You are on page 1of 12

The Homosexual Role

Mary McIntosh

Social Problems, Vol. 16, No. 2. (Autumn, 1968), pp. 182-192.

Stable URL:

Social Problems is currently published by University of California Press.

Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained
prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in
the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use.

Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at

Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed
page of such transmission.

The JSTOR Archive is a trusted digital repository providing for long-term preservation and access to leading academic
journals and scholarly literature from around the world. The Archive is supported by libraries, scholarly societies, publishers,
and foundations. It is an initiative of JSTOR, a not-for-profit organization with a mission to help the scholarly community take
advantage of advances in technology. For more information regarding JSTOR, please contact
Sat Dec 8 21:28:53 2007
conclusions and, since the design- nations, it seems to me not unwarranted
while by no means airtight-rules out to attribute the differences shown to
some of the obvious alternative expla- the activities of the Association.


University o f Leicester, England

The current conceptualization of homosexuality as a condition is a false one, re-

sulting from ethnocentric bias. Homosexuality should be seen rather as a social role.
Anthropological evidence shows that the role does not exist in all societies, and
where it does it is not always the same as in modern western societies. Historical
evidence shows that the role did not emerge in England until towards the end of
the seventeenth century. Evidence from the "Kinsey Reports" shows that, in spite of
the existence of the role in our society, much homosexual behavior occurs outside
the recognized role and the polarization between the heterosexual man and the
homosexual man is far from complete.

Recent advances in the sociology of might question whether a certain pain

deviant behavior have not yet affected indicated cancer. And in much the same
the study of homosexuality, which is way they will often turn to scientists or
still commonly seen as a condition to medical men for a surer diagnosis.
characterizing certain persons in the The scientists, for their part, feel it
way that birthplace or deformity might incumbent on them to seek criteria for
characterize them. The limitations of diagnosis.
this view can best be understood if we Thus one psychiatrist, discussing the
examine some of its implications. In definition of homosexuality, has writ-
the first place, if homosexuality is a ten :
condition, then people either have it or . . . I do not diagnose patients as homo-
do not have it. Many scientists and sexual unless they have engaged in overt
ordinary people assume that there are homosexual behavior. Those who also
two kinds of people in the world: engage in heterosexual activity are di-
agnosed as bisexual. An isolated experi-
homosexuals and heterosexuals. Some ence may not warrant the diagnosis, but
of them recognize that homosexual repetetive (sic) homosexual behavior in
feelings and behavior are not confined adulthood, whether sporadic or continu-
to the persons they would like to call ous, designates a homosexual.1
"homosexuals" and that some of these Along with many other writers, he in-
persons do not actually engage in troduces the notion of a third type of
homosexual behavior. This should pose person, the "bisexual," to handle the
a crucial problem; but they evade the fact that behavior patterns cannot be
crux by retaining their assumption and conveniently dichotomized into hetero-
puzzling over the question of how to
tell whether someone is "really" homo- 1 Irving Bieber, "Clinical Aspects of
Male Homosexuality," in Judd hiarmor, ed-
sexual or not. Lay people too will itor, Sexual Inversion, New York: Basic
discuss whether a certain person is Books, 1965, p. 248; this is but one ex-
"queer" in much the same way as they ample among many.
Homosexual Role 183

sexual and homosexual. But this does been due to lack of scientific rigor or
not solve the conceptual problem, since to any inadequacy of the available evi-
bisexuality too is seen as a condition dence; it results rather from the fact
(unless as a passing response to un- that the wrong question has been asked.
usual situations such as confinement in One might as well try to trace the eti-
a one-sex prison). In any case there is ology of "committee-chairmanship" or
no extended discussion of bisexuality; "Seventh-Day Adventism" as of "ho-
the topic is usually given a brief men- mosexuality."
tion in order to clear the ground for The vantage-point of comparative
the consideration of "true homosex- sociology enables us to see that the con-
uality.'' ception--of homosexuality as a condi-
T o cover the cases where the symp- tion is, in itself, a possible object of
toms of behavior or of felt attractions study. This conception and the be-
do not match the diagnosis, other havior it supports operate as a form of
writers have referred to a n adolescent social control in a societv in which ho-
homosexual phase or have used such mosexuality is condemned. Further-
terms as "latent homosexual" or more, the uncritical acceptance of the
"pseudo homosexual." Indeed one of conception by social scientists can be
the earliest studies of the subject, by traced to their concern with homosex-
Krafft-Ebing, was concerned with mak- uality as a social problem. They have
ing a distinction between the "invert" tended to accept the popular definition
who is congenitally homosexual and of what the problem is and they have
others who, although they behave in been implicated in the process of social
the same way, are not true-inverts.2 control.
A second result of the conce~tualiza- The practice of the social labeling of
tion of homosexualitv as a condition is persons-as deviant operates in two ways
that the major reseaich task has been as a mechanism of social control.4 In
seen as the study of its etiology. There the first place it helps to provide a
has been much debate as to whether clear-cut, publicized, and recognizable
the condition is innate or acquired. The threshold between permissible and im-
first step in such research has com- permissible behavior. This means that
monly been to find a sample of "homo- people cannot so easily drift into devi-
sexuals" in the same way that a medical ant behavior. Their first moves in a
researcher might find a sample of di- deviant direction immediatelv raise the
abetics if he wanted to study that dis- question of a total move into a deviant
ease. Yet, after a long history of such role with all the sanctions that this is
studies, the results are sadly inconclu- likely to elicit. Secondly, the labeling
sive and the answer is still-as much a serves to segregate the deviants from
matter of opinion as it was when Have- others and this means that their deviant
lock Ellis published Sexual Inversions practices and their self-justifications for
seventy years ago. The failure of re- these vractices are contained within a
search to answer the question has not relatively narrow group. The creation

2 R. von Krafft-Ebing, Psgchopathia 4 This is a grossly simplified account.

Sexualis, 1889. Edwin Lemert provides a far more subtle
3 Later published in H. Ellis, Studies in and detailed analysis in Social Pathology,
t h e Psychology o f Sex, Vol. 2, New York: New York: McGraw-Hill, 1951, ch. 4,
Random House, 1936. "Sociopathic Individuation."
of a specialized, despised, and punished The way in which people become
role of homosexual keeps the bulk of labeled as homosexual can now be seen
society pure in rather t h e same way as an important social process connected
that the similar treatment of some kinds with mechanisms of social control. I t
of criminals helps keep the rest of so- is important, therefore, that sociolo-
ciety law-abiding. gists should examine this process ob-
However, the disadvantage of this jectively and not lend themselves to
practice as a techniaue 1

of soiial control in it, particularly since,

is that there may be a tendency for peo- as we have seen, psychologists and
ple to become fixed in their deviance psychiatrists on the whole have not
once they have become labeled. This, retained their objectivity but become
too, is a-process that has become well- involved as diagnostic agents in the
recognized in discussions of other process of social labeling.6
for& of deviant behavior such as ju- I t is proposed that the homosexual
venile delinquency and drug taking should be seen as playing a social role
and, indeed, of other kinds of social rather than as having a condition. The
labeling such as streaming in schools role of "homosexual," however, does
and racial distinctions. One might ex- not simply describe sexual behavior
pect social categorizations of this sort pattern. If it did, the idea of a role
to be to some extent self-fulfilling would be no more useful than that of
prophecies: if the culture defines a condition. For the purpose of intro-
as falling into distinct types-black and ducing the term "role" is to enable us
white, criminal and non-criminal, ho- to handle the fact that behavior in this
mosexual and normal-then these sphere does not match popular beliefs:
types will tend to become polarized, that sexual behavior patterns cannot be
highly differentiated from each other. dichotomized in the way that the social
Later in this paper I shall discuss roles of homosexual and heterosexual
whether this is so in the case of homo- can.
sexuals and "normals" in the United It may seem rather odd to distinguish
States today. in this way between role and behavior,
It is interesting to notice that homo-
sexuals themselves welcome and sup-
but if we accept a definition of role in
terms of expectations (which may or
port the notion that homosexuality is may not be fulfilled), then the distinc-
a condition. For just as the rigid cate- tion is both legitimate and useful. Tn
gorization deters people from drifting modern societies where a separate ho-
into deviancy, so it appears to fore- mosexual role is recognized, the expec-
close on the possibility of drifting back tation, on behalf of those who play the
into normality and thus removes the role and of others, is that a homosexual
element of anxious choice. It appears will be exclusively or very predomi-
to justify the deviant behavior of the nantly homosexual in his feelings and
homose&al as being appropriate for -
deviants can lay claim to legitimacy, set
him as a member of the Talcott Parsons, The Social System, New
category. The deviancy can thus be seen York: Free Press, 1951, pp. 292-293.
as legitimate for him and he can con- 6 The position taken here is similar to

tinue in it without rejecting the norms
of the s o c i e t ~ . ~
that of Erving Goffman in his discussion of
becoming a mental patient; Asylums, Gar-
- den City, N.Y.: Doubleday-Anchor, 1961,
6 For discussion of situations in which pp. 128-146.
Homosexzcal Role 185

behavior. In addition, there are other question because what the original ob-
expectations that frequently exist, espe- servers reported may have been dis-
cially on the part of nonhomosexuals, torted by their disapproval of homo-
but affecting the self-conception of any- sexuality and by their definition of it,
one who sees himself as homosexual. which mav be different from the one
These are: the expectation that he will we wish to adopt.
be effeminate in manner, personality, For example, Marc Daniel tries to
or preferred sexual activity; the expec- refute accusations of homosexuality
tation that sexuality will play a part of against Pope Julian I1 by producing
some kind in all his relations with four arguments: the Pope had many
other men; and the expectation that he enemies who might wish to blacken his
will be attracted to boys and very young name; he and his supposed lover,
men and probably willing to seduce Alidosi, both had mistresses; neither of
them. The existence of a social expec- them was at all effeminate; and the
tation, of course, commonly helps to Pope had other men friends about
produce its own fulfillment. But the whom no similar accusations were
question of how far it is fulfilled is a made.8 In other words Daniel is trying
matter for empirical investigation to fit an early sixteenth century Pope
rather than u p ~ i o r i pronouncement. to the modern conception of the ho-
Some of the empirical evidence about mosexual as effeminate, exclusively
the chief expectation-that homosex- homosexual, and sexual in relation to
uality precludes heterosexuality-in re- all men. The fact that he does not fit
lation to the homosexual role in Amer- is, of course, no evidence, as Daniel
ica is examined in the final section of would have it, that his relationship
this paper.7 with Alidosi was not a sexual one.
In order to clarify the nature of the Anthropologists too can fall into this
role and demonstrate that it exists only trap. Marvin Opler, summarizing an-
in certain societies, we shall present the thropological evidence on the subject,
cross-cultural and historical evidence
available. This raises awkward prob- Actually, no society, save perhaps
lems of method because the material Ancient Greece, pre-hleiji Japan, certain
has hitherto usually been collected and top echelons in Nazi Germany, and the
analyzed in terms of culturally specific scattered examples of such special status
groups as the berdaches, Nata slaves, and
modern western conceptions. one category of Chuckchee shamans, has
lent sanction in any real sense to homo-
ROLE IN VARIOUS sexuality.g
Yet he goes on to discuss societies in
To study in the past which there are reports of sanctioned
or in other societies we usually have to adolescent and other occasional "ex-
rely on secondary evidence rather than perimentation.- Of the Cubeo of the
on direct observation. The reIiability and
the validity of such evidence is open to 8 &farc ~ ~ ~y s si a i ~de l m~thodologie
pour l'6tude des aspects homosexuels de
7 For evidence that many self-confessed l'histoire," Arcadie, 133 (January, 1965),
homosexuals in England are not effeminate pp. 31-37.
and manv are not interested in boys, see 9 Marvin Opler, "Anthropological and
Michael Schofield, Sociological Aspects of Cross-Cultural Aspects of Homosexuality,"
Ilornosexunlity, London: Longmans, 1965. in Marmor, editor, op. rit., p. 174.
North West Amazon, for instance, he referred to as "she" and could take
says, "true homosexuality among the "husbands."
Cubeo is rare if not absent," giving as But the Mohave pattern differs from
evidence the fact that no males with ours in that although the alyhii was
persistent homosexual patterns are re- considered regrettable and amusing, he
ported.10 was not condemned and was given
Allowing for such weaknesses, the public recognition. The attitude was
Human Relations Area Files are the that "he was an alyhZ, he could not
best single source of comparative infor- help it." But the "husband" of an
mation. Their evidence on homosex- alyhZ was an ordinary man who hap-
uality has been summarized by Ford pened to have chosen an ajyhZ, perhaps
and Beach,ll who identify two broad because they were good housekeepers
types of accepted patterns: the institu- or because they were believed to be
tionalized homosexual role and the "lucky in love," and he would be the
liaison between men or boys who are butt of endless teasing and joking.
otherwise heterosexual. This radical distinction between the
The recognition of a distinct role of feminine passive homosexual and his
berdache or transvestite is, they say, masculine active partner is one which
"the commonest form of institutional- is not made very much in our own
ized homosexuality." This form shows society,l3 but which is very important
a marked similarity to that in our own in the Middle East. There, however,
society, though in some ways it is even neither is thought of as being a "born"
more extreme. The Mohave Indians of homosexual, although the passive part-
California and Arizona, for example,l2 ner, who demeans himself by his fem-
recognized both an alyhz, a male trans- inine submission, is despised and
vestite who took the role of the woman ridiculed, while the active one is not.
in sexual intercourse, and a hzuumZ, a In most of the ancient Middle East,
female homosexual who took the role including among the Jews until the
of the male. People were believed to be return from the Babylonian exile, there
born as alyhii or hwame, hints of their were male temple prostitutes.14 Thus
future proclivities occurring in their even cultures that recognize a separate
mothers' dreams during pregnancy. If homosexual role may not define it in
a young boy began to behave like a the same way as our culture does.
girl and take an interest in women's Many other societies accept or ap-
things instead of men's, there was an prove of homosexual liaisons as part
initiation ceremony in which he would of a variegated sexual pattern. Usually
become an alyhz. After that he would 13 The lack of cultural distinction is re-
dress and act like a woman, would be flected in behavior; Gordon Wettwood
found that only a small proportion of his
l o Ibid., p. 117. sample of British homosexuals engaged in
11 C. S. Ford and F. A. Beach, Patterns anal intercourse and many of thete had been
of Sexual Behavior, New York: Harper, both active and passive and did not have a
1751, ch. 7. clear preference. See A Minority, London:
12 George Devereux, "Institutionalized T-ongman?, 1760, pp. 127-134.
Homosexuality of the Mohave Indians," 14 Gordan Rattray Taylor, "Historical and
Human Biology, Vol. 7, 1937, pp. 478-527; hfythological Aspects of Homosexuality,"
reprinted in Hendrik M. Ruitenbeek, editor, in Marmor, op. cit.; Fernando Henriques,
The Problem of Homosexuality in Modern Prostitution and Society, Vol. 1, London:
Society, New York: Dutton, 1763. AfacGibbon and Kee, 1762, pp. 341-143.
Homosexual Role 187

these are confined to a particular stage the history of sex,ls and it is possible
in the individual's life. Among the to glean a good deal from what they
Aranda of Central Australia, for in- have found and also from what they
stance, there are long-standing relation- have failed to establish.
ships of several years' duration, between Their studies of English history be-
unmarried men and young boys, start- fore the seventeenth century consist
ing at the age of ten to twelve.15 This usually of inconclusive speculation as to
is rather similar to the well-known whether certain men, such as Edward
situation in classical Greece, but there, 11, Christopher Marlowe, William
of course, the older man could have a Shakespeare, were or were not homo-
wife as well. Sometimes, however, as sexual. Yet the disputes are inconclu-
among the Siwans of North Africa,l6 sive not because of lack of evidence
all men and boys can and are expected but because none of these men fits the
to engage in homosexual activities, ap- modern stereotype of the homosexual.
parently at every stage of life. In all of It is not until the end of the seven-
these societies there may be much ho- teenth century that other kinds of in-
mosexual behavior, but there are no formation become available and it is
"homosexuals." possible to move from speculations
about individuals to descriptions of
homosexual life. At this period refer-
ences to homosexuals as a type and to
a rudimentary homosexual ~Lbculture,
The problem of method is even
mainly in London, begin to appear.
more acute in dealing with historical
But the earliest descriptions of homo-
material than with anthropological, for
sexuals do not coincide exactly with the
history is usually concerned with "great
modern conce~tion. There is much
events" rather than with recurrent pat- more stress on effeminacy and in par-
terns. There are some records of at- ticular in transvestism, to such an ex-
tempts to curb sodomy among minor tent that there seems to be no distinc-
churchmen during the medieval pe- tion at first between transvestism and
riod,l7 which seem to indicate that it homosexuality.lQ The terms emerging
was common. At least they suggest that
laymen feared on behalf of their sons 1s Especially Havelock Ellis, Sexual In-
that it was common. The term "cata- version, London: Wilson and Macmillan,
mite" meaning "boy kept for immoral 1897; Iwan Bloch (E. Diihren, pseud.),
Sexual Life in England Past and Present,
purposes," was first used in 1593, again English translation, London: Francis Aldor,
suggesting that this practice was com- 1938; German edition, Charlottenberg, Ber-
mon then. But most of the historical lin, 1901-03; Gordon Rattray Taylor, Sex
references to homosexuality relate i n History, London: Thames and Hudson,
1953; Noel I. Garde, Jonathan to Gide: The
either to great men or to great scandals. Homosexual in History, New York: Van-
However, over the last seventy years or tage, 1964.
so various scholars have tried to trace 19 Dr. Evelyn Hooker has suggested that
in a period when homosexual grouping and
a homosexual subculture have not yet be-
15 Ford and Beach, op. cit., p. 132. come institutionalized, homosexuals are
16 Ibid., pp. 131-132. likely to behave in a more distinctive and
17 Geoffrey May, Social Control of Sex conspicuous manner because other means of
Expression, London: Allen and Unwin, making contact are not available. This is
1930, pp. 65 and 101. confirmed by the fact that lesbians are more
at this period to describe homosexuals discovered, besides the Nocturnal As-
-Molly, Nancy-boy, Madge-cull-em- semblies of great numbers of the like vile
Persons, what they call the Ma~kets,
phasize effeminacy. In contrast the mod- which are the Royal Exchange, Lincoln's
ern terms-like fag, queer, gay, bent Inn, Bog Houses, the south side of St.
-do not have this implication.20 James's Park, the Piazzas in Covent Gar-
By the end of the seventeenth cen- den, St. Clement's Churchyard, etc.
It wculd be a pretty scene to behold
tury, homosexual transvestites were a them in their clubs and cabals, how they
distinct enough group to be able to assume the air and affect the name of
form their own clubs in London.21 Madam or Miss, Betty or Molly, with a
Edward Ward's History of the London chuck under the chin, and "Oh, you bold
Cll~bs,published in 1709, describes pullet, I'll break your eggs," and then
frisk and walk away.2"
one called "The Mollies' Club" which
met "in a certain tavern in the City" The notion of exclusive homosex-
for "parties and regular gatherings." uality became well-established during
The members "adopt(ed) all the small this period. When "two Englishmen,
vanities natural to the feminine sex to Leith and Drew, were accused of
such an extent that they try to speak, paederasty . . . .The evidence given by
walk, chatter, shriek and scold as wo- the plaintiffs was, as was generally the
men do, aping them as well in other case in these trials, very imperfect. On
respects." The other respects appar- the other hand the defendants denied
ently included the enactment of mar- the accusation, and produced witnesses
riages and child-birth. The club was to prove their predeliction for women.
discovered and broken up by agents of They were in consequence acquitted."24
the Reform S ~ c i e t y . ~ V h e rwere
e a This could only have been an effective
number of similar scandals during the argument in a society that perceived
course of the eighteenth century as homosexual behavior as incompatible
various homosexual coteries were ex- with heterosexual tastes.
posed. During the nineteenth century there
A writer in 1729 descibes the wide- are further reports of raided clubs and
spread homosexual life of the period: homosexual brothels. However,, bv, this
They also have their Walks and Ap-
time the element of transvestism had
pointments, to meet and pick up one an- diminished in importance. Even the
other, and their particular Houses of male prostitutes are described as being
Resort to go to, because they dare not of masculine build and there is more
trust themselves in an open Tavern. About stress upon sexual license and less upon
twenty of these sort of Houses have been
dressing up and play-acting.
conspicuous than male homosexuals in our
society, but does not seem to fit the 17th The Homosexual Role a77d Homo-
century, where the groups are already de- sexlndl Behavior
scribed as "clubs."
Thus, a distinct, separate, specialized
20 However, "fairy" and "pansy," the
commonest slang terms used by non-homo- role of "homosexual" emerged in Eng-
sexuals, have the same meaning of effem- land at the end of the seventeenth cen-
inate as the earlier terms. tury and the conception of homosex-
2 1 Bloch, op. cit., p. 328, gives several
examples, but attributes their emergence to 23 Anon, Hell upon Earth: or the Tou'n
the fact that "the number of homosexuals in an Uproar, London, 1729, quoted by G.
increased." R. Taylor in Marmor, editor, op. cit., p. 142.
22 Quoted in ibid., pp. 328-329. 24 Bloch, op. cit., p. 334.
Homosextldl Role 189

ualitv as a condition which characterizes that there are persons who are "hetero-
certa;n individuals and not others is sexual" and who are "homosex-
ual", that these two types represent
now in Our society' antitheses in the sexual world and that
The term role is, course, a form there is only an insignificant class of
shorthand. It refers not only to a cul- "bisexuals" who occupy an intermediate
tural conception or set of ideas but also position between the other groups . . .
to a complex of institutional arrange- that every individual is innately-inher-
ently-either heterosexual or homosexual
ments which depend upon and rein- .
. . (and) that from the time of birth
force these ideas. These arrangements one is fated to be one thing or the
include all the forms of heterosexual .
other . . .26
activity, courtship, and marriage as
But, although some of Kinsey's ideas
well as the labeling processes-gossip,
ridicule, psychiatric diagnosis, criminal are often referred to, particularly in
polemical writings, surprisingly little
conviction-and the groups and net-
use has been made of his actual data.
works of the homosexual subculture.
Most of Kinsey's chapter on the
For simplicity we shall simply say that
"Homosexual OutletW27centers on his
a specialized role exists.
"heterosexual-homosexual rating scale."
How does the existence of this so-
His subjects were rated on this scale
cial role affect actual behavior? And,
according to the proportion of their
in particular, does the behavior of in-
"psychologic reactions and overt experi-
dividuals conform to the cultural con-
ence'' that was homosexual in any given
ception in the sense that most people
period of their lives. It is interesting,
are either exclusively heterosexual or
and unfortunate for our purposes, that
exclusively homosexual? It is difficult
this is one of the few places in the
to answer these questions on the basis
book where Kinsey abandons his be-
of available evidence because so many
havioristic approach to some extent.
researchers have worked with the pre-
However, "psychologic reactions" may
conception that homosexuality is a con-
well be expected to be affected by the
dition, so that in order to study the
existence of a social role in the same
behavior they have first found a group
way as overt behavior. Another prob-
of people who could be identified as
lem with using Kinsey's material is
"homosexuals." Homosexual behavior
that although he gives very full infor-
should be studied independently of
mation about sexual behavior, the other
social roles, if the connection between
characteristics of the people he inter-
the two is to be revealed.
viewed are only given in a very bald
This may not sound like a particu-
f0rm.2~ But Kinsey's study is un-
larly novel program to those who are
familiar with Kinsey's contribution to 26 Kinsey et al., Sexual Behavior in the
the field.25 He, after all, set out to Human Male, pp. 636-37.
study "sexual behavior;" he rejected 2 7 Ibid., ch. 21, pp. 610-666.
the assumptions of scientists and lay- 2s The more general drawbacks of Kin-
men : sey's data, particularly the problem of the
representativeness of his sample, have been
25 Alfred C. Kinsey et al., Sexual Be- thoroughly canvassed in a number of places;
havior in the Human Male, Philadelphia see especially William G. Cochran et al.,
and London: Saunders, 1948; and Kinsey Statistical Problems of the Kinsey Report
et al., Sexual Behavior in the Human Fe- on Sexual Behavior in the Human Male,
male, Philadelphia and London: Saunders, Washington: American Statistical Society,
1953. 1954.
doubtedly the fullest description there each would have been smaller or larger.
is of sexual behavior in any society and The fact that the distribution of his
as such it is the safest basis for gener- scale is U-shaped, then, is in itself
alizations to other Western societies. meaningless. (See Table 1).
The ideal way to trace the effects on It is impossible to get direct evidence
behavior of the existence of a homo- of a polarization between the homo-
sexual role would be to compare so- sexual and the heterosexual pattern,
cieties in which the role exists with though we may note the suggestive
societies in which it does not. But as evidence to the contrary that at every
there are no adequate descriptions of age far more men have bisexual than
homosexual behavior in societies where exclusively homosexual patterns. How-
there is no homosexual role, we shall ever, by making compa~isonsbetween
have to substitute comparisons within one age group and another and between
American society. men and women, it should be possible
to see some of the effects of the role.
( 1 ) Polarization
( 2 ) A g e Comparison
If the existence of a social role were
reflected in people's behavior, we As they grow older, more and more
should expect to find that relatively men take up exclusively heterosexual
few people would engage in bisexual patterns, as Table 1, Column 2 shows.
behavior. The problem about investiga- The table also shows that each of the
ting this empirically is to know what bisexual and homosexual categories,
is meant by "relatively few." The cate- columns 3-8, contains fewer men as
gories of Kinsey's rating scale are, of time goes by after the age of 20. The
course, completely arbitrary. He has greatest losses are from the fifth bi-
five bisexual categories, but he might sexual category, column 7 , with re-
just as well have had more or less, in sponses that are "almost entirely ho-
which case the number falling into mosexual." It is a fairly small group to



Percent of each age group of male population having each rating

* Based on Kinsey (1948) p. 652, Table 148.

X = unresponsive to either sex; 0 = entirely heterosexual; 1 = largely heterosexual, but
with incidental homosexual history; 2 = largely heterosexual but with a distinct homosexual
history; 3 = equally heterosexual and homosexual; 4 = largely homosexual but with dis-
tinct heterosexual history; 5 = largely homosexual but with incidental heterosexual history;
6 = entirely homosexual.
Homosexlcdl Role 191

begin with, but by the age of 45 it has women's sexual behavior should tell us
almost entirely disappeared. On the something about the effects of the social
other hand the first bisexual category, role on men's behavior.
column 3, with only "incidental ho- Fewer women than men engage in
mosexual histories" has its numbers not homosexual behavior. By the time they
even halved by the age of 45. Yet at are 45, 26 percent of women have had
some homosexual experience, whereas
all ages the first bisexual category rep-
resents a much smaller proportion of about 50 percent of men have. But this
those who are almost entirely homo- is probably a cause rather than an ef-
sexual (columns 2 and 3) than the fect of the difference in the extent to
fifth category represents of those who which the homosexual role is crystal-
are almost entirely homosexual (col- lized, for women engage in less non-
umns 7 and 8). In everyday language, marital sexual activity of any kind than
it seems that proportionately more men. For instance, by the time they
"homosexuals" dabble in heterosexual marry 50 percent of women have had
activity than "heterosexuals" dabble in some pre-marital heterosexual experi-
homosexual activity and such dabbling ence to orgasm, whereas as many as
is particularly common in the younger 90 percent of men have.
age groups of 20 to 30. This indicates The most revealing contrast is be-
that the existence of the despised role tween the male and female distribu-
operates at all ages to inhibit people tions on the Kinsey rating scale, shown
from engaging in occasional homosex- in Table 2. The distributions for wo-
ual behavior, but does not have the ef-men follow a smooth J-shaped pat-
fect of making the behavior of many tern, while those for men are uneven
"homosexuals" exclusively homosexual. with an increase in numbers at the ex-
On the other hand, the overall re- clusively homosexual end. The distri-
duction in the amount of homosexual butions for women are the shape that
behavior with age can be attributed in one would expect on the assumption
part to the fact that more and more that homosexual and heterosexual acts
men become married. While the active are randomly distributed in a ratio of
incidence of homosexual behavior is 1 to 18.29 The men are relatively more
high and increases with age among concentrated in the exclusively homo-
single men, among married men it is sexual category. This appears to con-
low and decreases only slightly with firm the hypothesis that the existence of
age. Unfortunately the Kinsey figures the role is reflected in behavior.
do not enable us to compare the inci- Finally, it is interesting to notice
dence of homosexuality among single that although at the age of 20 far more
men who later marry and those who do men than women have homosexual
not. and bisexual patterns (27 percent as
against 11 percent), by the age of 35
(3) Comparison of Men and Women the figures are both the same (13 per-
The notion of a separate homo- cent). Women seem to broaden their
sexual role is much less well-developed sexual experience as they get older
for women than it is for men and so
29 This cannot be taken in a rigorously
too are the attendant techniques of so-
statistical sense, since the categories are
cial control and the deviant subculture arbitrary and do not refer to numbers, or
and organization. So a comparison with even proportions, of actual sexual acts.

Percent of each age group having each rating

(1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9)
Age X 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 1-6
Male 3.3 69.3 4.4 7.4 4.4 2.9 3.4 4.9 27.4
Female 15 74 5 2 1 1 1 1 11
Male 0.4 86.7 2.4 3.4 1.9 1.7 0.9 2.6 12.9
Female 7 80 7 2 1 1 1 1 13
* Based on Kinsey (1948) p. 652, Table 148 and Kinsey (1953) p. 499, Table 142.
For explanation of the ratings, see Table 1.

whereas more men become narrower the organization and functions of ho-
and more specialized. mosexual groups.30 All that has been
None of this, however, should ob- done here is to indicate that the role
scure the fact that, in terms of be- does not exist in many societies, that it
havior, the polarization between the only emerged in England towards the
heterosexual man and the homosexual end of the seventeenth century, and
man is far from complete in our society. that, although the existence of the role
Some polarization does seem to have in modern America appears to have
occurred, but many men manage to fol- some effect on the distribution of ho-
low patterns of sexual behavior that are mosexual behavior. such behavior is far
between the two, in spite of our cul- from being monopolized by persons
tural preconceptions and institutional who play the role of homosexud.
30 But an interesting beginning has been
made by Evelyn Hooker in "The Homo-
sexual Community," Proc. X l V t h Int.
This paper has dealt with only one Congr. Appl. Psychol. Personality Re-
small aspect of the sociology of homo- search, Vol. 2, Copenhagen, Munksgaard,
1962; and "Male Homosexuals and their
sexuality. It is, nevertheless, a funda- Worlds," Marmor, editor, op. cit., pp. 83-
mental one. For it is not until he sees 107; there is much valuable descriptive
homosexuals as a social category, rather material in Donald Webster Cory, The
than a medical or psychiatric one, that Homosexual in America, New York: Green-
the sociologist can begin to ask the berg, 1951; and in Gordon Westwood, A
Minority: A Report on the Life of the Male
right questions about the specific con- Homosexual in Great Britain, London:
tent of the homosexual role and about Longmans, 1960, as well as elsewhere.