“The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”
This famous quip from Shakespeare’s Hamlet draws attention to people who overact their opposition to a point of betraying their underlying sympathies. The idea is that some people hide who they are by flaunting the very opposite identity, as loudly and publicly as possible.
The tactic is designed to mislead your peers and ultimately yourself, thus keeping the suppressed thing at bay. It is a form of misdirection, like a magic trick in which the magician slyly diverts attention away from the pivotal action.
Old Freudian Tale
This Freudian narrative rings true for many people. It was, for instance, proposed as an explanation for a recent spate of scandals in which high-profile politicians with anti-gay views, one after the other, were caught doing distinctly gay things.
George A. Rekers, a legal expert who regularly testified against gay adoption, was found to have toured Europe with a young chap from Rentboy.com in 2010. In 2012, Teg Haggard, noted evangelical leader, confessed to consorting with a male prostitute. And these are just some of the more recent, well-known examples.
There was also California State Senator Roy Ashburn, U.S. Representative Eric Massa, New Jersey Governor James McGreevy, and U.S. Representative Mark Foley—all victims of their own tirades against the unholy deeds of gay people—with the exception of Massa, who never explicitly fought gay rights.
A Lack of Evidence
Is there research to back up the old Freudian tale of the secretly gay homophobe? MacInnis & Hodson investigated this question in 2013 using psychological measures of implicit attitudes. They found nothing to suggest a link between gay attraction and homophobia.
So why do so many anti-gay politicians turn out to be gay? There only seems to be a disproportionate number of homophobic gay politicians because such cases are so comprehensively exploited by the popular press when they do occur.
There is indeed anecdotal evidence that some homophobic people are ‘in the closet.’ But it does not follow that homophobic people are likely to be gay. It just means that homophobic norms shape a diverse cross-section of the population. Unlike homosexuality, homophobia is not a biological condition; it is picked up from the social environment. As a result, both gay and straight people can be affected by homophobic norms.
Repressed homosexuality does exist, but there is no evidence it necessarily leads to homophobia, much less to extremely anti-gay public views and policies. The more likely explanation is that some gay people are homophobic, and some homophobes are gay—and some of these people become public figures. And when the stars align like so, the media is ready to make a spectacle of it.