Kudos to the radical right for making Americans more afraid of gays than of Osama bin Laden. Appealing to people's fears, the Karl Rove machine drew out the vote in several key states, including Ohio, and got their candidate, who expressed so well those homophobic attitudes, re-elected.
What I find shocking is how people, including the media, the politicians and even thoughtful political thinkers and observers, so easily have fallen into an easy, passive and/or intimidated acceptance of what, to me, seems like a rather obvious instance of the majority trying to oppress the minority in a blatant violation of the Full Faith and Credit clause or the Amendment providing "equal protection of the laws," as stated in the United States Constitution. Isn't it curious how mainstream something like anti-homosexual attitudes have become, such that (presumably) reasonable people automatically backpedal away from any judgment of such attitudes, as if homophobia were just another political plank, like tax policy or term limits? In fact, it seems that homophobia has become politically correct.
I confess that the use of 'homophobe' as an epithet troubles me even more than that of 'racist' or 'anti-semite'.Â Unlike the latter terms, 'homophobe' does not merely characterize someone as prejudiced; it suggests a psychological diagnosis of his attitude.Â Now, I believe that some such diagnosis can be literally true: some people really do have a neurotic aversion to homosexuality and homosexuals.Â The standard explanation of homophobia is that it is what psychoanalysts call a reaction formation: the homophobe is repressing his own homosexual thoughts and feelings by mounting an excessive aversion to that which, in fact, fascinates or attracts him.Â I take this explanation seriously.Â But for that very reason, I take the term 'homophobia' to have a descriptive content more specific than that of 'racism' or 'anti-semitism', and this descriptive content makes the term especially problematic when used as an epithet.
One problem with the term is that it can imply that the anti-homosexual is himself a repressed homosexual, thus implicitly branding him with his own iron, so to speak.Â The stigma of being a homophobe then incorporates the stigma of being a homosexual, the very stigma the term is supposedly meant to combat.Â I don't see how we can combat a stigma by covertly applying it.
The main problem, though, is that the term 'homophobia' isn't serious.Â Contrast 'homophobia' with 'xenophobia', which we apply when we literally mean that someone is motivated by irrational fear and suspicion of foreigners.Â We don't go calling people xenophobic for holding just any bias against immigrants, much less narrow-minded opinions on the subject of immigration.Â But people are nowadays called homophobic for all sorts of attitudes, whose actual motives the speaker is in no position to diagnose.Â When the term is thrown around in this way, it sounds like mere psychology-as-insult, too close for my comfort to calling someone mentally ill or retarded.
Like racism and anti-semitism, prejudice against homosexuals takes many different forms and has many different sources.Â No one seriously believes that every instance of anti-homosexual bias is or resembles a phobia.
It's this last sentence that strikes me as naÃ¯ve. My own deconstruction of the word "homophobia" leads to a reading as "fear of same [-sex orientation"] â€” or: fear of homosexuals and or homosexuality. By definition, homophobia is about fear. Is this also the source of anti-homosexual bias? Let's examine further.
Can person A truly have reasonable, considered objections to what person B does in the bedroom? Can person A have truly reasonable, considered justifications for using that bedroom behavior as a litmus test for which rights that person shall have? I wonder. When I think about gays, I don't see the big deal. When I first moved to New York, I think I probably knew of maybe five homosexual men altogether â€” and one of them was Liberace â€” so it's not like I was raised among gays and thus am just speaking from some marginal, unusual exposure during childhood. I just don't see why anyone should feel threatened by gays.
My hunch is that this is really about gay men. Everyone knows how men get all turned on by seeing two women kissing. A threesome with two gals does not threaten a man's view of himself. On the contrary. No, this is about the queer guys.
Consider: The loudest cries we've been hearing against homosexuality have come from men and patriarchal cultures such as churches, the military and competitive athletics. Should this be a surprise? Any woman versed in Man knows something about the fragile male ego; many women (and men) have seen how uncomfortable men can get when around homosexuals, or just talking about homosexuality â€” the jokes, the nervous laughter, the macho posturing, or perhaps the jibes, the abusive ridicule, the aggressive posturing. (Hint: It's about fear of penetration. Straight men cannot fathom it, and don't trust men who actually do it â€” possibly to them!)
So here we have homo - phobia. Where does this homophobia lead? Often the stuff considered "harmless" by its perpetrators: jokes, ridicule, verbal taunts. But what about when tangible bias or violence is done? Does this suddenly transcend the fear in homophobia?
When a man gets all worked up over another man â€” gets worked up to the point of giving verbal abuse or inflicting physical harm â€” what is he doing but acting on fear? If he's not afraid, why should he go out of his way to attack another? "He could be trying to fit in with the group," I hear someone say. Well, dear readers, that is a good point. Maybe the gang members attacking the gay man are just trying to impress each other. But let us not forget why the gang even started this attack: one or more fears the gay man, for whatever reason, and the others join in because they buy into this same mindset enough to feel that the gay man is worthy of beating.
As for the good, obedient servant to such a culture, such as the church-going parishoner who may not have any personal feelings either way about homosexuality yet nevertheless disapproves of homosexuality because he or she is told she must disapprove, he or she is still representing a homophobic culture and expressing homophobic attitudes. Not everyone committing anti-homosexual bias is a homophobe per se, but he or she is expressing homophobic attitudes. Is that any better, really?
And I just sigh, wondering why they are all so afraid.
People can misuse any word, including "homophobe." To me, that does not disqualify the word from being accurate in most cases.
What I think David V and so many other men and women should do is spend more time examining their own fears and the origins of the fear-based attitudes codified by their patriarchal organizations, and spend less time defending them. If they weren't so afraid, this wouldn't even be an issue.