I am a homophobe, the sequel


Wow, some great responses to yesterday’s post, I’m impressed. If you’ll bear with me for one more post, I’d like to respond to some of the common themes I’m hearing people express.

First of all, I want to emphasize that my point is self-control and civilization: homophobia, whatever its source, is a destructive and irrational prejudice, and we as free moral agents have both the ability and the responsibility to refuse to let it guide our actions. Even if the impulse comes to us “naturally,” without conscious choice, it still must fall in the class of baser impulses that civilized and moral persons ought to deny.

That’s my main point, and I don’t want subsequent discussion to dilute it. I’m an incurably curious person, though, and there’s a lot of intriguing material in the comments. I can’t resist probing the matter to see what else I can learn. I think the discussion might be a facilitated if I proceed from the provisional assumption that I’m right, and then you guys can take my points and either agree with them or rip them up as you see fit. Don’t be shy, I cut my Internet teeth on talk.origins and alt.atheism, I can take it. I’ve learned a lot from getting beat up in the past. 🙂

“Homophobia is not natural, it’s learned.” Well, maybe. Bear in mind that I’m saying homophobia—as in, an aversion to homosexual intercourse—is a natural feeling, not necessarily a universal feeling. Counterexamples will abound, and indeed there may be much homophobia that is learned or otherwise absorbed from one’s social context. Nor do I think it’s necessarily true that “natural vs. learned” is a clear-cut dichotomy. Genetics only plays a partial role in who we are and how we turn out, and environmental factors aren’t really a separate process. It’s possible there could be an interaction between the two, with an instinctive affinity for learning some notions more easily than others.

In any case, from the homophobe’s point of view, it feels the same whether it’s instinctive or conditioned, and the homophobe’s responsibility to manage such feelings is the same regardless of whether nature or nurture takes the greater part of the blame. If I suddenly get the urge to pee, that’s a thoroughly natural impulse, but as a civilized adult I have a certain responsibility not to just wet all over your sofa or whatever. Make the strongest case you can for homophobia, make it as natural and instinctive as you want, it doesn’t matter, we’re still responsible for controlling ourselves.

Now, that said, I have to admit that Martha raised a point I hadn’t considered, and while other people have had good things to say, this may be the point that would change my mind.

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.

That’s right—kids are often completely grossed out by the thought of sexual intercourse when they first find out how it works. I hadn’t connected this with the “ooo, ick” reaction of homophobia, but the case could be made that the two are analogous at least. On the other hand, I might adapt my position and say that the kids’ reaction is also perfectly natural, though neither permanent nor mature. Maybe homophobia is a similarly under-developed state? Maybe it’s just a phase that people can grow through, and outgrow? That sounds both reasonable and promising, I like it.

“What are your sources?” Purely anecdotal, with all of the liabilities that implies. I’m not defending homophobia, or trying to polish it up or make excuses for it. I’m taking a position that a lot of anti-gay people might take, and I’m saying “Look, even if it is natural, it excuses nothing. Be a homophobe if you like, but you still have a moral responsibility not to let your baser, selfish instincts overrule other people’s right to respect and individual liberty.”

“Homophobe = aversion to gay sex” vs “homophobe = hates & oppresses gays” Good point, the word can be used in both senses, and I’m speaking strictly in the sense of the first definition of course. Nor, again, am I in any sense defending or excusing homophobia. I’m not saying “homophobes of the world unite” or “stand up for your right to be a homophobe.” Cancer and Alzheimer’s disease are natural too; that doesn’t make them good. Even if everybody in the world were naturally homophobic, that would not justify discrimination against gays, nor would it diminish their right to full expression of their sexuality just like everyone else.

“You’re happy being repulsed by homosexuality, and you don’t intend for that to ever change.” That’s an understandable reaction, and I don’t blame anyone for saying so. As far as I can tell I have no particular commitment to staying homophobic, and if my feelings do change some day I won’t miss being prejudiced. But on the other hand I will declare and defend the principle that I do not need to change who I am or what I feel, just as I declare and defend the principle that gays and lesbians do not need to change who they are or what they feel. We need to change what we do, if our actions oppress others, but it’s ok to be what we are.

Tolerance means putting up with the rough edges of others even when you don’t approve of the rough edges. If someone can’t ever imagine themselves losing their aversion to homosexuality, I’m going to say, “that’s ok with me, as long as you give others the same respect and tolerance as I give you.” And that’s why I’m telling my story, so that we can say, “Look, you know how to do this already, this is basic civility and self-control and morality.” Not everyone can give up their prejudice all at once, but perhaps some of them might at least learn to rein it it, if we leave them an opening. That’s what I’m shooting for here.

Your thoughts?

Comments

  1. Sneffy says

    Not going to comment on whether homophobia as you define it is natural or learned, but one thing I have observed in my own life is that it can definitely be unlearned. Particularly in my time at a Catholic high school I had a few friends that had picked up some prejudices from their parents but lost the ick reaction as they got older.

    • OverlappingMagisteria says

      Agreed. I have also unlearned what I call the “ick factor” towards homosexual acts. The first time I saw a picture of two guys kissing, it did kinda gross me out. But I had no issue with homosexuality and didn’t think it was wrong so I think I reasoned myself out of thinking it’s gross.

  2. John Morales says

    DD,

    First of all, I want to emphasize that my point is self-control and civilization: homophobia, whatever its source, is a destructive and irrational prejudice, and we as free moral agents have both the ability and the responsibility to refuse to let it guide our actions.
    […]
    That’s my main point, and I don’t want subsequent discussion to dilute it.

    I find that rather uncontroversial, and suspect most of your readers likewise.

    But you also write:

    Even if the impulse comes to us “naturally,” without conscious choice, it still must fall in the class of baser impulses that civilized and moral persons ought to deny.
    […]
    Bear in mind that I’m saying homophobia—as in, an aversion to homosexual intercourse—is a natural feeling, not necessarily a universal feeling.

    I think you’re inadvertently equivocating two senses of ‘natural’ here, to wit:
    1. Ordinarily expected or common.
    2. Innately.

    Separately, this:

    Tolerance means putting up with the rough edges of others even when you don’t approve of the rough edges.

    That’s certainly one of the senses of that term, but surely what’s important is to determine whether tolerance is merited, whether from morality or from necessity; blanket tolerance would hardly be a good thing, would it? 🙂

  3. Glenn Davey says

    I think I can sum up the situation somewhat.

    I was a little off-put by Deacon’s previous post and I suggested in the comments that homophobia — the aversion to homosexuality (literally the ‘homo’ kind of sexuality; kissing and gay sex) kind of homophobia — was a cultural, learned thing, that can be broken down through exposure to homosexual people and behavior. I still believe that to a large extent. I know from personal experience.

    Another point has occurred to me, however: the flip-side of the coin.

    A good many homosexual men I’ve met have an “ew, vaginas!” reaction to female sexuality.

    Could that similarly be broken down through exposure to male-female sexuality? Who knows? Probably not. They’re drenched in straight society already. And anyway, should we want for that? There’s no movement against “hetero-phobia” as far as I know, and there’s no reason why homosexuals need to be more OK with hetero sexuality.

    But as long as they aren’t hating and discriminating against heteros then there’s no problem.

    By the same token, as long as Deacon Duncan up there isn’t hating and discriminating against homosexuals then I don’t think there’s any need for him to change the feelings that come naturally (to him).

    Although, I will repeat that, just as it has already been established that homo-hate is often reduced in a person who knows gay people, a straight man can feel less repulsed by homosexuality through exposure to it.

    Thoughts?

  4. Glenn Davey says

    And there’s an upside to feeling less grossed-out by homosexuality:

    Being hit on, or attractive to, gay men CAN BE very, very flattering. Some of them have really high standards!

    It also provides you the rare opportunity to feel like a woman and see what it’s like to be the subject of male attention (and sometimes male privilege, as is being discussed on one of the other blogs right now in regards to Elevatorgate; one gets a better sense of how to act around women after being hit on by a man and having to reject the advance).

    • stuartvo says

      Being hit on, or attractive to, gay men CAN BE very, very flattering. Some of them have really high standards!

      Reminds me of a scene from an old series of Big Bang Theory. Penny innocently compliments Sheldon’s equally-Aspie-ish girlfriend’s hair.

      GF: Are you a homosexual?
      Penny: No! I was just giving you a compliment!
      GF: Oh. It would have been more flattering if you were a homosexual.

      Nice to see how accepting of sexual minorities TV has become, and that TV writers can find humour in it without insulting GLBTs

      • Glenn Davey says

        Ah yes, I remember that scene. Hey, isn’t the GF played by Skepchick Rebecca Watson ?? 😉

  5. JohnnieCanuck says

    Anyone else see that “It’s cool to be gay” ad? Google hits that one out of the park for this post. I Grinned Out Loud.

    Many high schools have absolutely toxic levels of homophobia. Not only do you not want the bullies to get it in their heads that you should be tormented with their accusations, you don’t want to defend anyone that is a current target or you will surely be next.

    For me it is really weird to hear teens using ‘gay’ to mean something like ‘lame’ in conversations in online games, etc. They will reuse the word multiple times in one sentence, apparently for the same need to appear macho as those who use ‘fuck’ over and over.

    I would speculate that it is not just pubescent straights that are internalising the anti-gay message, but young gays, as well. For them it is self hate, reinforced in so many cases by their religion. When they don’t manage to control their self hate, they end up as closeted gays promoting homophobia. Congressmen, senators and preachers come to mind.

    Just like racism, which lingers in most all of us, homophobic tendencies can be muted. Especially if you make a conscious effort within yourself.

    Even better, befriend some of ‘them’. If that isn’t enough, then at least when you realise you have just made an excruciatingly bigoted remark, you can complete it by truthfully saying, “Some of my best friends are actually…”.

    • kirk says

      Unfortunately, the “It’s cool to be gay!” ad did NOT appear for me. Interestingly, I did get an ad for Jaspersoft BI software. It’s apparently the leading BI software out there, so maybe it’s sort of leading my ads down the gay path…

      On to the topic at hand (and probably no longer specific to JohnnieCanuck’s point!), I think one of the issues we always seem to deal with in terms of acceptance of gay people in society is that often, when you talk about the gays, you’re talking about how they have sex. When you talk about straight people, you’re talking about love and companionship, dating, raising families, spending weekends together, etc.

      We saw that in the crazy arguments against DADT repeal, when somehow, allowing a gay soldier not to hide who he was would lead to hot orgies in the showers, rather than simply letting him put a picture of his boyfriend in his locker or not hide who he was talking to on the phone.

      So there’s real damage in continuing to think of us gays only in terms of what we might do with our genitals, rather than how we live our actual lives and who we are as human beings.

  6. Mukha says

    Your post yesterday reminded me of this paper from a while back.

    In other words, heterosexual male observers’ attention was attracted to nude female images (positive attentional effect, t 9 = 7.08, P < 0.0001) and was repelled from nude male images (negative attentional effect, t 9 = −2.41, P < 0.04), even though the images were not consciously perceived by the observers. Similarly, female participants (Fig. 2 B) showed an attentional benefit (attraction) to invisible nude male pictures (positive attentional effect, t 9 = 2.47, P 0.4).

    Sample sizes were tiny and culturally homogenous as far as I can tell. Further:

    We should point out that the group difference in their attentional effect is a difference in central tendency rather than a guaranteed difference at the individual level.

    The individual variance is enough to say that whatever response they were seeing, and whatever the cause (culturally learned or innate), it wasn’t universal. Although I get the feeling that that paper was more of a test of an interesting technique than anything else.

    You said yesterday that you felt creeped out at the thought of men being attracted to you, but you didn’t say whether the thought of men having sexual relationships with other men (not you) creeped you out. Would you consider such a reaction natural? Doesn’t that lie at the heart of a lot of vicious homophobia? You seem to consider such positions harmless unless acted upon, but I can’t help thinking that holding such bigotry, no matter how repressed, is damaging. Would it not affect what relationships you form? Would it not prevent you from being as proactive on LGBTQ equality as you might otherwise be? And don’t such inequalities have a damaging effect on all of us?

  7. raymoscow says

    I still don’t like to equate feeling uncomfortable with same-sex desire as ‘homophobia’.

    Whether it’s learned or innate is perhaps beside the point. Such feelings shouldn’t be allowed to guide our decisions about fairness, human rights, etc.

    To take an example from a related subject: I grew up it the southern US, and I remember feeling rather uncomfortable with mixed-race couples — for a while. It seemed so ‘against’ the (quite racist!) societal norms. But I got used to it, and now I don’t really feel anything odd about mixed-race couples at all.

    But even when I did feel a bit uncomfortable, I knew better than to let those feelings interfere with anything other than complete support for the rights of those couples. So, I like to think that I had some irrational racial feelings that I didn’t let flower into actual racism.

    Would I rather not have had those racial feelings at all? You bet I would. But growing up in a racist culture has many drawbacks, even if you’re ‘white’. It’s hard to resist stupid cultural memes.

    • says

      I still don’t like to equate feeling uncomfortable with same-sex desire as ‘homophobia’.

      I feel exactly the opposite. I think that usage is much more appropriate than the Deacon’s second definition. A phobia in the former sense is something we can deal with. I’m pretty Aeroacrophobic myself (the fear of high open places), if that phobia was really interfering with my life, say I had to move to the Alps, then I could get help. If someone is truly very uncomfortable with homosexuality, whether its learned or innate, and he wishes to do something about it because its interfering with his/her life (maybe his kid is gay) then he can get help in the form of therapy or counseling.

      The second definition “homophobe = hates & oppresses gays” is the one I don’t like. The word for that person is anti-gay BIGOT, a perfectly cromulent pejorative that we should be using in place of homophobe when appropriate. (imho of course.)

  8. Philip Legge says

    Hi JohnnieCanuck, and Duncan,

    I remember gradually becoming aware of my bisexuality through my high school years (not my fondest memories by a long stretch), and as a result of my personal experience would strongly incline to homophobia being almost entirely thanks to acculturation, combined with say an unhelpful lack of information, and a lack of open and positive rôle models in the teenage culture for any other means of sexual expression other than boy chooses girl (who has little comparative say in the matter) and PIV heterosexual sex.

    In many places, the culture is shifting and there are positive rôle models for different sexual and gender identities if you find yourself not fitting into the dominant heterosexist culture when growing up: the internet generation have much better access to helpful information than when I was a teenager. But there is still a pattern of “compulsive heterosexuality” which exerts strong peer pressure on boys to be dominant and masculine, or risk being seen as a failure for not performing as the expected gender (“Dude, You’re a Fag”). Girls are likewise prevailed upon not to react to the constant verbal taunting and boundary encroachment by boys.

    Anyway, in the high school environment I grew up in, there was only one obviously gay guy, as well as several others who raised the suspicions of the peer group: these guys were mercilessly mistreated by the dominant group. Before I went to university and began to encounter many gay people who were part of a culture that treated them with respect, I was as homophobic as the rest – in the second sense of joining in on the hate – while also loathing that part of myself. It’s something I had to recognise in myself and readjust my attitudes – and that aspect of homophobia is overcome consciously, which again makes me doubt it has any pre-existing innateness to it.

    As to the “ick” factor: again, I think that is largely related to what we learn from experiences and what impressions they make on us. If you have a preconception that you’re not going to like a certain type of food before you’ve ever tried it, then you’re probably not going to be using all of your critical faculties successfully when you do. As for certain sex acts: my kissing experience as a bisexual is that the similarities between women’s and men’s mouths override the differences – same: lips, tongues, teeth, etc. no great differences: on the other hand, you can expect “gravel rash” depending on the shaved condition of the other guy. Some other sex acts are likewise not as hugely different as might be first thought when tried with a partner of either sex.

    As for being “creeped out” by the thought of being in a relationship with a same-sex partner as opposed to an opposite-sex partner, there’s again strong cultural pressure to conform to the supposed “norm”, and I think you would be unusual not to have been acculturated to some extent to feel uncomfortable about the idea of a same-sex partner if you’re predominantly heterosexual. Again, I do not believe it to be really innate because plenty of people overcome these social pressures, and society has moved rapidly on these matters in the twenty years since I left high school – the figures on acceptance for marriage equality show that in spades.

  9. Kapitano says

    Homophobe = aversion to gay sex

    You are heterosexual. That means you are interested in straight sex, and uninterested in gay sex. It doesn’t mean you have an aversion to gay sex, just that it does nothing for you. It leaves you cold.

    I’m not interested in banjo music. That doesn’t mean I hate banjos.

  10. Yuriel says

    I gotta ‘fess up, man, when I think of Ana, or any other super fat chick hitting on me, I get pretty disgusted. I’m SERIOUSLY not into that, at all, and I never will be. However, it’s totally not cool for guys to be dicks to them, I would never do that. They deserve love and respect like the rest of us.

    That’s pretty much how you and other usually LGBT-friendly people(men, really) sound to me every time you say similar things. “Like, I respect gay guys and all, as long as they stay away from my junk” or one from Russell Glasser from Axp on two guys kissing: “it’s icky.” It’s idiotic, juvenile and even conceited(unless you happen to be cursed by a never-ending torrent of queer suitors with poor boundaries) to point out the obvious fact that a straight man isn’t attracted to other men. At least in the inept way it was expressed in your original post. “I’m creeped out by homos, and that’s… OK! ^_^ ’cause I don’t plan to discriminate against them.”

    You don’t walk to someone and tell them “dude, you’re really fat!” or “I’m sooooo not into you, we could never date, girl.”

    I’m sorry for the snark, but it was the only way I could come up with of expressing the frustration of being constantly told by male acquaintances that they’re cool with me, as long as I keep it in my pants.** That’s not at all what you said, I know. It was about having a primal response, yet choosing to act differently based on reason and not instinctive emotion. Still, I can’t help but think that it’s rather condescending having to publicly announce you find ghey secks gross. I guess my whole point is that it was poorly articulated.

    Thanks for your attention.

    **Yet, oddly, while not once have I propositioned a hetero, I’m coming up on half a dozen MSN or Facebook straight friends who’ve wanted me to “help them out” in-between girlfriends. =/ Life’s weird.

  11. Nathair says

    Yesterday you were talking about homophobia as “I would be creeped out if another guy fell in love with me”. Today you say “homophobia—as in, an aversion to homosexual intercourse”. Not the same thing. There’s a huge step between my falling in love with you and you doing a little sword-swallowing but you seem to be saying you automatically make the leap and react to one as to the other. That seems fraught with implications.

    I also noticed in yesterday’s post that all, every single one of your other examples were more than a little butch with a capital Manly. You’re not gay (Ick!), you occasionally lose your temper and punch people (but regret it), you lust after the hotties (but don’t actually rape them.) It reads quite a bit like threatened sexuality or something much more complex than merely an aversion to homosexual intercourse, or so it seems to me.

  12. says

    A number of people raised some interesting pieces of evidence that aversion to gay relationships and attraction is learned. It might be worth you addressing this evidence. I mentioned how most gay people, at least in the past, have some relationships with people of another sex. They may not find those experiences hugely lustful, but I don’t, talking to lots of gay men at least, get the impression that they find the idea revolting.

    The negative comments many gay men make about certain parts of a woman’s anatomy are, I agree with Didaktylos, due to socially reinforced misogyny rather than innate disgust. I imagine that is why lesbians I know make very few such comments about the male sexual organs. I also pointed out how many young straight folks hang out in gay bars now (some of Boston’s gay bars are now really just “gay friendly” on the weekends). This, to me, is evidence against a sort of natural aversion, because these young people don’t seem to have it.

    We might also point to homophiliac societies in history, in which same-sex activity between males was expected – I doubt those practices would have arisen if it were true that we have a natural aversion to same sex activity.

    I think it’s very significant too that gay people often feel aversion to their OWN desires. That surely cannot be natural (because it is so maladaptive). Add to that the fact that some straight people, raised in particular environments, feel the same sort of aversion toward hetero sexual activity, which absolutely cannot be natural, and I think we have a weight if evidence supporting the idea that aversion to same sex loving is learned.

    Finally, I tend to think that the sex drive is so strong that it will override other concerns (including, sometimes, even the sex of your partner). Many MANY straight men have fallen for the wiles of gorgeous gay boys, and I’m not certain they regret it…

    • Glenn Davey says

      Good point about ancient societies.

      I was going to mention Ancient Greece where pederasty as a rite-of-passage was very common. I doubt there was a pervasive “ick factor” among adult men towards homosexuality in those communities. Instead it would have been considered more of a “natural” (to use Deacon’s word) part of functional society.

  13. DaveP says

    My two cents.

    I believe most homophobia is learned with maybe a grain of natural instinct. I can only base this on personal experience.

    When I was in my twenties I was extremly homophobic. I can remember seeing a gay couple at the airport and thinking they should be shot. After many years and getting to know a few gay people I’ve come to realize they’re just like anyone else just sexually wired a little different. Nowdays, when I see a gay couple, (rare in TX) I feel sorry for the bigotry I’m sure they still have to endure and glad that they can be open about themselves. My point is I have unlearned the homophobia that was ingrained in me.

    I think it would be great when the day comes that I can see a gay couple and just go … meh because it’s no longer a big deal, just another couple.

  14. drlake says

    I wouldn’t use “homophobe” to describe how you feel, since it has the wrong connotative meaning (probably wrong denotative meaning, as well). It doesn’t sound like you fear homosexuals in general, which would be a more normal use of the language.

    As for your original point, a colleague of mine who teaches a course on diversity argues that as Americans, we live within a racist, sexist, gender discriminatory, ageist, and ableist society (there are probably a couple I missed). As such, we’ve been socialized to have views along these lines, and it is very difficult to completely overcome them (emphasis mine).

  15. Redclaire says

    I read yesterday’s post but didn’t have time to comment. However it looks like all the things I wanted to say were said by others, judging by your responses in this post.

    I was thinking about things from a slightly different angle.
    You’re basically saying that if you have homophobic feelings but don’t act on them, that is largely OK. I agree to an extent. But I was thinking about my own situation.

    I’m a gay woman. I only came out to my parents a couple of years ago. My (Catholic and very socially staid) parents have to their credit made an effort not to react negatively to this- overtly. I strongly suspect they feel quite like you do. Even so, I feel constantly marginalized and left out compared to my straight siblings. They never ask how my partner is without prompting. They take little interest in my plans for the future. They are constantly awkward and uncomfortable when I want to chat about day to day trivia if it even vaguely involves my partner, let alone if we are together in front of them. I find it upsetting. I hid my sexual orientation from them for a long time fearing their reaction, making the relationship between us strained.

    I’m trying not to be too harsh. I know they are making an effort, and the situation may well improve over time. But what I’m asking is- is it true that having these feelings and not overtly acting on them (e.g. by campaigning against gay marriage) really harmless? Or might those feelings cause you to act- or not act- a certain way without you meaning to? and if so, shouldn’t you actively try to rid yourself of them if possible?

    Just throwing that in there.

    • Deacon Duncan says

      I’m largely staying out of the comments on this one because I think I can learn more by reading than by writing, but there is one thing I want to respond to:

      You’re basically saying that if you have homophobic feelings but don’t act on them, that is largely OK.

      If that’s what I’m saying, then it’s unintentional. What I want to say is that anyone who has homophobic feelings needs to act, not on them, but against them. People have lots of natural tendencies: laziness, procrastination, gossip, wishful thinking, judging people by labels rather than by the person themselves, and so on. What I’m saying is that if we want to be truly better than the “lower” life forms we look down on, then we need to recognize the weaknesses that exist within ourselves, and actively resist them instead of passively allowing them to dictate our behavior.

      • says

        This “looking down on” other animals strikes me as an awfully religion-based notion. We *are* other animals. There’s nothing “low” about any of our natural dispositions, just appropriate and inappropriate (often depending on context) ways to deal with them.

        I’m sorry, but it does seem like you’re saying it’s okay to be a homophobe (or racist, or sexist, or any other form of bigot) as long as you aren’t out actively acting like one. As long as you’re controlling your urges to be a bigoted asshole, you’re good to go.

        For the record, I’m with the majority here. This aversion you feel was a learned response, and you can take active steps to at least try to change it.

        But you’ve stated you’d rather not. To me, that puts you not in the camp of people who are being moral and civilised, but in the camp of people who are being immoral and anti-social.

      • Deacon Duncan says

        But you’ve stated you’d rather not.

        What? No, that’s not at all what I’m saying. It wasn’t even a point I was trying to address. Since you mention it, though, I’ll say this: I’d be perfectly happy having my feelings change. I just don’t think there’s a magic button I can push that will instantly/magically turn them off. I’m hopeful and optimistic that as time goes by and I interact more with LGBT folks, my negative feelings will fade. But I don’t expect it to happen overnight, and I don’t want to over-promise. It’s hard for me and it’s going to take time.

        Meanwhile, the point I’m trying to make and the point I think other homophobes need to understand is that having such feelings does NOT excuse mistreatment of gays. Such feelings are nothing to be proud of or to defend, and anyone who has them ought to actively oppose them, by opposing persecution of gays and by supporting the struggle for equal human and civil rights for both gay and straight. If this process also helps cure their (our) homophobia, that’s great, but it’s a fringe benefit that’s a little off topic for the point I’m trying to emphasize.

        Am I making myself clear? Would it help if I referred to myself as “a recovering homophobe”? I think I can fairly claim that label, at least.

  16. besomyka says

    I think I have to add my voice in dissent to defining homophobia as an aversion to same-sex sex. To me, that’s just your sexuality. A gay man being averse to hetro sex wouldn’t be hetrophobia… he’s just gay.

    However, when you described homophobia as being creeped out by a man making a pass at you (I’m paraphrasing, of course), I think you may be correctly using the term because for some reason you’ve responded to a non-sexual social interaction as if you were having sex with that person.

    Let me ask this: if a woman made a pass at you — complemented your eyes, or started making small talk and casually put her hand on your leg, or somesuch – would you react in a similar but positive way?

    I suspect that, for many male readers, the answer is ‘yes’ because many men’s minds DO go there, and that might go a bit of a ways to explain the phobic reaction.

    Could misogyny and homophobia be rooted in similar places? Have similar causes? I wonder if there have been any studies…

    • says

      Could misogyny and homophobia be rooted in similar places? Have similar causes? I wonder if there have been any studies…

      Yes, they come from the same place, at least culturally. Always, always the charge against homosexuality (whenever and wherever it is condemned) is that it makes women (the subjugated class) out of men (the class that is meant to be superior).

  17. Mattir says

    Homophobia is definitely not a natural part of life. I recently told my kids that I’d dated women in college. Back in the late 1970s/early 1980s, at my Catholic college, and then working for the Department of Defense and on Wall Street, it was a huge closeted secret. I just got used to keeping it secret, especially since being public about it tended to bring, um, unwanted interest from straight guy acquaintances.

    So when my teenage kids started talking about their own same sex desires, part of the conversation was “this is perfectly normal and most people have same sex desires, whether or not the identify as gay, straight, or bi,” with some “even mom, heterosexually married for 20 years” thrown in. My daughter’s response was “Wow Mom, that’s like the least surprising thing you’ve ever told me.” Then she wondered what was for dinner. It was as if I’d revealed that I’d always kept it a secret that I once painted my toenails or drank a beer.

    Being brought up in a culture where same-sex desires are no big deal goes a long way towards being able to deal with them as no big deal, whether or not those desires are directed towards you.

  18. says

    Guys, I think DD gets points for being self-aware enough to be able to say, “I’m squicked out by this,” and for reasoning his way to, “Even though I’m squicked out by this, there’s no reason to treat people who like it any differently, ‘cuz they deserve the same respect and dignity as I do.”

  19. Robert B. says

    Homophobia as a natural, but underdeveloped, state? That’s… that makes a lot of sense, actually. I could get behind that. I’m not sure “underdeveloped” has exactly the right connotations, though. I sincerely doubt that your brain is stuck in an childish physiological state, for example, and I don’t think that’s what you meant, either. What you’re getting at is something related to experience – you’re wondering if homophobia is something that a lot of people have until they, say, make some gay friends and their feelings on the matter mature. Or to put it another way, unfamiliar sex is just generally gross.

    And I’m perfectly happy with “homophobia” being used to mean a feeling of revulsion about gay behaviors. That’s actually what the roots of the word suggest it should mean. Using that word to mean bigoted behavior toward gay folks is based on the assumption that this behavior is motivated by the revulsion. There’s a lot of truth to that, in many cases, but it isn’t necessarily so, and I’d rather not talk about someone’s emotional state “by accident” when I’m trying to get at behavior. It invites derailment, and its imprecise. I was very happy when I discovered the term “heterosexist,” because it means what “homophobic” wants to mean, without all the baggage. I don’t think you used the word “heterosexist” but you still made your distinction perfectly clear, and I understood and appreciated it.

    And I said this yesterday, but again, I find these two posts to be morally excellent. I do think you should hope to change how you feel (what you precisely describe as your homophobia.) But I don’t think you need to do it for my sake. Thinking and feeling well is your duty to yourself as a rational person. Your duty to me is acting well, and you’re doing that just fine. I’m happy to know you, to the extent that reading your blog counts as knowing you, and I am entirely unwronged by your inner state.

  20. says

    I agree with the point about sex being icky. It’s not that homosexual sex is icky; it’s all sex that’s icky. Straight people can be motivated by lust to overcome their aversion to straight sex; the equivalent is true for gay people.

    I recently had some fun dismantling an anti-homosexual pamphlet at the online Christian ministry CARM. Link below.

    Confused Thinking About Homosexuality

    • says

      I actually think the “sex is icky” thing is cultural, too. As a European who now lives in the US, I find the US to be an extremely sex-negative country in many ways. Compared to my German friends and lovers, for example, some people are just so much more prudish here, especially when it comes to nudity and male sexuality. It seems like in the USA any expression of male sexuality reads as “gay”, so guys are terrified of their own bodies. I think all this is a sign of a severely sex-confused culture. Britain is somewhat similar, with our own sets of crazy problems about sex.

  21. abb3w says

    The “ick factor” seems to be what is more technically termed a disgust reaction. It’s not clear to me from a quick poke at Google scholar the fractional extent that strength of disgust reactions in general result from nature versus nurture, let alone for this particular case.

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