Homophobia: Should We Blame the Parents?
Last week, The American Prospect's Gabriel Arana wrote a moving story about his experiences in ex-gay therapy—wherein his therapist spent several years convincing him he was gay because his father was passive and unsupportive and therefore didn't teach him how to be a man. In the end, Arana came out of the closet, but for years, he himself was homophobic—especially after his parents told him they wouldn't continue paying his college tuition if he embraced the "gay lifestyle."
I had that story in mind when I read about a new psychological study by the University of Rochester about homophobia. Besides reinforcing the theory that homophobia can grow out of repressed same-sex desires, the study found that parents who give "low autonomy support" (translated from jargon, strict ones who cramp their kids' styles) are more likely to raise a homophobic child. One of the ways parents exhibit "low autonomy support" is by teaching their kid that "their love and affection is dependent on the child enacting specific behaviors and espousing sanctioned beliefs." The paper gives a spirited defense of "live and let live" parenting; according to the paper, autonomy support "is an essential component of nurturing relationships and promotes personal integrity, well-being, and positive functioning." In other words, if you end up with a homophobic kid, you've likely failed them in all kinds of ways that have nothing to do with whether she hates gays and lesbians.
This all sounds logical, yet I'm skeptical of studies that inwardly blame parents, Freud-style, for bigoted behaviors. That parent wasn't raised in a bubble, either. This pattern is connected to learned cultural politics—the desire to control and dictate the morals to which people should adhere, and punish those who don't. It's often bred in stringent religious institutions, too. The message seems simple: If we don't want homophobic kids—or a homophobic country—we have to commit to the idea of an open-minded, anti-authoritarian society. That includes steering clear of people's bedrooms, including our kids'.
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