Today is IDAHO day - International Day Against Homophobia 17 May.
Last year on this day, I wrote an extensive piece on my thoughts about homophobia: its relationship to patriarchy, sexism and misogyny and a personal anecdote to explain that we none of us are immune from its hateful clutches (you can still read the post on the BGBC Blog).
This year I want to write about two other points about homophobia.
The first is the oft-thrown allegation that it should not be called homophobia because a phobia is a fear and dislike of gays is not a fear.
Now notice the attraction to the semantics of the word phobia meaning fear. There seems to be an implied sense to these sorts of statements that the idea of fear is something to be ashamed of. Or to put it another way, any real man ought not be afraid of anything, that fear should not be part of his emotional repertoire. Fear would be a shameful thing in this context. Which is just plain silly because of course, all humans are capable of fear and to suggest that men don't fear just because they are men is just patriarchal nonsensical stereotype. Yet you do come across this notion quite a lot and indeed I spoke at length about patriarchy and its effects on both men and women in the former Blogpost on this topic.
But to the crux of the commenter's statement. The gist runs thus: everyone is allowed to have their own opinions and just because you don't like something eg., baseball or gay people, that does not mean you are afraid - of baseball, gay people. So it's not a phobia. Now leaving aside that he gives moral equivalence and value to baseball to the same degree as he does to gay people, is he right? Just because I don't like gay people doesn't mean I am afraid of them or have a fear of them. That's right isn't it?
Well, there is more than one way to have fear and there are also degrees of fear. Those such as our commenters draw a picture of fear as a person frightened or cowering with fear or terror. But that is not the type of fear we are talking about when we use the word phobia in homophobia. No, it is more subtle than that.
|Australian anti-homophobia television commercial|
Some simple everyday examples. I don't wear a jumper which has yellow in it because it is too bright and might look a bit girly (real men only wear varying shades of grey, brown and black). People might think I'm gay. I don't sit with my gay mate in the cinema (as happened to my partner once) because I wouldn't want people to think that we're together as a couple. If I'm walking with another guy down the street, I walk at least one metre away from him lest anybody think we're walking a bit close for two straight guys and they think that we're gay. I would love a glass of white wine to go with my fish but I order a beer because there are other men here too and they might think a white wine is a bit girly. I don't get my hair cut too short even though I love it short especially in summer because people might think I'm lesbian. I don't go on the bike ride fund raiser for breast cancer with my lesbian friend, because people might think we're together. There's no fear here, is there?
All these examples and thousands of other little everyday things stop us from being who we want to be, talking to the people we want to talk to, being with the people we want to be with, acting the way we want to act - all because we fear being tagged as gay. When I am straight, one of the most challenging thoughts I can have is that people might think I am gay. Watch how quickly, people correct the misinterpretation or even the possibility. I often wince when people use the word 'partner' about someone they're in a business association with and then quickly add, "business partner" lest anyone think they're gay.
This is fear pure and simple. The straight world fears being thought of as gay. I think we gay guys see it more often (but I could be wrong) and more easily. Male homophobia, even perpetrated by friends or family, is pretty hard to miss.
IDAHO Day is a great reminder to add the necessary corrective to the traditional view - that there is nothing wrong with being gay and that to be thought gay is not a fearful thing. I like some of the straight stars of screen and the sporting field who are comfortable and confident in their sexuality and who know they are admired by gay people as being a 'bit of alright.' They exemplify the kind of thought I speak of here: that they can be with gay people, that they can even be admired by gay people as good looking and they are perfectly okay with it. After a dinner party once, I was leaving the house and the hosts, a lovely straight couple, both gave me a kiss on the cheek and a hug. The guy was as surprised as I was and we just smiled at each other. No fear. No silly retraction. Just a lovely bond between the three of us.
The phobia in homophobia is real because the fear is real. The stain on the lives of gay people is real because of it.
The second point I want to make about homophobia is this. It can manifest in two ways.
I call them overt homophobia and covert homophobia.
|cabbages and kings blog|
|Cate Faehrmann website|
If you are a gay person, you need to look after yourself and your mental health by not placing yourself in harm's way. You deserve better of course and some people, when challenged about their homophobia, will grow and abandon it. Others unfortunately will never get it.
If you are a homophobic person, I challenge you to face your fear and stare it down. Go and talk to a gay person. Get to know someone gay. You will see that that person is essentially just like you in all the important ways that really count.
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