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Oct 04 2011

I am a homophobe

I must confess, I’m a homophobe. I would be creeped out if another guy fell in love with me (though to keep things in perspective, there’s a lot of people who would creep me out—male or female—if they got the hots for me). And I want to say that I don’t think there’s anything unnatural about being the way I am. But here’s the point: a lot of things are natural. It’s natural to want to take food and eat it when you’re hungry. It’s natural to want to punch someone when they make you really angry. It’s natural for members of almost any species to want to immediately mate with any attractive others they may encounter.

But the difference between civilized humanity and what we call the “lower forms” of life is that we don’t just let ourselves be ruled by instinctive, animalistic lusts and passions. We strive to be ruled by higher principles, by reason and morals and justice. If someone is eating a sandwich and we happen to be hungry, we don’t just grab their sandwich and start eating it ourselves. We don’t just punch people when we’re mad (or at least we recognize that it’s a failure on our part if we do lose our temper). We don’t just rape strangers we get the hots for. We’re not brutes.

Homophobia is an unreasoning, instinctive, sexual passion, the flip side of erotic desire. That’s why anti-gay laws are so immoral. They promote widespread indulgence in bestial impulses and carnal lusts, to the detriment of others who have done us no harm. Yes, homophobic feelings are instinctive and natural, just like rage and lust and unrestrained appetite. And that’s fine; you’re not an evil person for just having such feelings. But what makes us moral and ethical creatures—what makes us human—is our ability to rise above such harmful and selfish instincts, to work together to promote the tolerance and harmony that are the lifeblood of every healthy society.

So I am and shall ever be a homophobe. But I don’t need to act like one. As a civilized, reasonable and ethical person, I have that choice. And I choose to behave morally, for the benefit of those around me.

 

31 comments

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  1. 1
    raymoscow

    I don’t think you qualify as a ‘homophobe’ just because you might feel uncomfortable with another man’s affection or desire.

    If you used your uncomfortable feelings to oppress gay people or deny them equal rights, then yes, that would be a homophobe.

    Ray (another straight guy who might feel a bit uncomfortable with another man’s desire for me, but that’s my problem, not his)

  2. 2
    jflcroft

    You say “Homophobia is an unreasoning, instinctive, sexual passion, the flip side of erotic desire. That’s why anti-gay laws are so immoral. They promote widespread indulgence in bestial impulses and carnal lusts, to the detriment of others who have done us no harm. Yes, homophobic feelings are instinctive and natural, just like rage and lust and unrestrained appetite.”

    I welcome your open and self-critical attitude, but I don’t agree, actually. While I think many of our sexual prejudices stem from the sorts of “natural” prejudice you describe, I’m not sure that the form of sexual prejudice you describe (the ice factor, if you will) is the same. Consider: many (perhaps most) gay people spend at least some time in their early lives in relationships with members of the opposite sex – I certainly did. While they may not enjoy some of the sexual activities they try with their partners, I very rarely hear people say they were “creeped out” by them. Rather, they just don’t seem to enjoy them much.

    Thinking, too, about my straight friends who are allies in the LGBTQ struggle for equality, and who spend lots of time around gay people, I’m pretty sure they have no such feelings about gay relationships. If such feelings truly were natural, it would be very confusing as to way so many young straight people (men and women) choose to go to gay clubs for a night out.

    Rather, I think this aspect of sexual prejudice is learnt and constantly reinforced by the dominant majority through oodles of messaging. Therefore, I bring a message of hope: you need not forever be a homophobe. You can get over it. It gets better =P

    1. 2.1
      jflcroft

      That’s the “ick factor”. Damn iPad!

    2. 2.2
      John Morales

      Yeah, jflcroft, I reckon teasing out acculturation from instinct is probably not that easy, especially since instincts can be warped into artificial behaviours (e.g. dogs fetching).

      I haven’t particularly researched the issue, but I suspect most men would find transvestism similarly problematic — and it’d be pretty hard to argue that’s instinctual.

  3. 3
    Ramel

    I’m with jflcroft on this one. While I’m glad you recognise your homophobia and choose to work past it, I do not believe that such feelings are a product of any form of instinct. Such feelings are more plausibly the result of the way your cultural background and social experiences colour your views on sex and attraction.

  4. 4
    martha

    I remember learning, by accident through a women’s magazine, what it actually meant that my parents were having sex. I was 12, massively naive, and very disturbed by the idea. 8 years later, when I learned that people I knew and liked really were gay, I had very similar feelings and it was an instructive example to draw on. Now that I have kids of my own, about the same age, I try to give information before the magazines do & I try to give them a sense that sex is a normal & OK part of an adult life, & it will be OK to talk about it if they have questions & so on. Pretty much they screw up their eyes and put their fingers in their ears. Perhaps this is everybody’s natural response to word of any kind of sex that massive doses of hormones aren’t inclining them personally to have.

    If 11 and 12 year olds ruled the world, no one would be having sex.

  5. 5
    Nathair

    Sorry, I don’t get it. If someone I am not attracted to is attracted to me… what? Flattering? Unfortunate? Awkward maybe? But why should you be “creeped out”? I would say (and history has my back on this one) that your reaction is all nurture, not nature. You were trained to be creeped out. It’s no more natural than your response to eating Witchetty grubs.

  6. 6
    Aratina Cage

    Yes, homophobic feelings are instinctive and natural, just like rage and lust and unrestrained appetite. And that’s fine; you’re not an evil person for just having such feelings.

    I strongly doubt that it is correct that homophobic feelings are instinctive and natural. For one thing, the existence of lesbian and gay and bisexual people who either get over their homophobia or never had it to begin with complicates that assertion (that is, homophobia isn’t like hunger or anger). At the very least, that idea should be qualified as applying to straight people only.

    But even speaking strictly of straight people, isn’t it more likely that homophobic feelings are the product of a virulently anti-gay culture, one where expressions of empathy and intimacy between men and to a lesser extent women are not only looked at with disgust but also made explicitly illegal and punishable, one where a kiss between two women or two men is taken to be an act of sex where it is not when it is between a woman and a man, one where the worst thing a boy can do is act like a girl or where a girl acting like a boy is treated as a degenerate? It’s one of those things for a lot of straight people, I think, where they are not sensitive to the sheer amount of homophobia out there (just yesterday I was thinking about how stupid it is that “faggot” and “bitch” are OK to say on publicly broadcast radio in the USA but “fuck” and “shit” are not) or to the overwhelming exclusion of the same-sex loving perspective in our culture (like the hypocrisy of DADT where a photo of a loved one was made illegal for gays and bisexuals).

    I guess I think homophobia is more like a learned humiliation that is triggered all too easily in some people. It is not natural. It is not instinctive. It is something that has to be taught to children–and is. Homophobia is, in my opinion, something wrong with our culture that we should be angry about and take steps to stop from spreading to newer generations.

    1. 6.1
      Pteryxx

      I guess I think homophobia is more like a learned humiliation that is triggered all too easily in some people. It is not natural. It is not instinctive. It is something that has to be taught to children–and is.

      QFT.

      If anything, the natural instinct active in homophobia is the instinct to regard other humans as threats if their presentation as “other” is too extreme. It’s demonstrable that homophobia is less evident in people who actually know gay folks in their lives: 2009 Gallup poll

      I’d compare homophobia to the effects of cultural preference on food preferences. Whether a person can consider insect larvae or cheese as potential dinner without throwing up depends almost entirely on what they were raised to consider normal. The sense of disgust is a natural instinct, and entrained with morality, but with culturally selected targets.

  7. 7
    Glenn Davey

    Someone from the Family Council was complaining against a nude art exhibition saying, “Being naked is against our natural instincts.”

    Bullshit.

    Conditioning.

    I used to be turned off by guys coming on to me. Then I go to know gay people and be conditioned by gay culture. I even experimented a little.

    I know now that I’m DEFINITELY not gay, but homosexuality doesn’t repulse me the way it did when I first left my Christian up-bringing.

    It’s not “natural”, or “insinctual”. This blog post is not science, or reason, or rationality, or “free thought”.

    It’s your closed-minded opinions getting airtime on a blog network.

    You’re not homophobic, you’re conditioned. That conditioning could change IF YOU REALLY WANTED IT TO.

    Fact is, you’re happy being repulsed by homosexuality, and you don’t intend for that to ever change.

    1. 7.1
      John Morales

      This blog post is not science, or reason, or rationality, or “free thought”.

      Maybe not as such (though it’s an expression of personal belief and its basis), but I’m pretty sure its author is a freethinker.

      1. Glenn Davey

        You’re right, and I withdraw my accusations. Thanks.

      2. John Morales

        Kudos.

        (Not for agreeing with me, obviously, but for your integrity! :))

  8. 8
    Glenn Davey

    Homophobia is as culturally learned as the so-called instinctual humiliation of being naked. And yet, I’ve been to communities and festivals in the bush that were clothing-optional, and learned first-hand just how pliable that “instinct” is.

  9. 9
    Robert B.

    Your ability to overcome wrong emotion with right reason is morally excellent. Thank you.

    That said… you seem to imply that homophobia is automatic in heterosexual people. If that were true, one would expect heterophobia to be equally automatic in homosexual people, but I’ve never heard of such a thing except as a joke. For me personally, straight girls (when I was a boy) and women have never freaked me out in that way until they crossed the line to touching me against my will, which is freakout-worthy regardless of the genders and orientation involved.

    On the other hand, the first time I got kissed by another boy I went into a homophobic near-panic, even though I’m gay. (I was something like 12 at the time, but I’m still ashamed of it.) So, I’d agree that homophobia is a cultural phenomenon. It’s still a natural feeling for a person who lives in that culture, but it’s not natural in the sense you mean of automatic and universal.

  10. 10
    Pen

    Well, first of all that’s quite courageous integrity in a relatively, let’s say, homophilic environment like this one.

    I am curious why some people are uncomfortable around a non-compatible sexuality. I know that a lesbian finding me attractive wouldn’t creep me out as such, though there are few social contexts where I would expect to hear much about it. There are rules of good manners that govern the non-imposition of our sexual assessment on everybody in sight, which should apply to all of us, of course. There does seem to be a slightly higher number of men not respecting these rules and I wonder if this is related to higher levels of male homophobia. There is less expectation of boundaries being respected, perhaps?

  11. 11
    mitchelllee

    How can one separate the environmental bias picked up at the prepubescent stage from innate bias? The “natural” bias one feels against their personal sexual orientation is impossible to distill into the innate and early learned prepubescent bias.
    So the “Natural Bias” is probably relative, and probably accurate for DD, but maybe less so for others.

  12. 12
    quantheory

    +1 to the people who aren’t sure that homophobia is purely instinctual. I’m a bisexual man who, for a long time, was convinced that I was straight because of a certain amount of disgust regarding contact with other men, even just kissing. Over time it became apparent that that disgust, that sense of “contagion”, was something that I had learned, and could also unlearn.

    Since I only have anecdotes on this question, I couldn’t say whether or not there’s a homophobic instinct *in general*. But I suspect that it’s really a case where there’s a general “instinct” for sexual disgust, but the object of the feeling is acquired at least partly through experience and social contact.

    To use an analogy, some people are inherently prone to phobias, and some things are scarier than others because they line up with instinctual fears. But it does not follow that there’s a specific inherited instinct that makes certain people deathly afraid of hypodermic needles.

    On another note, I would be careful about what you intend to mean by the word “homophobe”. “Homophobic” is often used to mean something like “heterosexist” (analogous to “xenophobia” meaning “prejudiced against foreigners”), regardless of the specific emotional state of the “homophobe” in question. It’s likely to cause some confusion if you use it to refer to someone who finds gay sex icky, but isn’t prejudiced (or is actively trying not to be prejudiced).

  13. 13
    clsi

    I am also a homophobe–much less so now than I was in my youth, but remnants linger nonetheless. It is indeed very difficult to tease out the difference between nature and nurture on something like this. I have a distinct memory of seeing a movie in high school (I think it was Animal House, but I could be mistaken) in which one character suddenly pulls out a huge but otherwise realistic dildo and, I forget, hits another character on the head with it. I forget what happened because the effect on me of seeing the dildo was like getting a whiff of smelling salts–it felt instantaneous, a pure repulsion far too fast to have passed through any of the influenced-by-learning parts of my brain. Or so it seemed at the time, anyway. On further reflection, it’s not so clear.

    I did not have lots of opportunities to see penises growing up. By high school, I’d seen my dad naked of course, and I caught glimpses in locker rooms, but that was about it. Would my hypothetical identical twin, separated at birth and raised in a culture where naked penises were commonplace, have had the same reaction the the movie dildo? I suspect not.

    I mention this reaction to a scene that was not specifically homosexual because I think my gut negative reaction to the dildo and my homophobia come from a similar place. If one penis (that is not mine) = yikes, two penises must = double-yikes.

    It would not surprise me in the least to learn that we (male and female) have an innate (natural and heritable) tendency to take an interest in penises. I suspect, though, that there’s a great deal of variation in how that interest is shaped by culture–variation among individuals and among cultures. I can easily call up memories from my childhood in which the cultural taboo against homosexuality was reinforced, sometimes explicitly, sometimes subtly. By the time I was in high school, the homophobia felt innate, but if I had to guess (based almost entirely on my own experience), I’d say it’s probably more nurture than nature.

    Going beyond my own experience, Bonobos provide a good counterexample to the argument (which, granted, no one here has made, but I wonder if some people might try to extrapolate it from the original post) that males of a species must naturally be homophobic to avoid wasting sexual energy on individuals with which they cannot procreate. Bonobos are tied with chimpanzees for the closest living relatives of ours truly, yet they engage in both male/male and female/female homosexual behavior. The species may be teetering on the brink of extinction, but that’s our fault, not theirs.

  14. 14
    Quietmarc

    “Yes, homophobic feelings are instinctive and natural” – citation needed?

    Like the other commenters, I appreciate the honesty and self-examination (we’re all a little bit racist, per Avenue Q, right?), but I’d need some sort of evidence before I’m willing to concede that homophobia is instinctive or natural. Just from the kids I’ve known, they often seem far more flexible and accepting of difference than adults are, and where they do have prejudices those seem to be easier to overcome. So long as we are surrounded by a culture swimming with inequality, it will be difficult to say for sure just which of our prejudices are “natural” and which aren’t.

    But then, you’ve hit the main point: whether it’s natural or not, it’s still wrong. If all homophobes were like you, we’d have a better world.

  15. 15
    shripathikamath

    From Webster’s

    : irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against homosexuality or homosexuals

    Using that definition, I am not a homophobe in all but the italicized portion. I suspect the same applies to you.

    I am not creeped out by another of the male species lusting for me sexually. I simply find the thought of having sex with another male disgusting. I am also turned off at the thought of two men indulging in sex.

    Likewise, I am turned off at the thought of anal sex. Heterosexual or homosexual.

    Like the word “gay”, homophobe has been co-opted to predominantly mean discrimination against homosexuals.

    That I am vehemently against, and feel that such is solely based on irrational thoughts.

    I agree with you that it is unnatural to being averse to homosexuality (for me), but will note that it is natural to like homosexuality for homosexuals.

    I think the distinction should not be based on natural vs unnatural, more like rational vs irrational

  16. 16
    mbj1

    Just a quick anecdote that this reminded me of- A few weeks (or so) ago, I managed to creep my buddy out a bit by saying I’d rather be hit on by an attractive gay man than a woman who I wasn’t attracted to, for a couple of reasons. First, I would find it more flattering, and second, I think it would be easier, and less awkward for all involved parties, if my reason for turning down an advance was that I’m not not oriented that way, rather than I’m just turned off by that individual.

  17. 17
    mikespeir

    The farther I get along in life, the more I realize just how little of human “nature” is really natural, at least in the sense of “inherent,” “innate,” or “instinctual.” I suspect that even those of us who recognize that much of our “natures” really come of conditioning, whether by inculcation or by simple exposure and reaction to the world around us, would be astounded at the degree to which they actually are.

  18. 18
    plum grenville

    Uh, Alethian, you come across a little too pleased with yourself for battling down those darn bestial impulses of homophobia. Sorry, you don’t get a prize for your noble efforts because they’re not noble. Not discriminating against gays (or any other group) isn’t an admirable achievement; it’s the minimum level of acceptable behaviour. For the prize, you could try donating $1,000 to the campaign for equal marriage rights in the U.S.

    You also sound pretty complacent about harbouring homophobic feelings forever. It isn’t inevitable, you know. Go to a PFLAG meeting and you’ll find plenty of people who started off as virulent bigots but were able to change their attitude in the wake of learning that someone they love is gay.

    Your notion that homophobia is natural is belied by the 400-odd species in which homosexual behaviour has been observed. Our closest relatives, bonobos, are, as another poster pointed out, enthusiastically bisexual.

    You’re also offbase with your talk of “bestial impulses” and “carnal lusts”. Prosocial behaviour is every bit as natural as violence or prejudice. Most animal species do not simply snatch food away from a conspecific. Social groups, of humans or other animals, couldn’t survive if there were no instincts for cooperation and tolerance. (And watch out if PZ catches you referring to “lower” animals.)

    I have to agree with you that you’re homophobic, but not merely in the OMG!-a-guy-is-coming-onto-me-ick! way you recognize. Try substituting the word “racist” for “homophobic” in your post and see if you’re equally comfortable excusing racism. If homophobia seems more forgiveable to you than racism, then you believe that the full humanity of gays matters less than the full humanity of people of colour.

    The appropriate response to recognizing feelings of prejudice in yourself is shame. I’m not sensing that in what you wrote.

    1. 18.1
      John Morales

      You also sound pretty complacent about harbouring homophobic feelings forever.

      Your charity is underwhelming, and you sound pretty smug to me, for what that’s worth.

      (I read that as ‘resigned’ rather than ‘complacent’)

  19. 19
    Who Knows?

    I’m firmly in the learned behavior camp on this one. That is, I think people are taught to be creeped out by certain things.

  20. 20
    EdW

    Hey, great to see you on FtB! I’ve been following ER for a long while.

    To the point of the post, I feel pretty much the same way. I really really *want* to not have that kind of reaction, but it’s like having sexual thoughts about a sibling or a my own reflection… My brain just won’t let me go there, whether nature, nurture, or other. I wonder if that sense of extreme weirded-out-ness is part of the sexuality spectrum — I know a lot of gay guys who are grossed out by the idea of straight sex too.

  21. 21
    Kapitano

    homophobic feelings are instinctive and natural

    So that’s why gay people are repulsed by straight sex. That’s why they have to fight the urge to forcibly separate men and women who are getting affectionate for each other.

    Oh, wait….

  22. 22
    round guy

    Regardless of the loftier arguments regarding nature vs. nurture, one of the most freeing discoveries of my adult life was the realization that I could act contrary to my feelings and emotions.
    I can have some pretty uncharitable thoughts and still act as a tolerant, rational human being.
    Kudos for your honesty.

  23. 23
    Aurelie

    Well, I hate homophobia. It must also be “an instinctive and natural feeling”. Sorry, you seem to be sweet. But I will always hate people judging me for the fact that I’m bisexual than rather try to know me better. Gay people are humans like you, of course, it’s natural to feel uncomfortable if some dude would be in love with you :D But it’s the same as if a girl would fall in love with you and you don’t love her back. You’re not a homophobe (I think). But do you feel uncomfortable just by being around gay people? If no, you’re not homophobe. But if it’s yes, you’re a homophobe… I think it’s really easy to give yourself the excuse of “it’s an instinctive and natural feeling”, racist people could say this thing too. That doesn’t mean that what they do/think is good.

  24. 24
    scottgibbons

    Not sure how to express what I think here.

    I am fully accepting of the idea of loving relationships regardless of the flavour. After many years of seeing my brother in destructive relationships (with men and women at different stages of his life), I feel great joy for the relationship he has with his ‘hubby’.

    The couple of times I was asked out by men when I was younger did not disturb me in the slightest. When refusing their invitation I felt no need to preface my refusal with ‘sorry, I’m straight’, and even felt a little flattered.

    When it comes to the sexual side of same sex relationships I sometimes feel a passing feeling of….what? Discomfort? Lack of understanding? Something that I struggle to find the right language for. I let it pass me by.

    I don’t discount the possibility that this is some sort of hangover of cultural conditioning, but it has never struck me as something particularly important as long as I get on with the job of living, loving and respecting the way I should. Of course it could also be nothing more than an idea clashing a little with my own personal taste for the feel of a woman :D

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