Outing the TRUTH About Sexual Orientation



In an ideal world variation in sexual behavior would be accepted, but sadly this is not the case. The chapter starts with the bullying and other forms of discrimination that homosexual and bisexual individuals in my practice have encountered. Acknowledging that my relatively small sample could potentially be biased, the chapter then examines the experiences of non-heterosexuals as reported by research studies. It is evident that non-heterosexuals experience vastly more discrimination than heterosexuals in the work place and in their social lives. Indeed research is quite unambiguous about this point. The largest study to date, the 2012 European Union Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Survey is described in detail, as it includes information from over 93,000 respondents. Examples of actual violence are presented to give readers a sense of how vulnerable to even lethal assaults non-heterosexuals can be, with many examples revealing how being in the wrong place at the wrong time can result in a non-heterosexual person being assaulted or killed. Select countries even still prescribe the death penalty for homosexuality. The chapter ends with a mention of how many South Seas cultures are very open to homoerotic behavior.


A key motivation for writing this book is the enormous amount of discrimination against homosexual individuals that I have seen in my practice as a psychiatrist. A disproportionate number of people seeing psychiatrists have experienced trauma in their early or even later life. Frequently, trauma arises from bullying and discrimination, commonly based on perceived sexual orientation. The typical pattern that I have encountered with homosexual individuals is that during childhood or the teenage years, when peers realized they were different, the names calling often starts. Names like fag, gay, queer, and dyke, ensue often spreading like wildfire amongst the larger peer group. Ostracism, meaning exclusion from normal activities of the peer group typically occur, such as not being invited to parties or asked to be on a team. The targeted individual already realizing that something is “different” about them feels more unusual and unwanted, an emotional state leading to further social withdrawal. Often this discrimination is more difficult to cope with when the person is not yet aware that they are “gay,” because others seem to be seeing something in them they cannot understand. Even when they are self-aware there is typically no one to turn to, given that other homosexual individuals are doing their best to cover it up for fear of attacks. In some instances actual physical and sexual assaults transpire worsening the emotional trauma experienced.

     For a number of homosexual people the problems more or less resolve away from their school years, as they “come out” and relate to homosexual and more understanding heterosexual peers. However, often the problems intensify due to rejection by family members, even in some instances to the point of being disowned by parents and siblings. If a person decides not to “come out,” there are numerous complications, such as continually explaining to relatives and friends why there is no partner, and why they are not married. Many religions, despite opposing discrimination against their own followers, openly or covertly engage in bias against people with a homosexual or bisexual orientation. I had one patient who was strongly pushed into therapy to resolve his “gay issue” as a condition of remaining in the church. For many individuals who want to remain in their given church community the only option is to hide their sexual orientation, even to the point of marrying an other-sex person within the church, and leading a secretive closeted lifestyle on the side. Occupational discrimination is often a major problem, particularly in more traditionally masculine jobs such as engineering. Careers can falter and crash based on a person being openly gay, and I have seen many such individuals hide all signs of their sexual orientation.

     It might be argued that my experience is based on a relatively small sample size, and that discrimination and bullying due to sexual orientation is actually not a real problem. Well let us see what studies reveal. Research by Saewyc and colleagues—Hazards of stigma: The sexual and physical abuse of gay, lesbian, and bisexual adolescents in the United States and Canada—produced some shocking findings. Surveys of high school students in both countries formed the database. The prevalence of sexual abuse or forced intercourse experienced by heterosexual girls ranged from 14-27%, uncomfortably high, but low compared to that experienced by those identifying as lesbian or bisexual. Sexual abuse or forced intercourse for lesbians ranged from 18-43%, and 24-40% for bisexuals! Heterosexual boys experienced sexual abuse or forced intercourse in the range of 3-6%. For boys identifying as being gay the range was 17-31%, and for bisexual boys 15-31%! These numbers are incredibly high and this is for sexual assault, a crime inflicting enormous psychological, and often physical, trauma.

     The findings for bisexuals surprise many people, given that they do function in heterosexual relationships. In my own practice I have noted that in many instances people identifying as bisexual have an even tougher go than homosexuals, because discrimination can come from both heterosexuals and homosexuals, as odd as this sounds. The reason largely has to do with how sexual orientation is dichotomized in our society into hetero and homo categories. The presence of both in one individual is difficult to process, due to how we see it in either/or terms. Many bisexuals are viewed as really being homosexual, but not yet admitting it. Saewyc and colleagues point out that bisexual boys are ten times more likely than their heterosexual peers to experience sexual abuse! These researchers comment that a history of sexual or physical trauma is highly predictive of adolescent risk behaviors, including substance abuse, dangerous sexual behaviors, and even suicide attempts. Hence, the impact of sexual abuse goes far beyond the person’s emotional reaction to the actual event, and can have a lifelong impact.

     You might be thinking that these poor unfortunate teenage victims of sexual abuse, including forced intercourse, are sympathized with given the trauma they have experienced. Well maybe the heterosexual ones, but based on a study by Christopher Lyons titled, Stigma or sympathy? Attributions of fault to hate crime victim and offenders, it appears that non-heterosexual victims are likely to be blamed. He discovered that gay and lesbian victims are blamed at a much higher rate than are heterosexual victims. So not only does the homosexual or bisexual person suffer from the sexual abuse, they are often blamed for it! Talk about adding insult to injury, or more precisely injury to injury. Lyons found that blaming behavior depends on the observer’s attitude towards homosexuals, with more negative attitudes producing more blaming. Interestingly, the study revealed that when gays or lesbians victims made eye contact with the attacker or verbally responded with a question or obscenity, the person was more likely to be blamed than heterosexual victims who responded in this way. Blaming of homosexual victims for the attack was maximal when observers witness displays of affection just prior to the attack, such as hand holding and kissing. Such displays of affection did not impact on blaming when observed for heterosexual victims prior to an attack.