Like members of many social identity groups, gay men within certain racial or ethnic groups (e.g., gay white men in the United States) generally share a sense of group entitativity that is characterized by the experiences of unity, coherence, and organization. Notwithstanding its members’ overall sense of entitativity, gay white male culture in the United States, specifically, has formed an array of diverse subgroups along dimensions such as physical attractiveness, musculature, masculinity, and age. These subgroup categorizations often are highly salient to individuals, and they frequently serve these gay men’s drive to self-enhance through intragroup comparisons. Given that many of these subgroups are well established, with members who share not only unique physical characteristics but also particular communication patterns and/or traditions that contribute to group stereotype formation, it is possible to consider communication and comparisons across these subgroups to be intergroup in nature as well. Social psychological theory provides useful frameworks for understanding the intra-/intergroup dynamics among such subgroups of gay men. One framework is self-categorization theory. According to this theory, individuals engage in self-stereotyping. That is, they react to themselves and others not as unique individuals, but as members of a group who share common characteristics and have similar needs, goals, and norms. It is through such categorization that group members differentiate themselves from members of other groups or subgroups. Another framework, social identity theory, also sheds light on intergroup dynamics within the gay white culture in the United States. In line with this theory, gay men may cope with discrimination from the heterosexual mainstream through the adoption of one or more coping strategies. These strategies include leaving their group or changing negative values assigned to the in-group into more positive ones. Additionally, they may avoid the use of the higher-status heterosexual group as a comparative frame of reference, instead making downward comparisons with members of other gay male groups that they consider to be inferior in order to self-enhance. Of course, though not to achieve positive distinctiveness, members of lower-status groups also orient themselves in gay culture by making upward comparisons with members of subgroups they consider to be superior to their own. Again, these subgroup distinctions may include those based on physical attractiveness, musculature, masculinity, and age.
Sexual orientation is a private matter that individuals can decide to disclose or conceal. Nevertheless, when interacting with others, people look for cues of sexual orientation. Hence, the person’s face, voice, or non-verbal behavior is taken as a cue revealing sexual orientation. As research on “gaydar” has shown, this detecting ability can sometimes be accurate or stereotype-based. Sometimes gay, lesbian, and bisexual people themselves intentionally communicate their sexual identity explicitly or through more subtle cues. Intentional or not, several cues are taken as communicating sexual orientation with the consequences of shaping interpersonal interactions. Identifying someone as gay or lesbian has several implications. On the one hand, it leads straight men and women to non-verbally behave differently than when interacting with other straight individuals (e.g., more physical distance, more self-touching). On the other hand, it also affects verbal communication (e.g., topics of conversation, questions, and statements). The harshest consequence is hate speech and homophobic language. Research has shown that being labeled as “faggot” or “dyke” not only negatively affects those who are the target of such verbal derogation but also negatively impacts on straight bystanders. Indeed, gay and lesbian targets of homophobic language report a lower level of well-being and self-acceptance, while being exposed to such language increases prejudice toward gay men and lesbians among straight people. In the case of straight men, the use of homophobic language is often associated with identity self-affirmation and self-presentation. Interestingly, a recent trend among gay people has been noticed: they use homophobic labels among them as a form of “reclaimed language,” meaning that these derogatory terms are used with a different intent and reframed in a more positive way. Moreover, communicating sexual orientation can increase self-acceptance, social support, and positive social comparison among gay men and lesbians and can also increase positive attitudes toward gay people, especially when it happens with friends and family members.