Reviews:The Gay Report by Karla Jay and Allen Young & The Spada Report by James Spada
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Revision as of 14:01, 14 June 2009
[ This review copyright 1979/2007 by John Lauritsen. It originally appeared in Gay Books Bulletin, Winter 1979. I hereby give permission to print out this document and to photocopy it. However, it may not be published commercially without my permission. My current views on Gay Liberation are found in my book, A Freethinker's Primer of Male Love -- firstname.lastname@example.org ]
THE GAY REPORT Karla Jay and Allen Young Summit Books, New York, 1979, $14.98, 881 pages
THE SPADA REPORT James Spada Signet (New American Library), New York, 1979, Paperback, $2.50, 339 pages
First came The Hite Report, a sex survey which achieved "best seller" status. Now these two books attempt a similar success with homosexual respondents: The Spada Report, concerned exclusively with gay men; and The Gay Report, with lesbians as well.
By the standards of professional survey research, these two "surveys" are inadequate from a methodological standpoint, and their contribution to a scientific understanding of present-day homosexuals in the United States is negligible. The books are not entirely without value, however: The Spada Report (the better conceived of the two) is a good read, and both books contain occasional flashes of insight, humor and human interest from the men and women who responded to the questionnaires.
Both the Jay-Young team and Spada used an approach modeled on that of Shere Hite (The Hite Report): design a lengthy questionnaire, disseminate it as widely as possible, and then process the answers of those who respond.
Young and Jay estimate that perhaps 400,000 men received or were exposed to the male questionnaire. A grand total of 4,400 questionnaires were returned (2,500 of which were an abridged version printed in Blueboy magazine). Thus, in effect, a 1% return rate. (A professionally conducted mail survey would be considered a disaster if it achieved a return rate 50 times as great.) Since the respondents were not selected through any sampling technique, but rather selected themselves, it would be hazardous to assume they were in the least typical even of the groups which were exposed to the questionnaire. In other words, data from The Gay Report are not properly projectable to any universe at all beyond the sample of those who returned the questionnaire.
To be sure, Jay and Young concede that they "do not claim to have a scientific or representative sample of lesbians and gay men." In practice, however, they often disregard this caveat when they interpret their "findings".
The questionnaire designed by Jay and Young is hopelessly inept. Above all, the questionnaire is vastly too long -- it seems that most of their respondents required many hours to fill it out, and many worked on it for weeks or even months! One may admire such intrepid respondents, but they are unlikely to be typical either of those exposed to the questionnaire or of gay men or lesbians in general.
Jay-Young's "Lesbian Questionnaire" contains 99 checklist questions (closed-ends). These are followed by well over 100 open-end questions, to be answered by the respondent in his or her own words and at any length. The "Gay Male Questionnaire" is even longer, with 108 closed-ends and at least as many open-ends.
Most of the checklist questions employ verbal rating scales: a 5-point attitude scale ("very positive" to "very negative"), a 7-point frequency scale ("always" to "never"), and a 5-point importance scale ("very important" to "very unimportant"). There is nothing wrong with these scales, but in The Gay Report they are employed excessively, mechanically, and inappropriately. Many of the questions are awkward or pointless (Q. 1: "How important is sex to you?") or even foolish.
In contrast, The Spada Report relied almost entirely on open-end questions. The questionnaire is not reproduced, as in the Jay-Young book, a serious and inexcusable omission. However, a count of questions indicates a little over 50 open-ends -- still too long, but much better than the Jay-Young questionnaires. Further, Spada's questions are better formulated -- better focused and written in simple, straightforward English, in contrast to the stiff and affected language often encountered in Jay and Young.
The great bulk of both books consists of comments made in response to the open-end questions. This is probably to the good, since it is clear that the volunteered comments -- printed in quotation marks -- represent only the opinions of individuals, and therefore the reader unfamiliar with the standards of survey research will be less tempted to make statistically unwarranted projections.
Since the questions in the Jay -Young book are generally less to the point, and the authors less selective, the ratio of chaff to grain is much higher in The Gay Report. However, the reader who persists through its 800 pages will find items of interest. Some of the respondents' comments on therapy, for example, are enlightening: "I wasted approximately four years plus with psychiatry trying to be 'cured'. What a waste of time and money! When my therapist left town to take a government position, his instruction to his successor was that I should return to my wife. Hell, I'd never left her." "The shrink I went to listened to me for eight weeks, saying nothing, and then said that I wasn't sick enough to need further treatment. Since he had said nothing for eight weeks, I had to agree that I didn't need 'further' treatment."
Ideological biases obtrude in the Jay-Young book. These consist, for the most part, of received liberal and feminist dogma. Anti-male comments abound in the lesbian sections of The Gay Report, edited by Karla Jay, but few anti-female sentiments find their way into the male section, edited by Allen Young.
Karla Jay asserts that many lesbians do not regard the dildo as a penis substitute, and she considers "astute" the comment made in Loving Women by the Nomadic Sisters that "to many lesbians a penis is a dildo substitute!" One shudders to imagine what the Nomadic Sisters say in their less astute moments.
Jay and Young share a trendy feminist aversion to transvestitism (of both sexes), pornography, and attractiveness -- a concept they can recognize only as "relating to a certain 'type'", or as seeking "'looks' in general".
Karla Jay inveighs against the evil prejudice of "lookism", which she describes as "defining beauty in stereotypical WASP American terms -- slimness and other physical attributes." She extends the struggle against "looksism" to the brave fight now being waged on the West Coast by the Fat Liberation Front against the "discrimination faced by overweight individuals", and she regrets that "most lesbians avoided overweight individuals...." Surely this is an odd ideology, which would require us to regard individuals suffering from obesity as being no less attractive than those not so afflicted.
Jay and Young seem to believe that attractiveness has no material or objective basis whatever, but is rather all in the head: all relative and subjective. This is liberal egalitarianism to the point of blindness, and responsible for the way in which they pose questions on sexual acts, styles, and preferences. In the "Gay Male Questionnaire", the men are asked to rate frequency of practice and positiveness of attitude towards many practices which most gay men would regard as reified, perverted, or at least unappealing -- a few being: humiliation, urination, enemas, defecation, nipple clamps, vibrators, fistfucking, accujacks (masturbation machines), fingerfucking, foot fetishism, jockstraps, underwear, etc. I find it highly significant that while the "Gay Male Questionnaire" exhaustively covers such practices as these, which may be accompanied by guilt, self-hatred, and inhibition -- along with the sex-related use of ten different drugs -- it totally omits the one classic technique of male-male sexuality: interfemoral or intercrural intercourse -- that is, intercourse between (or against) the thighs or legs. (See Dover, Greek Homosexuality, reviewed in GBB, No.2.)
The closest approach the "Gay Male Questionnaire" makes to the sexual practice most venerated by the ancient Greeks is when the men are asked: "On the average, how often do you engage in placing your body against your partner's body so that your penises rub together?" They are to respond to this question first with the frequency scale, then with the positive-negative attitude scale. One objects first that the question is not only clumsily worded, but misleading. Men do not place their bodies against each other's as a means of rubbing penises. The purpose of full body contact is full body contact. Second, what one might wish to know here is how much the respondent enjoys the practice, how much he desires it, and how often he does it. The objectives are not well realized through the two scales used.
Spada has a chapter entitled "Women", and with seven well-formulated questions he obtains some interesting and perceptive replies. A substantial minority of the men who responded to his questionnaire had had sex with women, which some found satisfying, while others did not. The Spada questionnaire asked two questions which are exemplary in getting to the heart of a male-male orientation: "What is it about men that you find more sexually attractive than women?" and "What can an emotional relationship with a man offer you that one with a woman cannot?" These questions elicited vivid, perceptive, and enlightening answers, a few of which follow:
"The whole male body is sexually attractive to me. The lines which are trim and solid looking are very appealing. To me women are like uncooked bread dough, soft and unappealing." "When I make it with a man, we have sex as equals." "Men feel better through their muscles, and they smell better." "Men are naturally handsome -- most women have to wear makeup." "I like the ability of men to be so gentle while being so strong." "A man feels the way I feel." "(The relationship) offers freedom."
The interpretive comments of Allen Young and James Spada are usually sensible, but those by Karla Jay are often fatuous in the extreme. For a not untypical example: Karla Jay claims that the reason why New York City had only one lesbian bar prior to the Stonewall riots in 1969 was "because with less income, lesbians couldn't buy a lot of alcohol." Indeed! And as we walk through the slummier parts of New York, we are always struck by the total absence of bars -- after all, the poor can't afford to "buy a lot of alcohol"!
Karla Jay does not hesitate to rewrite history in the interests of feminist mythology. She refers to the "pink triangle homosexuals and lesbians were forced to wear in German concentration camps under Hitler." False.
Homosexual men did indeed wear the insignia of the pink triangle in Nazi concentration camps, where thousands of them were worked to death. But there were no explicit legal sanctions of any kind against lesbians under the Third Reich. Lesbians did not wear the pink triangle.
Similarly, Jay (or perhaps Young) describes thus the Stonewall Riot of 1969: "On that occasion, lesbians and gay men attending the Stonewall Inn ... fought back against police who were raiding the bar." This is feminist wishful thinking: The Stonewall Inn was a men's bar, and those who rioted were men. It does no service to our movement to confound the was with the ought to have been.
A final example: Karla Jay describes the gay liberation symbol, the lambda, as "the Greek letter symbolizing strength through unity -- originally the symbol of the Greek city-state of Sparta." No. The lambda was adopted as a symbol by founders of the Gay Activists Alliance in New York City because the lambda was a symbol of "activity" in physics. I do not consider their reasoning to have been brilliant, but these nevertheless are the facts.
Though statistical tables play a minor part in The Gay Report, and even less in The Spada Report, they are shockingly bad: in both books there are meaningless tables which consist of raw numbers sprawling for pages; tables with no groupings; tables where no bases are shown; tables where whole percents and tenths are mixed up inconsistently; tables with no means or medians, where such were needed; tables rank-ordered by frequency of response rather than the logical progression of the stubs; and so on. The intention seems to be to impress the reader with a flourish of "scientific" thoroughness, but the result is statistical illiteracy. If the authors had consulted a professional in survey research, they might have produced correct and meaningful tables, rather than the absurdities that were published.
In conclusion, these books are not without interest, especially The Spada Report. However, I cannot feel that our cause is advanced by such seriously flawed "research". On another occasion I have sharply criticized Irving Bieber's work on methodological grounds. Having done so, I would be using a double standard if I were uncritically to accept the "findings" of The Gay Report. Science is ultimately on our side. Let us not do violence to her philosophy or to her standards.