Reaction Formation: A Love/Hate Relationship with Gay Dudes

By Brian Gendron, Ph.D.
Published June 14, 2016

More and more research has led to the conclusion that sexual orientation is biologically determined. “It is not a choice” -Science.

On June 12, 2016, the worst massacre in U.S. history occurred, targeting the LGBT community in Orlando, Florida, in the midst of a gay pride celebration, nonetheless. Certainly seen as a hate crime, the shooter apparently claimed allegiance to various terrorist organizations prior to the event. However, it appears he may have had the strongest allegiance to… wait for it… other men.

According to reports, the shooter had, for many years, visited the same gay nightclub he attacked, in addition to having used “multiple gay dating apps.”

So, was he gay? And if yes, why would he target other people who are gay, in mass-murder style?

Well, the psychoanalyst, the myth, the legend, Sigmund Freud might argue that this is a clear case of ‘reaction formation,’ which is a psychological defense mechanism where impulses perceived to be unacceptable are masked by an exaggerated form of opposite impulses. For example, if someone is actually gay, but raised in a dogmatic and un-accepting environment, they might engage in ego-protecting behaviors (consciously or subconsciously) including blatant homophobia. Decades since Freud proposed his theory, scientists have acquired some compelling evidence.

In a 1996 study, a group of men ranging in age from 18 to 31 years old were categorized as homophobic or nonhomophobic, using a famous survey known as the IHP (internalized homophobia scale). Then, the men were exposed to three different types of pornography, categorized as heterosexual, female homosexual, or male homosexual. The kicker is, researchers attached each man’s penis to a circumference-measuring device that tracked their erection status. [Not sure if ‘erection status’ is a thing…]

The results? All of the men became more aroused when watching the heterosexual and female homosexual porn, which isn’t really surprising. But, only the homophobic individuals became aroused by the dude-on-dude porn! This implies that a “homophobic individual is either unaware of or denies” his own sexuality. Point for Freud! The researchers also measured aggression, but no differences emerged between the two groups of men. Thus, the Orlando, Florida shooter may have been gay and engaging in ‘reaction formation.’ Honestly, we may never know, and the violence may best be explained using other perspectives (for example, disorders such as schizophrenia).

Scientists have recently used fancier, non-penis-measuring techniques to add further evidence in favor of the reaction formation theory, and the results appear to be conclusive. When internal feelings do not match external expectations, we may engage in tricky thoughts and behaviors aimed at reducing unwanted storms of internal strife.

And so, the moral here must be to live and let live. We’re all one. Peace and love.


Details of the boner-measuring apparatus.


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About the Author

has a Ph.D. in Psychology and enjoys writing in the third person.

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