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Gay history document, 1981 [c. 4,000 words] [End]

[HI! logo, incised block]GAY PARANOIA

We see and hear it all the time, hysterical charges and dire predictions of genocide against "gays".

The little New York publication Gay Opinion this month quotes a flyer distributed during Christopher Street Liberation Day 1980: "They're not yet loading us into boxcars and taking us to death camps. But when they deny us the right to employment, the right to housing, the right to public accommodation, the right to equal credit, the right to raise our children as we wish to, even to the right of our community, then they are denying us the right to live, AND THAT IS GENOCIDE'." Who are these awful "they"? And where are they doing these terrible things? To whom?

I know thousands of gay men. Every last one of them lives somewhere — so we are not denied housing. There are hundreds of gay bars, restaurants, bathhouses, stores, and meeting places, dozens of organizations; we ride subways and buses, walk streets, enter virtually every public shop, office building, theater, bank, and other structure in this city and transact our business like everybody else — so we are clearly not denied public accommodation. Virtually everyone I know has a job, even if not in his preferred field — so we are not denied employment. There are no boxes on credit applications asking "Straight" or "Queer". We don't HAVE children as homosexuals — and I for one have been approved to adopt a boy child by a Catholic agency! [That never happened, and I think perhaps the reason was insincerity on the part of the administration of that agency, Tho I believe at least some of the caseworkers were sincere.] So where is this genocidal conspiracy against us? In our own guilty minds, that's where.

At a scarcely-attended political forum sponsored by NYC's Gay People's Union in May, I passed a casual remark that paranoia is an outward projection of internal guilts — that paranoid people feel themselves terrible so assume that others despise them, and so paranoia speaks more to one's self-hatred than to public hostility — and is mostly baseless, both within the self and externally. Then I got just one too many glimpses of pink triangles and paranoid rhetoric, so opened my Encyclopaedia Britannica to see what shrinks have to say about paranoia. Very enlightening. Please put up with the psychiatric jargon in the following selections from this Britannica article, because the message is vitally important. Emphasis is mine.

"PARANOID REACTIONS. Under this term are included paranoia and paranoid states. The word paranoia was used by the ancient Greeks, apparently in much the same sense as the modern term insanity.... Toward the end of the 19th century it came to mean a delusional psychosis, in which the delusions develop slowly into a complex, intricate and logically elaborated system, without hallucination and without general personality disorganization... .(which may be grandiose, persecutory or erotic .... Though a great many patients with paranoia have to be hospitalized, some do not, and among these an occasional one succeeds in building up a following of persons who believe him to be a genius or inspired…."

There may seem a superficial logicality to the extravagant charges laid by "gay" militants — after all, there is hostility to homosexuality in heterosexual society. Gay liberationists may seem dedicated and inspired reformers or even revolutionaries who have sacrificed all for the sake of liberating the downtrodden. But don't let good motives hide bad logic.

"The person most vulnerable to a persecutory paranoid state is the tense, insecure, suspicious person who has little basic trust in other persons, who has always found it difficult to confide in others, tends to be secretive, usually has few close friends and is addicted to solitary rumination. These characteristics are sometimes hidden behind a facade of superficial sociability and talkativeness. Above all, there is a rigidity about such a person's thinking which becomes most obvious when he is under emotional stress. This may give an impression of certainty and self-assurance, but actually it is based upon profound insecurity, upon a need to be dogmatic because of an inability to tolerate suspended judgment."

(Naturally, many non-paranoid people have many of the characteristics listed above, so don't point an accusing finger without further evidence than these rather common personality characteristics.)

The rigidity factor is one of the most marked of the gay militant. If you have ever tried to point out the errors in thinking and excesses of behavior that characterize gay militants, you have probably run into a brick wall that talks back — that, indeed, shouts names and condemnations and tries to have you ejected from the room and branded an "Uncle Tom". There are times when only adamant — to pick a word carefully, "intransigent" — insistence on one's own point of view is warranted, as, for instance, when a discussion has gone on for hours and all points of view have been considered and a single correct decision made in light of due discussion. But there are other times when adamancy — trying to shout down any voice opposing — shows not strength but weakness. And it is the inability of too many gay militants to consider another point of view that makes their closed-mindedness suspect.

"The insecure, distrustful, solitary person finds his world unsafe, something that needs watching. Characteristically, he does not understand motivation well, either in others or in himself. Because of this he easily misinterprets what others do and say, fails to recognize hostile overtones in his own behavior, even when they are obvious to others.  An ambitious person with paranoid trends, for example, may push ahead without due regard for others' feelings, which he does not understand, and then become deeply hurt or enraged when others oppose him or snub him. A passive person similarly, may unconsciously invite domination or encroachment by others, and then react with angry resentment or fright when it comes. A common result of all this is that a person with these personality trends unintentionally creates an atmosphere of tension around himself, even when he is relatively well."

Much militant rhetoric is devoid of the single most important question: WHY? Why should straights be so hostile to us? Why are things as they are? And why have they remained so much the same for so very long? Why do gay men in big cities, free of serious oppression by straights, move instantly to fill the oppression deficit by oppressing themselves? Things just are, they would have us believe. People have been told things and simply cannot break from what they've been told.

But surely in a world as full of questioning as ours, we cannot be the only people asking questions. Surely decent-minded straights have asked themselves "Why should we outlaw homosexuality and seek to convert homosexuals to heterosexuality?" And surely those who continue to work against us have found answers to Such questions. But it would seem that the Movement doesn't understand those motivations, because if it did surely we could combat or manipulate them more effectively than we have done heretofore.

Ask a typical militant why straights should be so intent on destroying us, and he is likely to offer you bizarre, far-out explanations that do not explain.

There are at least four major motivations behind heterosexuals' antipathy to homosexuality (and, in lesser measure, lesbianism, which phenomenon is not my concern here (or anywhere, for that matter) (1) "It's something I wouldn't want to do, and therefore nobody should do it" — and who of us has not felt that primeval inclination to ban things we find disgusting (as, for instance, heterosexuality)? (2) "The Bible (or some other comparably authoritative religious work) says it's wrong. (3) "I just don't understand it — it goes against nature." And (4) "If everybody were homosexual, the human race would die out." These are genuine, if irrational, bases for antagonism to homosexuality, and we can deal with them if we once understand the sincerity of conviction behind them.

Myriad arguments can be brought to bear. For instance, having sex with women is something I wouldn't do. Does that mean I have the right to forbid you to do it? The one thing we must understand is that people who work against us are generally as well-motivated as we are in opposing them. They sincerely believe that homosexuality is wrong, dysfunctional, sick, bad for society and bad for us. They are wrong. But in trying to show them how wrong they are, we must extend to them the same respect for conscientiously held beliefs as we hope to move them to accord our views.

If we approach people of good will as people of good will; if we accord others respect for their good motives and point out that we too are concerned about doing right in a world of temptation to wrong, we can in all likelihood persuade decent people that we are decent. But if we denounce them and all the principles which they try — but too often fail — to observe, as "bigots", "fanatics", and "prudes", we will do nothing but persuade them that we are antisocial degenerates. We must not allow ourselves to be pushed into the position of defending immorality out of the misconception that we are immoral and therefore must defend all that is immoral. Quite the contrary, we must understand ourselves to be moral and demonstrate to others that we are fully as moral as they — though different. It is not necessary for us to prove others immoral to prove ourselves moral. And vice versa.

Irresponsible militants who would have you believe that the best defense is a good offense and that therefore we should run around in dresses screaming in whistling lisps, or walk around in S&M drag as open advertisements for depravity — sexuality gone wrong — are, more than just nuts, a serious danger to themselves and others. The hostility to others which such behavior manifests creates antipathy in people who would have no reason to be hostile to us without such gross disrespect for simple sanity and good manners. We have reason to be suspicious of the motives of people who attack when there is no need to attack, who prefer shouting names to presenting arguments calmly (even if with passion) — because they are motivated by seething hostility within their soul which may have nothing to do with the topic at hand and everything to do with personal tumult risen from an unhappy life. We should try to calm such people or constrain them to civilized conduct. Or we should cut them out of the Movement and publicly disown them.

"... A chief contributing factor to this atmosphere of tension is the tendency to self-reference; i.e., to misinterpret remarks, gestures and acts of others as intentional slights or as signs of derision and contempt, directed at the hypersensitive person. It is normal, of course, to assume occasionally that criticism, contempt or derision is directed at oneself when actually it is not. but the average person is able to shrug it off, after a brief period of resentment, or to challenge it, and thus find out his error of interpretation. The person who can neither shake off his hurt feelings nor correct his mistakes of self-reference is in more than average danger of developing delusions.

"Self-reference becomes paranoid delusion when a person persists in believing that he is the target of hostile actions or insinuations, aimed at him by some enemy or band of enemies, when this is actually not the case. The identifying marks of delusional conviction are (1) readiness to accept the flimsiest evidence in support of the belief, and (2) inability to entertain seriously any evidence that contradicts it. It is this biased selection of available evidence that gives to paranoid development its appearance of irresistible progression."

It is beyond doubt that there are combinations of social forces arrayed against homosexuality. The difference between the functional combinations of various social forces and an active conspiracy against any one of us is not easy to draw, since in a very real way the hostility to homosexuality can and does narrow down to each of us when he is known to be homosexual. What marks the difference between simple realism and a sick delusion are (a) exaggeration and (b) unwillingness to see contradictory trends. Under (a) I would put the infamous pink triangle and the suggestions made over and over again that the homosexual in the United States is in imminent danger of being rounded lip by the U.S. Government and gassed to death. This is madness and cannot happen. Even in World War II, under active attack by the Empire of Japan, the United States merely interned some U.S. Japanese and made others move inland from the West Coast, without compensating them for properties seized. If this country was unwilling to exterminate the Japanese during World War II, it is certain that homosexuals are safe from such a fate. (b) There has been enormous progress in the status of the homosexual in the United States. in the past 12 years — progress many of us in the Movement at the time would have believed impossible in so short a time. The paranoid concedes no progress and insists on seeing an immovable and deadly hostility ever vigilant for opportunities to destroy us. Since many of us are doing very well as openly homosexual persons, there must be something peculiarly skewed in the viewpoint of these paranoid individuals — personal anxieties having nothing to do with communal dangers.

"Paranoid self-reference is never a purely random matter; it always has some kind of pattern. The patient is always selectively hypersensitive to certain kinds of implied threat, to certain kinds of situations and personalities. This selectivity actually corresponds to the patient's own pattern of fears, wishes, guilt, weaknesses and frustrations. The persecution he anticipates may be sexual in character, it may be a direct assault or it may be some threat to his freedom, reputation or security. The immediate effect of increased delusions of self-reference is to increase the patient's vigilance, to make him look for possible clues as to what seems to be going on around him, and to make him prepare to defend himself or to counterattack....The commonest precipitating factors are temptation and frustration. Temptation to commit or to fantasy some forbidden hostile or erotic action may arouse primitive impulses and intolerable guilt. Frustration also can arouse intolerable guilt because of the hostility it stimulates. The frustration may come from actual failure and humiliation, from feelings of intense rivalry and jealousy or from the loss of a major source of gratification.... Frustration also comes when youth begins to disappear or health fails, or when the person is incapacitated, isolated or subjected to socioeconomic downgrading. as in losing his job, status or income."

People who have frustrations in many areas of life may consolidate all their anxieties and hostilities under the most powerful or convenient heading. Homosexuals have a very convenient outlet for hostilities. Their homosexuality may seem to them a grave burden that has caused them enormous personal unhappiness and frustration: "If I weren't queer, I'd be married, have children, have a good job and respect in the community. Instead, I'm a goddamned fruit living in a rathole and working for pennies. I can't face others and I can't face myself.  Somebody is going to pay!" It is easier to resent than to solve one's problems. Thus the preposterous fundamental orientation of the gay Movement on attacking straight hostility rather than dealing with the profound disappointments and frustrations we experience in trying to find happiness in our personal dealings with other homosexual men. The Movement should be directing its primary efforts to helping men find their manhood and self-affirming optimism; in learning to open up to the possibilities and admit the need to love; to make peace with their sexuality, themselves, and each other. Because it doesn't matter how much the outside world changes: if we are still isolated and unloving in regard to each other, we will still be miserable and angry.

'The paranoid patient gets rid of his intolerable sense of guilt through unconscious mechanisms of denial and projection. He denies his primitive hostile or erotic impulses and projects them —  that is, he ascribes them to other persons. Projection is rarely done at random. Usually the patient unwittingly selects as the alleged carriers of his own impulses and his own guilt, persons who have corresponding minimal unconscious trends. These trends he magnifies and sees as dominant, conscious characteristics of the person he accuses. Someone who actually dislikes the patient, for example, someone who may not even realize it, is selected as a major hater and tormentor — even as a potential murderer; or someone of the same sex, who is fond of the patient or who has minimal unconscious homosexual trends, becomes for the patient a frightening homosexual threat."

It is straights who are hostile toward homosexuals, never homosexuals who are hostile toward heterosexuality, according to the gay militant. "We are tolerant; it's they who are bigots." It is hard for many homosexuals to admit how much they hate and feel disgust for heterosexuality and how angry they are with straights for imposing upon them. We have the tolerance of the weak: we tolerate what we can't change. Al the while, we resent the intolerance we don't have the power to have toward the dominant heterosexual culture. If the tables were turned and it were we who were in charge and straights who were a minority, be assured that we would be fully as intolerant and hellbent on suppression as they are toward us. And they would be lecturing us on tolerance because tolerance is something the weak must have for the strong but the strong need not have for the weak. We hate being weak. It goes against our grain as men and makes us feel less than men. Thus our position as subjugated minority — subjugated culturally if in no other way — makes us feel rage. But we are not allowed to express such rage, so we are forced to suppress even internal acknowledgment of it. No, we have no anger, no rage, no intolerance or bigotry. Only They have those evil things inside them. Bullshit.

We have projected our own hostilities onto straight society. Homosexuality has made us very unhappy and we are angry at ourselves (1) for being different, (2) for being homosexual, (3) for not being able to feel good about being ourselves and being homosexual, and (4) for not being able to control our own lives in all dimensions. Homosexuality is enormously important to us; is, indeed, the center of our lives, our very beings. So we assume that it has enormous importance to everyone else too. Straights are afraid of us because they want to be like us. They are homophobic because they are latently homosexual and know the unhappiness that can cause them. But are they? There is of course a homosexual potentiality in all men, because they can feel autoeroticism and therefore eroticism for a male. It is impossible to loathe all men if one is a man unless one loathes oneself. But it's a long jump from a homosexual potential to a homosexual life choice. No, it's not straights who are extremely, personally agitated over homosexuality, but we. Straight have their own lives and concerns to deal with. Their lives don't depend on the condition of the homosexual. Ours do. Straights are absorbed in their own lives. They really don't care much about ours

"...[E]rotic and hostile impulses ... [result] in a high level of anxiety. This anxiety the patient ascribes to external danger or attack; but actually it signals internal danger from poorly repressed impulses....

"Unfortunately, a person who is already convinced that something strange is going on around him, or that he is in personal danger, always can find confirmation of his suspicions and fears if he looks hard enough.When apparent persecution reaches this degree of intensity and complexity it is natural to assume an organized source. The search for some unifying explanation leads many paranoid patients to conclude that the 'plot' is being engineered by certain specific persons, some of them actual persons who can be pointed out, some of them imaginary. Such an imagined community of alleged conspirators is called a paranoid pseudo-community. Its make-up often follows the familiar patterns of mystery stories. The patient may speak of criminals, gangsters, dope rings and spy rings, of political, racist and religious haters.

"Abnormal as it is, this organized delusion of a hostile pseudo-community has certain immediate advantages for the patient. It substitutes a definite, known delusional danger for a vague unknown one, and most human beings find known dangers easier to endure. It is also easier to prepare oneself to meet a specific known danger than to meet a diffuse threat. And, finally, the hostile pseudo-community seems real enough to the paranoid patient for him to be able to make it the target of his hostility. Now he can discharge some of his unmanageable aggression directly by combating the supposed band of persecutors. His destructive impulses, instead of disorganizing him as they easily might, are turned outward against his imaginary enemies. This does not solve his problems by any means, but for the time it does preserve him from personality disorganization.

"Therapy. — ...the primary therapeutic aims are a reduction in anxiety and the reestablishment of genuine communication. Excessive anxiety lies behind excessive paranoid projection; and the delusions themselves are only products and indirect expressions of these more basic processes. If anxiety and projection subside, the patient becomes able to communicate profitably. His greatest need then is for someone in whom he can confide safely....— Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1973

It is clear from the many mentions of homosexuality in this standard encyclopedia article, that homosexuals may be prime candidates for paranoid states. We must recognize the danger of going overboard and try to put things in proportion, to see the good as well as bad that happens around us, regarding us. The Movement has an obligation to put aside extravagant and paranoid rhetoric and stop worrying so much about how much straights hate us — because more and more, they don't. Besides which, they have much more personally important things to tend to in their lives than worry about us. WE'RE the ones who have to worry about us, and take care of us. We must recognize that we have laid too many diverse personal problems at the door of homosexuality and start unburdening homosexuality of the excesses we have heaped upon it. Maybe if we who are unhappy in our personal lives were straight as a man could be we'd still be unhappy, unsuccessful, and alone. And maybe if we stopped feeling sorry for ourselves and stopped pretending that our "community" works just fine when in fact it does grievous harm to us, we will get around to the real business of the Movement: gay world reform, to create a place where we can find happiness in ourselves and love with each other.

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