THE EVELYN HOOKER STUDY AND THE NORMALIZATION OF HOMOSEXUALITY
by Thomas Landess
Evelyn Hooker has been among the most influential figures in the highly successful movement to convince the American people that homosexuality is a "normal variant" of human sexual behavior. Her 1957 study, "The Adjustment of the Male Overt Homosexual" (Journal of Projective Techniques, 1957, 21, 18-31) is the most frequently cited scientific source for the argument that homosexuality is not a pathology, that homosexuals are as free from mental disorder as heterosexuals.
Such assertions have not only found their way into standard psychology textbooks but have also provided a scientific basis for decisions in major court cases involving the legality of state sodomy laws and prohibitions against homosexual employment in certain state and local agencies (e.g., schools, police departments). Indeed, when the American Psychiatric Association debated the issue of homosexuality in 1973, Evelyn Hooker's work was Exhibit A for those who wanted to remove homosexuality from the group's list of mental disorders.
For many commentators and activists, the Hooker study effectively ended the debate over whether or not homosexuals were in any way abnormal in their relationships with each other and with the community at large. Today many Americans have accepted the idea that homosexuality is "normal" and "healthy" without realizing that such an opinion is derived in large measure from a single study -- one conducted by a UCLA professor whose previous laboratory subjects had been rats.
In all this extravagant homage to Hooker and her study, several points have escaped her admirers, to say nothing of the federal courts:
1. In her 1957 report, Evelyn Hooker did not use a random sample to test the stability of homosexuals, but allowed gay rights activists to recruit those homosexuals most likely to illustrate her thesis that homosexuality is not a pathology. Individuals who proved unstable were deleted from the final sample.
2. Hooker's published account of how she recruited heterosexual subjects is not consistent with a more detailed later account.
3. Six subjects in her study, three from each group, had engaged in both homosexual and heterosexual behavior beyond adolescence.
4. Hooker made several errors in her mathematical calculations that raise doubts about her care and competence as a researcher.
5. Hooker did not attempt to prove that homosexuals were normal in every way, nor does her study support the idea that homosexuals as a group are just as stable as heterosexuals.
6. Hooker was relatively inexperienced in administering the Rorschach test, and this inexperience may have led to mistakes in the administration and evaluation of the Rorschach.
7. On the Thematic Apperception Test and the Make-A-Picture-Story test -- which require subjects to make up fictional narratives about depicted scenes -- the homosexuals could not refrain from including homosexual fantasies in their imaginary accounts. For that reason, Hooker altered the nature of the study by no longer asking the judges to use the TAT and MAPS in an attempt to determine the sexual orientation of each of the 60 subjects, since the differences were apparent from the narratives.
In order to understand fully the nature of the controversy over Hooker's study, it is helpful to review its history. ...
SELECTION OF SUBJECTS
First, to find her homosexual subjects, she enlisted the early gay rights group Mattachine Society, which, as she put it in her published report, "has as its stated purpose the development of a homosexual ethic...." Members of the Mattachine Society volunteered for the study and also recruited their friends. Hooker, herself, created a "control group" of heterosexuals for the experiment, despite the fact that on the standardized tests she intended to use, norms had already been established.
In her 1957 report, Hooker offers this somewhat cryptic explanation of heterosexual recruitment:
Because the heterosexuals were, for the most part, obtained from community organizations which must remain anonymous, I cannot describe further the way in which they were obtained.
Years later, a Los Angeles Times reporter elicited from Hooker a somewhat different explanation, one that is fairly explicit in detail:
She canvassed the education secretaries of labor unions, thinking that they would have liberal attitudes. "I was wrong," she says; as soon as she explained the nature of the study, no one wanted to participate...So Hooker took to collaring candidates wherever she could find them, including a fireman who showed up to inspect her home. "No man is safe on Saltair Street," joked her husband.
She did not insist on a random sampling. In fact, she deliberately sought out only those subjects who seemed stable and "normal" -- at least in their ability to adjust to their social environment. She defined the criteria for membership in the groups as follows:
In both groups subjects were eliminated who were in therapy at the time. If, in the preliminary screening, evidence of considerable disturbance appeared, the individual was eliminated (5 heterosexuals; 5 homosexuals).
As for the sexual proclivities of the participants, Hooker says the following in her report:
I attempted to secure homosexuals who would be pure for homosexuality; that is, without heterosexual experience. With three exceptions this is so. These three subjects had not had more than three heterosexual experiences, and they identified themselves as homosexual in their patterns of desire and behavior. The heterosexual group is exclusively heterosexual beyond the adolescent period, with three exceptions; these three had had a single homosexual experience each.