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HOMOPHOBIA

Why have homosexuals been persecuted and despised for centuries? What is the basis of homophobia (the fear of homosexuality)? There are three major theories. One holds that our society is sexually repressed and that homophobia is only one aspect of a more general condemnation of sexuality. While most people would agree that Western society is repressive, the theory does not explain why gays have been singled out with such particular animosity. A second theory, derived from Freud, holds that we are all born bisexual, with the capacity to respond erotically to members of either sex. The homophobe, according to this theory, is the person who has not come to grips with his own latent homosexuality, who has neither adequately repressed nor accepted it. Instead of hating himself, the homophobe turns his anger against other homosexuals a classic case of "projection."

The third theory is more recent. Research by social psychologists suggests that homophobia crops up in a society that maintains a strict distinction between male and female roles, especially one that assigns power and high status to men and dependence and low status to women. Gay people are feared and hated because they are perceived as challenging this distinction, muddying the otherwise pure, clear waters of gender-linked behavior. A gay man who could enjoy all the privileges of masculinity (respect, a good job, legal and economic superiority) is seen as willfully and perversely throwing away these advantages and embracing the lower status of a woman. Conversely, lesbians are seen as wanting to usurp male privileges. All the stereotypes invented by the straight world to punish gay people (the sissy faggot, the mannish lesbian) are designed to protect a breakdown of gender distinctions and of the unequal and unfair world of power, status, and wealth they represent. We can call this the Gender Theory of Homophobia, as it says that homosexuality as a social role rather than as a sexual practice is what upsets some straights.

It's ironic that society should define homosexuality as deficient masculinity. History is replete with examples of gay (or bisexual) military leaders who were every bit as capable as straight generals in the supposedly masculine arena of brutality and conquest. Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, General Gordon of Khartoum, and Lord Kitchener all had male lovers.

There was a time when gay liberationists were sensitive to questions about the masculinity of gay men. We used to say that gender identity (our feeling of maleness or femaleness) was independent of our sexual identity (gay or straight). Like the society around us, we didn't want to be identified as deficient men or, to put it another way, perceived as being like women. Although we didn't know it then, we were still identifying with society's concept of masculinity, and we chastised effeminate gay men for not being masculine enough.

There are many gay men who feel comfortable that their personalities contain both masculine and feminine components. There are gay men who feel the feminine side is the stronger and who go out of their way to nurture it. One also finds androgynous gay men expressing maleness or femaleness according to the occasion. Deprecating any of them is homophobic, whether the put-down comes from another gay man or from someone straight (see Effeminacy).

We believe that the Gender Theory of Homophobia outlined above best explains the hatred much of straight society has toward gay men and women. In fact, we believe it also explains internalized homophobia. The self-hating homosexual hates himself because he feels deficient as a man, and his self-hate is projected upon all other gay men. He can have sex in the dark or admire the masculinity of straight men, but he will be incapable of establishing an intimate relationship, because it will mirror his hatred of himself.

Self-hating homosexuals are in a state of emotional conflict. Guilt plunges them into an "approach-avoidance" pattern, as psychologists call it. As they approach a lover, get to know him, they are happy and hopeful. But once the affair looks as though it might work, they back way and avoid the beloved, because the intimacy upsets them. As they withdraw, they breathe a sigh of relief, glad to be rid of this latest entanglement . . . but then they are once again alone and miserable. Loneliness drives them to attempt a new affair, with the same disastrous results. These dynamics are seldom expressed at the conscious level of a person's life. There's always something wrong with the new lover: He's lousy in bed; he's too young, too old, to extroverted or introverted. But the real reason such a man rejects his lover is self-hate for not being the man his parents (and society) demanded that he be.

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