10/03/2012 07:45 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Overlapping Stereotypes of LGBT People and Jews as Developmentally Immature

During a recent speech at Castle Gandolfo, Pope Benedict XVI declared that gay, lesbian, and bisexual people are not fully developed human beings because they do not embrace Catholic law. The pope asserted that "[t]he family is threatened by an idea of human nature that proves flawed," and that "marriage and family are institutions that must be promoted and safeguarded from every possible ambiguity regarding their true nature, because every injury that is inflicted upon them in fact constitutes a wound on human cohesion...." He has commanded that Catholic doctrines on marriage and family be strictly followed, because they "permit the full development of the human person." In addition, according to paragraph 2357 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1997), "Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that 'homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.'"

Making the Connections

In my research, I have discovered that throughout history, many dominant groups have depicted or represented minority groups in a variety of negative ways in order to maintain control or mastery. I have found many clear and stunning connections between historical representations of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender (LGBT) people, and Jewish people.

One of these links throughout the ages shows that dominant groups stereotype and represent LGBT people and Jews as being developmentally delayed or immature: homosexuality and homosexuals as congenital throwbacks to an earlier stage of human evolution, a kind of remnant of the primitive organisms from which humans developed, and as a psychological developmental disorder or a fixation at an earlier stage of psychosexual development, and Jews as inferior or lower "racial" forms, and Judaism as an intermediate or immature religious stage on the way to Christianity (the advanced, mature faith), and the Hebrew Bible as only a prelude to the eventual coming of Jesus and the Christian Testaments.

On LGBT "Immaturity"

Inspired largely by Charles Darwin's theories of plant and animal evolution (1859), Perry M. Lichtenstein, a U.S. physician, "found" in 1921 that "[a] physical examination of [female homosexuals] will in practically every instance disclose an abnormally prominent clitoris." Allan McLane Hamilton, another U.S. physician, claimed in1896 that "[the lesbian] is usually of a masculine type, or if she presented none of the 'characteristics' of the male, was a subject of pelvic disorder, with scanty menstruation, and was more or less hysterical and insane." French forensic medical scientist Ambrose Tardieu argued in 1857 that "[t]his degeneracy is evidenced in men who engage in same-sex eroticism by their underdeveloped, tapered penis resembling that of a dog, and a naturally smooth anus lacking in radial folds."

In 1905 another physician, Sigmund Freud, advanced a four-stage model of psychosexual development in which newborn infants are said to be "polymorphously perverse," deriving pleasure from tactile sensations anywhere on their bodies, before developing a sexual drive in the mouth, then the anus, then, ultimately, the genitals. Freud concluded that homosexuality constituted a developmental disorder, a fixation at one of the intermediate, "pregenital" stages, which he believed was caused, at least in part, by an incomplete resolution of the Oedipal complex. In this way, Freud tended to regard gay men and lesbians as perennial children.

The conclusion these doctors and some others within the medical and psychological establishments made at the time and into the next century was that lesbians were not true women and gay men were not true men; rather, they represented some sort of imperfect and lesser physical and psychological facsimile of the human species.

As denominations of Christians have attempted to convert members of other religious groups to their forms of Christianity, many sectors, from religious ministries to medical and psychological professions, have attempted to convert LGBT people, from the so-called "ex-gay" religious ministries, which attempt to remove LGBT people from their so-called "deviant lifestyle," to Homosexuals Anonymous, a twisted and cynical co-optation of the 12-step method of recovery from addiction, to PFOX (Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays), an obvious rip-off of the allies support group PFLAG (Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays), to so-called "reparative therapists," who promise conversion to heterosexuality if the client has the requisite motivation to change.

On Jewish "Immaturity"

Although Charles Darwin himself did not assert this, some of Darwin's "successors" (so-called "Social Darwinists") hypothesized that Jews were no longer simply a separate religious, ethnic, or political group but, like black Africans and other groups (including homosexuals), throwbacks to earlier stages of religious and human development. They forwarded a so-called "racial" hierarchy theory that placed "Aryans" on top, black Africans at the lower end, and other "races," including Jews, at various points in between, even though Jews include members of all the socially constructed so-called "races."

Dominant groups increasingly constructed Jews as members of a "mixed race" (a so-called "mongrel" or "bastard race"), a people who had crossed racial barriers by interbreeding with black Africans during the Jewish diaspora. Many thought that if Jews were evil, then this evilness was genetic and could not be purged or cured. Therefore, converting Jews to Christianity could no longer answer "the Jewish question" as was once believed by many Christian leaders.

In 1853 the French diplomat and essayist Joseph-Arthur de Gobineau (1816-1882) published his theories of a supposed "Aryan" race. He referred to "an original tribe" that resided in the Himalayas, asserting that this location rested as the cradle of the Caucasian race. Jews, he stressed, were not members of that tribe. Another French writer, Ernest Renan, stated that the Jewish, or "Semitic," mind is superficial, while that of the "Aryan" is natural and wise (1882/1996). Later theorists expanded the representation of Jews as a subhuman species and as a symptom of racial impurity and decay.

British psychologist Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin, founded the eugenics movement. In fact, Galton coined the term "eugenics" in 1883 from the Greek word meaning "well-born." Eugenicists attempted to improve qualities of "race" by controlling human breeding. Galton proposed that the so-called "elites" of the British Isles were the most intelligent of all the peoples throughout the planet, while "[t]he average intellectual standard of the Negro race is some two grades below our own [Anglo-Saxons]. The Australian type is at least one grade below the African Negro" (1883, p. 25). He also stressed that "[t]he Jews are specialized for a parasitical existence upon other nations" (1904, cited in Pearson, 1911/2011, p. 209). Galton asserted that Jews represented a lower racial form, and that they were easily recognizable by their appearance.

By the end of the 19th century, the popular image of the "Jewish type," portrayed invariably as the Jewish male, "consisted of a hooked nose, curling nasal folds (ali nasi), thick prominent lips, receding forehead and chin, large ears, curly black hair, dark skin, stooped shoulders, [weak flat feet, deflated rump], and piercing, cunning eyes" (Isaac, 1940, cited in Gilman, 1993, p. 18). In addition, the gaze of the Jew was said to be pathological, searing, cunning, cold, and piercing. Meanwhile, within the eugenics movement, practitioners of phrenology, who attempted to correlate skull size and shape with mental abilities and character, held that a specific sector of the Jewish or "Hebrew" brain was "abnormally" developed, causing Jews to be highly interested in money and banking (Gilman, 1991).

Within Darwinian theory is the concept of continuity and advancement, from animal to human, from savage to civilized. In 1904 the German magazine Der Schlemiel published a supposedly "Darwinian," four-stage model depicting how the underdeveloped, immature Hanukkah menorah, symbolizing Judaism, evolved into the highly developed, mature Christmas tree, symbolizing Christianity (even though Christians appropriated the symbol of the tree from paganism) (Gilman, 1993, p. 71). Again, we see here that Judaism is seen as nothing more than a lower form of religious development on the way toward Christianity, the highest level.

This supposed "racialization" of the Jews was codified in U.S. writer Madison Grant's (1865-1937) influential book The Passing of the Great Race (1916), in which he argued that Europeans comprised four distinct races. Atop Grant's racial hierarchy were the "Nordics" of northwestern Europe, whom the Nazi regime later called the "master race," a branch of the "Aryan race." Below the Nordics in the racial hierarchy fell the "Alpines." These were followed by the "Mediterraneans" of Southern and Eastern Europe. At the bottom of this hierarchy, Grant placed the most inferior of all the European so-called "races": the Jews. Grant specifically presented the Polish Jew as constituting a "dwarf stature, peculiar mentality and ruthless concentration on self-interest" (p. 16), adding that they present themselves in "swarms" (p. 63). In an argument that was analogous to the notion in the United States that "one drop" of "black African" blood makes a person black, Grant wrote, "The result of the mixture of two races, in the long run, gives us a race reverting to the more ancient generalization and lower type ... and the cross between any of the three European races and a Jew is a Jew" (p. 18).

In modern times, the Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church published a booklet entitled "How to Respond to Judaism," in which the authors characterize the Jewish faith as "inadequate because it does not have Jesus, the Messiah, as the object of faith."

In 1996 delegates at the annual Southern Baptist Convention in New Orleans passed a resolution ("Resolution on Jewish Evangelism") committing to put more energy and resources into converting Jews to Christianity. The resolution read, in part, "WHEREAS, There has been an organized effort on the part of some either to deny that Jewish people need to come to their Messiah, Jesus, to be saved: ... BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, That we direct our energies and resources toward the proclamation of the gospel [of Jesus] to the Jewish people." They continue to believe, as do some other denominations, that Judaism remains inadequate without Jesus as its central figure.

Proponents of the so-called "Jews for Jesus" movement refer to themselves as "Messianic Jews," or even as "Completed Jews." Basically, they assert that the majority of Jewish people continue to deceive themselves by believing and waiting for the coming of the Messiah. Silly them, for they need to understand that the Messiah has already come, and his name is Jesus. So, it is the "destiny" of Jews to wake up (read as "grow up") and realize that the Christian view of the divine makes Jews whole.

In the United States during the 1990s, the "JAP" (for "Jewish American Princess") joke appeared on college campuses throughout the country. Though some college students saw this as innocuous, it represented young Jewish women as immature, spoiled, greedy, selfish, sexually frigid, and dependent, usually on their doting fathers. In actuality, these so-called jokes were thinly disguised, general, modern, stereotypical representations of Jews and the Jewish religion as rich, self-absorbed, clannish, bloodsucking, and immature and/or lacking in religious consciousness.


Returning to Pope Benedict XVI, then, I would ask the pope to set a new course that would bring his followers out of the quagmire of representing LGBT people or any other group as developmentally delayed and immature. I would ask him to set a positive new direction by rising above the dogma, the stereotypes, and the unsubstantiated pronouncements so we all may enter a new era of mutual trust and cooperation. Maybe then we will begin to relegate these negative portrayals to the trash heaps of history.


Darwin, C. (1859). On the origin of species. London: Cambridge University Press.

de Gobineau, J-A. (1853/1967). Essays on the inequality of the human races. New York: Howard Fertig.

Freud S. (1905). Three essays on the theory of sexuality, VII (2nd ed.), England: Hogarth Press.

Galton, F. (1904). Eugenics: Its definition, scope, and aims. The American Journal of Sociology 10(1), 1-25.

Gilman, S. L. (1993). The case of Sigmund Freud: Medicine and identity at the Fin de Siecle. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Gilman, S. L. (1991). The Jew's body. New York: Routledge.

Hamilton, A. M. (1896). The civil responsibility of sexual perverts. American Journal of Insanity 52, 503-09.

Lichtenstein, P. (1921). The "fairy" and the lady lover. Medical Review of Reviews, 27.

Renan, E. (1882/1996). Qu'est-ce qu'une nation? (What is a Nation?). In G. Eley, R.G. Suny (Eds.), Becoming national: A reader (pp. 41-55). New York: Oxford University Press.

Pearson, K. (1911/2011). The life, letters, and labours of Francis Galton. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Tardieu, A. (1857). Etude medico-légale sur les attentats aux moeurs. Paris: J.-B. Bailliere.