On the meaning of homophobia

It is commendable to strive for accurate, neutral reporting and \”homophobia\” or \”Islamophobia\” are not ideal, as they denote solely the fear motivating prejudice. But they are the best we have. While fear may not be the only force behind such attitudes, it is invariably a chief component.

That\’s an assertion, not a proof.

Given this, I can report with a certainty rarely enjoyed by straight journalists that being anti-gay is, without exception, at least partly fuelled by fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of unwanted sexual attention, fear of gender roles being flouted, fear of humanity being wiped out by widespread bumming, fear of a plague of homosexuals dismantling marriage, the family, the church and any other institution held vaguely dear. And, of course, never forget: fear of what lurks repressed and unacknowledged in the homophobe. Irrational fear. It\’s a phobia, people.

And that isn\’t a proof. It\’s anecdata.

Do some people dislike Teh Gayers because they\’re afraid of either Teh Gayers or Gayness? Sure. All? You\’ll need to come up with better proof than merely personal experience sonny boy.

59 comments on “On the meaning of homophobia

  1. Surely the point is that x-phobia actually means “an irrational fear or hatred of x”. What it is used to mean, particularly in the ‘not-really-liberal-but-they-call-themselves-that’ media is “does not approve of all aspects of x”.

    That there may be rational, practical or even emotional-but-not-irrational reasons for disapproving, disliking or even hating some of the aspects of ‘x’ doesn’t cross their minds.

    As an example … I don’t care about Islamic finance – they can arrange their affairs however they want. I am bothered about their dress codes for women. I dislike the inequality before the law for non-Muslims (and all women). I hate the forced marriage of girls to elderly men and the routine rape of young boys.

  2. Oh, and on the arachnophobic example they use? I am not bothered by spiders in the UK. I am bothered by spiders in Afghanistan. Why? Because I’m not confident in my ability to tell the difference between poisonous and non-poisonous spiders – which, outside of zoos and people with weird hobbies, isn’t a problem in the UK.

    For similar reasons, although I cook a lot with wild mushrooms, I don’t go picking them myself. Doesn’t make me a mycophobic.

  3. A homosexual in a large British city would be perfectly rational being Islamophobic.
    This “some of my best friends are Muslims” stuff is nonsense.

  4. Two things:

    1. There’s something terribly reductionist about saying all dislike is ‘based on’ fear. I dislike many of the repressive aspects of conservative/radical islam. You could say, I suppose, that in some way I fear them being imposed on me, or on society, but I don’t think I do really – you might say that my dislike of the BNP is based on the ‘fear’ that they might get elected and impose their views as laws but to be honest, it’s not going to happen. I just fundamentally (hah!) disagree with their attitudes towards women, homosexuals, sex outside of marriage, alcohol, &c. Attitudes they share with many fundamentalist christians, for whom I reserve and equal dislike. But unless I am at some level scared of them gaining political supremacy, this remains merely an antipathy.

    2. If on the other hand you accept the reductionist ‘fear’ argument, then having arrived at this ‘fear’ through thinking through my own views and deciding my position, where I would like society to go and what laws I want it to have, what they think it should be and how this opposes me, this is the very opposite of irrational. It’s based on a reasoned and considered view.

    So either it’s not fear, or it’s not irrational. Take your pick.

  5. Given this, I can report with a certainty rarely enjoyed by straight journalists that being anti-gay is, without exception, at least partly fuelled by fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of unwanted sexual attention, fear of gender roles being flouted, fear of humanity being wiped out by widespread bumming, fear of a plague of homosexuals dismantling marriage, the family, the church and any other institution held vaguely dear. And, of course, never forget: fear of what lurks repressed and unacknowledged in the homophobe. Irrational fear. It’s a phobia, people.

    Notice his leap from fear to irrational fear. They are not the same. It may be that a fear of the unknown is childish, but it is unlikely to be entirely irrational. Fear of unwanted sexual attention does seem a little odd, but presumably mainstreaming homosexuality means mainstreaming both the good and the bad. I would think one reason there is a lot less male rape in British prisons than, say, Pakistani ones is that male-on-male sex is not seen as normal by a lot of people. Fear of gender roles being flouted? That is a feature, not a bug. Of course that is a perfectly reasonable fear. It will happen. Whether it is right to fear is another thing, but it is hardly irrational. Fear of humanity being wiped out by widespread bumming? Hard to comment on that one because I don’t know of anyone who has ever put forward that argument. Fear of a plague of homosexuals dismantling marriage, the family, the church and any other institution held vaguely dear? Again, that is not a fear but a reasonable expectation. It is what we all know is going to happen. What a lot of people want to happen. It may be a great thing, but it is not irrational for people who think it is a bad thing to fear it happening. Because it will.

  6. ‘Racism,” Islamophobia’, ‘Homophobia’, all used to silence dissent and therefore just meaningless gabble sounds and non-words to me.

  7. If you declare your opponents to be suffering from a mental illness, it removes any requirement on you to defend your views.

  8. Well, the article in the Guardian is boll0cks, that goes without saying, but the quotes Tim has selected make it appear to make rather more sense than it actually does.

    What’s the null hypothesis here?

  9. Incidentally, if it’s not fear but resentment and jealousy which drives homophobes – which would fit with semitophobia, darkie-phobia, and all the others – then would anyone like to suggest what about the ‘not-at-all-homophobic-I-just-don’t-like-bummers’ comments above conflict with the suggestion?

  10. Fear of a plague of homosexuals dismantling marriage, the family, the church and any other institution held vaguely dear? Again, that is not a fear but a reasonable expectation. It is what we all know is going to happen. What a lot of people want to happen. It may be a great thing, but it is not irrational for people who think it is a bad thing to fear it happening. Because it will.

    Really, Butt Munch, you need to stop typing drivel.

  11. Oh god, now Arnald’s turned up just to add the opposite extremist view (in his usual charming fashion) as well.

  12. Dave – “Incidentally, if it’s not fear but resentment and jealousy which drives homophobes – which would fit with semitophobia, darkie-phobia, and all the others – then would anyone like to suggest what about the ‘not-at-all-homophobic-I-just-don’t-like-bummers’ comments above conflict with the suggestion?”

    Well I can’t speak for anyone else, but in my case, it is definitely deeply repressed same sex desire. I am working on it and hope to be out of the closet by 2016.

    For the others, perhaps it is that they recognise Gay activists are a boring, self righteous, smug, intolerant group of quasi-Fascists who can’t rest at night for fear someone, somewhere, doesn’t take their dear little causes as seriously as they do? Perhaps the readership as a whole has no problem with Gay people (although not me obviously as mentioned above) as long as they do whatever they want to do quietly and peacefully while leaving everyone else alone. You know, in the traditional quietly tolerant British manner. Instead of putting themselves at the centre of their own private drama by hectoring every one else.

    I think that about covers it. Doesn’t it?

  13. “in the traditional quietly tolerant British manner.”

    What you mean the one that sent homosexuals to prison only fifty years ago and saw the police force splitting its time between trapping queers in the bogs and raiding porn shops when the bungs weren’t big enough ? As far as I can see the hectoring intolerance of some Gay activists is pretty much par for the course as far as that mythical British tolerance goes.

  14. Thornavis. – “What you mean the one that sent homosexuals to prison only fifty years ago and saw the police force splitting its time between trapping queers in the bogs and raiding porn shops when the bungs weren’t big enough ?”

    Yeah that one. Because after all that is not what happened. The British police left people alone unless they insisted on going to Court. Oscar Wilde was not tried because he was Gay. He could have been homosexual to his heart’s content. As long as he kept it to himself. He chose to sue. Leaving the police no choice. Alan Turing, likewise, was not hunted down. One of his rent boys stole from him and Turing made it clear to the police what was going on.

    And frankly, what is wrong with trying to stop people having sex in public toilets? They are for the public. To use. Not to have sex in. It is not unreasonable to ask they get a room is it?

  15. Ah yes, referencing the Navy, but up SMFB’s alley

    “Homosexuals can’t… swim… they attract enemy radar, they attract sharks… they insist on being placed at the Captain’s Table, they… get up late, they nudge people whilst they’re shooting, they muck about… imagine the fear of knowing you have a gay man on board a boat, when you retire at night, you think to yourself, “God… will I wake up and find everybody dead?””

  16. Fear of a plague of homosexuals dismantling marriage, the family, the church and any other institution held vaguely dear? Again, that is not a fear but a reasonable expectation.

    I’d have to disagree there; quite a lot of the gay man dem (and tribadists, come to that) want to get married and are making a lot of noise about it. The church is happily dismantling itself by beating itself up over it (despite being an above-average employer of gay men for generations) and having silly arguments about women bishops.

    As for marriage, I reckon what did for that was the twin rise of easier divorce, and a pathetic modern delusion that everyone is “worth it” and therefore deserves to have “the one.” 400 years ago you’d marry the person in the next village with the fewest skin diseases and the most goats; now because theoretically you could marry anyone in the world everyone thinks that if aren’t completely happy all the fucking time there must be something wrong with their marriage…

  17. SMfS
    Often it was entrapment. The fact remains that homosexuality was illegal and a situation where homosexuals were effectively reliant on plod turning a blind eye to stay out of prison is not my idea of quiet tolerance. My real point was that this myth that we all love to cling to that the British are an easy going live and let live sort of people is actually harmful. It encourages hypocrisy and injustice and leaves us indifferent to the erosion of our liberties, something we are about to see again I fear, because obviously being the freedom lovers that we are we could never find ourselves with a state controlled press could we ? Those Gays and their allies who wish to impose their political preferences on everyone else are just the latest aspect of this supposed tolerance of difference disguising darker motives.

  18. SMFS>

    You may not be a repressed homosexual, given your expressed distaste solely for ‘boring, self righteous, smug, intolerant [...] quasi-Fascists who can’t rest at night for fear someone, somewhere, doesn’t take their dear little causes as seriously as they do’. If we take that at face value, it’s more likely you’re (evidently with only partial success) repressing your desire to be boring, self-righteous, smug, intolerant, and so-on.

    That said, your spurious link between the Stonewall activists straight out of the Greenpeace public sector parasite handbook and homosexuality does make one wonder: why such irrationality?

  19. And frankly, what is wrong with trying to stop people having sex in public toilets? They are for the public. To use. Not to have sex in.

    agreed but given that one imagines they aren’t a very nice place to have sex in, what with smelling of wee and other people’s famed inability to aim after around 6pm (and if you’ve ever been in a railway station lavatory you’ll know what I mean) and the chance of someone having a massive post-lunch crap in the next cubicle one assumes, surely, that people went there because of a lack of alternative? Viz. they couldn’t ‘get a room’ for various reasons.

  20. Oh, that first paragraph could probably have done with a smiley…

    SE #20>

    OK, so what do you propose? You still haven’t given a null hypothesis you’d like us to work from.

  21. Dave,

    I thought that was exactly what I had done.

    “not all non-approval of your favoured cause x is caused by irrational fear or mental illness”

    You could extend it to “aspects of your favoured cause”. Surely that is the generic null hypothesis alternative to “fear of what lurks repressed and unacknowledged in the x-phobe”?

    I would suggest that very little genuine Islamophobia (and I suspect that there are some people with a genuine irrational fear of Islam) is caused by a repressed desire to spend much of Friday on your knees in the local mosque – for example.

  22. SE>

    That’s not a hypothesis. It doesn’t propose anything. And I haven’t even mentioned mental illness. Or, for that matter, repression or fear. I mentioned resentment and jealousy.

    It will make discussions much clearer if you confine yourself to replying to what I actually said, rather than what you imagined I said or your invisible shoulder alien whispered in your ear that I said.

  23. …that people went there because of a lack of alternative? Viz. they couldn’t ‘get a room’ for various reasons.

    Not sure what George Michael’s excuse was…

  24. Sam>

    Never forget how screwed up people can be. There are undoubtedly those of a hetero-, homo-, bi-, or other- sexual persuasion who will enjoy having sex in public toilets precisely for the reasons you give not to want to do so.

  25. or just because it was written that it was wrong in a book that was written years ago? Like murder theft etc and lots of other things that weren’t beneficial to the survival of a neo-lithic tribe. Not everyone bases their morality on reason and logic

    And I’ll have to say I have alot of good friends who are homophobes! I live in Africa were shirt lifting is very much considered bad and majic jew worship good.

  26. That’s not a hypothesis. It doesn’t propose anything

    What? It proposes an alternative to the article’s two statements that:

    being anti-gay is, without exception, at least partly fuelled by fear

    and

    of course, never forget: fear of what lurks repressed and unacknowledged in the homophobe. Irrational fear.

    So, let’s take it carefully. I would suggest that the default position that we require evidence to move away from (i.e. the null hypothesis) is that “not all non-approval of aspects of your (generic – not Dave) favoured cause x (in the referenced post, homosexuality) is caused by (attributable to, if you prefer) irrational fear (the standard definition of ‘phobia’) or mental illness.”

    And I haven’t even mentioned mental illness. Or, for that matter, repression or fear. I mentioned resentment and jealousy.

    Actually, you mentioned very little indeed in the post at #8 that requested the null hypothesis. But I wasn’t addressing your post at #9, which asked a very different question – well, actually, it seemed to be derision posing as a rhetorical question rather than actually looking for an answer. And I didn’t realise I was required to be confining my critique to merely your comments.

  27. SE>

    You’re still persisting in thinking that dismissing one hypothesis serves as putting forwards an alternative. Are you suggesting the null hypothesis as far as explaining homophobia goes is that there’s no explanation and it’s a purely irrational belief?

    “And I didn’t realise I was required to be confining my critique to merely your comments.”

    Only if you don’t wish to cause confusion by addressing your comment to me and then talking about an argument I haven’t made. It really is a little odd to conflate my arguments with those I have specifically stated were bollocks in the post you claim to have been replying to.

  28. Arnald, don’t flatter yourself. SMFS is, broadly speaking, a rational human being with whom I politely* disagree. You’re a batshit extremist whose arguments are somewhat less intelligent than things I’ve sneezed into a hankie.

    [*For want of a better term. I don't want to confuse Arnald with long words or compound sentences.]

  29. Dave,

    You asked for a null hypothesis. I provided what I thought was a reasonable example You seem to be intelligent. I can’t see why you have completely inverted the one I gave.

    Here’s another try:

    “Some of what activists insist is x-phobia is actually rational dislike or distrust.”

    For whatever x you might be discussing. It certainly works for spiders (particularly if you’re Australian.)

  30. SE>

    Again, that’s not a hypothesis, it’s a negation of someone else’s hypothesis. For it to become a counter-hypothesis you need to add the word ‘because’ and follow it with an explanation.

    If I can return the ‘seem to be intelligent’ comment, I suspect we’re still talking at cross-purposes in some way because you seem to me to be missing something entirely obvious.

    What is the question you think would be explained by the null hypothesis we’re talking about?

  31. Or are we mis-communicating based on a differing understanding of “null hypothesis”. I am using it to mean the “nothing special to see here (possibly, ‘yet’)” version common to science. As in “none of the many deviations of our experimental data from that expected from current theories is statistically significant.”

    So, when somebody (not you) is insisting that all so-called-homophobia is irrational, you can have the alternatives: all homophobia is rational or some homophobia is rational. (Excepting the pendantic point that the very definition of phobias requires irrationality – which is then trivial.)

    I picked “some is not irrational” – okay, criticise me for the double negative if you must. And I amended that above.

    As an example, some people’s distrust of homosexuality will be cultural. They’ve been taught it is wrong. Some people’s distrust of homosexuality will be because of the media’s disproportionate coverage of male homosexual pedophilia as opposed any of the other varieties. Both of those may be based on poor evidence but that is wholly different from irrationality. Pace your comment to Arnald re SMFS, above.

  32. “The null hypothesis is the proposition that implies no effect or no relationship between phenomena.”

    There is no significant relation between ‘what the media describes as homophobia’ and irrational fear of or repressed homosexuality (SMFS being “the exception that proves the rule”, of course, and in knowledge of the original meaning of the word ‘proof’ in that context).

  33. Sorry, missed something …

    Arnaldophobia

    There is nothing, nothing-possibly, nothing-even-remotely-possibly-in-the-wilder-reaches-of-the-Copenhagen-Interpretation irrational about dislike and distrust of Arnald. Hence the above is a simple oxymoron. Where as Arnald is simply a …

  34. I think I begin to see the confusion – and we’re both working ont he same definition of the null hypothesis, although your definition in #40 isn’t a very good one.

    If we’re asking the question ‘what explains Y attitudes’ then ‘they are not explained by X’ is not the null hypothesis. The null hypothesis is what we return to when we have dismissed an argument, so must be either ‘they are not explained’ or ‘they are explained by something else’.

    If the theory is ‘Y attitudes are caused by X’, then the null hypothesis would be that they are not, which is presumably what you were talking about.

    I asked about the null hypothesis as a genuine question, because one might say that in the absence of evidence to the contrary the null hypothesis should be that an attitude (of any sort) is irrational. Equally, one might work from the assumption that all attitudes are rational until proven otherwise.

    I don’t think I’d thought it through that far, but that’s what I was getting at.

  35. “Whereas Arnald is simply a …”

    Arnald is ‘simply’ nothing. For instance, to call him ‘simply a cretin’ is not as accurate as to point out that he is a dunderheaded cretin with only the most tenuous grip on reality and a rather dubious claim to sentience, or that his idea of logic makes one wonder if he hasn’t spent the last ten years picking his nose with a jackhammer.

  36. I’m not quite sure what this discussion is all about. The orginal Guardian article suggests that homophobia, Islamophobia, etc can best be understood as a “fear of the other”. This is a common idea in the social sciences, the subject of much commentary and research, and (I would have thought) not a particularly contentious idea.

    So, yes, it’s irrational, and yes, it’s often combined with an action bias and a desire to seek simple solutions via heuristics. As several previous posts clearly (and sadly) demonstrate.

  37. The orginal Guardian article suggests that homophobia, Islamophobia, etc can best be understood as a “fear of the other”. This is a common idea in the social sciences.

    …but nevertheless a misuse of the suffix ‘-phobia’, which is accepted to mean “irrational fear of…”

    ergo I am scared of funnel web spiders which are extremely, and often fatally, venomous. This does not extend to a[n] irrational fear of all spiders in this country (though it might in their country of origin as I don’t trust myself to identify them correctly).

    Others have suggested that dislike may not always be based on fear. Ergo I dislike the taste of cheddar. I don’t fear it. Thus do we query the premise of using ”-phobia’

    Which is what this discussion is all about.

  38. “I dislike the taste of cheddar. I don’t fear it.”

    You are sadly naive, in that case. The cheeses are just biding their time.

  39. Slight quibble

    Sam @23 re homosexual toilet usage:

    “one assumes, surely, that people went there because of a lack of alternative? Viz. they couldn’t ‘get a room’ for various reasons.”

    Having started my sexual endeavors, not long after the period described, my memory was that two blokes attempting to get a room was simplicity itself. Whatever could they be expecting to do in it, other than sleep? It was getting a room to enable some rumpy pumpy with the opposite was the problem.

  40. @ Sam – Well, no, it’s not a misuse of the “phobia” suffix, because I don’t think this terms is generally used to describe legitimate concerns such as being killed (by a venomous spider or whatever) or a triviality of personal taste (though I accept that there may be people who are genuinely terrified of cheddar, in which case it would be a genuine phobia).

    Rather, the contention is that ” fear of the other” (as the term is used in the social sciences) is not a rational perspective as it’s not based on the reality of the nature of “the other” but simply on the fact of its difference, which might be anything, the nature of the difference itself being irrelevant.

  41. I used to be homophobic (for want of a better word)

    The main reasons were:
    - Growing up in a religious family
    - I hate being told what to think so I reacted to gay rights propaganda

    I was never scared of gays, and I changed my views when I realised how stupid it was to have a strong opinion on who other people shagged. Sharing a student house with a gay was a useful part of my “re-education” as was talking to an Indonesian boyfriend of his who explained that his sexuality was a serious crime at home. That is seriously irrational.

    So I have always objected to the homophobia word because I know that Irrational and intolerant as I was, I was never scared.

  42. The decline of classical education continues apace:

    I used to be homophobic …

    I was never scared of gays …

  43. Classical education has got nothing to do with it. If you used a literal translation from Ancient Greek, “homophobia” would mean “fear of the same”. We all know it means nothing of the kind. And most of us know that it means something like “irrational dislike of homosexuals”. Because words mean what people use them to mean. Because that’s what “mean” means.

    But Patrick Strudwick’s claim is that homophobia is “without exception, at least partly fuelled by fear”. He can’t possibly know that. I would however venture to suggest that there are quite a few homophobes who are indeed afraid of their own repressed homosexuality.

  44. This pinhead-dancing reminds me of various bigots on the far-left with problematic attitudes to Jews, who pretend that they aren’t antisemitic because Arabs are semites too.

    Antisemitic means “Jew-hating”. Homophobic means “gay-hating”; and “Islamophobic” means “Muslim-hating”. In all cases, the etymology is of only academic interest (I’m not, after all, writing this on a mechanical adding machine).

  45. What john b said, and extra points for using an example from the other end of the bigot spectrum. Words derive meaning from the way they’re used.

    Also, I’m beginning to come to the conclusion that SMFS is someone deliberately creating an example of Poe’s Law.

  46. No, SMFS is a genuine nutter. Unless the cover is so deep it’s forgotten about it and gone native.

    Not just on this….you guys need reading lessons if you can’t bring yourself round to believing me.

  47. If you used a literal translation from Ancient Greek, “homophobia” would mean “fear of the same”.

    Yes, indeed! This is also why words like “heteronormative” are nonsense: “the other is the rule”?

  48. Interesting word, “indeed”. It would seem to mean “in the act”. And yet you’ve used it to mean something like “very much so”.

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