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.