Deviance of Homosexuality Research Paper

Pages: 8 (2663 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 9  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Women's Issues - Sexuality

Deviance of Homosexuality

Homosexuality: Deviance and normalization

The history of homosexuality as 'deviance'

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Without the cultural concept of 'heterosexuality,' homosexuality does not exist, according to the 20th century French philosopher Michel Foucault. Although homosexuality or heterosexuality might 'feel' like an intrinsic component of one's identity, Foucault stresses that in earlier eras, only homosexual and heterosexual 'acts' existed. Sexuality was not seen as part of the 'self.' For Foucault, sexual categorizations of identity are social constructs and the idea that homosexuality is deviance and heterosexuality is the norm is an intellectual construction, not a 'fact' in a positivist sense. "In the History of Sexuality, Foucault attempts to disprove the thesis that Western society has seen a repression of sexuality since the 17th century and that sexuality has been unmentionable, something impossible to speak about" (the History of Sexuality: About Foucault, 1999). In the 19th century, society became more obsessed than ever before with discussing and defining 'unmentionable' acts, and the trend towards psychological categorization of types of persons created what we know call 'the homosexual.' "Societal reaction to (and therefore individual reaction to) deviance is a complex social-cultural-historical process based on shifting definitions, organizational interests and professional expertise. The 'reaction' and the 'deviance' are mutually interrelated phenomenon," and, as in the case of homosexuality, the reaction and the rationale behind the need to define the behavior as deviant is just as complex as the origins of the behavior itself (the History of Sexuality: About Foucault, 1999). .

TOPIC: Research Paper on Deviance of Homosexuality Assignment

Western society constantly wrestles with the question of what is normal and abnormal, deviant and acceptable. Normal sexuality almost always linked to a definition of deviancy. "Western culture has long been fixated on sexuality. We call it a repression. Rather, the social convention, not to mention sexuality, has created a discourse around it, thereby making sexuality ubiquitous. This would not have been the case, had it been thought of as something quite natural. The concept 'sexuality' itself is a result of this discourse. And the interdictions also have constructive power: they have created sexual identities and a multiplicity of sexualities that would not have existed otherwise" (the History of Sexuality: About Foucault, 1999).

At present, so-called normal sexuality is constructed as being directed towards the opposite, rather than the same sex. However, this was not always the case. For example, the ancient Greeks constructed sexuality as being age-related. A young man would often have sexual relations with an older man, before the youth married a woman and became a fully-fledged adult (Gill 2010). Within the context of many same-sex environments, even today, such as all-male schools and prisons, homosexuality becomes more normalized. It becomes a temporary state, not intrinsic to one's being, and rather than deviant. However, society conveniently ignores the existence of situation-specific homosexuality when it seeks to define 'homosexuals' as a class of deviant persons.

The medicalization of the human psyche during the 19th century gave rise to what Foucault came to call 'the homosexual,' making such behaviors particular to a category of person and therefore safely relegated to the margins of society. "The perverse became a group, instead of an attribute. Sexuality became seen as the core of some peoples' identity. Homosexual relations had been seen as a sin that could be committed from time to time [by everyone], but now a group of 'homosexuals' emerged," meaning that normal people were now 'safe' (the History of Sexuality: About Foucault, 1999). This also parallels with how a criminal underclass or group is deemed intrinsically deviant, such as drug addicts or registered sex offenders. Foucault wrote that while before the 19th century: 'the sodomite was a recidivist, but the homosexual is now a species. The homosexual of the 19th century became a person: a past, a history and an adolescence, a personality, a life style; also a morphology, with an indiscreet anatomy and possibly a mystical physiology. Nothing of his full personality escapes his sexuality.'…Seeing gays as a group is now taken for granted, but before the 18th century the idea would never had occurred to ask the question whether homosexuality is a function of heredity or of upbringing. It was simply not seen as being a fundamental part of the person, but instead as an action, something s/he did" (the History of Sexuality: About Foucault, 1999).

Deviance: Positivist vs. constructivist analysis

This shift in point-of-view occurred, according to Foucault, around the same time the prison system came into conceptual 'being' -- the prisoner was a deviant because of his internal characteristics and could be reformed and changed. No longer were there criminal acts -- the criminal became a type of person. All of this analysis prompts the question: what is deviance? Is it intrinsic to the person? Is something beyond the pale of humanity, or merely 'different' or less common than non-deviant behavior? If the latter is the case, then why are the connotations of the word 'deviance' often negative and pathological? To have an IQ of 200 is deviant, but the word 'deviant' calls to mind, at least in the majority of existing sociological research,' something negative.

"This question [what is deviance] is a good place to begin an analysis of the sociological field of deviance and the phenomena it investigates. You can probably give numerous examples of people or behavior that strike you as immoral, weird, evil, illegal, sick, or, in a word, deviant" but these examples would not necessarily conform to the definitions of deviance given ten, twenty, or thirty years ago (Orcutt 2004, p.1). A 1965 sociological study conducted by J.L. Simmons asked Americans what social groups came to mind when they were asked what was 'deviant:' nearly 49% listed 'homosexuals,' as opposed to 47% who listed drug addicts (Orcutt 2004, p.1). What "should impress you most about the findings of Simmons' study are the incredible diversity of the social phenomena that people classified as deviant. Social definitions of deviance not only vary markedly across different segments of the general public but they also change across time. How many of us today, only a few decades since Simmons' study, would include beatniks or atheists in our top 14? How many of us would place homosexuals, drug addicts, or alcoholics at the very top of our lists of deviants? Further research of the kind conducted by Simmons would be required for an adequate answer to these questions, but an informed guess would be that some important changes have occurred in public definitions of these and other forms of deviance" (Orcutt 2004, p.1).

What is so interesting about the category of 'homosexual' in particular is that it is unlikely that the number of individuals who are homosexual has substantially changed since 1965. What has changed is first the willingness of society to speak about homosexuality, and then, after years of persecution, to deem it less harmful to the social fabric. The nature of deviancy is not attached specifically to gay people, rather society constructed 'homosexuality' as an identity first, and then ascribed certain moral judgments to that class. Homosexuality was even added and then removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorders (DSM) authored by the American Psychological Association (APA).

Many people who identify as gay, of course, would bridle at the idea that drug addiction and homosexuality can be equated as deviant, or have the same causality. Drug addiction possesses negative consequences for the individual and society because of its intrinsic nature, while homosexuality is only problematic because it is deemed so by the rest of society. Although perceptions of negative deviancy may be relative, not all behaviors classified as deviant have the same effects. "Although sociologists have proposed a number of different definitions of deviance, many of these differences are minor and represent little more than variations on a broader conceptual theme. Most of the disagreement over the concept of deviance appears to boil down to a choice between two alternative definitions: a normative definition vs. A relativistic definition of deviance. The normative definition is the older of these two sociological conceptualizations. According to this definition, deviance refers to behavior that violates social norms or to persons that engage in such behavior. Only in the past few decades has this traditional definition of deviance been seriously challenged by sociologists who favor the relativistic alternative. According to the relativistic definition, deviance refers to behavior or persons that are defined as deviant by social audiences. This definition is termed relativistic because it views persons or their behavior as deviant only relative to the way other people react to them" (Orcutt 2004, p.1).

Homosexuality seems to be a primary example of the relativistic nature of deviance: it has been seen as positive, as in ancient Greece, where it was viewed as a necessary step to attaining fully-fledged manhood, and as quite negative, as during the 1950s and 1960s in America, where it was viewed as threatening to the concept of red-blooded American manhood and womanhood. Certain categories of deviancy seem to have a kind of core stability over time,… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Deviance of Homosexuality.  (2010, August 15).  Retrieved November 26, 2021, from

MLA Format

"Deviance of Homosexuality."  15 August 2010.  Web.  26 November 2021. <>.

Chicago Style

"Deviance of Homosexuality."  August 15, 2010.  Accessed November 26, 2021.