Thursday, March 13, 2014

Homophobic Man struggles with his Fear

Dateline: New York—Morris Jenkins suffers from a debilitating fear of homosexuals, commonly called homophobia. When in the presence of gay people, he ceases to function.

“I remember the first time the terror struck me,” he said. “I was at work on my computer, sitting in my cubicle, and a co-worker told me he’s gay. My lower lip quivered, I screamed like I was looking into the face of Death, and I fell back away from him, landing on the floor and kicking my chair into the computer, shattering the screen.

“I turned over on my stomach and began clawing my way out of the cubicle, cutting my hands on the pieces of glass, gasping for breath and crying for help. My heart was hammering in my chest. The terrifying coworker tried to help me up and I shrieked and twisted my arm as I violently spun to avoid contact. I crab-walked out of the cubicle and ran to the opposite end of the office, clutching the wall behind me, sweating buckets and trying to catch my breath.

“By then, everyone in the office was standing and wondering what was going on. ‘Is it a terrorist attack?’ I heard someone ask.

“Despite my panic attack, I managed to get out, between deep breaths, ‘I think I’m homophobic.’

“‘No kidding!’ I heard the ghastly, gay coworker mutter.

“I’ve been that way ever since. No matter what I’m doing, if a Dreaded One shows up I’m gripped by fear and I just need to get as far away as possible. Once, I was driving and I saw two women with short hair walking by and holding hands. I slammed on the brakes, got rear ended, and then I reversed direction, floored it, nearly ran over an old man, and plowed into a McDonald’s. I kicked open the car door, wildly pulling hair out of my head with my bare hands and warning everyone that lesbians were probably nearby.

“They looked at me like I was insane. Absolutely insane. Of course! I thought. What do they know of my condition? They’re not homophobic.”

Morris spent several months in jail for reckless driving, because homophobia isn’t recognized as a clinical disorder.

“The very worst time,” he continued, “was when I once took a wrong turn downtown. I saw a commotion down the street and when I arrived I realized too late my tragic mistake. I’d stepped right into a Gay Pride parade. I collapsed and writhed on the ground, balling up into a fetal position and crying for my mother. Someone called for an ambulance and when the first responders arrived, with tears running down my cheeks and my voice hoarse from screaming, I whispered that I’m homophobic.

“I remember the medics looked puzzled, like they had no knowledge of such a paralyzing fear of homosexuals. That was when I began to notice something that’s confused me to this day. I went to an anti-homosexuality rally to talk to fellow homophobes, but the people there seemed much more angry than petrified.

“Of course, hundreds of gay men and women showed up as well and started a counter-rally. And naturally, as soon as I caught sight of them I launched myself up a telephone pole, crying to the Lord for mercy, wailing and sobbing until my throat was raw, like a forlorn prophet aghast at a vision of demons.

“I chanced to look below and was surprised to find that instead of running for the hills, the anti-gay people stood their ground and even spat insults into the others’ horrific faces. And yet the Dreaded Ones called them homophobes.

“Meanwhile, I gripped that telephone pole, my knuckles white, and I prayed for the strength to hang on—to avoid the hideous prospect of landing in a crowd of the horrors, of course, but also because I felt I didn’t belong in the camp of those so-called homophobes. Why aren’t the eyes bulging from the anti-gay people’s skulls? I thought. Why aren’t they begging to be left alone? What tremendous courage they must have had to have stood so close to the monsters without defecating in their pants.

“No, I know now I’m the only one of my kind: a homophobe who actually fears homosexuals.”


  1. Easy to imagine a homophobe taking this and running with it. Benefit of the doubt, I assume this post is strawman-mocking.

    Jokes aside, and for the record, the real story is that between age 2 and 6 (or so), a vulnerable identity-forming time, kids are pushed, via well-established, fairly rigid symbolic structures (the categories are rigid though the details change -- blue and pink are arbitrary, for example) into the categories male and female. Accept the prefab identity or build an identity from scratch. Kids can't do the latter. But adult identity is built on that foundation, the loss of which would involve the loss of later additions as well. At the root of it all is the pain of realizing one has to choose between male and female at an age when one is both, or neither. Boys have to crush the girl, as socially constructed (having empathy, liking aesthetically pleasing, i.e., pretty things), in themselves.

    Homophobia is not the fear of homosexuals, it's the fear of being homosexual, which means being the wrong gender. It's worse to be the wrong gender when that gender is the systematically, historically shat upon gender, i.e., female. Male hetero homophobes, the source of the problem, are terrified of being women, terrified that they may not have crushed every last bit of femininity, as socially, dualistically constructed, in themselves.

    Is there a better word than homophobe? Loss-of-socially-constructed-dualistically-defined-gender-identity-phobia clearly doesn't work.

    1. I agree that some extent of our identities is socially constructed, but I think our identities are also biologically formed. You left out puberty and the rush of hormones which drive our sexual attractions. I don't think kids younger than 6 are sexually attracted to anything. I agree they're taught to be masculine or feminine, but I'm not sure whether that social pressure can overcome the biological force of the hormones that flows later on in puberty.

      Your interpretation of homophobia is the one that's dramatized in the movie American Beauty in which the homophobe turns out ironically to be a closeted homosexual. This is the idea that those who seem to hate gay people the most are actually protesting too much. You see this in Republican circles, where the macho Republicans turn out to be gay.

      So I agree there are such closed gay people who overcompensate for the sexuality they're afraid of owning up to. There are some people who are only superficially opposed to homosexuality, because they're covering up for the fact that deep down they're gay or at least more feminine than they care to admit (or if they're female homophobes, they're more masculine than they admit).

      But notice that this analysis assumes that homophobia is about hatred rather than just fear. This closeted gay person will overcompensate by *hating* rather than just fearing gay people. The unconscious fear causes the conscious hatred as a coverup. Thus, the homophobe will be like the woman in the picture at the top of this article. She'll go to the rallies and carry around those hateful signs.

      So all homophobes will display hatred or disgust rather than just fear. You're positing fear as the ultimate cause of their behaviour, and I assume you're right about at least some homophobes. I don't know, though, whether everyone who has negative feelings about gay people is covering up for his or her own insecurities. Thus, I don't know whether fear really is at the root of all so-called homophobia. At any rate, you seem to be agreeing that the fear element of homophobia is unconscious and that the surface emotions are disgust and hatred. That's why it is indeed strange to picture--as I do in this article--a homophobic person being consciously terrified of gay people.

  2. I think it's a good piece - are they homophobic, or do we just want to call them that because we want it to be fear, rather than a sort of psychotic violence?

    I guess it's a thing about phobias - people often seek treatment for their own phobias, because it gets in the way of their lives.

    But who seeks a treatment for their own hatreds?

    Thus hatred (like ravening hatred, just as much as a phobia isn't 'that's a bit scary' it's a ravening fear) doesn't have any widely understood in culture position as a 'condition' like phobias do.

    I'll go out on a limb: It reminds me of my own questioning of 'male privilege' - in the case of this article, fear isn't really involved. In terms of sexual assault and rape, 'privilege' isn't involved (nobodies granting such a 'privilege'). It's like naming slavery as 'plantation owner privilege' or the holocaust as 'Nazi privilege'. Anyway, I thought I'd pitch in some controversy since you pitched some controversy my way, Ben! :)

    1. Yeah, I think that calling opposition to homosexuality a matter mainly of fear is a political tactic, since it belittles the opposition. Fear is usually pathetic, whereas if it turns out that anti-gay folks hate gay people, these opponents themselves become scary. It's a question of who holds the power. If homosexuality is scary and the Christian right-wingers are merely afraid, it's the gays who have power over the right-wingers, just as if someone fears insects, insects have power over that person.

    2. Makes talking straight difficult.

      Dang, genuinely didn't mean a pun when I said that! But yeah, when we call it fear but were dealing with hate, then talk isn't really dealing with it.

  3. There's some degree of biological hard-wiredness to be sure, and it's all biology in the end. I'm talking about the timeline as it relates to external pressures. You're right that kids under six don't have sexual thoughts. That's part of the problem, arguably, that they're forced into sexual identities prematurely. My main point is that the whole process gets rushed and interfered with via social constructs applied with ostracization (death of identity) threats in a way that leads to terrible outcomes like misogyny and homophobia. The most outspoken homophobes are the ones who show the most irritation at accusations of femininity. And again, I'm agreeing that the term is awkward at best.

    1. Yes, I think we're mostly agreeing. You're right to point out the fear element in the case of those right-wingers who protest too much, because they're scared they're not as masculine as they'd like or as they were trained to be.

      Whether there's a better label than "homophobia" isn't the point. Of course, there are always options in naming things. My point is that the choice of "homophobia" as a label is political, not remotely medical or scientific. It's a matter of tilting the board in favour of gay people, by making their opponents seem merely afraid and thus pathetic and powerless.

      I'm not saying that opposition to homosexuality is respectable. I just don't like comforting lies.