DIFFERENCES AMONG HOMOSEXUAL GROUPS
Because homosexuality exists in almost every ethnic, racial, and religious group, many gays, lesbians, and bisexuals also belong to other minority groups. We will now discuss the unique situation of some of these groups.
Lesbianism: Facing Sexism Plus Homophobia
Research focusing on lesbian life and the lesbian community in particular lags far behind research on gay men. This is ironic, because many of the gains homosexuals made in the 1960s and 1970s were due to the close relationship between lesbians and the overall feminist movement. The lack of interest in lesbian studies may itself be a result of the lower value society puts on women and women’s issues, but it may also be partially due to the fact that lesbians are more tolerated in society and often viewed as less “deviant.”
Most of the writing and research about lesbian life in the United States is by lesbians themselves. Scholarship by lesbians tends to be strongly political, in part because lesbians have to deal with both sexism and heterosexism. Friction has arisen between the more radical lesbians and heterosexual feminists, with many lesbians seeing themselves as the vanguard of feminism and seeing heterosexist life as practically synonymous with male domination (Rich, 1983; Risman & Schwartz, 1988).
Overall, the research on lesbianism suggests that women’s sexual identity is more fluid than men’s (Diamond, 2005; Gallo, 2000). Many women do not fall neatly into homosexual-heterosexual categories. Maybe this is because society is less threatened by lesbian sexuality than by gay sexuality.
Other interesting findings include: lesbian and bisexual women have lower rates of preventive care (yearly physical examinations) than heterosexual women (Mays et al.,
2002) ; they are more likely to be overweight, smoke cigarettes, have high rates of alcohol consumption; and they report higher levels of depression and antidepressant use than heterosexuals (Case et al., 2004; see the Sexbyte on page 349). Some research suggests that much of this hinges on the amount of personal acceptance from their parents. Lesbians who felt that their mothers were accepting of their sexual orientation had
higher self-esteem and lower rates of smoking and alcohol consumption than those whose mothers were not accepting (LaSala, 2001).
Interestingly, although you might think lesbian women are more economically disadvantaged than their female heterosexual peers due to their stigmatized sexual orientation, research has found that lesbian workers earn more than their heterosexual female peers (Peplau & Fingerhut, 2004). Overall, lesbians who feel supported and accepted have higher levels of self-esteem and well-being (Beals & Peplau, 2005).
The lesbian community is a vibrant one. Bars, coffeehouses, bookstores, sports teams, political organizations, living cooperatives, media, and lesbian-run and – owned businesses often represent a political statement about the ways in which women can live and work together. A number of lesbian musicians—including k. d. lang, Melissa Etheridge, Tracy Chapman, and members of Tribe 8—sing of issues important to the lesbian community and yet have strong crossover appeal to the heterosexual community. Many lesbian magazines are dedicated to lesbian fiction, erotica, current events, and photography.
Lesbian and feminist journals provide a forum for the lively and argumentative debates among lesbian scholars. For example, pornography has been the subject of an ongoing dispute among lesbian (and feminist) writers. Some are antiporn, seeing most sexually explicit materials as debasing portrayals of women, whereas the “anti-antiporn” group argues that suppressing expressions of sexuality—even ones we disagree with—is a dangerous practice and limits female and lesbian sexual expression, just as new forms of that expression are beginning to appear (Henderson, 1991).
Question: Are bisexuals really equally attracted to both sexes?
It depends on the bisexual. Some are more attracted to one sex than the other, whereas others say that they have no preference at all (F. Klein, 1978). Masters and Johnson (1979) found that both heterosexuals and homosexuals have at least some "cross-preference" fantasies; so perhaps if social pressures were not as strong as they are, many more people would be bisexual to some degree.