Patterns of Homosexual Behavior

Evelyn Hooker, whose breakthrough research on male homosexual behavior was conducted in the 1950s, said she was drawn into research on homosexuality after befriending a gay male student. The student wanted Dr. Hooker to study "normal" gay people of the type who were usually overlooked by psychiatrists. He introduced Hooker and her husband to the gay communities in California. Hooker ended up doing some of the most thorough research to date on patterns of homosexual behavior.

How did Evelyn Hooker get started on her research?

Hooker found that, even in the 1950s, there were over 60 gay bars in Los Angeles. Because most homosexuals were attempting to conceal or de-emphasize their sexual orientation on the job, most socializing took place during leisure time. The bars performed an important function in helping people meet.

How did a "pick up" occur in a gay bar, when Hooker did her research (the 1950s)?

If one watches very carefully, and knows what to watch for in a gay bar, one observes that some individuals are apparently communicating with each other without exchanging words, but simply by exchanging glances—but not the quick glance which ordinarily occurs between men.... Later, as if in an accidental meeting, the two holders-of-a-glance may be seen in a brief conversation followed by their leaving together. Or, the conversation may be omitted. Casually and unobtrusively, they may arrive at the door at the same time, and leave. If we followed them, we would discover that they were strangers, who by their exchange of glances had agreed to a sexual exchange.

...What I have described is one form of "cruising." While the agreements resulting in the "one night stand" occur in many settings—the bath, the street, the public toilet—and may vary greatly in the elaboration or simplicity of the interaction preceding the culmination of the sexual act, their essential feature is the standardized expectation that sex can be had without obligation or commitment. (Hooker, 1967, pp. 175-176)

What role was played by gaze, according to Saghir and Robins?

Saghir and Robins conducted another large-scale study of homosexual behavior in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They found that gaze was the most important ingredient in mutual recognition among homosexuals. 40% described "prolonged looks" as a primary way of recognizing other homosexuals, while 48% cited a combination of eye contact and other physical cues: voice, gesture, vocabulary, or choice of clothes.

How are students often misled by the Saghir and Robins findings?

Students often misunderstand this finding as saying something unique about homosexuals-that they have "gaydar" or the ability to spot other homosexuals as if they possess special radar. But the Saghir and Robins findings could be interpreted the opposite way, as showing homosexuals and heterosexuals are essentially similar in this regard. Heterosexuals use the same exact cues—significant looks, voice, gesture, and conversation—when looking for a partner. Also, keep in mind that 48% is less than half. This means over half of homosexuals did not think gaze and other obvious cues were important. A quarter of the respondents said flatly that they could not recognize homosexuals by looking (Saghir and Robins, 1973, p.80).

Cruising—casual, anonymous sex "without obligation or commitment"—was once the most common form of sex among young homosexual males. As a result, many male homosexuals had multiple sexual partners. Saghir and Robins (1973) found that 94% of their sample of homosexual partners had a history of more than 15 sexual partners, whereas only 21% of heterosexual men had this many female sexual partners.

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Copyright © 2007 Russ Dewey