If you ask the average person what “homophobia” means, they will likely tell you it is the fear of homosexuals. Although many people would take issue with that definition, it is, nevertheless, pretty accurate. People fear homosexuality and homosexuals. In the United States, homophobia is still widespread, and far more so than most heterosexuals realize. It’s also far more subtle than they realize.. The discrimination it inspires touches the lives of many Americans, not just gay Americans, but all Americans. And America pays a very dear price for it.
There are many who believe that this sort of discrimination is harmless. The use of the word “gay” in a derogatory way by our youth has become even more widely used than it used to, much like the word “retard”, which is a whole other topic I will be exploring another day. The belief that homophobia doesn’t kill exposes ignorance to the world, because homophobia does kill, and it kills with surprising frequency.
There is, of course, the obvious. Murders inspired by hatred of homosexuals number in the dozens here in the US every year, and in the Islamic countries abroad those numbers run to the hundreds and sometimes into the thousands as the deaths of homosexuals are religiously mandated and many of them are not considered newsworthy or even worthy of a separate category.
But there are other ways in which homophobia kills. There are countless suicides every year within the gay community, particularly our gay youth. Mental health professionals reveal that these suicides are the result of how the homosexual individual is treated by society, living with rejection day after day, and having their value as a human being discounted constantly. It is society’s treatment of homosexuality that is behind the fact that suicide is several times higher amongst gay men as compared to straight men. The very term “straight” as an application for heterosexuals denotes that homosexuality is somehow “bent” or “crooked”, which contributes to the outcast definitive that society places on homosexuality.
As I have stated, sometimes the highest price is paid by the homosexual youth. When emerging into adulthood, they begin to realize that their sexuality is widely unacceptable, and the prejudices that they have been exposed to already are now transferred to themselves. At this point is where their acceptance of self becomes particularly difficult and persecution begins with little effort made by authority figures to stop the torment. The result of this cycle of hatred is a suicide rate about seven times higher than that of heterosexual youth. Sometimes, homophobes actually try to prevent intervention by teachers in the schools, because they somehow believe that homosexuality is an infectious disease that their own children might catch.
One of the main reasons homophobes give for their prejudice against homosexuality is that it is ‘not natural’. What they fail to realize is that this argument is probably the weakest one of all. Biologists frequently see homosexual behavior in almost all other animal species at about the same rate in our species. In livestock ranching, homosexual behavior is so common it is considered a problem. Homosexual behaviors have been noted in every primate species so far studied, and in man’s closest living relatives, the Bonobo chimpanzees, bisexuality is universal. In fact, amongst humans, homosexuality is found in all cultures with about the same frequency it is found in America. Cultural norms have little influence on the incidence of homosexuality. When we understand these facts, the argument that it is not natural becomes rather difficult to support.
The religious variation of “it’s not natural” is is the belief that homosexuality is a perversion, and there are still laws on the books in many states that make any homosexual behavior illegal. These laws deserve no place in a society that supposedly believes in the separation of church and state because the belief that homosexuality is against God’s law presumes that the homosexual should be bound by religious principles. To encode a secular law that has purely religious purposes is a clear violation of the First Amendment. There is no benefit to society for outlawing any homosexual activity, or preventing marriage between homosexuals if one truly accepts the principle of religious freedom. The statement made by many homophobes that homosexuality is disgusting doesn’t even deserve further comment except to say that respect and tolerance a two way street.
The real reason behind homophobia drills down to “us versus them”; the subconscious belief that granting rights to one group will result in the loss of rights to another. This belief is at the heart of those who oppose gay marriage; that it will somehow threaten heterosexual marriage. Just how that would happen is never explained, but as with many arguments based on religious morality, there is the notion that an explanation is not necessary. They perceive a threat, and that is enough. It is an emotional reaction rather than a reasoned argument, which is common amongst bigotry. They believe what they believe, so therefore it must be true, and that is good enough. No evidence is necessary. This is a natural reaction by the bigoted, because they feel the need to control their environment and exposure to another individual who lives life in a manner quite different from their own represents a threat to their ego. They are afraid that their own choices may prove to be less than optimal and that the target of their bigotry may prove to be more successful in life. Again, the threat is an emotional one and even though there’s no evidence to support their feelings, emotion is what drives bigotry.
The reason behind these emotions is a primal instinct. The dominance-submission behaviors found in other species often have sexual overtones, particularly in other primates. If a dominant male wants food or a female possessed by a subordinate, the dominant male will often bite the subordinate, causing a painful reaction which results in the subordinate dropping the food or releasing the female and then presenting his rump. Anyone who has more than one dog knows this from experience. It is the presentation of the rump that is important. This action lets the dominant male and the rest of the pack understand that the subordinate male is submissive and that the dominant male may have his way with him, regardless of the extent that may take.
It’s essentially a submission to rape, should the dominant male desire to do so. While this is normal in the non-human animal kingdom and the rational human being understands that we have evolved beyond this behavior, it is this instinctual fear of rape is what drives much of homophobia. Bigoted or ignorant heterosexual men see homosexual men as a threat of a loss of control, of dominance, of status. Although this threat is very real in some isolated circumstances, such as the means of asserting dominance being the source of prison rape, it should be noted that these men almost never have sex with other men as a means of emotional sharing. As with all forms of rape, it is an act of violence, intended to control, assert dominance and force other men into a subordinate position. It is interesting to note that this fear of male/male dominant rape is the origin of the often used phrase “cover your ass”.
As it is with heterosexual men, the vast majority of homosexual men are not interested in sexual relations with those whom they are not sexually attracted to. The simple fact is that most homosexuals engage in sex for the same reason that most everyone else does, as a part of the expression of love, caring, concern and commitment. The small minority of homosexuals who enjoy seducing straight men usually do so with an understanding that the heterosexual is usually just curious and there is respect for the heterosexual’s concerns and fears. These encounters are almost always conducted in an atmosphere of equality and the heterosexuals need for discretion. The fact remains that very few homosexual men prefer to have sexual relations with heterosexual men, particularly those who would not be willing to cooperate.
Another reason for homophobia is that it presents a threat to the heterosexuals worldview, particularly the religious fundamentalist. When an individual who has held to and staunchly advocated the same ideas for a very long time, usually their whole life, someone else stating that this individual is wrong can be rather threatening. Realizing and accepting that one may have been wrong on the subject of human sexuality is extremely difficult for religious fundamentalists. If a homosexual is a productive and contributing member of society with values and ideals that are very close to the fundamentalist, the homosexual becomes a threat. This is because the fundamentalist believes that homosexuals are perverted, miserable and lonely people who live short and desperate lives. They fail to realize, through willful ignorance, that homosexuals are ordinary people.
Finally, there is the fear that one may actually be homosexual themselves. Homosexuality is more common than the number of open homosexuals indicate. Bisexuality is actually fairly common, particularly among women. The prevalence of these variations from the perceived norm is what drives the fear, particularly amongst conservative and the religious fundamental, that they may have homosexual tendencies. This is especially true if they have had a homosexual experience in their past which they actually enjoyed. It is widely accepted that more than half of heterosexual men in the United States have had at least one of these experiences. Because of this, there are many candidates that may possess that fear. Add to this a religion-based guilt promoted by televangelists who have made a career of promoting homophobia and you have a recipe for fear-driven bigotry that can, and does, lead to real danger for the openly homosexual. As psychotic as it sounds, a fear-controlled bigot will justify the hatred and even murder of a homosexual because it separates the homosexual from them, thus removing the likelihood of being homosexual themselves. The simple fact is that an isolated homosexual experience does not make someone a homosexual. Being homosexual means a preference for homosexual relationships due to natural orientation.
In the end, society as a whole pays a steep price for homophobia. It distorts how we deal with sex, sexuality, perception of strangers, interaction with co-workers and reacting to public health issues. Add to that the prevalence of which religionists appeal to prejudice and you begin to see that the cost to society is enormous. The fear of homosexuality among heterosexuals remains one of the most prevalent causes of sexual dysfunction. As well, the loss of productivity due to intimidation of homosexual employees results in the loss of an enormous amount of money, and this intimidation does not even have to be physical. Gestures, jokes and innuendos have a very unsettling effects that often lead to serious loss of self esteem. Intimidated employees, in general, are less likely to be innovative and forward thinking in problem solving. In regard to military employment, the problem is exacerbated. The U.S. military needs to abandon the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law and fully accept homosexual individuals into it’s ranks. The military’s own studies over the past sixty years have shown that homosexuals do not represent the threat to “unit cohesion”. The problem is not the threat to unit cohesion, but institutionalized homophobia that only serves to denigrate the reputations of honorable men and women.
Homosexuals deserve unreserved participation in all aspects of American life and discrimination of any kind against our homosexual neighbors need to be relegated to the same status as racial discrimination, and not just on paper. Religious doctrines that spew hatred and intolerance toward homosexuality should be treated just as those doctrines that advocate slavery and the belief that black people are an inferior people group. Those who openly preach for the denigration and biblical murder of homosexuals should be arrested and imprisoned. Free speech does not mean the right to advocate the murder or physical assault of anyone. It is a right that comes with responsibility.
Bigotry and intolerance have no place in modern society and if getting to a place where we are all treated equally regardless of who we are sexually means the wholesale eradication of religion, then that is yet another reason why we’d be better off a completely secular society.