes and an Oscar-winning movie. To put to the test the latent Freudian theory that repressed homosexual urges lead to homophobia, some mischievous American researchers from the University of Georgia carried out an unusual experiment.

They invented the instrument they dubbed the “plethysmograph,” which is actually a plastic band composed of mercury, meant to measure penis size during erections, that they believed could bring a touch of quantatative modernity to this old idea.

This rather unusual experiment proved that whenever a homosexual scene was shown to a professed homophobic male audience (determined a few days beforehand thanks to a questionnaire), these people had a higher tendency to have an erection than the others.

The numbers revealed that 80% of the homophobes had an increase in penis size compared to 34% of the non-homophobic population. The whole group’s reaction to heterosexual films was exactly the same, though. When the participants were asked if, according to them, they felt turned on by the scenes, the homophobes were the only ones to underestimate their effect on them.

This experiment on repressed homosexual tendencies needs to be renewed to end the controversy it already provoked, but it gives us nonetheless something to think about given how “hot” the topic is right now.

*The writer is a professor in social psychology and author of “Right and Wrong Psychology”

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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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