Why Public Figures Who Say Homophobic Things Are So Often Caught Having Gay Sex

shadowy image of someone's feet as they sit on a toilet
Image by sunshinecity / CC BY

At this point, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched a public figure who’s vehemently homophobic end up getting nabbed in the act of having gay sex. Typically somewhere wildly inappropriate, too. Like at their office. Or in a public restroom.

Places you really shouldn’t be having sex, even if you aren’t being a giant hypocrite who says TEH GAY IS EVIL. While you enjoy its delights in private.

You know.

The whole Republican Senator With the Wide Stance.

But it wasn’t just Larry Craig. And it wasn’t just that once. It’s happened so many times now that it’s basically a cliche. And half the time now when I hear someone being loudly homophobic, I presume they’re living some kind of double life.

And that’s because of a little something called reaction formation.

What Is Reaction Formation?

Reaction formation is a tendency for individuals to cope with what they perceive to be unacceptable impulses (for example, the desire to have gay sex) by loudly denigrating and criticizing those impulses in public. It’s one of many psychoanalytic defense mechanisms employed as coping strategies.

Few people have heard of reaction formation, but most people are familiar with other psychoanalytic coping strategies such as projection.

When love of something would be unacceptable due to a person’s values system, they will instead interpret those strong feelings as hatred or hostility. The problem, however, is that while reaction formation can sometimes fool that person and those around them in small doses, it’s an incomplete form of coping. And it’s all too common for the true feelings to reveal themselves. Sometimes in a way that turns out to be more damaging than if the person had worked through those values conflicts in a direct, self-honest manner.

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This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.

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