A. The Charge. Homosexual behavior is a prime example of abnormality. For that reason universities classify it under the rubric of abnormal psychology, a discipline addressing various types of pathology. To be sure, homosexuals should not be ridiculed or persecuted, but they must be encouraged honestly to acknowledge their plight and to seek the appropriate remedies.
That homosexuality is abnormal is a fact that is hard to dismiss. Moreover, it is not something that is just known to society itself but is well understood by the sufferers themselves. This inescapable reality has a particularly unfortunate effect on young people. According to Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a group fighting the spread of homosexuality in our society, gay and lesbian teens know very well that they are abnormal, and this awareness causes them to be depressed and even suicidal. This is no mere fantasy, for homosexuality is in fact abnormal, Perkins points out that kids know this, leading them to despair.
Today, by contrast, we hear much loose talk about homosexuality being “virtually normal.” Yet this aberrant and destructive conduct cannot pass for normal, whether virtual or in any other fashion.
B. Background. If one uses the term abnormal in the statistical sense of "diverging from the middle range; unusual in terms of frequency," there is no doubt that homosexuals are in fact abnormal in our society. But then so are opera divas, arbitrageurs, and United States Senators.
Applied to social life, however, such an approach entails subjective judgments about what the good life is. Moreover, insofar as homosexual and other variant lifestyles can be considered "maladjusted," that assumption reflects the punitive intrusion of socially sanctioned proscriptions rather than any deficits stemming from the behavior itself. In other words, once the corrosive element of self-contempt, which is introjected by the social environment, is removed, homosexual men and lesbian women can function as well as anyone else.
Another difficulty with the concept is that the pair normal/abnormal suggests a sharp dichotomy: the one is totally different from the other. Alfred Kinsey's findings, however, suggest that sexual behavior is best understood as a continuum with many individuals falling between the poles and shifting positions over the course of their lives.
Two historical curiosities may be noted. In a harangue against sodomites, the French thirteenth-century poem Le Roman de la Rose (ll. 19619-20) refers to those who practice such exceptions anormales. In 1869 the Hungarian homosexual theorist K. M. Kertbeny coined a word normalsexual (corresponding to our "heterosexual") to contrast with homosexual (which by inference is not normal). Kertbeny’s first compound, in striking contrast to his second, did not catch on. Even so, today one sometimes finds the term "normals" casually deployed to designate straights, as if the label was unproblematic.
A close cousin of abnormal is anomaly. In modern times this term seems to have been first used in a sexual sense in the German form Anomalie by Richard von Krafft-Ebing in 1877. Etymologically, the noun represents the opposite of the Greek "omalos," meaning "even, level." (It is not derived from "anomos," "unlawful," though a link is often perceived.)
In 1927 a guilt-ridden British homosexual chose the pseudonym "Anomaly" for his book The Invert. (The writer’s real name is not known.)
In 1991 the queer theorist Michael Warner popularized the term “heteronormativity,” This term serves to characterize a presumably unwarranted privileging of heterosexuality as the only proper sexual orientation, In Warner’s view it also serves to question the equation of gender differences with natural roles in life.
A related term is “homonormativity,” defined as the absorption of heteronormative ideals and constructs into GLBT culture and individual identity. The term was used prominently by Lisa Duggan in 2003. However, Susan Stryker has noted its previous employment by transgender activists in the 1990s to decry the elevation of gay//lesbian norms over the concerns of trans people Duggan holds that homonormativity fragments GLBT communities into hierarchies of worthiness. Ostensibly, GLBT people who come the closest to mimicking heteronormative standards of gender identity are deemed most worthy of receiving rights. Other individuals on the lower ranks of the hierarchy (transsexuals, transvestites, intersex individuals, bisexuals, and non-gender-identified persons) stand as an impediment to the status of this privileged class of homonormative individuals. Yet in protesting this presumed disparagement, the queer theorists fall into their own version of judgmentalism and condemnation,
C. Response. Generally speaking, to say that homosexuality is abnormal conveys a negative value judgment. It is bad. For this reason the term abnormal is insidious, as it enables the user to slide (usually unconsciously) from a statement of fact to a statement of value. It is precisely this impermissible slide that the philosopher David Hume warned us about long ago. But the misguided effort of trying to derive an "ought" from an "is" persists.
In the recent debate over gay marriage some opponents keep insisting that heterosexual marriage is "the norm," seeking once again to bridge the gap between is and ought. Some misconceptions never die.
Labeling whole groups of people abnormal in a pejorative sense is now generally recognized as biased and unhelpful. Most universities have abandoned catch-all courses in “abnormal psychology.”
In keeping with recent developments in Queer Theory, it may be that everyone is "abnormal." In this case the term would lose its meaning, at least with reference to sexual orientation.
BIBLIOGRAPHY. Alfred Kinsey et al., "Normality and Abnormality in Sexual Behavior," in P. H. Hoch and J. Zubin, eds., Psychological Development in Health and Disease, New York: Grune and Stratton, 1949, 11-32; Andrew Sullivan, Virtually Normal: An Argument about Homosexuality, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995.