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Current Issues in Personality Psychology
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vol. 3
Original paper

Personality of Polish gay men and women

Marcin Kwiatkowski
Iwona Lidia Janicka

Current Issues in Personality Psychology, 3(4), 242–253
Online publish date: 2015/12/04
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The attitudes towards same-sex oriented people in Poland are quite different than in countries such as the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Spain or the Netherlands. In those countries, gay men and women are not excluded in any way, but rather treated as equal to heterosexual people. In Poland, the topic of same-sex oriented people is undertaken reluctantly, shrouded in mystery, and anxiety, which contributes to the stigmatization of this social group. This is why Bojarska and Kowalczyk (2010) suggest that when researching non-heterosexual people, it is necessary to take into consideration the socio-cultural context, which allows for a fuller characterization of the problem.
A gap on this subject that started over the years is visible when analyzing the Polish and international psychological literature. It is very likely that the lack of modern psychological research on behaviors of people with same-sex desires is linked to a lack of convincing and conclusive results from previous studies and a strong domination of biological and medical sciences in this field (Sandfort, 2000). More and more Polish scientists (for example, Izdebski, 2012; Slany, Kowalska, & Smietana, 2005; Szukalski, 2005; Brzask, 2008; Majka-Rostek, 2008; Iniewicz, Mijas, & Grabski, 2012; Mizielinska, Abramowicz, & Stasinska, 2014) have started to study lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB)-identified people. The ongoing research concentrates on the issues related to the quality of life of gay men and women and on same-sex couples and same-sex families. There are just a few studies in the Polish literature that concentrate on the individual characteristics of gay men and women. Due to the small number of participants, the studies concerning personality traits and the studies presented below should be treated as initial pilot studies.
Personality is shaped by biological and environmental factors and by interactions with society, whereas sexuality is an inseparable part of one’s identity and personality (Nay, McAuliffe, & Bauer, 2007; Rosenfels, 1971). It is widely accepted that the personality traits typical for gay men and women are noticeable even during their childhood. The boys show signs of mental feminization, whereas the girls show signs of masculinization (Lew-Starowicz & Lew-Starowicz, 1999; Lippa, 2000; Lippa & Arad, 1997). Moreover, research on personality during adulthood shows different traits responsible for the differences between gay and heterosexual people.
In comparison to heterosexual women, the typical features of gay women include: higher level of emotional coldness, self-confidence, non-conventionality, self-sufficiency, and a low level of emotional tension (Hopkins, 1969). Similarly, research conducted by Duckitt and Du Toit (2001) shows that non-conformism is a typical feature of gay women. Gay women can also be described as more distrustful, eccentric, socially skillful, and self-sufficient, in comparison to heterosexual women. In the categories concerning gender, they show a lower level of traits traditionally perceived as feminine. This is also why they have, as compared to heterosexual women, lower values of the gentleness index, being less delicate, sensitive and prosocial, and higher values of the domination index, being stiff, difficult in interpersonal relationships, and introverted. In addition, typical features of gay women include a higher level of emotional stability, lower level of propensity for becoming excessively troubled, and emotional tensions.
Polish research conducted by Kulpa (2001) on a small group of gay women failed to confirm the previously obtained results. The following traits were found in the studied sample: submissiveness, subordination, strong sense of danger and insecurity, bashfulness, and timidity, as well as depressiveness, pessimism and inhibition, and, additionally, a strong sense of duty and a high level of conscientiousness, resulting from approaching life in a serious manner. Typical features of the studied sample of women also included a higher than average level of tenderness, delicacy, politeness, sensitivity, and concern with supposed and expected difficulties, which are interpreted as symptoms of emotional weakness. In the case of gay women, the following traits could be observed: high level of personality disharmony, internal discord, high level of emotional tension, being upset and insecure, low level of resilience to stress, need of compassion and acceptance of their social environment, and a propensity for negative self-evaluation. Immature personality, manifesting itself through a lack of emotional balance, irritability, impulsiveness, and impatience, is regarded as a symptomatic feature of the studied sample. Moreover, they were found to experience shifting moods from joyfulness to dissatisfaction, as well as deep sorrow. Kulpa (2001) also refers to the research conducted by Rosenhan and Seligman (1989), according to which gay women who reject their sexual orientation experience anxiety, depression, shame, and feelings of guilt and loneliness. Similar results among gay women who keep their sexual orientation concealed were obtained by Ghorayeb and Dalgalarrondo (2010), and Meyer (2003).
Studies indicate that gay women who accept their sexual orientation do not manifest psychopathological symptoms, and are happy with their sexual orientation (Rosenhan & Seligman, 1989).
To sum up, it is possible to say that the research results concerning personality traits of gay women are not consistent. What should be noted is the difference concerning Polish and international research. Most Polish studies mention traits associated with disturbed personality, which is not the case in international studies. Thus, it is indicated that the acceptance of one’s sexual orientation is significant for the correct development of one’s personality.
In spite of the fact that the literature mentions male homosexuality more often than the female one, so far most of the research has been conducted outside of Poland, and only a small part of it concerns the personality traits of gay men. To the best of our knowledge the first researchers to become interested in the personality of gay men were Cattell and Morony (1962). They observed a high level of extraversion and feelings of guilt, as well as a weak superego among gay men. Further research showed that gay men, as compared to heterosexual men, are characterized by: a lower level of domination and a propensity for achieving success, a lower level of expansiveness, and a higher level of sensitivity, and confidence, accompanied by a lower level of resilience to stress, and also by a higher level of distrustfulness. More­over, gay men were regarded as more neurotic, infantile, less emotionally stable and non-conventional; they manifested a tendency to be excessively troubled, to experience self-recrimination and emotional tensions, to have a low self-esteem, to be self-sufficient, and to experience a high level of emotional tension. It is simultaneously reported that gay men were more gentle and helpful towards other people than heterosexual men (Evans, 1970; Duckitt & Du Toit, 2001; Lippa, 2005). Gay men, compared to heterosexual men, scored higher on a non-conventionality scale, and lower on a submissiveness scale, which may suggest a general attitude of non-conformism or autonomy, likely shaped as a response to the social situation of stigmatization and discrimination of both male and female sexual minorities (Stringer & Grygier, 1976; Mondimore, 1996).
Research conducted with the Neo-Five Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI), as developed by Costa and McCrae, showed that the typical features of gay men, compared to heterosexual men, include a higher level of readiness to seek compromise, and openness to experiences (Lippa, 2005, 2008). In spite of the fact that people with same sex desires are sometimes identified as having a narcissistic personality (Rubinstein, 2010), studies showed that an equally high variance of that trait can be found in other populations (Moskowitz, Rieger, & Seal, 2009).
The self-perception of gay men is quite interesting. They selected negative adjectives to describe themselves, which may suggest difficulties with accepting their own personalities and a propensity for evaluation of oneself less favorably (in Pilecka, 1999). They perceived themselves as individuals who cannot persistently perform difficult tasks, and who get distracted easily. In addition, they accepted the fact that they tend to avoid integration with a group and to stay away from situations in which they have to compete against other people, or to act aggressively. They also experienced fear of becoming emotionally committed. Gay men manifested difficulties with struggling to achieve distant objectives, and they avoided tasks requiring reliable effort and self-discipline. Simultaneously, they were aware of their own awkwardness in terms of struggling with the difficulties that are a part of real life, and of a tendency to seek refuge in the world of dreams.
In their case, bashfulness, and a propensity for low self-evaluation, result in difficulties with interpersonal relationships. Moreover, they score low on traits traditionally considered to be masculine, such as ambition, assertiveness, the ability to achieve objectives by resorting to violent means, and the ability to make decisions quickly. As for the results concerning their ideal personality, the highest level was found for the need to persevere, paying attention to order, organizing and planning one’s activities (Pilecka, 1999).
The topic of personality of gay men did not attract the interest of Polish researchers. This is why one ought to be very cautious when generalizing the results. It was said that “in the case of individuals with homosexual orientation, and that concerns men in particular, it is very frequent that the development of [their] personality is extended in time, full of conflicts, difficult, or even disturbed” (Lew-Starowicz & Lew-Starowicz, 1999, p. 45).
Personality is shaped under the influence of the opinions of society and interactions with society. This is why the attitudes of heterosexual people towards those attracted to the same sex are important. In Polish society, gay women are perceived in a less judgmental manner, and perceived with more tolerance than gay men (Kocaj, 2000). According to an assessment of the majority of heterosexual men, major features of a typical gay woman include independence, a high level of intelligence and being non-conventional (Pilecka, 1999). In addition, gay women excite heterosexual men (Kocaj, 2000). In turn, the image of an average gay man is ambivalent. A gay man is perceived as submissive, characterized by a lack of self-confidence, but simultaneously capable of acting regardless of the views and opinions of other people. According to heterosexual women, the typical features of a gay man include a high level of intelligence, being original and non-conventional. Moreover, gay men are seen as people who avoid the feelings and wishes of other people. According to men, a typical gay man does not have sufficient self-confidence, does not trust himself and his own abilities, yet, nevertheless, manifests a high level of intelligence and is non-conventional (Pilecka, 1999).
The persisting negative perception of gay men is linked to the ingrained conviction that they have actual or presumed female traits. Research also shows that men with female traits are less liked, and more avoided as co-workers, that they are considered to be boring and not very intelligent (Stotzer & Shih, 2012), but to be also inferior, maladjusted and immature (Blashhil & Powlishta, 2009). Noticing female traits results in feeling of a threat to masculinity in the case of heterosexual men, which may result in aggressive behavior towards gay men (Stotzer & Shih, 2012). However, it needs to be pointed out that the negative assessment concerned not only the perceived female traits, but also the simple fact that a gay person is gay. Just for that reason, gay men were assessed negatively (Blashhil & Powlishta, 2009).
A critical or hostile attitude of society towards people with same-sex desires makes it difficult for personality to develop, which, ultimately, may result in its disintegration. It is only in a place “where homosexual people can enjoy a social environment which is encouraging or tolerant, and where they live in a world of their own institutions, organizations and forms of staying together, that their personality attains a higher level of harmony, integration and self-acceptance” (Lew-Starowicz & Lew-Starowicz, 1999, p. 45).
Previous studies, the majority of which were conducted outside of Poland, do not provide conclusive answers to the questions concerning differences and similarities of personality traits between people attracted to the same or opposite sex, and sometimes they even contradict each other (Cattell & Morony, 1962; Duckitt & Du Toit, 2001; Evans, 1970; Hopkins, 1969; Kulpa, 2001; Lippa, 2005, 2008; Lippa & Arad, 1997; Rosenhan & Seligman in Zimbardo, 2002; Rubinstein, 2010; Stringer & Grygier, 1976).
The inconsistent results of the abovementioned studies may be due to the differences in living conditions of gay men and women, as well as social and cultural factors that influence the attitudes towards LGB-identified people, thus influencing the development of a person with same sex desires. Due to social changes and more favorable attitudes towards same-sex oriented people in Polish society, we attempted to reassess the existing research on the personality of gay men and women. Hence the objective of this research was to assess the personality of Polish gay men and gay women.


Information about the study was posted on public Internet forums as well as on websites dedicated to Polish sexual minorities.
All those interested could participate through the website (a demographic survey and the personality questionnaire were posted online), or after having contacted the author, have the material e-mailed, and then return it to the provided e-mail address. Participation in the research was anonymous and voluntary. Of the received 478 sets of questionnaires, 132 were rejected due to the insufficient quantity of data required to conduct further analysis, or because they were only partially filled out. Participants who identified as bisexual, and those under 18 years of age, were not included.
The data from 346 participants (179 women and 167 men) were used for the analyses.
The assignment to groups was based on the answer to the question concerning sexual orientation. The Heterosexual-Homosexual Kinsey Scale was used (in Mondimore, 1996; Kinsey, Pomeroy, & Martin, 1948; Kinsey, Pomeroy, Martin, & Gebhard, 1953) to analyze the degree of compatibility of the declared sexual orientation and the way of defining one’s sexual orientation by the participants. Using the Kinsey Scale 166 participants (82 men and 84 women) were selected who rated themselves as exclusively homosexual and 180 participants (85 men and 95 women) who rated themselves as exclusively heterosexual. A high degree of compatibility was found between the declared sexual orientation and the type of sexual behaviors (as indicated by the Heterosexual-Homosexual Kinsey Scale) among both men and women.
The correlation between the declared sexual orientation and the way of defining one’s orientation on the Kinsey Scale was statistically significant (χ2 = 377.38, p = .001). The age of the groups was compared with a single-factor analysis of variance (ANOVA). The analysis showed no differences between the groups (F = 2.01, df = 3, p = .113), which shows their homogeneousness in terms of age. A similar number of participants (a large majority) in both the studied group and in the control group had a high school education or higher education.
No correlations were found between participants’ education and their sexual orientation (χ2 = 10.23, p > .05).


The participants were asked about their demographic variables (sex, age and education), declaration concerning their sexual orientation, and its assessment with the Kinsey Scale (Mondimore, 1996). Personality was studied with the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire Revised (EPQ-R) in the adaptation of Brzozowski and Drwal (1995), and also with the Sixteen-factor Personality Questionnaire of Cattell in the adaptation of Nowakowska (1970).
The Eysenck Questionnaire includes four scales: Neuroticism (N), Extraversion-Introversion (E), Psychoticism (P), and Lie (L). The internal compatibility (Cronbach’s α) as well as absolute stability (r) in the case of the Neuroticism, Extroversion-Introversion, and Lie scales was between .72 and .84, whereas for the Psychoticism scale the coefficients were between .58 and .75 (Brzozowski & Drwal, 1995).
The Sixteen-factor Personality Questionnaire of Cattell was used as a multi-factor method, making it possible to verify the results of previous studies.
The Polish adaptation of this questionnaire consists of 305 questions, and additionally 3 buffer questions. The questionnaire is composed of 16 two-dimensional (positive and negative) personality factors (Nowakowska, 1970). As the adaptation conducted by Nowakowska originates from the 1970s, reliability analysis of the separate factors of the questionnaire was conducted (Cronbach α). The analysis was conducted on 284 individuals (72 heterosexual men, 87 gay men, 53 gay women, and 72 heterosexual women). The results indicate that the following factors had a satisfactory reliability: B: Reasoning (α = .74), factor C: Emotional Stability (α = .73), factor F: Liveliness (α = .74), factor H: Social Boldness (α = .84), O: Apprehension (α = .86), Q1: Openness to Change (α = .71), and Q4: Tension (α = .81). The reliability of factor A: Warmth was also relatively satisfactory (α = .69 for the entire group, .69 for heterosexual men, .73 for gay men, .66 for gay women, and .65 for heterosexual women). For the purpose of further statistical analysis, only those factors were used. The remaining factors were not subjected to further analysis because of the low reliability: E: Dominance (α = .52), G: Rule-Consciousness (α = .56), I: Sensitivity (α = .64), L: Vigilance (Cronbach α = .48), M: Abstractedness (α = .51), N: Privateness (α = .20), Q2: Self-Reliance (α = .58), and Q3: Perfectionism (α = .38).


In order to analyze the differences concerning personality traits between gay and heterosexual participants, a single-factor analysis of variance (ANOVA) was used. The results are presented in Tables 1 and 2.
The analysis revealed that the differences between the groups concern only two variables from the Personality Questionnaire (EPQ-R) – the Psychoticism scale (F = 3.73, p = .012) and the Lie scale (F = 4.84, p = .003), and five factors from the Sixteen-factor Questionnaire of Cattell: factor A: Warmth (F = 3.75, p = .011), factor F: Liveliness (F = 3.17, p = .024), factor O: Apprehension (F = 3.34, p = .019), factor Q1: Openness to Change (F = 22.22, p = .001), and factor Q4: Tension (F = 3.41, p = .018).
In order to conduct a more detailed comparison between the groups for those variables, post hoc analyses with Tukey’s honestly significant difference (HSD) test were conducted. The results are presented in the consecutive Tables. Personality traits of gay and heterosexual women (Table 3) and gay and heterosexual men (Table 4) were compared.
Significantly higher results on the Lie scale among gay women than among heterosexual men and women can be linked to the fact that gay women, due to their feelings of exclusion and lack of social acceptance, experience the need for social approval much more than heterosexual individuals do, and that they may manifest a tendency to present themselves in a more positive light more frequently.
Gay women, in comparison with heterosexual women, had lower results on the factor A: Warmth, which means that their traits may include emotional coldness and stiffness in contact with other people. They also obtained higher results in the case of factor Q1: Openness to Change (p = .007), which shows a higher level of progressive attitude, their independence in terms of thinking and actions, and also inclinations to take risks.
Moreover, the personality traits of gay men, and heterosexual men (Table 5) and gay women (Table 6), were compared.
It was revealed that gay men in comparison with heterosexual men have lower results on the scale of Psychoticism (p = .033), which can cause them to be perceived as more warm and friendly, and which may determine their stronger propensities for becoming emotionally agitated, and also for compassion and perceiving them as more cordial and friendly. The major traits of gay men also include lower (than those of heterosexual men) results concerning factor F: Liveliness (p = .027), which indicates a lower level of their expansiveness and enthusiasm in social situations, and the results concerning factor Q1: Openness to Change makes it possible to assess them as individuals with a higher, as compared to heterosexual men and women, creativity, dynamism and risk-taking scores (p < .001), with a more progressive attitude, independent in terms of thinking and actions, and also manifesting inclinations to take risks, in comparison with heterosexual men, as well as with heterosexual women (p = .001). Another difference between heterosexual women and gay men was factor Q4 (p = .029). The lower results among gay men shows their smaller difficulties with becoming adjusted, and lower level of emotional tension and excitability, in comparison with heterosexual women.
A comparison between the personality traits of gay men and women is presented in Table 7.
The results show a statistically significant difference between the studied groups concerning factor Q1: Openness to Change (p = .001). Gay men had higher scores in the case of factor Q1: Openness to Change, which shows higher levels of their progressive attitude, independence in terms of thinking and actions, and also inclinations to take risks, in comparison with gay women.
A comparison between personality traits in the groups of heterosexual women and men is presented in Table 8.
Heterosexual men obtained higher scores on the scale of Psychoticism in comparison with heterosexual women (p = .017). Their typical features included a lower ability to become emotionally agitated, show compassion and distrust. They also could be perceived as emotionally colder, impersonal and unfriendly. In addition, men with a lower level of factor O: Apprehension (p = .014) may be seen as more self-confident and determined in comparison with females, who had a higher level of concern, loneliness and propensity for self-recrimination. The difference in the case of factor Q4, indicating lower results among heterosexual women, shows their greater difficulties with becoming adjusted, and also high levels of emotional tension, excitability and impatience in comparison with men (p = .039).


The objective of the study was to assess personality profiles of individuals with different sexual orientations. Due to the applied psychometric methods, the analysis included 12 personality traits, 4 from the EPQ-R, and 8 from the Sixteen-factor Personality Questionnaire of Cattell.
The results comparing the groups of gay women and men and heterosexual women and men indicate that the largest number of similar personality traits is found among gay women and heterosexual men. It is possible to claim that a major characteristic of gay women is having personality traits similar to those observable among heterosexual men. In turn, gay men manifest more polarized traits, and those traits are similar to those of heterosexual women and men. Gay men are more cordial, and more friendly, than heterosexual men, which makes them more woman-like, but they also differ from heterosexual women, as the former manifest smaller difficulties with becoming adjusted, and a lower level of emotional tension and excitability, which makes them more similar to heterosexual men.
The largest number of differences, even though they concern solely the three dimensions of personality, could be observed between gay and heterosexual women, and also gay and heterosexual men. In that case, the common polarizing factor was Q1: Openness to Change, which was higher among gay men and women.
The following traits ought to be regarded as typical for gay men and women (in particular for gay men): dynamism, creativity, independence or risk-taking, which are the traits connected to factor Q1. It has the highest values among gay men in comparison with gay women, and also in comparison with heterosexual women and men (p = .001). That factor may be regarded as typical of gay women, because it has significantly higher values than among heterosexual women (p < .05).


The analysis of personality traits showed that gay women as compared to heterosexual women and to men in general manifest a stronger propensity to present themselves in a more positive light and care more for society’s approval. Moreover, gay women may have a higher level of emotional coldness, and also of stiffness in contacts with other people. These results support the previous research according to which gay women experience a strong need to be accepted and recognized by their social environment (Kulpa, 2001); their typical features also include a higher level of emotional coldness (Hopkins, 1969).
The differences between gay men and heterosexual men showed that gay men are more cordial and more friendly, that they manifest a stronger propensity for becoming emotionally agitated, and also to show compassion. In addition, gay men may manifest a lower level of expansiveness, and enthusiasm in social situations. The results of studies conducted before have also shown a greater level of sensitivity in gay men (Duckitt & Du Toit, 2001; Evans, 1970), lower expansiveness (Evans, 1970), and higher confidence (Duckit & Du Toit, 2001; Evans, 1970).
Gay men may be described as more creative, independent, progressive, dynamic and not afraid to take risks, which makes them different from heterosexual men and women. Gay men show smaller difficulties with becoming adjusted, and also a lower level of emotional tension and excitability, which additionally makes them different from heterosexual women, but similar to heterosexual men.
We can see that gay and heterosexual men and women differ from each other concerning the degree of progressive attitude and independence in terms of actions and thoughts. Differences regarding those traits could also be observed between gay men and women. Gay men, in comparison with gay women, have a higher level of the abovementioned traits. Stringer and Grygier (1976) explain that it is connected to the general non-conformism and autonomy, typical of sexual minorities, which develops as a response to stigmatization and discrimination. The transparence of one’s sexual orientation frequently requires surpassing the generally accepted patterns and behaviors, usually forcing men to be independent, and changed by non-conformism, whereas among women hiding their sexual orientation and adaptation to the officially prevailing rules is much easier. Jannin, Blanchard, Camperio-Ciani and Bancroft (2010) report that the idea of men’s interest in same-sex partners generates more fears of moral and religious nature than that of women. Stigmatization and discrimination are both connected with general stress, referred to as minority stress. This is a particular and additional stressor of a chronic character, and also one that is caused by social processes. Negative opinions from a part of the social environment result in psychological consequences. Concealing one’s actual ego, monitoring one’s behavior, clothes, manner of speaking, etc., which usually concerns gay men, results in a lack of self-acceptance and in low self-esteem (Meyer, 2003). These fears, and the lack of support from society and family, may result in abnormalities in the development of personality, and even in mental disorders. This is why mental health disorders occur more frequently among gay men and women than among heterosexual men and women (Ghorayeb & Dalgalarrondo, 2010; Meyer, 2003).
It should be emphasized that there are qualitative differences between gay and heterosexual men, between gay and heterosexual women, but also similarities of their personality traits.
The present results indicate that gay men have fewer personality traits usually ascribed to men, and more of those ascribed to women, while it is the opposite for gay women – they have fewer female personality traits and more masculine ones. According to the commonly accepted patterns, women are perceived as more prosocial, more likeable and warm, whereas men are perceived as instrumental and concentrated on achievement (Ridgeway & Correll, 2004). Earlier research (Stringer & Grygier, 1976; Duckitt & Du Toit, 2001) showed that there are certain similarities in personality traits of gay men and heterosexual women, and also between gay women and heterosexual women on the scales of the Dynamic Personality Inventory.
Based on the obtained results, it is also possible to presume that similarities in personality traits between gay women and heterosexual men, between gay men and heterosexual women, as well as between gay women and gay men, are connected with the contemporary tendencies concerning the socio-cultural understanding of genders. Men and women function in a modern culture which is a mixture of traditional tasks and roles, and thus the new quality of masculinity and femininity develops in the direction of androgyny and gender egalitarianism.
The idea of gender egalitarianism is not supported in the present study by the results concerning heterosexual women and men, which show a polarization of traits into male and female ones. This may be linked to social and cultural convictions concerning men and women, the visible division of roles and expected behaviors in the group of heterosexual participants. That may also suggest that gender egalitarianism is more typical among gay people than among heterosexuals. These differences may also be the result of other determinants, perhaps resulting from biological conditions. Finally, it can be concluded that sexual orientation determines personality traits of the studied sample more than sex does.


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