Useful Notes: Homophobia
Hatred of gays, cross dressers, transsexuals, etc.
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(permanent link) added: 2013-07-28 23:16:55 sponsor: ShyamalanisEdWood edited by: kjnoren (last reply: 2013-09-03 03:14:34)

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It’s the awareness that even in Manhattan and even in 2013, you might easily encounter someone who will cast a disgusted look your way. Or say something nasty. Or, worse, throw a punch.

According to Wikipedia, “homophobia encompasses a range of negative attitudes and feelings toward homosexuality or people who are identified or perceived as being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT).” Those negative attitudes motivate a full gamut of hostile actions, from ridicule and shunning, to bullying, vandalism, assault, “corrective rape” and murder. The term (coined in the 1960s by psychologist George Weinberg) takes the ”homo-“ prefix from “homosexual” and joins it to the suffix “-phobia” meaning “morbid or intense fear”. Initially the word referred to a fear of being perceived to be gay, but by the early 1970s it was used to mean a psychological aversion to queer people generally. Common uses of the word now tend to include elements of heterosexism (the idea that opposite-sex attractions and relationships are the norm and therefore superior). The word “homophobia” has its critics; some find it misleading and/or derogatory to imply an individual psychological problem is the root of such attitudes as opposed to a socially reinforced prejudice. That said, “homophobia” has a linguistic staying power compared to other terms, which tend to be more obscure and often present pronunciation difficulties (try these on for size: “homoerotophobia”, “homonegativity”, “heteronormativity”, "sexual prejudice”, “internalized sexual stigma”).

It’s All About Sex—Or Is It?

There's no sin like being a woman. When a man dresses as a woman, the audience laughs. When a woman dresses as a man, nobody laughs.
Quentin Crisp, in The Celluloid Closet

Homophobia is ostensibly about sexual orientation (Who do you want to date/sleep with/marry?), but because people conflate sexuality and gender, it often involves questions of gender performance (What are you, a man or a woman?) Anyone who fails to follow “normal” social rules for their gender can prompt a homophobic respnse. Specific social rules vary across cultures and historical periods [[note]]In early 20th century America, the colour pink was associated with boys and the colour blue was assigned to girls; pink wasn’t strongly linked to femininity until the 1950s.[[/note]], yet such rules mandate often rigid categories for clothing and hairstyles (nice new ‘do, Ms Cyrus), speech and body movement, behaviour and deportment, even career choices (hello, Mr. Jackman, Mr. Mathieson). Failure to adhere to these rules is associated (sometimes wrongly) with homosexuality, and homophobic responses to such “violations” can be seen as attempts to enforce so-called “traditional” social norms (see the infamous “the way you walk” scene from the 1956 film Tea and Sympathy, excerpted in the 1995 documentary The Celluloid Closet). As these rules contain a certain amount of misogyny, double standards apply; women who cross gender lines may be given a grudging respect (since they can be seen as trying to remedy their inferior femininity), while men face severe condemnation for lowering their status by being effeminate. That's why a tomboy gets less criticism than a sissy.

There are people who feel an intolerable discomfort with the presence of other people (be it in media or on the street) who cannot be quickly and easily placed in the gender binary. The (at times false) equivalence of gender non-conformity with homosexuality generally serves to compound the dread. This is part of the nostalgia of the opening theme from All in the Family: one couplet runs, “And you knew where you were then/ Girls were girls and men were men”. The book Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States chronicles gender policing by law enforcement, from sumptuary laws ”requir[ing] individuals to wear at least three articles of clothing conventionally associated with the gender they were assigned at birth”, to the arrests and harassment of gender non-conformists for the “crime” known colloquially as “walking while trans”, a concept and phrasing derived from the racially motivated charge of “driving while black”. Such policing is often done in the name of protecting an area's “quality of life”, again because those breaking gender norms are presumed to be involved with an outlaw sexuality (entailing “public lewdness” and/or prostitution). As the authors of Queer (In)Justice put it:
...an individual's mere presence in public spaces is experienced as a disruption of the social order. Queer, transgender and gender non-conforming people are threatening because they place in question identities previously conceived as stable, unchallengeable, grounded and “known”, which serve as critical tools of heterosexist culture.
Thus, any fear there may be lurking in the concept of homophobia may have less to do with homosexuality per se than with fears of disorder and/or loss of social status.

By the Book

...You went in a gay bar, you knew you were liable to be arrested, or the place be raided. I've been in those situations. There were still not just attitudes, there were laws against...one's being. The core of one's being.
Jay Presson Allen, in The Celluloid Closet

Institutionalized homophobia refers to policies and laws against LGBTI people that are enforced by governments, religious authorities, and other powerful groups, using whatever persuasive and coercive powers are at their disposal. Such laws and rules may vary in detail and severity. They may criminalize same-sex relations, set a higher age of consent for same-sex conduct, mandate or forbid certain topics of discussion in regards sexuality, even prescribe standards of dress and grooming. They include anti-sodomy laws (often referring to “crimes against nature”), the above-mentioned sumptuary laws, and charges of “public lewdness”, prostitution and fraud (for “impersonating “ another gender). The Queer (in)Justice authors also describe how some law enforcement and corrections officials abuse their authority to shame, humiliate and degrade LBGTI people with whom they interact: publicizing or threatening to publicize arrests, subjecting people to invasive and often unlawful searches to touch or inspect their genitals, denying people protective custody (leaving them vulnerable to sexual assault, for which victims are often punished) or else offering the “protection” of solitary confinement, as well as beatings or demands for sexual favours. Civil and family law codes can offer their own difficulties: lack of protection against discrimination in housing and employment, limiting marriage and adoption to opposite-sex partners, and onerous restrictions in child custody agreements, if not outright loss of custody and/or visitation.

While legal sanctions can have the most severe impact on individuals, other institutions can pursue homophobic/heteronormative policies in different, even subtle ways. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) rates theatrical films prior to release in the U.S. supposedly to advise parents on the movies' content. Kirby Dick's documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated discusses how films with gay content are consistently given stronger ratings by the MPAA, thereby limiting the numbers of younger viewers who can see them. The film illustrates the point with a side-by-side comparison of films; the actors are performing the same acts in case after case, yet in case after case the depictions of homosexual couples are given R and NC-17 ratings while the heterosexual depictions get PG, PG-13 or R ratings. The more stringent ratings can reduce the audience and box office receipts of queer films. Whether the officials of the MPAA actually hold homophobic views or are simply catering to "mainstream" prejudices, the chilling effect on filmmaking is the same.

Some religious leaders (usually those of a conservative or fundamentalist stripe) castigate LBTI people from their pulpits and in any media outlets their social status can open for them. Sometimes religious groups (again the conservative/fundamentalist sort) campaign for laws that penalize LGBTI people, while others have no need to lobby the government since they are the government, or at least an influential part of it. Such religious folk use passages in their holy books (the “gotcha” verses in the Christian Bible[[note]] including Genesis chapters 18 and 19, Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (all King James Version)[[/note]], for example) plus church dogma to support their views; they generally assert those books to be at least divinely inspired (if not the inerrant Word of God), and on that basis they hold those books' authority to be unquestionable.

Who's a Bigot? Who's a Victim?

Most people don't wish to be seen as any kind of bigot, and many if not most people who express homophobic views don't believe themselves to be bigoted. People confronted over their homophobia are apt to claim they have known and befriended gay people or deny they intended any insult or criticism. For those with religious objections, the “love the sinner, hate the sin'' meme is the preferred defense. This defense rests on several key beliefs:
1) Sex is primarily for procreation, and any other functions (meeting emotional needs, experiencing pleasure or maintaining PC muscle tone) are incidental at best and sinful at worst.
2) Same-sex desires do not come from a natural or healthy inclination, but rather from the fallen nature of mankind/mental illness/sexual abuse/demonic possession (seriously).
3) By pointing out items one and two to LGBT people and trying to convince or coerce them to agree and give up gay sex lives, the believers are doing the gay sinners a big favour (saving them from Hell).

Of course, for people who disagree with any or all of these items, the professions of “love” ring hollow.

As LBGTI people have become more visible, some people who express homophobic bigotry claim the mantle of victimhood for themselves, as if allowing LGBTI people to engage in commerce and civil life on an equal footing would also force them to violate or renounce their religious beliefs. Such claims imply that their religious practices take absolute precedence over the beliefs and interests of everyone else, and it's tempting to ask if the same kind of blanket religious exemption could be extended to, say, outlaw the production and sale of pork products.

Curiously, even people who themselves experience homophobic bigotry can sometimes express it against others. Flamboyant gay men, “butches” (lesbians who present a masculine appearance), bisexuals, transgender people and gender non-conformists (even performers such as drag queens/kings) experience specialized forms of homophobia from others in the LGBT community as well as from members of the general public. A mild form is the wording of some personal ads that includes phrases like “no butches” or “straight-acting men only”. Pew Research found in a 2013 survey that bisexual people are more likely to remain closeted than gays or lesbians (two-thirds would not out themselves on social media versus one half of gays and lesbians). A bisexual man named Jeremy Stacy recounted being confronted while participating in a West Hollywood pride celebration:

One guy came up to me and said,”You're really gay.” I told him I had a long line of ex-girlfriends who would vehemently disagree. And he said, “That doesn't matter, because I know you're gay.”

It seems likely that gay man would object (rightly) if someone told him, “You don't know your own mind. You're not gay, you're really sick/crazy/evil,” yet he seemed to have no qualms about strongly implying that a bisexual man doesn't know ''his'' own mind regarding ''his'' orientation.

It's rather less surprising to find examples of heterosexual people facing homophobic bigotry when they break the rules of heterosexist culture. Once Julia Gillard became the first female Prime Minister of Australia and her partner former hairdresser Tim Mathieson found himself spotlighted as the country's “first bloke”, it was probably only a matter of time before someone questioned his sexuality as radio presenter Howard Sattler did in a June 2013 interview with then-Prime Minister Gillard. Though the incident cost him his job, Sattler didn't seem to think the question was beyond the pale: he was quoted later saying, “She should have known it was coming.” It's difficult to see why she should have expected such a question without factoring in some combination of heterosexism and homophobia, specifically the first bloke's former employment in a “pink collar” job.

'''Internalized homophobia''' describes the troubling combination of same-sex attraction and prejudice against homosexuality in a single person. It can be highly destructive to those who suffer from it as well as to other people. It is thought to be a major factor in the high suicide rate among LGBT youth (up to 30 percent attempt to kill themselves). It can also drive sufferers to engage in extreme repression and denial coupled with forced outward displays of heteronormative behaviour, attempting to at least appear “normal”. Some of these people rise to leadership positions in politics and religious organizations, from which they promote anti-LGBT laws and policies, and their self-loathing fuels their fervour and goads them to political success. They can be ferociously effective opponents of gay rights because their sense of self-worth depends upon it.


Indexes on Launch: Broken Aesop, Double Standard, Gender and Sexuality Tropes, Main/Hypocrite, Main/Stereotype


This is an issue that has been common in the news recently, as there has a long, offensive conversation regarding the right to gay marriage. I searched for this and found forum topics, but no tropes. I have no interest in my gender, but unlike homophobes, I have empathy, so I do not feel this way. This may work better as an Useful Notes page than a trope page.

  • American Dad had a gay anchorman whose father was a homophobic asshole and an aggressive jerk. Stan Smith thought the father was a closeted-gay man, but discovered that he was a very straight guy with many female partners. He eventually convinced the anchorman that his father's opinion was worthless, and allowed him to move on with his life.

  • Archie Bunker from All in The Family, who hated anyone who was not straight and White. This lead to a hilarious scene in which he was kissed by Sammy Davis, Jr.

  • Parodied on Frasier, where everyone assumes Gil Chesterton is gay because he is effeminate and catty. It turns out that he is so straight, he regularly ogles all the women in the radio station where he works. Frasier shows a bit of closeted desire when he has a gay dream about Gil.

  • Whoever writes Modern Family is one of the worst homophobes I have ever seen: The gay characters are effeminate, childish, emotionally unstable, unable to maintain a good relationship, weak, prejudiced, and every other stereotype he could put in there. They are still less offensive than the portrayals of Latinoes, blacks, Asians, and pretty much any other minority.

  • Parodied in Bloom County, where Veggiesexuals receive similar treatment.

  • Parodied in Saturday Night Live with a sketch about an effeminate straight man.

  • Stephen Colbert always derides gay men, then backpedals with Suspiciously Specific Denial.

  • Real Life examples may not work for this one, so I will separate them:

    • There is an idea that most homophobes are closeted gays. I actually discussed this with a Psychiatrist, who said that hatred derives from deeper, stronger feelings, and that sexual arousal is often a cause.

    • Pat Robertson said that hurricanes were God's punishment for gay sex and promiscuity.

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