A. The Charge. In 1971 the psychoanalyst Edmund Bergler reported his finding that male homosexuals are typically characterized by “injustice collecting, fault-finding, and accumulation of resentments.”
Instead of courageously accepting the ills that their choice of a deviant lifestyle inevitably brings, homosexuals are constantly whining and complaining. This unpleasant trait alienates those who would seek to help them.
B. Background. In daily life all sorts of people complain - about such things as not having enough money, harassment at the work place. and intractable health problems. These are legitimate issues. Yet some individuals seem to be given to whining without a cause. There is no “objective correlative” for their misery. It has been claimed that homosexuals belong to this pattern.
The Vienna, then New York, psychoanalyst Edmund Bergler (1899-1962) developed the theory that the basic neurosis is psychic masochism, and that homosexuals are neurotic "injustice collectors." In Bergler's view the provocative behavior observed in his patients arises in the following manner. They create a situation in which some substitute for the mother of early childhood is perceived as "refusing." Not realizing that they are themselves to blame, they become aggressive in righteous indignation and self-defense alternating with self-pity, while "unconsciously enjoying psychic masochism." Under the facade of pseudo-aggression are hidden deep self-damaging tendencies. The psychic masochist in the homosexual "habitually transforms conscious displeasure into unconscious pleasure," so that he can resign himself to the punishments resulting from the humiliation and insult heaped on him by an intolerant society. Instead of learning to avoid punishment, the homosexual actually enjoys it, and by turning displeasure into pleasure he "takes the sting out of the pain and defeat of his tormented existence." Such were Bergler's idiosyncratic views.
C. Response. While it is true that a homosexual with self-damaging tendencies (and such people do exist) is likely to encounter reprisals from a society permeated with homophobia, only a shrinking minority of homosexuals are of this type. Moreover, early writers denying the pathological character of homosexuality pointed to the success with which many closeted homosexuals deceive intolerant heterosexuals in their entourage with the skill of an accomplished undercover agent or spy.
Paradoxically, the "injustice collector" mentality may also have had the function of preserving the individual's self-esteem in the face of society's condemnation and rejection. Instead of internalizing the values of the homophobic culture, he can in effect say: "You are the wrongdoer, and I am the one to whom the injustice is being done." The alternative would be to accept the stigma of being a sinner, a criminal, and a monster - which a rational subject could scarcely do without a total loss of self-respect. Whatever therapeutic results Bergler scored with his homosexual analysands seem to have been with individuals whose superego had been unable to ward off society's castigation of their behavior and the ensuing guilt and self-reproach. Then his very success with them attracted ever more to his couch, so that his "patient universe" became skewed in the direction of such guilt-ridden personalities.
In the closing decades of the twentieth century, the notion that complaining was particularly characteristic of minorities gave way as all sorts of groups, from African Americans to women, came forward with similar grievances. These grievances were (and in many cases still are) all too real. While this assertive tendency has been derided as “Victimology 101,” it was probably a necessary stage of evolution of these groups as they have propelled themselves towards self-respect and self-assertion.
One could anticipate that such complaining would decline as society began to relinquish its policies of discrimination and defamation of these groups. And so it has.
BIBLIOGRAPHY. Edmund Bergler, "The Myth of a New National Disease: Homosexuality and the Kinsey Report," Psychiatric Quarterly, 22 (1948), 66-88; idem, The Basic Neurosis: Oral Regression and Psychic Masochism, New York: Grune and Stratton, 1949; Edmund Bergler and Joost A. M. Meerloo, "The Injustice Collector," in Justice and Injustice, New York: Grune and Stratton, 1963, p. 20 ff.