Michele Bachmann’s Homophobia: Is it Reaction Formation?

Michele Bachmann and family

A couple of days ago, I read a fascinating piece about Michele Bachmann by The Daily Beast’s Michelle Goldberg. If you haven’t read it yet, please do. It’s a real eye-opener, and the information in it spurred me on a voyage of discovery across the internet as I tried to understand what happened to this woman to cause her to embrace her bizarre religious beliefs and her extreme right-wing political ideology. For the purposes of this post, I want to focus primarily on Bachmann’s homophobia.

Goldberg begins her article with a particularly vivid episode from Bachmann’s tenure in the Minnesota state senate:

In April 2005, Pamela Arnold wanted to talk to her state senator, Michele Bachmann, who was then running for Congress. A 46-year-old who worked at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, Arnold lived with her partner, the famed Arctic explorer Ann Bancroft, on a farm in Scandia, Minnesota. Bachmann was then leading the fight against gay marriage in the state. She’d recently been in the news for hiding in the bushes to observe a gay rights rally at the Capitol. So when members of the Scandia gay community decided to attend one of Bachmann’s constituent forums, Arnold, wanting to make herself visible to her representative, joined them.

A few dozen people showed up at the town hall for the April 9 event, and Bachmann greeted them warmly. But when, during the question and answer session, the topic turned to gay marriage, Bachmann ended the meeting 20 minutes early and rushed to the bathroom. Hoping to speak to her, Arnold and another middle-aged woman, a former nun, followed her. As Bachmann washed her hands and Arnold looked on, the ex-nun tried to talk to her about theology. Suddenly, after less than a minute, Bachmann let out a shriek. “Help!” she screamed. “Help! I’m being held against my will!”

Arnold, who is just over 5 feet tall, was stunned, and hurried to open the door. Bachmann bolted out and fled, crying, to an SUV outside. Then she called the police, saying, according to the police report, that she was “absolutely terrified and has never been that terrorized before as she had no idea what those two women were going to do to her.” The Washington County attorney, however, declined to press charges, writing in a memo, “It seems clear from the statements given by both women that they simply wanted to discuss certain issues further with Ms. Bachmann.”

Bachmann’s anxiety at being confronted by three lesbians was so extreme that instead of either responding to their questions or politely excusing herself and calmly walking away, she screamed, cried, and called the police!

Now let’s look at the previous episode when Bachmann was photographed hiding behind bushes to covertly watch a gay rights rally. The context was that Bachmann had just left the State Senate after proposing a bill to ban gay marriage in Minnesota.

“The state Senate on Thursday rejected an effort to force a floor vote on a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage as thousands of ban opponents rallied outside the Capitol. Sen. Michele Bachmann, the Stillwater Republican who’s led the push for the ban, said Senate Democrats have denied her repeated efforts to get the bill heard. Senate leaders countered that Bachmann, a candidate for the U.S. House, is flouting Senate rules to advance her own political career. At the same time, about 2,500 gays, lesbians and their supporters attended a rally on the Capitol grounds just a few hundred yards away, organized by OutFront Minnesota.” [Star Tribune]

After the move didn’t pan out, Michele took to hiding in the bushes to watch the queers rally

Another story reports that during the hearing 100 of the rally participants

…filed inside the Capitol building and took their place in the Senate gallery overlooking the proceedings. With a crowd on hand, Bachmann issued a motion to bypass the committee and have the floor vote on the bill right then and there–a highly unusual move in state Senate proceedings. Even more bizarre: While making her case, she addressed not the Senate floor as per protocol, but the gallery above.

In my opinion, these out-of-proportion reactions suggest that Bachmann’s extreme homophobia is a cover for deep fears that she has about herself or people close to her. I believe she is unconsciously engaging in the defense mechanism of reaction formation to deal with this anxiety.

Follow me below the fold….

Freud theorized that the ego unconsciously uses defense mechanisms to protect itself from being overwhelmed by anxiety-producing thoughts, feelings, and situations. This is one of Freud’s ideas that has been supported by extensive empirical research.

Reaction formation is a highly neurotic defense mechanism in which a person appears to others to be “protesting too much”–for example, exaggerating how much she loves or hates something to the point that observers wonder if this behavior is a cover for the opposite feeling.

Everyone uses defense mechanisms; most of the time they are healthy, but they can cause problems. Bachmann’s use of reaction formation seems to me to be pathological. In the first example, Bachmann expresses a fear of homosexuals that is startlingly out of proportion to what actually occurred. In the second example, she shows curiosity and intense interest in the activities of people rallying in favor of gay marriage and looks at members of this group as she proposes an anti-gay bill.

Although the two incidents described above are obvious examples of reaction formation, they are not isolated incidents. Bachmann regularly expresses a stunningly out-of-proportion hatred and fear of homosexuality and homosexuals even when she is speaking in highly structured public settings. Here are a few examples of statements Bachmann has made about homosexuality.

On what will happen if her same-sex marriage ban amendment fails to pass in 2004: “It isn’t that some gay will get some rights. It’s that everyone else in our state will lose rights. For instance, parents will lose the right to protect and direct the upbringing of their children. Because our K-12 public school system, of which ninety per cent of all youth are in the public school system, they will be required to learn that homosexuality is normal, equal and perhaps you should try it. And that will occur immediately, that all schools will begin teaching homosexuality.” — Senator Michele Bachmann, appearing as guest on radio program “Prophetic Views Behind The News”, hosted by Jan Markell, KKMS 980-AM, March 6, 2004.

On the gay community and same-sex marriage: “This is a very serious matter, because it is our children who are the prize for this community, they are specifically targeting our children.” — Senator Michele Bachmann, appearing as guest on radio program “Prophetic Views Behind The News”, hosted by Jan Markell, KKMS 980-AM, March 20, 2004.

“And what a bizarre time we’re in, Jan, when a judge will say to little children that you can’t say the pledge of allegiance, but you must learn that homosexuality is normal and you should try it.” — Senator Michele Bachmann, appearing as guest on radio program “Prophetic Views Behind The News”, hosted by Jan Markell, KKMS 980-AM, March 6, 2004.

Bachmann’s fear and hatred of homosexuality is so intense that it almost suggests an old-fashioned syndrome that has recently been used as a legal defense–“homosexual panic:”

An acute syndrome that comes as a climax of prolonged tension from unconscious homosexual conflicts or sometimes bisexual tendencies.

Is it possible that Michele Bachmann is unconsciously struggling against homosexual feelings? Or could she be struggling to repress fears of someone close to her being gay? Of course I don’t know, and I can’t possibly diagnose Bachmann. But since she is a public figure and a possible candidate for President of the U.S., I do have every right to examine any evidence that she may have serious psychological issues.

In order to discuss my speculations about this, I need to provide some relevant background. I will do that in another post, since this one is already so long. For now I will suggest a few possibilities, which I’ll expand upon in part 2.

First, Bachmann’s father and mother divorced when she was an adolescent. Three years later, her mother married a second time–to a man with five children of his own. One of Michele’s stepsisters, with whom she was very close, is now an out lesbian who has lives with her long-time partner. Could this be a source of Bachmann’s irrational fear of homosexuality?

Second, as I rather broadly hinted in a June 4 post, Michele’s husband, Marcus Bachmann is a “therapist” who has been widely rumored to believe he can “cure” homosexuality. At the same time, Marcus himself is widely rumored to be a closeted gay man. Like Bachmann, he has publicly expressed hostility and disdain toward homosexuals. He is also Michele’s primary adviser. Could Marcus be the source of Michele’s intense anxiety about homosexuality?

Third, via Ripple in Stillwater, the high school young Michele attended appears to have a problem with discrimination against gays and lesbians. The school district was sued for discrimination in January. Did the culture of her high school contribute to Bachmann’s fear of homosexuality?

I’ll expand on these possibilities in my next post. I welcome your reactions as well as any speculations you may have on this.

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22 Comments on “Michele Bachmann’s Homophobia: Is it Reaction Formation?”

  1. Thursday's Child says:

    Good lord.
    Yes, it certainly appears as though Michele Bachmann is experiencing some sort of panic in regards to homosexuality, her own or someone else’s.

    • Allan Provost says:

      What I find intriguing is that if you look of up Marcus Bachmann on the internet, you find only one video. One video for this very busy man. But that one video suggests that he is a flaming queen and many people have commented on it. So has Michelle discouraged Marcus from being seen in any more videotaped moments since his mannerisms are so gay.

  2. dakinikat says:

    She and her husband are two of the creepiest people I’ve ever seen. There is something seriously wrong with both of them. They remind me of people who’ve been captured by cults.

    • bostonboomer says:

      I think they were captured by a cult.

      • Thursday's Child says:

        Maybe that’s why the “crazy eyes.”

      • bostonboomer says:

        I think so. I think she “snapped” at some point. Her family were very weirded out by her sudden swich to religious right-wing nut.

    • Fannie says:

      I wonder how many siblings did she have. Her mother and father divorced in 1970, both in late 30′s. She was 14 at the time, and likely suffered from immaturity and low self esteem. Her father removed to California where he then married Nancy Osen Sherwood, and had three sons with this union. And then her mother married second to a man who had 5 children. So I have to wonder which family was she hanging out with, because I’d be thinking of her search for personal identity.
      Regardless it appears that her family, father side, were from a long line of Norwegian Lutherans. I don’t know when she became neurotic, having 5 children, and 23 foster children would cause an underlying personality problem if you asked my opinion. But then her being nuerotic led to an inability to to communicate
      with people she considered to be diseased. After all she said gay people are a plague that is corrupting
      American children.

      Children, I wonder too, about the 23 children she claims and claims, and claims to be hers, when in fact she never adopted them. I am sorry but I don’t see her relationship as being healthy with these 23 plus kids.
      Something is wrong, she is pathological, and not telling the truth. Did those 23 kids raise her biological kids, while she was out being straight counselor on the streets? Where her siblings helping her raise all those kids?

      For her to dehumanize welfare people, and yet recieved a great amount from the agencies for foster children, and tax free, only proves that she was gaming, and she likely learned from working in Kibbutz in
      Israel…………….how to pull it off.

      I look forward to more information on MB…………Thanks

  3. Back Bay Style says:

    Superb analysis, Bostonboomer. Bachman scared me so much during the debate that I looked on Wikipedia to try to figure out where she was coming from. I don’t know if this is correct iinfo, but she was said to have been
    a “sidewalk counselor” at one time. You have to be pretty far off the deep end to do that.

    I would guess there is at least one and maybe more than one, long-buried trauma in her life…not just a parentall divorce. Anyone who comes across as that perfect,…the advanced degrees, the large family, the every hair in place oppearance, the constant references to her “five children and 23 foster children”…come on, such a superwoman does not exist. I didn’t have the exact term “reacton formation” at my fingertips,, but that was my general thought. Something is going on here.

    • bostonboomer says:

      Thanks, BBS. Something happened to her. She and her husband definitely went through a complete religious and political transformation at some point during Jimmy Carter’s term. But her stepsister being a lesbian really affected her. I’m not sure why. Frankly, I suspect she is conflicted about her own sexuality, hence the closeted husband.

      • Minkoff Minx says:

        Doesn’t the closeted husband say he “cured” himself?

      • bostonboomer says:

        No. He doesn’t say he’s gay. I don’t know for sure that he is. He is very effeminate, and so people think he may be gay. I put videos of him on my previous post. There’s a link in this post.

        Defense mechanisms are unconscious. People use them to avoid “knowing” things they find threatening. For example, alcoholics and drug addicts often use denial to convince themselves they can stop whenever they want to. But other people can see that this isn’t true.

        The way it works with reaction formation is that he (and Michele) are overreacting to homosexual behavior because they are actually attracted to it. But if they acted on this attraction, that would be unacceptable according to their world view. A good example is Elliot Spitzer who was prosecuting prostitution rings with fervor while paying for prostitutes himself.

  4. Minkoff Minx says:

    Wow BB, I have to think a bit on this great post…and comment later.

  5. The Rock says:

    Is it possible that Michele Bachmann is unconsciously struggling against homosexual feelings?

    That is the most plasible reason. Her religiosity may also be a factor in this level of what can only be termed as selective insanity. Whatever it is, I know I can never live in her district. The fact that she has been re-elected from there suggests that others that live there believe as she does.

    Hillary 2012

  6. grayslady says:

    I don’t think MB’s homophobia is anything more than a classic evangelical Xtian reaction. Most evangelicals believe that homosexuality is learned, rather than a birth factor. That’s why they behave so irrationally when confronted with the idea that they, or their children, might be exposed to homosexuals in everyday life–school, work, etc. They react as though homosexuality is a lifestyle choice and, therefore, homosexuals are capable of convincing heterosexuals to adopt a similar lifestyle.

    MB’s parents divorced when she was 14, and she became a born-again Xtian when she was 16–my guess is as a convenient, autocratic solution to the chaos in her life that she probably was experiencing at the time. Her whole world view is based on accepting fundamentalist Xtianity. If one of the building blocks of her belief system were to be torn out from under her–such as homosexuality not being a choice–I think she would continue to deny the truth rather than allow a challenge to her tightly structured program of acceptable beliefs. She may be a well educated woman, but she is not an intelligent woman.

    • propertius says:

      I wouldn’t call a law degree from Oral Roberts being “well educated”.

      • bostonboomer says:

        I was going to say the same thing. I wouldn’t call a degree from Winona College “well educated” either.

    • bostonboomer says:

      Hi Grayslady,

      Michele wasn’t an extreme fundamentalist until she got together with Marcus. Her brothers and stepbrothers and stepsisters say that she went to church but wasn’t particularly religious until later on. She was a “born again” Christian in the same sense as Jimmy Carter.

      You are also suggesting that a defense mechanism is involved. Denial is one of the most basic defenses. But if Michele were only using denial to defend against her feelings about homosexuality, she would not have such extreme reactions when confronted with it. Therefore, I believe she is using another defense–reaction formation.

      There is actually experimental evidence that men (at least) who are homophobic are more aroused by gay porn than those who are not homophobic. Yet those who are more aroused physically report that they are not feeling excited. It’s likely this would be true of women too, but it’s more difficult to measure physical arousal in women.

  7. dakinikat says:

    She certainly seems obsessed with things that don’t fit her world view. Very interesting thoughts BB! I’m looking forward to reading more about how some one that comes from such a normal family could grow up and become such a crazy person.

  8. Delphyne says:

    I love these kinds of posts from you, Boomer. Because I can’t take their words or ideas seriously, I want to know what what makes them so irrational. And in DC politics, there seem to be so many irrational folks, from Bachmann to Vitter to Obama. Trying to understand them from a psychological perspective is what I wind up doing – that’s why I enjoy your take on them. I hope you’ll do more – you won’t run out of subjects!

    Looking forward to Part 2!

  9. Linda C says:

    I have a master’s in psych mental health nursing. In my professional opinion..Bachmann is weird. However, the weirder ones are the people that vote for her.
    In the end she will make Palin look sane and qualified