Thursday, January 01, 2009

Homosexuality and Tolerance in the Netherlands: The Real Story

Significantly, the study sampled residents of the Netherlands, where social acceptance of same-sex behavior is high. This would call into question the assumption that the high rate of psychiatric problems is primarily due to social or internalized homophobia.

This is what the "pro-treatment of homosexuality" group NARTH recently said about the study "Same-Sex Sexual Behavior and Psychiatric Disorders: Findings from the Netherlands Mental Health Survey and Incidence Study (NEMESIS)" published in Archives of General Psychiatry 2001, vol 58(1), pp 85-91. While NARTH may chauvinistically choose to view the entirety of a Western European country like the Netherlands as some sort of gay mecca where no anti-gay sentiment ever exists in any form at all, the truth is that anti-gay sentiment does exist there, and it causes serious problems for gay people. Perhaps NARTH should engage in an honest assessment of the Dutch attitudes towards homosexuality instead of misleadingly trying to handwave past it.

The Dutch study itself actually references three works that assess attitudes towards homosexuality in the Netherlands. I have traced one of them: a study called "Attitudes towards nonmarital sex in 24 countries" by E D WIlmer, J Treas, and R Newcomb, published in Journal of Sex Research 1998, vol 35, pp349-358. Its measurement of sexual attitudes in the 24 countries included a question on whether respondents believed that homosexual sex was wrong. With 65% of Dutch respondents saying that it was "not wrong at all", it is true that tolerance in the Netherlands for homosexual sex is relatively high, especially compared to the USA where fully 70%said it was "always wrong". But the fact remains that 19% of Dutch respondents believed that homosexual sex was "always wrong". Intolerance for homosexuality still exists in the Netherlands, and it is reasonable to believe that this will be reflected in an increased toll on the mental health of people who engage in homosexual behaviour. (To round out the percentages, 4% of Dutch respondents believed that homosexual sex was wrong "almost always", while a further 12% believed it was wrong "only sometimes". I will not speculate at this time on why those people answered the question like that.)

And the attitudes of people who do find fault with homosexuality would seem to be especially virulent. A study on anti-gay violence by the University of Amsterdam called "As long as they keep away from me" (an English translation of the summary is available at the bottom of the page) noted that "gays fall victim to violence in Amsterdam on a regular basis. In 2007, 201 cases were recorded, of which 67 were of physical violence", 17 of robbery and 38 of serious threat". Yet anti-gay groups like NARTH would have you believe that gay people in the Netherlands experience no kind of discrimination that would tax their mental health whatsoever.

Further, and disturbingly, a person who might claim homosexual sex is not wrong can still be a gaybasher. As the Dutch study on anti-gay violence discovered, the "tolerance" expressed towards homosexuality among some Dutch youth can be highly conditional:
The major cause of the aversion to homosexuality felt by perpetrators of anti-gay violence lies in their views and emotions regarding masculinity and sexuality. Four aspects of homosexuality that particularly appear to arouse annoyance, disapproval and loathing are anal sex, feminine behaviour, the visibility of homosexuality, and the fear of being hit on by a gay.
It is remarkable that the perpetrators do not reject homosexuality on all fronts. Indeed, in many cases the perpetrators declare not to hate gays at all and realise that homosexuality is a part of Dutch society. They reject homosexuality, however, on express conditions: gays should not openly show the four aspects of the behaviour mentioned above. The perpetrators tend to copy the prevailing gay-tolerant rhetoric of Dutch society, but do not refrain from all sorts of violence as soon as homosexuality comes close to them or if gay men do not fulfil their supposed obligations[emphasis added].

It may be premature for me to accuse NARTH on capitalising on the anti-European bigotry prevalent among their usual audience of Christianist fanatics, who tend to inaccurately view Amsterdam as a modern-day Sodom where homosexuality is not just tolerated, but glorified. But I would hope that this examination of the actual evidence will help to correct the misinformation propagated by anti-gay activists that increased mental health problems among homosexual men and women in the Netherlands cannot be the result of discrimination against gay people. Overt anti-gay bigotry does exist in the Netherlands, and even some Dutch youth who might call themselves "tolerant" of homosexuality can show an especially violent side if the conditions put on providing that "tolerance" aren't perceived as being met.


Anonymous said...

I'm doing a paper comparing the political cultures of US and Netherlands and how that influences differences on policy issue with regards to the legalization of same-sex marriage. I was just wondering if you would have links to the studies you referenced in your post?

Z said...

I have no direct links to any studies beyond the links I put in the original post. I found the study concerning attitudes to sex in 24 countries in an academic database called JSTOR which isn't readily available to the general public for free - my university pays for my acess to it. I don't know if your educational institution might also provide access? If so, the necessary citation to find the article in JSTOR is included in my original post.

Alternatively, you could see if anything useful comes up in Google Scholar.

Sorry I can't be more help.