Homophobia is not a phobia, researchers conclude.
June 13, 2002 7:09 PM   Subscribe

Homophobia is not a phobia, researchers conclude. Well, DUH! However, it's really going to be difficult to march down the street chanting "Hey hey, ho ho, high negative affect scorers on the Index of Attitudes Toward Homosexuality have got to go!"
posted by WolfDaddy (34 comments total)
did anyone ever really consider it a real phobia? i had always assumed it was a term thought up by some layperson. i don't use it much because it has always seemed inexact and not the point i'm arguing. i mean, i guess someone could be scared of gay people, but what i don't like, and what i think harms society, is when they are hateful. if, for some reason, you are afraid of gays and keep it to yourself i can't say that i really care. (you would be a little weird, though, b/c gay people aren't usually that scary)
posted by rhyax at 7:35 PM on June 13, 2002

rhyax, the report mentions that homophobia has more akin to racism (THAT will piss off certain civil rights leaders, don't you think?) than to a genuine phobia.

And I really have to agree. I used to have severe arachnophobia and I can tell you that the fear I experienced towards spiders was ... well, it was unmanning. Most people I would consider 'homophobes' are usually blinded by irrational hatred rather than irrational fear.

Then again, my great-grandmother was someone who was born 15 years after the end of the Civil War (she died in 1983), and would get extremely afraid when my family would go out to a restaurant where black people were being served the same as whites. I truly don't believe her irrational feeling was hatred, it was fear. Perhaps she was a true, uh, race-o-phobe rather than a racist? I dunno.

And gay people not scary? Damn. There goes the pink bunny outfit I was gonna wear for Halloween. *sigh*
posted by WolfDaddy at 7:58 PM on June 13, 2002

Skallas: According to Webster's, the date of the earliest use of "homophobia" is 1958. I know I heard the word long before use of "PC" grew widespread (date there is sometime in the early 1990s).
posted by raysmj at 8:32 PM on June 13, 2002

Call them what they are: "homo-haters." Truth in labeling, eh?
posted by davidmsc at 8:33 PM on June 13, 2002

Call it what it is: hate.
posted by Poagao at 8:35 PM on June 13, 2002

posted by sawks at 9:05 PM on June 13, 2002

so...that would make xenophobia not a true phobia either?

I would argue that most "homophobes" have been mis-labeled as such but that does not preclude the existence of true homophobes, people who, akin to WD's grandmother, fear but do not hate homosexuals in the same way that one fears the new or the strange (see, again, xenophobia)

Really, how many of these phobias can we dismiss as disgust or hatred rather than fear?
posted by vacapinta at 9:08 PM on June 13, 2002

About 10 years ago, I went dancing with a bunch of friends to a club whose clientele was predominately gay. I was surprised at how uncomfortable I felt while I was there. It wasn't an I hate gay people kind of thing. I'm cool with that. It was more an I don't want to be thought of as gay kind of thing. While the girls were with us, I had very little problem with being there, but when they got up and went to the bathroom, and left me at the table with the other guy, I couldn't look at him or talk to him, I just wanted to stare at the floor so everybody would know I wasn't there with him.

Now intellectually, who gives a damn right? Of course, which is why I was so surprised at the feelings. I was completely unprepared for them, and just always assumed it must be a very minor kind of homophobia. If it's not really a phobia though, then I'm not sure where those feelings came from. Some kind of really specific social anxiety or lack of confidence in myself or something. I really hate moments like that where my reactions just totally betray my intellectual assumptions.
posted by willnot at 9:20 PM on June 13, 2002

That was totally cool of you to share that, willnot.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 9:30 PM on June 13, 2002

Yeah, it was cool to be honest about it. Everyone has moments like that, when you have to fight to overcome feelings that are opposite our normal impressions of ourselves. I get uncomfortable when I'm at a straight party, and I have to tell myself to stay open-minded and just try to have fun.
posted by Poagao at 10:34 PM on June 13, 2002

I have long preferred the term "heterosexism" to describe what is generally, inaccurately, termed "homophobia".

With a little poetic license, you can even work it into the chant: "Hey hey, ho ho, het'rosexism's got to go..." &c.
posted by bradlands at 11:27 PM on June 13, 2002

I don't think the distinction between hatred and fear is pronounced enough to make homophobia an inaccurate term, though our conceptions of 'phobias' do make the term, as rhyax said, inexact. The Arkansas researchers' distinction between socially conditioned 'disgust' and psychologically installed 'fear' is useless semantics, even though the conclusion that we should address homophobia from a social conditioning viewpoint rather than a psychological one is valuable (and, I would imagine, obvious). The two concepts of hatred and fear are inextricably intertwined. And not just intellectually, even in common discourse. To borrow WolfDaddy's arachnophobia example, how often do people say "I hate spiders!" to indicate that they're scared of spiders? I agree that racism and homophobia have a lot in common, and I think that both spring out of fear, to an extent. Racism is often prompted by the terror that "they" will take or destroy something of "ours." And why can't gays marry? Or adopt kids in Florida? Or serve in the military? Or be Boy Scout leaders? Homophobia, in what I imagine is its most prevalent form today, stems from the fear that 'they' will corrupt 'our' children, or fix 'us' in an eroticized gaze in a locker room shower, or legislate away the morals that buffer 'our' society. The emotion that the homophobe identifies as hatred conflates with fear on some close level.

I also think that the term shouldn't be discarded as merely 'p.c.,' seeing as how that label is used rather liberally to discredit things. 'Homophobia' has a much better ring to it than 'orientationism' (which is too close to 'orientalism' anyways). And 'heterosexist,' as I've seen it used, is typically a softer indictment than 'homophobic,' applying more to inequalities of treatment than to manifestations of hatred. And I think it's useful to keep that distinction.
posted by grrarrgh00 at 11:45 PM on June 13, 2002

> It was more an I don't want to be thought of
> as gay kind of thing.

In a world with so many people who don't like gays, that's a reasonable feeling to have.

For example, our high school had, as far as I know, two blacks, one Asian, two Jews (brother and sister), no gays, and about 1,500 white heterosexual Christians. (And at least one atheist, but I wasn't exactly vocal about it.) No sensible person would ever have voluntarily become the school fag, not to mention the I-swear-I'm-not-a-fag-please-don't-hurt-me school fag.

So, getting back to homophobia, I doubt many people are afraid of gays, but I can see how people living in intolerant conditions would be genuinely and reasonably afraid of being labeled gay.
posted by pracowity at 12:30 AM on June 14, 2002

I always hated the term, presonaly. "Afraid of one thing"? It just dosn't imply homosexuality in and of itself. at least call it 'homosexophobic' or something. sheesh.
posted by delmoi at 1:11 AM on June 14, 2002

I've never liked the term either, for a couple of reasons:

Linguistically, it's meaningless, as delmoi points out, or if not meaningless, it certainly doesn't 'mean' what it's taken to mean.

More importantly, the suggestion implied in its usage is that gay people are somehow to be feared, and down that road lie all of those 'homosexual panic' defenses for hate crimes.
posted by jonpollard at 2:25 AM on June 14, 2002

It was more an I don't want to be thought of as gay kind of thing.

Thanks for sharing that story, willnot. I think it's a very common one and I can relate, because I have had the exact same experience and feelings, just reversed. I have a very close female friend who has, on several occasions, been mistaken for my girlfriend. These situations have always produced the same feelings in me that you describe. I've thought about the meaning of this quite a bit; I think it has to do with the fact (in my situation, at least) that my selfhood was very hard-won. It took a lot of years and a lot of pain to arrive at a place where I felt that my sexuality was natural and viable and equivalent to 'heterosexuality' (I hate the terms that have been established to speak of human sexual modality, but it's hard to discuss without using them). When people have assumed that I was in a 'heterosexual' relationship, it highlighted the fragility of my selfhood; in a primitive way, it suggested that my (homo)sexual viability was being overlooked. To our animal selves this is tantamount to being castrated- my virility and availability as a potential partner for other males was being denied by the suggestion that I was interested in female companionship. I think many of our most difficult problems arise when our instincts come in conflict with our reason and social order.

Think about this in another way: several male aardvarks are vying for a female's attention. One of the male aardvarks, for one reason or another, is mistaken for a female by certain members of the aardvark society. This is dangerous, since it threatens to weaken said aardvark's chances at acquiring a mate which, to male animals, is a fate as bad as death. His social position in aardvark society is jeopardized which, in the animal kingdom, is very dangerous.

My awful aardvark analogy aside, I think this situation applies, in some measure or other, to humans and to our most primitive instincts. The power of these instincts should not be ignored.

I also think this is primarily a male situation. To most male animals, secure social position is necessary for survival. when other animals in the pack mistake or deny our social position or viability, it becomes a threat to our survival.

I'm just tossing out some regrettably vague ideas here. This subject has always greatly interested me, and I think it is much more complicated than just labelling something as 'homophobia' or 'heterophobia'. I have to agree with jonpollard as well: the very word homophobia is linguistically meaningless. I also think the words 'homosexual' and heterosexual are hideously inaccurate 19th century constructions, haphazardly cobbled together from bits and pieces of Greek and Latin prefixes and suffixes, like the 'Frankenstein's monsters' of the ontological world.
posted by evanizer at 4:30 AM on June 14, 2002

While I think there are people who hate homosexuals and people who fear homosexuals, I think indescriminiate use of words like "hate" or "homophobic" can play right into the hands of many people who are prejudiced against homosexuals.

Because, as this study points out, it's much more likely that people who don't like the idea of homosexuality have feelings of disgust ("that's icky!") or (I think also pretty common) some kind of religious objection ("that's wrong!"). So when you call these people haters or homophobes, they can honestly and introspectively deny feeling hate or fear. And then they can let themselves off the hook.
posted by straight at 6:43 AM on June 14, 2002

All emotions are either fear based or love based. Hatred comes from fear. If you are afraid of something and ruled by instinct alone you will hate it.

I am a lesbian and I experience unwanted advances from straight men when I go out to straight clubs with friends. The difference for me is that when a straight person in a gay club experiences this they just say "hey, no thanks I'm not gay." I can't do that. I have on a few occasions and I was met with anger/and or the guy was convinced that I could be converted or that I would at least let him watch or participate in my next sexual encounter. I believe that it is caused by a man thinking that some women don't need them for anything. This causes insecurity which turns to fear of not being wanted and in turn it causes them to be angry and or have feelings of hatred.
posted by bas67 at 7:04 AM on June 14, 2002

Interesting bas67. I'm straight, used to frequent a gay bar when I was younger, liquor restrictions were pretty loose there, hours were much later ..

I'm a guy. I recall being asked by a guy to dance once .. I replied "I'm straight .." He said "So ?" and hell, I didn't care too much so I danced. Uh, not a slow dance. :)
posted by Mondo at 7:10 AM on June 14, 2002

I am a faux-mo-sexual. A straight man that has an affinity for home decorating, "fancy" cooking, and Broadway musicals. I read a lot and I have been known to call people "honey." I'm not the manliest fellow in the world, but I'm not swishy, either.

I get mistaken for gay all the time. And I'm cool with that. To me, someone saying "I thought you were gay." is the equivalent of someone saying "No straight man would ever wear shoes that nice."

But here's something that happened to me that I'd like to share: Once, I was working as a waiter back in college. I got along well with everyone I worked with, gay and straight. I didn't talk about the girl I was dating all the time, because, well...that's just rude. Kind of like throwing up a "here's my beard" banner. I'm just myself, you know?

Anyway, one of the guys I was working with developed a crush on me and one day after work, he asked me out. I politely declined saying that I was already in a relationship--and then, unconsciously added--"with a girl I've been seeing a long time."

He quickly apologized and I said that it was no big deal. And I left it at that. Well, two weeks later, he "outed" me to the entire waitstaff. His theory was that if I was "straight like I claimed to be" then his asking me out should have "offended me." Therefore, I was gay.

I found myself having to "defend my heterosexuality." Not so that I wouldn't be thought of as gay, but so that I wouldn't be thought of as a liar.

Since then, I have taken upon myself the mantra "straight but not narrow." Have any other faux-mos had similar experiences?
posted by ColdChef at 7:24 AM on June 14, 2002

I think 'homophobia' was just a convenient word that popped on the scene, though misused, kind of the way people misuse 'ironic' or put 'compassionate' with 'conservative'.

I do wonder if 'homophobia' is the correct word to describe someone who fears being a homosexual, as I think that drives the most violent anti-gay crime. I'm not sure how true it is that everyone has homosexual feelings at some time, even if they are straight (I've tended to be 100% gay, so I don't know), but I know that some guys tend to be freaked out by the possibility that they could be turned to the dark side (or is it the light side?).

I've also heard good arguments that it really comes down to sexism: a man sees a woman as being inferior, so he looks down on a man who would put himself in a submissive role, the role of a woman, which could explain how straight men don't have as much a problem with lesbians as they do with gay men (outside of the erotic fascination with two women getting it on, which is accepted mainly in the context of women getting it on for the benefit of men, rather than for their own enjoyment).
posted by troybob at 8:31 AM on June 14, 2002

The Chef goes up several points in my estimation!

When it comes down to it, when someone is giving me a whole load of hateful, threatening, intimidating crap, just 'cos I'm a shirt-lifter, I'm not sure it's my job to find a cure for them. They need to get the message that it's out of order to discriminate (on any basis other than what is legitimate in the circumstances), and that's a message that comes from individual members of society, as well as the institutions within that society which have the power to develop policies affecting everyday life.

Homophobia may not be based on fear or hatred, but disgust: that is still societal conditioning (else how do we explain my french cousins eating a whole menu of dishes which make me wanna hurl?), and as such, is susceptible to change over time.

I've always thought that one of the main reasons why we 'Friends of Dorothy' are considered dirty/disgusting/hateful is the focus on the sexual practice of anal intercourse. Which, from my limited research amongst my straight friends, is not a pleasure confined to us up-hill gardeners. Neither it is a habit amongst all fudge-packers - many (dear old Oscar & Bosie never made the beast with two backs, by all accounts) are perfectly happy with non-penetrative sex.

Still, thats all too thoughtful and rational for a hater, isn't it?
posted by dash_slot- at 8:33 AM on June 14, 2002

I applaud all all Faux-mo-sexuals and their ability to accessorize tastefully!
posted by TuffAustin at 8:36 AM on June 14, 2002

Hmm....if ColdChef is faux-mo-sexual, what am I called, being that I am gay and cannot cook, decorate, or pick out clothes, and am often mistaken for straight?
posted by troybob at 9:14 AM on June 14, 2002

That's a good question. Is there a male counterpart to "lipstick lesbian?"
posted by ColdChef at 9:22 AM on June 14, 2002

what am I called, being that I am gay and cannot cook, decorate, or pick out clothes, and am often mistaken for straight?

and what about those of us who are gay, cannot cook, decorate or pick out clothes, and are rarely mistaken for straight?
posted by tolkhan at 9:41 AM on June 14, 2002

How can homophobia be any less of a phobia than, say, getting peanut butter stuck to the roof of your mouth?
posted by Dark Messiah at 9:42 AM on June 14, 2002

what am I called, being that I am gay and cannot cook, decorate, or pick out clothes, and am often mistaken for straight?

Average. Good on ya.
posted by bradlands at 9:43 AM on June 14, 2002

William Safire (On Language) some years ago wrote about the term "homophobic". From what I recall, it was specifically the fear of one's own homosexual feelings. "Homophobia" evolved to become a catch-all, acceptable (to some) term meaning the dislike of, hatred of...
posted by G_Ask at 10:58 AM on June 14, 2002

Great thread, everyone, I really enjoyed reading everyone's comments and insights! Thanks a lot for all your wisdom and honesty :)
posted by WolfDaddy at 12:48 PM on June 14, 2002

My fiancee would also like me to mention that I am also the only person she knows of (gay or straight) who knows the words to all the songs in "Newsies". (Which I consider to be the best gay-love musical of them all)

"Open the gates and seize the day.
Don’t be afraid and don’t delay.
Nothing can break us.
No one can make us
give our rights away.
Arise and seize the day."
posted by ColdChef at 1:18 PM on June 14, 2002

knows the words to all the songs in "Newsies".

As one.
posted by bradlands at 2:29 PM on June 14, 2002

dear old Oscar & Bosie never made the beast with two backs, by all accounts - or as Stephen Fry once put it, in this context, ' the beast with one back and a rather interestingly-shaped middle'.

(I think I probably misquote slightly.)
posted by jonpollard at 5:29 PM on June 14, 2002

I am a faux-mo-sexual. A straight man that has an affinity for home decorating, "fancy" cooking, and Broadway musicals. I read a lot and I have been known to call people "honey." I'm not the manliest fellow in the world, but I'm not swishy, either.

I get mistaken for gay all the time. And I'm cool with that.

No, you're a straight guy who happens to fit a stereotype, like a lot of white guys who, on purpose or not, fit black stereotypes, the so-called "wiggers". While it's probably inconvenient that clueless people identify you as gay, it doesn't make you anything other than heterosexual.
posted by Poagao at 11:06 PM on June 14, 2002

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