Is “Homophobia” An Accurate Term?

I’m sometimes forced to realize that as advocates and progressives advance in understanding, much of society stays behind. The most basic of misunderstandings, those that advocates were confronted with in the 1980’s and 90’s, are still alive and well in the minds of many people. One such misunderstanding, the meaning of the word “homophobia,” is today’s topic.

“I don’t agree with the term ‘homophobia.’ Nobody is afraid of gay people.” It’s a common misconception that the word ‘phobia’ is exclusive to fear. I have written a little about this, and I devote a fair amount of energy to it at speaking engagements. It’s important that we understand what the word ‘homophobia’ means, so that people no longer become offended when they hear it – much like the word ‘ignorant.’ You see, when I call a person ignorant, they immediately take offence. Once I explain what the word means, and that I was using it literally, they tend to calm down a little; and in some cases they even stop to consider the idea of learning about what they are ignorant of (not often, but sometimes). The same is true of the word ‘homophobia.’ It’s the right term, it’s just not understood.

The word ‘Homophobia’ was coined in the late 60’s/early 70’s by Psychotherapist George Weinberg. What the term meant to Weinberg was a state of irrational thinking in regard to homosexuality. In other words, failing to question the claim that some human beings are intrinsically disordered, or choose to be outcasts, and feeling it proper to take pride in that ignorance, is irrational. Anti-gay bias, resulting from this irrationality, is what we call ‘homophobia.’ ‘Phobia’ is a term that covers an irrational dislike of something, and that dislike can manifest as fear, but doesn’t necessarily have to. ‘Homophobia,’ therefore, is accurate.

Let’s take a different approach to the argument, and look at the statement “nobody is afraid of gay people.” Let’s assume, for a moment, that ‘phobia’ IS exclusive to fear. The complaint still doesn’t hold up, for the simple reason that homophobes ARE afraid of gay people. You see, fear isn’t just being afraid that somebody is going to rape you. Fear can manifest in many other ways, and indeed it does. The anti-gay lobby is a product of fear. They are afraid that same-sex marriage will somehow redefine the family, leading to a breakdown of the social fabric. They are afraid that acceptance of homosexuality will result in classroom coercion. They are afraid that allowing gay couples to be open and affectionate in public and on television causes social moral decay. They are afraid of so many ignorant assumptions, that they feel obligated to fight against and condemn what they don’t have an inkling of understanding toward. Even if the word ‘homophobia’ specifically meant ‘fear,’ it would still be an accurate term. People who are homophobic are afraid of homosexuality. As a matter of fact, they are afraid of the LGBTQ+ community in general.

It’s truly annoying when a person expresses offence at being called homophobic. I have a lot of trouble holding back the urge to sarcastically say “oh, I’m sorry. Did I offend your sensitivities? Perhaps it’s no big deal that you and your ilk are causing death on a mass scale, as long as your feelings aren’t hurt.” Homophobia kills. The anti-gay ideals held by passive non-violent homophobes are the same ideals held by those who hunt down and kill LGBTQ+ people. The anti-gay ideals held by passive non-violent homophobes are the same ideals that cause social division, and lead LGBTQ+ teens to take their own lives. Don’t get on your self-righteous pedestal and pretend that your anti-gay beliefs are benign because you don’t personally agree with violence. The ideals cause the problem, they lay the groundwork for the problem to exist in the first place. Those who take violent action may or may not be mentally ill, but none of that matters, in light of the fact that their hatred is the result of being taught to hate.

You may not like being called homophobic, but if you are of the belief that homosexuality is wrong, disordered, sinful, immoral, a “lifestyle,” etc, you are homophobic. The good news is that you can make those accusations of homophobia stop. All you have to do is learn the facts, accept love, and stop being homophobic.

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A Matter Of Opinion? I Think Not

Among media personalities like Glenn Beck and Bryan Fischer, in fact among a lot of people, there exists the idea that opposing views on homosexuality are merely differences of opinion. While advocates fight for equality and acceptance of LGBTQ people, these voices of the religious right say that we’re being intolerant and bigoted toward those who disagree with us; that the argument is just a matter of differing opinions on the issue. I emphatically oppose this position. Opposition to homosexuality is not an opinion, nor is it a valid belief or feeling. Those of us who stand for equality are intolerant of bigotry, and that is a reasonable position; one that does not work in reverse. They claim we are pushing them down over a difference of opinion, but this is nothing more than a desperate plea from those in power, making claims of oppression as their position of influence loses relevancy.

If I were to say that “Nickleback is a terrible band,” I would be stating an opinion. If I were to say that “the colour pink is better than the colour yellow,” that too is an opinion. Opinions are personal biases toward things that are open to subjective tastes. For example, Nickleback is not inherently good or bad. Their value as a band is dependent upon the subjective likes and dislikes of each listener. Likewise, the colour pink is not inherently better than the colour yellow, that’s a matter of opinion. Homosexuality, on the other hand, is a sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is intrinsic to one’s personhood and is naturally occurring, just like skin pigmentation or eye colour. The statement “homosexuality is wrong” is not an opinion on something that is open to subjective tastes, but rather a condemnation of something without knowledge of what that something is. Some of the statements made – “The gay lobby wants to turn our kids gay,” “homosexuals are evil people bent on destroying civilization,” “gay men are pedophiles,” “gay men eat feces” – are vitriolic rantings full of misinformation, and cannot be protected under the guise of mere opinion. These statements have all been made by the aforementioned kings of vitriol, and the other things they have come up with are equally shocking and downright false. When people tell you that their opposition to homosexuality is just their opinion, you can immediately identify them as ignorant; and rightly so. It IS ignorant, just like the idea that people with darker skin are somehow inferior to those with lighter skin. Ignorance is merely a lack of understanding, and it can be corrected with knowledge … but not when that misunderstanding is written off as an ‘opinion.’

Yes, we are intolerant of bigotry. I am proud to say that I will not tolerate hate. I am proud to say that I stand for truth. I am proud to say that my position of love is the only honest position to take. I will not stand by and accept misinformation and vitriol in the name of equality. Equality requires unity, and the hateful diatribes spewed from the mouthpieces of the religious right only endorse division. A difference of opinion? I think not. What we ultimately have is a difference in moral judgment. While one side chooses love, compassion, acceptance, and unity, the other chooses to remain ignorant, and in so doing displays hatred in the name of their God. After all the back-and-forth, after the debates, lectures, and political considerations, that’s really what it boils down to. They claim to be warning people of the wages of sin for the sake of love, but the message is one of exclusion and hellfire … let’s just call it what it is. Although many will argue otherwise, there is really no love being shown by those who voice their opposition to the LGBTQ community. There is no compassion, no desire to learn, and no intention of it. They will remain ignorant because that is where they are most comfortable; standing on the losing side of history, and defiantly complaining about how they are being pushed down over their “opinions.” To be honest, I don’t feel sorry for them anymore. Those who choose to remain in the dark deserve to be left behind, along with the hate and dishonesty that will ultimately define them. The goal, of course, is to make less the number of people who hold these skewed values with every successive generation, and thanks to advocates and allies we are seeing a drive toward that goal. Slowly but surely, those who insist upon hatred are losing the battle. Let’s make a bit more progress by scrapping the idea that this is, in any way, a matter of opinion.

Could Activism Contribute To Further Violence?

The question today is: could activism contribute to further violence toward the minority and allies employing it? We know that activism contributes to further prejudice, frustration, and resentment, and indeed that will be demonstrated, but could that boil over into increasingly violent pushback?

I was born and raised in Canada, and lived in three different provinces as a child. In my country, tensions between the Aboriginal and caucasian populations have been high ever since the first settlers arrived and began a long-standing, and currently continuing, attempt at cultural genocide against the people who were already here. It didn’t take long for the government to impose a territorial structure known as the “reservation system,” in which the caucasian ruling class designated rough and out-of-the-way areas for Aboriginal people to live in. This system ultimately inspired the infrastructure used to impose apartheid in South Africa, and the effects of the heinous crimes committed by parasitical priests in Canadian residential schools (the last of which was closed in 1989) will continue for generations to come. It is now 2014, and the Aboriginal people who live within Canadian borders have been fighting back for a number of decades. While small steps are being taken to improve the situation and honour their rightful claims to territory, the protests, blockades, and outcries for justice have given rise to further bigotry and stereotype. The actions taken by the Aboriginal population in their own defence, have contributed to a culture in which caucasian children are taught that the “natives/indians/redskins” are lazy, have no respect for property, can’t handle alcohol, are violent, dirty, and prone to engaging in criminal activity. Activism meant to protect the rights and freedoms of this particular group has also contributed to an attitude of frustration over the fact that they dare to speak up and push back against oppression.

Now, examples of how activism contributes to further scorn are not exclusive to the many Aboriginal communities in Canada. The LGBTQ community suffers further bigotry from this as well. How many times have we heard about the “gay agenda” or the “gay lobby” trying to corrupt our children, and ultimately, destroy civilization? How many times have we heard about the supposed perils of raising children in a same-sex household, or about the “slippery slope” that we may fall down if we allow same-sex marriage in the first place? How many times have we seen a smiling face in the news, only to learn that the person we are looking at has fallen victim to a brutal attack motivated by their sexual orientation or gender identity? These reactions are often spurred by the many movements popping up in the fight for social equality; and what it all translates into is “how dare they try to take our right to oppress them? How dare they fight back?” This is a dangerous attitude. Activism, while effective and necessary, must be carried out with caution.

The question of whether or not activism could contribute to further violence is complex, but our roles in the matter are simple. This is because the question depends on us. We are responsible only for our own actions, and that makes us responsible for the impact we have in this world. Whether you’re having dinner with 2 friends, or speaking in front of 200 people in a lecture hall, you have an amount of influence. How you employ your activism for your specific cause(s) will depend on your levels of education, bias, empathy, and passion, and how you react to the activism of others will depend on the same. If we all celebrate the knowledge we have, accept the knowledge we don’t have, admit our biases, work to empathize with one another, and use our passion in the spirit of honesty, violent pushback against social activism is less likely to happen. If we continue to close our ears, and in turn become agitated at the constant barrage of discussion about equal rights, privileges, and benefits, nothing will change; and the violence we are currently seeing against minority people will continue on its upward trend. Could activism contribute to further violence toward the minority and allies employing it? It already is. The real question is whether that has to continue, and the answer is a very big “NO.”

Undeniable Condescension: “It’s Just A Phase”

Today, I am going to talk about the condescension in the words “it’s just a phase.” This particular phrase is one of the many that I take exception to, as it is quite often used in reference to my own dedication to social equality and ongoing battle against fundamentalist Christian doctrine. The real problem with the phrase, however, goes far beyond its use in regard to me and my work. The real problem is that “it’s just a phase” is too often used in regard to the sexual orientation or gender identity of LGBTQ teens. These young people who are subject to extreme social stigmas, increased risks of violent attack, and often die young as a result of murder or suicide, are further marginalized by their parents and loved ones, who callously avoid any attempt of understanding by dismissing their very personhood as “just a phase.” I’m going to talk about the use of this phrase in my own life, and then I’ll discuss the use of it in regard to LGBTQ people. We must all understand why the use of “it’s just a phase” is one of the most hateful things any parent or family member can say about a relative who is LGBTQ.

From our earliest stages we grow and develop, and it is through that development that we learn the consequences of our experiences and actions. Learning about consequences, of course, requires one to engage in the behaviours that spark the consequences in the first place, and so we go through behavioural and emotional phases. I have gone through these phases myself, of course. As a child, I wanted to be a cowboy, then a police officer, and then a firefighter. I decided later that maybe I would be a banker, or perhaps a famous rock star. I spent my teenage years angry at the world, suffering from the delusion that I was always the smartest person in the room and nobody understood me. As a sailor, I indulged in many things that need not be spoken of, and as a university student, I gained new and wonderful perspectives on humanity and the natural world. These were phases, times in my life in which I experienced things that led me to my own unique understanding of the world around me. All that I am now was shaped and influenced by those phases. Through them, I have defined my sense of self, my values, my convictions, and my entire identity. I now know who I am and what I stand for, and although my future experiences will continue to re-shape my world, my sense of self and purpose is no longer in flux. The thing about maturity is that it comes after those phases, and is necessarily the point at which you know very confidently who you are. Now, I have been accused quite often and quite recently of “just going through a phase.” There are many people who naively think that my departure from the church and dedication to LGBTQ rights is some sort of rebellious period, and that I’ll eventually get over it. Those same people are also quick to dismiss my level of education on the subjects of religion and culture. “It’s just a phase.” At 33 years old, I find this type of condescension terribly insulting. I can, however, handle it. After all, it doesn’t really matter if people think that my worldview is a phase. I may be insulted, but nobody is attacking my personhood. What I believe, what I hold dear, and what I value are all the result of what I have learned. When I am accused of going through a phase, I am not being devalued as a human being. “It’s just a phase.” While this phrase doesn’t devalue my humanity, it is very different for the LGBTQ teen who is accused of the same thing in regard to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

I have lost count of how many times I have read, heard, and watched as somebody has accused an LGBTQ teen of “just going through a phase.” There are countless status updates on social media written by young people who are lost, confused, and terrified because their families dismiss them with this offensive rhetoric. Our teen years are difficult as it is, and this kind of dismissive attitude only makes things unnecessarily worse. It takes courage for an LGBTQ teen to come out to family. After all, there is still a lot misinformation out there. A lot of people don’t understand just what sexual orientation and gender identity are. They don’t understand that being homosexual is just as natural as being heterosexual, and they certainly don’t understand the complexities of what it means to be Trans. This can cause a lot of friction in families, and it is up to those families to alleviate that friction by educating themselves. It’s not necessarily their fault that they are ignorant on the subject, but it is their responsibility to leave ignorance behind and learn as much as they can. Dismissing your child, when they have just summoned all of their courage to tell you something deeply personal and important, is one of the worst things you can do. Parents and family members who act this way quite frankly make me sick to my stomach. With all of the information available to us, dismissing the heartfelt reveal of a young person coming out as “just a phase,” is unacceptable and disgusting.

To be quite honest, my patience is wearing thin on this one. Ignorance will always be a part of our world, but is it not important that we understand each other? I don’t expect anybody to research these issues and make it their life’s work like I do, but I do expect them to read something. Does anybody go through their entire week without hearing LGBTQ issues in the news anymore? Wouldn’t it make sense to determine that it’s obviously an important issue that maybe we should all know a little bit about? The reason that so many people are closed off and bigoted is that they think they already have the answers. They are, in effect, plugging their ears and continuing to believe the fear-based misinformation that religious charlatans have been feeding them for decades. The existence of ideas like “homosexuality is curable,” “an immoral behaviour,” or “just a phase,” proves this point, as does the complete lack of knowledge out there about gender identity.

Ultimately, whether we want to admit it or not, these outdated and willfully ignorant attitudes are contributing to suicide and murder rates. They are contributing to pain and suffering. Shame on us for allowing this to go on for so long. With every young life lost due to ignorance, we gain more collective accountability for not having done enough to keep it from happening. “It’s just a phase.” Let’s work to put this repugnant idea in our past where it belongs.

Cooler Heads Prevail … Always

I have made no secret in the past of my disdain for ridicule and deliberate offence in arguments concerning religion, homosexuality, politics, or any other subject matter. I find the practice of ridiculing other viewpoints, no matter how misinformed, to be deplorable. Debate and discussion on these topics are worthy of having, and when somebody comes in with the tactless approach of ridiculing those on the other side, the discussion shuts down. This is not to say that harsh criticisms are inappropriate, they certainly have their place; but when you deliberately insult your opponent, you give them every reason to dismiss you as a joke. At that point, it doesn’t matter if you are right or not. It matters only that you have lost your respectability and, with it, the entire argument. The whole point of debate is to reach an understanding between two differing viewpoints, and in that pursuit, arguments informed by rage serve no good purpose. Cooler heads prevail … always.

If you have ever gone to one of the many popular websites dedicated to Atheism, you have seen many pictures, memes, and comments all trying to out-do one another as the most offensive. Not all Atheists engage in this behaviour, but online atheist forums, at least in my experience, attract the most vicious people; who cower behind their keyboards and attack with anonymity (this happens on Christian forums as well, but not to the same extent). Now, I understand the anger. Christianity has caused a lot of problems that we have every right to be angry about. Those problems, however, are not going to be resolved with long, barely legible tirades written all in CAPS. A lot of the anger and rage on these forums consist of memorized and regurgitated statements made by people who don’t really understand what they are ranting against. As a result, they come across as unintelligent, over-emotional, and lacking credibility. Even when the person is knowledgeable, engaging in ridicule negates any appearance of authority. When did the idea that ridicule would change minds take hold among intelligent people?

For the most part, anger aside, I agree with the general premises upon which anti-religion arguments are based. I am particularly fond of the eloquent arguments put forward by Richard Dawkins. Dawkins, however, has encouraged people to ridicule the religious community over the last couple of years. This is completely unacceptable, especially for a public figure who claims to value reason above all else. A reasonable person understands that remaining calm and avoiding deliberate insult is the best way to engage with people. A reasonable person knows that rational arguments, presented tactfully, will spark thought in the minds of their opponents. A reasonable person understands that resorting to ridicule is cowardly and intellectually dishonest. Richard Dawkins is not above accountability here, and neither are we. I have had enough of fighting for social equality and seeing progress, only to then watch some hothead lose his/her mind and set the movement back. We are all responsible for social equality, the things we say online matter. To everybody who reads what we post, we represent whatever ideals we’re espousing. Just as people representing religion have characterized it in a very bad light, we are negating our own cause when we go against our own values of reason, honesty, and equality. It has to stop.

The criticism at this point will undoubtedly be that I am being unfair. After all, don’t religious people do it too? What about the harm created by their doctrine, the protests where they shout obscenities at people, and the countless historical wrongs committed? That’s a valid criticism, and I’ll respond with another question. What progress do you see them making? The harmful doctrine, the protests, and the historical wrongs are making people cringe and turn away. Society’s growing aversion to religion is proving my point. I don’t want that to happen in reverse. What happens when society develops an aversion to LGBTQ rights because too many people are fighting ignorance with ignorance? Atheism has a really bad name in North America right now, in large part due to the insistence of some prominent atheists on seeking to offend and name-call rather than appropriately discuss. Feminism is hated among much of our population, not because it’s bad, but because it’s misunderstood thanks to those who gave it a bad name over the past few decades. How many more examples do we need? How many more positive ideas have to be thrown under the proverbial bus by our arrogance? Why do we allow anger to interfere with reason?

If you feel the need to offend, I feel sorry for you. There is no good reason to put people down, and if that makes you feel better about yourself, you obviously have other issues to deal with. We all get angry at injustice, and we all feel rage over wrongs committed in the name of religion; or whatever else. The time we feel that rage is not the time to be running to our computers. That is the time to step back and allow it all to settle. The people responsible for your anger will still be there after you calm down, and they will be much more receptive to your criticisms when you are able to make a calm and reasoned argument against them. Cooler heads prevail … always.