Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people are associated with certain stereotypes - conventional, formulaic generalizations, opinions, or images based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Stereotypical perceptions may be acquired through interactions with parents, teachers, peers and mass media, or, more generally, through a lack of firsthand familiarity, resulting in an increased reliance on generalizations.
- 1 Research
- 2 Lesbians
- 3 Gay men
- 4 Bisexual people
- 5 Transgender people
- 6 Intersections between LGBT and race and class stereotypes
- 7 Religion and activism
- 8 See also
- 9 Notes
- 10 References
Social scientists are attempting to understand why there are such negative connotations associated with the lesbian community. William James, in 1890, assumed that it was a repulsive instinct that came naturally to each woman, and that when an individual enjoyed same-sex interaction, it was because it became a habit. In short, he assumed that "tolerance is learned and revulsion is inborn" (PBS). In 1908, James and Edward Westermack attempted to understand the violent actions taken toward homosexuals by Jewish, Christian, and Zoroastrian religions; they believed hostility existed because of the historical association between homosexuality and idolatry, heresy, and criminal behavior. Sigmund Freud asserted in 1905 that homophobia was shaped by society, an individual's environment, and the individual's exposure to homo-eroticism. Sandor Ference (1914) believed that heterosexual women's feelings of repulsion toward those identifying as lesbians was a reaction formation and defense mechanism against affection from the same sex. In other words, he believed heterosexual females feared being labeled as lesbians.
Recently it has become widely accepted that people who have negative attitudes toward lesbians do not have much social interaction with lesbians, believe their friends have negative attitudes toward lesbianism, live in area known for negative attitudes toward homosexuality, are very religious, older in age, less educated, have restricted views about sex, and exhibit high levels of authoritative attitudes. It has been noted that taking a homophobic individual and increasingly putting them in face-to-face interaction with those of LGBT community tends to lessen homophobic tendencies. As well as the increasing presences in individuals who have similar ethnic, religious, or geographical background that are accepting of homosexuals.
Lesbian is a term widely used in the English language to describe a female with sexual and/or romantic attraction toward other females. The word may be used as a noun, to refer to a woman who identifies herself, or is characterized by others, as having the primary attribute of female homosexuality; or as an adjective, to characterize an object or activity related to or associated with lesbianism.
Lesbians have always been a part of society all over the world, whether their presence was prominent or not. Many have heard of Greek and Roman men participating in same sex relationships, however this was not necessarily the case for lesbians, possibly because of the lack of focus on women during the time period. The first recorded knowledge of lesbians occurs in the Middle Ages, where laws were made banning the practice, and generally lesbian held a negative connotation. Generally, this sets the ball rolling for negative stereotypes for centuries to come. Today, many lesbians are associated with short hair, wearing baggy clothes, and playing sports.
In nearly all parts of the world, lesbians were not accepted fully by society, and only until recently are countries opening their arms to women of "alternative lifestyles". Many popular movies put a negative connotation on the lesbian community, such as "The Children’s Hour" (1961). This movie gives viewers the idea that lesbian live a "dark" and almost depressing lifestyle. However, the media has portrayed lesbians in a positive light. For instance, in the popular lesbian television series,The L word the media refutes the "U-Haul" lesbian stereotype, which is that lesbians move in on the second date. The show depicts a lesbian couple that starts a family and stays together long term. It intends to prove that lesbians hold the same "family values" as that of heterosexual couples. The show also uses mostly "feminine" or "lipstick" lesbians to combat the stereotype that all lesbians are "butch", or dress like men. This promotes the idea that lesbians come in all different shapes, sizes, and styles. The show also battles stereotypes through its character, Shane. Shane challenges the stereotype that lesbians catch feelings easily. It is believed that lesbians are easily domesticated, however, Shane shuffles between a varieties of girls, to challenge the idea that lesbians get easily attached to their partners.
The news is also playing an interesting role in how lesbians are portrayed by the media. Often news broadcasts focus on the most masculine lesbian and fails to recognize that not all of them look this way. As a result, people associate all lesbians as "dykes" or "butch". The way lesbians are portrayed leads people to make assumptions about individuals in everyday life.
Typically, lesbians are thought to be "butch", dressing in a more masculine manner than other women. "Dykes" (a pejorative term that the LGBT community has reclaimed, to an extent) are considered members of a community that is perceived as being composed of strong and outspoken advocates in wider society. Actress Portia de Rossi has been credited for significantly countering the general societal misconception of how lesbians look and function when, in 2005, she divulged her sexual orientation in intimate interviews with Details and The Advocate which generated further discussion on the concept of the "lipstick lesbian" ("femme" women who tend to be "hyper-feminine").
Lesbian feminists assert that a sexual component is unnecessary for a woman to declare herself a lesbian if her primary and closest relationships are with women, on the basis that, when considering past relationships within an appropriate historic context, there were times when love and sex were separate and unrelated notions. In 1989, an academic cohort called the Lesbian History Group wrote:
"Because of society's reluctance to admit that lesbians exist, a high degree of certainty is expected before historians or biographers are allowed to use the label. Evidence that would suffice in any other situation is inadequate here... A woman who never married, who lived with another woman, whose friends were mostly women, or who moved in known lesbian or mixed gay circles, may well have been a lesbian. ... But this sort of evidence is not 'proof'. What our critics want is incontrovertible evidence of sexual activity between women. This is almost impossible to find."
In more general terms, the representation of female sexuality in texts and documents has been described as inadequate. As of 2012, much of what has been documented about women's sexuality has been written by men, with any significant exceptions published in recent years. Critics have stated that those works written by men have been constructed within the context of a male understanding of female sexuality, and reinforce notions of women as wives, daughters or mothers.
Homosexual men are often equated interchangeably with heterosexual women by the heterocentric mainstream and are frequently stereotyped as being effeminate, despite the fact that gender expression, gender identity and sexual orientation are widely accepted to be distinct from each other. The "flaming queen" is a characterization that melds flamboyance and effeminacy, remaining a gay male stock character in Hollywood. Theatre, specifically Broadway musicals, are a component of another stereotype, the "show queen", generalizing that gay men listen to show tunes and are involved with the performing arts, and are theatrical, overly dramatic, and campy.
The bear subculture of the LGBT community is composed of generally large, hairy men, referred to as bears. They embrace their hypermasculine image, and some will shun more effeminate gay men, such as twinks.
Appearance and mannerisms
Gay men are often associated with a lisp and/or a feminine speaking tone. Fashion, effeminacy, and homosexuality have long been associated, stereotypes often being based on the visibility of the reciprocal relationship between gay men and fashion. Designers, including Dolce & Gabbana, have made use of homoerotic imagery in their advertising. Some commentators argue this encourages the stereotype that most gay men enjoy shopping. A limp wrist is also a mannerism associated with gays.
Sex and relationships
Research also suggests that lesbians may be slightly more likely than gay men to be in steady relationships. In terms of unprotected sex, a 2007 study cited two large population surveys as showing that "the majority of gay men had similar numbers of unprotected sexual partners annually as straight men and women."
Another persistent stereotype associated with the male homosexual community is partying. Before the Stonewall riots in 1969, most LGBT people were extremely private and closeted, and house parties and, later, bars and taverns became one of the few places where they could meet, socialize, and feel safe. The riots represented the start of the modern LGBT social movement and acceptance of sexual and gender minorities has steadily increased since. Generally festive and party-like social occasions remain at the core of organizing and fundraising in the LGBT community. In cities where there are large populations of LGBT people, benefits and bar fundraisers are still common, and alcohol companies invest heavily in LBGT-oriented marketings. Ushered in by underground gay clubs and disc jockeys, the disco era kept the "partying" aspect vibrant and ushered in the more hardcore circuit party movement, hedonistic and associated with party and play.
The relationship between gay men and female heterosexual "fag hags" has become highly stereotypical. The accepted behaviors in this type of relationship can predominantly include physical affections (such as kissing and touching), as in the sitcom Will & Grace.
Sex and drugs
The term party and play (PNP) is used to refer to subculture of gay men who use recreational drugs and have sex together, either one-on-one or in groups. The drug of choice is typically methamphetamine, known as crystal or tina in the gay community. Other "party drugs" such as MDMA and GHB are less associated with this term. While PNP probably has its genesis in the distinct subculture of methamphetamine users, and is most associated with its use, it has become somewhat generalized to include partying with other drugs thought to enhance sexual experiences, especially MDMA, GHB, and cocaine.
A report from the National HIV Prevention Conference (a collaborative effort by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other governmental and non-government organizations) describes PNP as "sexual behavior under the influence of crystal meth or other 'party' drugs."  It has been referred to as both an "epidemic" and a "plague" in the gay community. British researchers report that up to 20% of gay men from central London gyms have tried methamphetamine, the drug most associated with PNP, despite methamphetamine use being relatively unknown in the UK outside the PNP subculture.
Pedophilia and predation
It is a common stereotype that gay men are sexual predators and/or pedophiles. The former perception can lead to "gay panic", usually in straight men, who fear being hit on by gay men, and can be either a cause or an expression of homophobia. The perception that a greater proportion of gay than straight men are pedophiles is one contributing factor to discrimination against gay teachers despite the stark contrast to statistical figures, which have generally revealed that upwards of 80–90% of male pedophiles are heterosexual and usually married with children of their own, and research on child sexual abuse shows that most instances of child sexual abuse (one cited percentage being over 90%) are perpetrated by heterosexual males having non-consensual sexual intercourse with underage females. Research has consistently indicated that a significant minority of child sex abuse perpetrators are female (5%-20%), but other research has indicated that almost 40% of child sexual abuse against boys, and 6% of abuse against girls, is committed by women.
Bisexuality is romantic or sexual attraction to males and females, or romantic or sexual attraction to people of all gender identities or to a person irrespective of that person's biological sex or gender, though numerous related terms, such as pansexual and polysexual, are also equated with this description and there exists debate with regard to the terms' interchangeability. People who have a distinct but not exclusive preference for one sex over the other may also identify themselves as bisexual. Bisexuality has been observed in various human societies and elsewhere in the animal kingdom throughout recorded history. The term bisexuality, like the terms heterosexuality and homosexuality, was coined in the 19th century.
Woody Allen is quoted saying, "Being bisexual doubles your chance of a date on Saturday night." Common bisexual stereotypes include an inability to maintain a steady relationship (based on a perception that bisexuals are promiscuous because of their attraction to more than one gender), and indecision as to whether one is gay or straight (which assumes a binary, either-or spectrum of sexuality). Over a person's life their sexual desires and activities may vary greatly. In 1995, Harvard Shakespeare professor Marjorie Garber made the academic case for bisexuality with her Vice Versa: Bisexuality and the Eroticism of Everyday Life, in which she argued that most people would be bisexual if not for "repression, religion, repugnance, denial, laziness, shyness, lack of opportunity, premature specialization, a failure of imagination, or a life already full to the brim with erotic experiences, albeit with only one person, or only one gender."
Rock musician David Bowie famously declared himself bisexual in an interview with Melody Maker in January 1972, a move coinciding with the first shots in his campaign for stardom as Ziggy Stardust. In a September 1976 interview with Playboy, Bowie said, "It's true, I am a bisexual. But I can't deny that I've used that fact very well. I suppose it's the best thing that ever happened to me." In a 1983 interview he said it's "the biggest mistake [he had] ever made", in 2002 elaborating: "I don't think it was a mistake in Europe, but it was a lot tougher in America. I had no problem with people knowing I was bisexual. But I had no inclination to hold any banners or be a representative of any group of people. I knew what I wanted to be, which was a songwriter and a performer [...] America is a very puritanical place, and I think it stood in the way of so much I wanted to do."
Transgender is an umbrella term that encompasses a wide range of people with more specific identities. In general, a person who is transgender self-identifies with a gender other than their biological sex. The term may apply to any number of distinct communities, such as cross-dressers, drag queens, and drag kings, in addition to transsexuals. The beliefs that transgender people are all prostitutes and caricatures of men and women are two of many erroneous misconceptions.
A transsexual is a person born with the physical characteristics of one sex who psychologically and emotionally belongs to a variant or different gender to their physical sex characteristics. Stereotypes of trans women include that they are generally taller than cisgender women, and that they may have larger, more masculine hands.
Transvestites are often assumed to be homosexuals. The word transvestism comes from the combination of Latin words trans meaning "across, over" and vestitus meaning dressed. Most transvestites are heterosexual. Transvestism may have a fetishistic component, whereas cross-dressing does not, although many people use the words interchangeably.
Intersections between LGBT and race and class stereotypes
Hispanics have a generally tough time within the Latino community because of strong gender roles the community holds onto. Men are supposed to care for the family and be a strong father figure, while women are supposed to play a subordinate role. A switching of this role is often seen as obscene. There has been some moving away from these stereotypes in recent years, however, it has been very minimal. The strong belief in "machismo" has caused these shifts in attitude to be so small. Machismo refers to the male dominant role in society that gives men freedoms that women do not. Freedoms include: to have more than one partner, failure to disclose HIV, infidelity, and refusing the use of condoms. Lesbians have a particularly hard time with this, since it promotes the idea that lesbians should conform to all sexual standards that require obedience to the family and its rules. Therefore, if an individual defies the ideas of machismo, the individual is defying their family. As a result, lesbians in the Hispanic community are seen as disrespectful to their families, and seen as abnormal.
Asian Americans that identify as lesbians are having struggles earning respect in society, as well as getting society to understand their situation. Many Americans tend to Orientalize those from the East, labeling them exotic and strange. Many Asian practices are often ignored by Western media, and as a result, the LGBT issues are pushed even farther under the rug. Often when the media does address Asian LGBT issues, they are often depicted as silent and highly sexualized. GLAAD is working to have more fair depiction of the Asian community in the media by reminding media productions to avoid Eurocentric terms such as "The Orient" and the "Far East", also to decipher between those of Asian descent and those actually from the country being discussed. GLAAD is working to connect media networks with Asian and Pacific Islander LGBT leaders and organizations in order to create less biased media coverage.
Religion and activism
There is a common stereotype that members of the LGBT community are not religious, however, this is untrue. The Human Rights campaign is leading a program that promotes the idea that an individual can be gay and religious. Harry Knox, a gay minister, has led this movement since 2005. “Seventy-two percent of adults describe their faith as “very important” in their lives, so do sixty percent of gays and lesbians”(US News). Activists are working to bridge the gap between religion and homosexuality and to make denominations friendlier to the community. Many Protestants have opened their doors and the United Church of Christ now ordains gay ministers. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s are working with Jewish individuals in the LGBT community to have a more welcoming atmosphere.
Kathryn Lehman former house representative for the Republican Party is now the lobbyist for the Freedom to Marry coalition. Lehman now identifies as a lesbian and devoted a lot of time to overturning the Defense of Marriage Act, a law she helped write. Lehman says, "I’m trying to break the stereotype that all gays and lesbians, especially lesbians, are democrats" (NY Times). Lehamn wants society to realize that woman that identify as Republican and LGBT do so because they believe in Republican values such as small government, not because they oppose their own rights to marriage.
- Association fallacy
- List of common misconceptions
- Faulty generalization
- Gay bashing
- Homophobic propaganda
- Violence against LGBT people
- Yogyakarta Principles
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