Gays Lesbians And Bisexuals Roles Of Otherness

Gays?, Lesbians?, And Bisexuals? Roles Of ?Otherness? In Dominant Culture Essay, Research Paper

Gays?, Lesbians?, and Bisexuals? Roles of ?Otherness? in Dominant Culture

Despite no visible differences such as those of ethnicity and race, homosexuals and bisexuals are still commonly defined as ?other? in our society. Based soley on their sexual orientation, gays, lesbians, and bisexuals are continually targetted by intolerance, ignorance, and segregation because of their role as an ?other? in the dominant culture. This ?otherness? is a departure in characteristics and behavior from the range expressed as the local, safe norm. It causes intense concern and an attempt at comprehension. From this, the mind either quickly moves to apprehension, misunderstanding, and fear, or to repulsion and hatred. Although the dominant group?s mindset still exists today, the situation is gradually improving through pro-gay legislation and continually more liberal views pertaining to sexuality.

A bisexual friend of mine gave me her opinion when she heard the topic of my ?otherness? paper. ?I don?t feel my ?otherness? on a daily basis because of the ease of ?passing? in a heterosexual world. Actually, my sexual preference is never an issue until someone makes an ignorant remark or assumption about it,? she told me. The way gays, lesbians, and bisexuals view themselves as a group contradicts the mainstream opinion of the dominant culture. Their sexuality is normal and natural to them, and poses no issue until someone reminds them of their ?otherness?. Many people in the dominant culture emphasize that being gay is a choice. Sexual orientation, whether it be heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual does not appear to be something that one chooses. Recent studies suggest that sexual orientation has a genetic or biological component, and is probably determined before or shortly after birth. Like heterosexuals, gays and lesbians discover their sexuality as a process of maturing; they are not recruited, seduced or taught to be homosexual. The only choice gay or lesbian people have is whether or not to live their lives honestly, or according to societies unrealistic expectations (Bell, Weinberg, M.S., & Hammersmith), (Troiden).

Upon coming out to her old friends and people upon first encounters, my friend faces an internal struggle. Fear of rejection and loss are always a concern. However, coming out to her parents and family was even more difficult, ?I was afraid they would define me by my gayness, not by my personality or self worth. Not knowing their reaction, I put myself at risk for losing my family?s love and much of what I consider to be important in my life.? Because of false stereotypes and unwarranted prejudice towards them, the process of "coming out" for lesbians and gay men can be a very challenging process which may cause a great deal of emotional pain. Lesbian and gay people often feel different and alone when they first become aware of same-sex attractions. They may also fear rejection from family, friends, co-workers and religious institutions if they do "come out"(American Psychological Association).Another struggle for homosexuals and bisexuals includes confronting their religious backgrounds and beliefs. In the Judeo-Christian society in which we live, homosexuality is heavily frowned upon by religion. In the past, religious leaders supported the dominant culture?s ignorance about homosexuality by calling it a ’sin’. Strong believers in the biblical translation concur that man to man or woman to woman intimate relationships are grave sins. Religious people who are gays, lesbians, and bisexuals are often ostracized by the church community and are looked upon as sinners, child molesters, and promiscuous individuals. In fact, promiscuity has nothing to do with one’s sexual orientation, but rather one’s values and beliefs. Just as in the heterosexual community, some gay people are promiscuous, some are not. In a 1992 study, 55.5% of gay men and 71.2% of lesbians reported to be in steady relationships (Overlooked Opinions, 1993).

The dominant group in American society (white, heterosexual, Protestant) continues to view homosexuality as a major social stigma. Gay culture and lifestyle is often on the receiving end of many socially acceptable, yet hatefully motivated actions and jokes. Until recently, AIDS was considered a ?gay disease? or a punishment from God by many misinformed people. The link in people’s minds between homosexuality and AIDS is so firmly established that discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS is inseparable from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (Vassal, Fisher, Jurgens, Hughes). Tolerance within the dominant culture?s view of ?otherness? also seemingly varies. My friend commented, ?I?ve noticed that intimate female to female contact (such as holding hands or kissing) is easier for the public to digest, whereas male to male contact is definitely unacceptable to the majority.? This societal viewpoint is selective and hypocritical. My friend also mentioned, ?People of the same sex are afraid to befriend GLBs because they think every hug or smile is a sexual advance.? Contrary to popular belief, gay men and lesbians are no more inclined to be consumed with sexual thoughts or feelings than their heterosexual counterparts (Bell, Weinberg, 1978), nor are they attracted to everyone of the same sex they meet.

In their movement from otherness, gays, lesbians, and bisexuals have faced monumental obstacles. For gay, lesbian and bisexual activists, the word "Stonewall" signifies quite possibly the most important, single landmark in the worldwide struggle for gay rights. In 1969, at New York’s Stonewall Bar, homosexual patrons fought back when Stonewall was raided one night by New York City policemen, who came hoping to arrest gay patrons for engaging in then illegal homosexual acts. Since that night, Stonewall has been revered as an enduring symbol of the fight for gay rights, issues, and conflicts(Leadership U). Gays in the military have also been a relevant and more recent struggle. Favorable legislation has led to the ?don?t ask, don?t tell? governmental policy. This attitude does not allow homosexuals and bisexuals to be openly gay, but does give them the basic rights that straight people have without constant fear of being discovered. More pro-gay legislation has been passed regarding basic rights and especially same sex marriage. While the struggle for this type of legislation has been an upward battle, the most recent developments have been steps in the direction of tolerance and acceptance. More liberal views coupled with awareness have begun to soften the harshness of the discrimination and the social stigma against gays, lesbians, and bisexuals.

The ?otherness? of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals as viewed by dominant culture is based mostly on misunderstandings and misconceptions. As a group, GLBs experience pressure to pass as ?normal? and assimilate to the dominant culture. Through their struggle defined as ?otherness?, gays, lesbians, and bisexuals have made progress towards a greater understanding with heterosexuals that will lead to increasingly better relations between the two groups.


Gay and Lesbian Issues and HIV/AIDS: A Discussion Paper

by Anne Vassal, John Fisher, Ralf Jürgens, Robert Hughes

© Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network & Canadian AIDS Society, Montreal, July 1997

American Psychological Association

Leadership U

Bell, Weinberg, 1978 M.S., & Hammersmith), (Troiden,1989).

(Overlooked Opinions, 1993)

© 1997, Paul Halsall,


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