Research note: Gay and straight men assess parental qualities

I am re-examining (in some cases examining for the first time) older studies of parenting and adult sexual orientation. This post will look at a paper from 1983 – Sipova, I., & Brzek, A. (1983). Parental and Interpersonal Relationships of Transexual and Masculine and Feminine Homosexual Men. Journal of Homosexuality, 9, 75-85.

This Czechoslovakian study claims to find differences between assessments of parents by gay, straight and MtF transsexuals. However, the actual data do not support the discussion from the authors who clearly wanted to find the traditional triad. A look at the data reveals few statistical differences. The authors reported absolute values in the direction they expected but analysis finds only a few differences and those were not supportive of their discussion.

This study is interesting in that the authors divided the homosexual group (from a clinical population) into effeminate and non-effeminate males. Self-assessments of dominance differed with gay males viewing themselves as less dominant than straight males. However, assessments of paternal dominance were not different by sexual orientation of respondent. In other words, these men did not differ in how assertive and strong they perceived their fathers to be. Relevant to the reparative drive model, the non-effeminate group of gay males did not differ from the straight group on how loving they perceived their fathers as being. However, the effeminate gay male group did differ from the straight males and non-effeminate gay males on perception of paternal love. This finding supports the idea that gender nonconformity may evoke paternal rejection rather than paternal rejection being causally related in a comprehensive way to homosexual attraction.

Now here is an interesting finding: Non-effeminate gay males differed from both the effeminate gay males and the straight males on assessments of maternal love. Straight and effeminate gay males were no different on this dimension — both saw their mothers as quite loving while the non-effeminate gay males saw them as loving but significantly less so than the other two groups. All groups saw mothers as equally dominant and all saw their mothers as less dominant than the fathers. While some differences associated with the groups, the study does not support the “classic triadic model” of a distant/hostile father and overbearing/protective mother associated with male homosexuality. It is striking how similar the assessments were.

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  • Drowssap

    This finding supports the idea that gender nonconformity may evoke paternal rejection rather than paternal rejection being causally related in a comprehensive way to homosexual attraction.

    I bet you’re right, that’s most of it

    IMHO another factor might be that if a “gay” child is close to his father while growing up he will attempt to emmulate his dad on some level. Whatever his starting point a close relationship with his dad may pull his personality towards a more masculine final outcome. On the flip side if a gay kid grows up hating his dad it may drive his personality in the opposite direction.

  • Ann

    Dr. Throckmorton,

    This is very interesting on a couple of levels – thanks for posting it. Do you know how many men were studied and how many in each catagory?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton/2008/11/23/new-study-casts-doubt-on-older-brother-hypothesis-and-reparative-drive-theory/#comments carole

    This study is interesting in that the authors divided the homosexual group (from a clinical population) into effeminate and non-effeminate males.

    Question: What criteria determined the distinction made between “effeminate” and “non-effiminate”?

    Self-assessments of dominance differed with gay males viewing themselves as less dominant than straight males.

    Question: Was it a “self-assessment of dominance” that was used to label some subjects “effeminate” and others “non-effeminate”? If so, how was “dominance” defined?

    For a variety of reasons, I have little regard for studies that use self-assessments or for studies that don’t lay out rigid descriptors of what constitutes “effeminate” or “non-effeminate.” The terms become meaningless if subjects self-report, unless, of course, the study is about how the subjects view themselves.

  • Evan

    1. I think most of us would agree that family dynamic would never be so strong as to cause sex atypicality (which is also physical). People are naturally different in their appearance and capacity and that is primarily due to inherited factors. But children, besides physical aspect and predispositions, also get a number of temperamental tendencies which are collected from their relatives and are exercised in a family environment in which their parents’ temperaments feedback on their predispositions. Isn’t it telling how the father of a sex-atypical boy rejects him, although the child’s physical and behavioural manifestations are not acquired as much as inherited? Some parents are actually terrified that one son turning gay might say something about their own sexual identity… “It’s from your mother’s side” used to remember Simon LeVay how his father put it. But it takes both parents to conceive a baby and they both contribute to a child’s traits, be they typical or not. And parents themselves come from particular families with similar traits and they have a particular way of finding each other and becoming an item. Who studies parents and parents’ parents gender typicality and traits and rate their interactions? That is almost impossible to study right now to a good degree of rigour.

    2. On the other hand, people’s assessments of their parents are not objective measures. For instance, one guy thinks his father was distant, uninvolved but that he did not perceive him as dominated by the mother he felt more involved and cognisant about getting any job done in the house. A man coming from another family background, after he met this guy’s family said that it was the other way around: the father seemed aloof and too easy about whatever was being decided in the family, as if his only real job was the one from the office and his only interests with his friends outside of the house. So the son perceived his father as being dominant because he was the biggest wage earner and was respected for his status in the community, but another person coming from outside of the family saw the reverse in the actual family interaction. I think it depends a lot what particular family background shaped your perception, which is also reflected in how you rate others. Sometimes being too close to the trees can make the forest invisible.

    3. There are many reasons behind the choices people make about their sexuality. This can induce a lot of turbulence in the research model. Sex atypicals may show up more in these studies as gay-identified because they are the ones who have the least chances at overcoming their biological difference to adapt to a gender segregated society. Typical folks can get to a similar outcome in sexuality, due to other factors, like peer isolation (for whatever reason). It is also possible that hypermasculinisation could create a distinct type of the same outcome. For instance, a man who is physically typical during childhood but temperamentally shy may, for whatever reasons, grow apart from his peers only during puberty. Although he is not sex atypical he may grow into an adult who cannot relate to women, because of his shyness and feels relieved in relating to men both sexually and socially. Women tend to reject men who score very low on agreeableness or give out a vibe of insecurity, no matter how masculine they may look. Sexuality is about chances and these guys could invest theirs in people who are attracted to them and they are attracted to. That doesn’t mean that this is the entire picture of their attractions. It’s only the one that works.

    What family background could create that? Not any particular one, as these studies would indicate. Does it mean that family interaction cannot play any role in the outcomes? I think it cannot be dismissed that if different factors work differently for different people, then family interactions could play a big role for some and not for others. Considering that they, both parents and children, couldn’t be trusted to assess each other objectively, there are little chances to find much significance in their ratings. Ratings are relative — they come from similar backgrounds.

    4. There is another factor that I think has been gaining ground since information society came into being. Both straights and gays have become aware of the social myths about family dynamics, of the smothering mother and remote father, of the link between effeminacy and gayness, masculinisation and lesbianism, etc. Many attitudes have been developed in relation to these myths, both in straights and gays. Some may embrace some of them, others may try to conceal some parts, especially the embarrassing ones of childhood gender nonconformism. This might irreversibly complicate the picture that scientists are trying to develop by assessing family dynamics from ratings and recalled roles. What was a dominant father before feminism asserted itself and what is he today? Is that reflected in children’s ratings or their parents’ official roles?

    There are many other considerations that could be made based on brain studies, but that is enough for now.

  • Evan

    One more thing.

    Self-assessments of dominance differed with gay males viewing themselves as less dominant than straight males. However, assessments of paternal dominance were not different by sexual orientation of respondent. In other words, these men did not differ in how assertive and strong they perceived their fathers to be.

    Let me answer to this argument using one real example that is not statistically significant, but it illustrates the idea well.

    One of my family’s friends is an alpha male type. He cheats on his wife, bullies and makes fun of everyone around him and insists on making his presence known by his loud voice once he enters the room. His son, who is straight and married, is his antipode: he studied violin during his childhood, is softly spoken and considerate and is neither very assertive nor aggressive. Since they seemed so different I asked my folks if the son was adopted. They said: “No, you should have seen him [the father] when he was young; he was as shy as a maid.” So the father became assertive because of a number of conditions in his environment: family, peers, work place, etc. I wonder if his son would know anything about his dad’s early painfully shy days and how would he rate his dad today in a study on the link between parental influence on sexual orientation. I have no idea what both their primary attractions would be, BTW. It is very likely that they are straight, because they are married.

  • Eddy

    Good point about defining ‘effeminate’ Carole. Back in the 1970′s, the widely used MMPI (Minnesota Multi-Phasic Inventory…I think) was the bee’s knees. (LOL. Not that long ago.) A number of people, myself included, were vexed by their ‘effeminacy’ and ‘homosexuality’ scales. If memory serves, it was over 500 questions…sometimes craftily asked again with a turn of phrase. But something like a male appreciating poetry or art would go to one or both of the scales.

    A female friend once pointed out to me that a guy who is stereotypically ‘effeminate’ is as different from regular women as he is from regular men. Jack might be described as the effeminate one on Will & Grace–or the character Henry Gibson played. Granted, they are far from looking like your ‘average Joe’ but you could throw a dress and makeup on either one and they wouldn’t carry it…unless they moved on into mimicry/drag. Point is that ‘effeminacy’, for the purpose of a study, does need to be defined.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton Warren

    Ann – 41 controls; 70 non-effeminate gay males; 100 effeminate gay males; 27 transsexuals. I did not do much with the latter group since it was so small.

    Effeminacy was decided via clinical interview based on clothing, mannerisms, etc. This may seem quite unsatisfactory until you consider Bailey’s work regarding gaydar. An imperfect measure for sure but an interesting effort.

    Dominance and loving were assessed via scores on the Leary (yes Timothy Leary) Personality Assessment. The instrument was used commonly until he became known for his advocacy of drugs.

    Regarding self-report, many reparative therapists say the issue in parent-child relationships is the perception the child had of the parent. Parents may be quite loving and fine but if the child perceives the parents in a certain way, it impacts the psyche. And so self-report is a reasonable test of the reparative drive theory. If perception drives bonding then these gays males don’t have the perceptions predicted by reparative drive theory. All input from therapy sessions are self-perception. So this kind of study can serve as a test of predictions based on the reparative theory.

  • Michael Bussee

    I have always believed that this was true: “gender nonconformity may evoke paternal rejection rather than paternal rejection being causally related in a comprehensive way to homosexual attraction.”

    We must keep in mind that two things occurring together do not necessarily cause each other. See “post hoc ergo propter hoc”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post_hoc_ergo_propter_hoc My Dad had trouble with my “difference” but he didn’t cause it. If anything, my gayness caused his rejection — and not the other way around.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton/2008/11/23/new-study-casts-doubt-on-older-brother-hypothesis-and-reparative-drive-theory/#comments carole

    MIchael, I don’t mean to be nosy so I fully understand if you choose not to answer, but I was wondering what, in particular, you believe your father perceived as “different” about you at a young age?

    Was this “difference” what not only your father but also others outside the family would have considered “difference”? Was it his perception that your “difference” was in persistent and unusual feminine gestures, ways of speaking, *or* was this difference the more vague, nebulous kinds of behaviors, like not particularly liking rough housing with him or even more importantly, just not liking hanging around dad? —not being interested in dad’s activities like completing household chores such as fixing an electrical outlet, changing the oil in a car, painting, mowing the lawn, things like that?

    You know how kids in an intact family go through a stage, usually beginning sometime in late toddlerhood and in early childhood, of mimicking the way the SS parent walks, talks, and gestures? It’s very common for little boys to actually follow their fathers, a foot behind them, mimicking their walk. It’s very common for little boys to mimic their dad’s way of speaking, trying to lower his voice. For example, at the dinner table, it’s very common for little boys to repeat an expression the father is fond of.

    These are behaviors, which, of course, the dad is silently pleased with as he feels as if he is respected by his son, seen as a role model. This is a very powerful thing in the forming of a solid relationship. As they say, “Imitation is the highest form of flattery.” The father, finding himself supremely complimented by the son’s attempt to copy him, may show the boy even more attention, affection, This is his “buddy” after all. If the son doesn’t do this, the father may feel diminished, something which can, of course, cause further alienation, or at least further distance between the two.

    Yes, true, little kids often dress up in their parents’ clothing during some play times with a little girl trying on mom’s high heels, her lipstick, a boy walking around in dad’s large wing tips, loafers, or work boots, coat, tossing on his hat or cap.

    Yes, it’s true that it’s just as common for little girls to walk around in dad’s shoes as well, laughing at how heavy and big they are. Or to try on dad’s cap, his large coat. It is surely true that little girls can and do engage in this behavior w/out anyone thinking anything about it.

    When a little boy tries on the mom’s clothes or wears her lipstick, it is only viewed with humor and no worry when the little boy, after donning the garb, scorns such clothing or make-up, making fun of it as if to say, “See how ridiculous this looks–this stuff is for g–i-r-l-s,” and of course this is one of the first illustrations that the little boy has made a very clear distinction between what is appropriate for girls as opposed to what is appropriate for little boys, thus him. In this stage of development, such comments from the little boy indicate that he is making clear that HE is NOT girl-like, that he wishes NOT to be girl-like, that he is “other” than girls, etc.

    Having outgrown this temporary stage, soon after, we’lll not see these boys smearing lipstick or putting on mom’s hat anymore if he ever did at all. Should he ever again put on lipstick, it will be only to serve as warpaint as he plays the part of an Indian.

    A little boy who seems overly concerned with mom’s clothing, who seems only to want to mimic mom or other females, who adopts ways of speaking that seems “childish” and age-inappropriate, starts to cause parents, teachers, etc. anxiety and worry. These are the kids we see as “effeminate.” Certainly these are the kids that are seen early as “different.”

    However, there is another class of boys, both gay and straight, who may not tag around after dad, may not find dad’s activities interesting and there may be many reasons the child doesn’t follow dad around at that early age. It may be the son and dad have never established a relationship in which the son, the dad, or both are comfortable with one another. Perhaps the child doesn’t feel he is good at what dad is interested in (fishing, wrestling, using a wrench or a screwdriver, etc); perhaps the boy IS interested in such activities, but the dad is dismissive. My own husband speaks of how he liked to watch his father putter and do this and that in the house, but when he asked questions about what his dad was doing, or how he was doing it, he often received grunts for answers. Evidently my husband, however, was persistent, not easily dismissed. Some parents are not patient teachers or mentors. Anyone watching a Little League game realizes how many children don’t want to hang around dad (or mom!) when parents put too much pressure on the child to meet their expectations.

    Thus, I mention all this not because I feel you don’t already know all this, but to properly frame the question: Do you think your dad thought you “different” because you were gender atypical or do you think your dad thought you different because he had concluded that you, his son, had not exhibited in your behavior that you were interested in him? Do you think he didn’t feel as if he was your role model, your hero? Did you ever imitate him when you were young, for example?

    Just so you know where I am coming from –I don’t believe that in the overwhelming number of cases the lack of an active male role model results in the homosexuality of the boy, but I can surely understand how the lack of a patient, interested paternal role model would help any young boy gain confidence in facing the world into which he is being introduced.

  • minty

    One of the implications of the distant father theory is that homosexuality could be dramatically reduced by strengthening father-son bonding.

    Also, that incidence of homosexuality should be less in societies with stronger-than-average father-son bonding. And likewise, incidence of homosexuality should be higher in societies with less-than-average father-son bonding.

    Wouldn’t a long-term study to test this be fairly easy to devise? Pick 1,000 random families, diligently encourage and educate the fathers to bond with their sons. Have another 1,000 random families as the control group, and in twenty years tally the results!

    Can proponents of this theory point to any sociological studies in its support? Anecdotally, the incidence of homosexuality does not seem any higher among inner-city African Americans despite the oft-reported chronic shortage of fathers…

  • minty

    I just thought of something (lol). If poor father-son relationships are a major cause of homosexuality, shouldn’t *that* be where anti-gay groups pour their resources? If they really believe in this theory, improving fathers across America would seem to be a logical target for their resources. Although perhaps they do this already, with summer camps and so on.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton/2008/11/23/new-study-casts-doubt-on-older-brother-hypothesis-and-reparative-drive-theory/#comments carole

    Minty asked the million dollar question for such proponents—

    Can proponents of this theory point to any sociological studies in its support? Anecdotally, the incidence of homosexuality does not seem any higher among inner-city African Americans despite the oft-reported chronic shortage of fathers

    I would add, “Can proponents of this theory point to any studies that show homosexuality occurs at a greater rate among those whose fathers and mothers divorced when the child was young and in which there was no surrogate father?”

    In answer to your question, I have read some proponents argue that in the inner city, the gang or the tight-knit network of neighborhood boys into which the child is invited and led by older boys, acts as the father, imparting masculine values and acting as the masculine model of behavior. However, I have never seen them present any data supporting their contention.

    As for the “inner city” part of your reference–Cochran maintains that homosexuality is much higher, 3 times more likely, in urban areas, and that this figure has been adjusted for migration (ie, gay boys grown into young men migrate to the cities to find their own kind). In other words, he maintains that homosexuality is much less likely in boys born in and/or reared from a young age in rural areas, and he argues that is another stat pointing toward an etiology stemming from an infection or an immune response to an infection.

  • Eddy

    Reparative drive theory and therapy relies heavily on the assumption that a boy’s broken relationship with his father (or father figure) is the cause for homosexual development. Most ex-gays that I know of are multi-causal. The father bond may be one factor that causes issues for some but 1) it rarely operates without other factors also and 2) there are lots of instances where it seems to be a genuine stretch to name it as a cause at all.

    We accept multiple causes rather easily with something like obesity. There we even allow for actual physical causes. But we don’t pretend that all obesity has the same origins.

    Minty–I believe that the possibility of broken father relationships was one thing that led some in Exodus to connect with Focus on the Family.

  • Ann

    and we must remember the temperment of the child and how they perceive the absence or emotional distance of a father or other familial circumstances – one son might be greatly affected in an adverse way that could create vulnerabilities whereas another son might not be affected in quite the same way or even at all

  • Evan

    minty,

    I would forget about the single cause explanation. But could anyone seriously bet that there is no developmental contribution to sexual attractions? Where would that contribution come from if not from the patterns of early socialisation and upbringing?

    My bet on this blog has always been that the aggression and stress systems in the brain must primarily drive attractions, for two reasons: they are the biggest and clearest sexually dimorphic components in human brains (aggression and the stress response). Most brain studies have confirmed that gays and lesbians are atypical in these respects. So questions arise: what events would shape and exercise these parts to produce exclusive sexual reactions in a male brain similar to those of the hetero- opposite sex? Could an early mother’s influence on a boy encourage him to exercise his aggressiveness that would help him be competitive in rough games or could it stifle it? How would a boy’s anxious attachment to his mother shape his reaction to stress in adult age? What about exercising these components with his father or male peers? Could any of these patterns or a combination of them make a difference in future sexuality? This is the kind of questions that would be great to find some answers to, not if fathers’ absence could singly cause anything, IMO. I think it would be a waste of time to refute reparative theory using facts, since its proponents didn’t produce any. But the issue of developmental factors, including parenting and peers relations, playing a part in future outcomes I think is valid and should be researched. Not seeing any evidence for them doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. You know, if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton Warren

    @Evan: But the issue of developmental factors, including parenting and peers relations, playing a part in future outcomes I think is valid and should be researched. Not seeing any evidence for them doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. You know, if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

    If there is no sound maybe there is no tree. I am surprised to see you imply that the developmental and parental factors have not been researched. One would think with the research we have that something would show up if these factors are necessary conditions for SSA in any general sense. If the predictions based on a theory are not supported then the theory must be modified or discarded. None of the studies purporting to show a pervasive same-sex parental contribution have done so.There are always exceptions, even when the design and sampling are stacked in favor of the theory. I am not saying I know what the factors are but I would like for the environmentalists and especially evangelical community to face the facts. Al Mohler is a high profile evangelical that has done this but I would really like to hear from Exodus and Focus publicly that they have oversold the reparative theory. Will I ever hear that tree fall?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton Warren

    @Ann: The perception thing is what makes this study striking. This is a study of perception in that it is self-report.

  • Evan

    My mistake, Warren! :) I meant that the matter should continue to be researched. Of course, I know that it has been researched, but it doesn’t mean that the present or past methodology that was used in those studies is infallible. It is possible that there is no one single type of same-sex orientation and that this is reflected in a different mixture of factors for each type.

    There is evidence for childhood gender nonconformism predating adult homosexual orientation – checked, evidence for gender typicality and toy preference and hormones – checked, gender nonconformism and peer rejection – checked, and so on…

    One can easily reconstruct a common path for ex-GIDs and effeminate gays and expect to find some biological package strong enough to resist any influence from other factors.

    But then, where do non-effeminate gays come from, if they were not to be found among gender nonconforming, cross-sex socialised, peers rejected children? Did they follow the exact typical childhood path common to gender conforming children and then came to the realisation that they are mostly attracted to the (same)sex they theretofore found ordinary? I find it impossible that in their case no developmental factor would play a role in the choice of their partners’ sex.

    I would like for the environmentalists and especially evangelical community to face the facts. Al Mohler is a high profile evangelical that has done this but I would really like to hear from Exodus and Focus publicly that they have oversold the reparative theory. Will I ever hear that tree fall?

    Thanks for coming out with your motivation. I’m not familiar with their world, but if they’ve got no results with their clients, then they should have been discredited by now. Reparative authors continue to sell books and therapy sessions, right? If they sell phony recipe books then no one would recommend them to another one and they should go out of business soon. After all, it’s customers who decide what works for them before science gets to pry into causes.


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