Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Examiner: Trifecta of discrimination | Homophobia towards gay men


Though gay men and lesbians are equally exposed to homophobic attacks and discrimination, it often seems that men are more frequently the targets of virulently anti-gay slurs, violence and murder. I’ve mentioned homophobia in the context of discussing homophobia in the workplace,gay stereotypes, gay bullying and the overuse of the phrase “that’s so gay,” but being queer seems to be the one context where being female is an advantage.

Gay men get bashed more often. Gay men get murdered more frequently. Gay youth account for 40% of the runaways seeking help. I wager the male to female ratio in that 40% is skewed towards males. The suicide rate is higher amongst men. When you read about an attack against a transgendered individual, it is usually a MTF.

Whereas I do not want to diminish the hateful actions directed towards women, I can't help but ponder the disparity in frequency and intensity of attack. Contemplating why this discrepancy exists involves looking into the dark, dank, stuffy corners of the male psyche. This may be a strange place for a lesbian to wander, but half the planet is male and understanding the male psyche is key to understanding the world we live in.

I read a study by Michael Flood that analyzed the connection between masculinity and homophobia that provided an interesting perspective.

Masculinity is defined as essentially heterosexual and defined against or in opposition to homosexuality, as well as femininity. "Real" men are heterosexual men, and the dominant model of masculinity is of a heterosexual masculinity. Homophobia is a constitutive part of heterosexual masculinities, and this involves the expulsion or denial of homoerotic desire [Epstein & Johnson, 1994: 204].
Growing up, men are faced with the continual threat of being seen as gay and the continuous challenge of proving that they are not gay. In short, boys and men are kept in line by homophobia. Step outside the boundaries of masculine behaviour and you're immediately faced with verbal and physical attack. Homophobia leads men to limit their loving and close friendships with other men. The fear of being identified as a "poofter" leads men to behave in hypermasculine and aggressive ways and to close up emotionally.

A number of other points are relevant here.
• Homophobia functions if you like as the dragon at the gates of an alternative masculinity; it polices the boundaries of conventional masculinity. On the one hand, homosexuality is perceived as gender betrayal. On the other, deviation from dominant masculinity is perceived to be homosexual.
• [extra point] This conflation or slide between gender and sexual orientation is evident when I say I'm doing research on masculinity and people respond with comments about gays, or when men making critical comments about masculinity are taken to be gay.
• Gay men have a different experience of masculinity to heterosexual men. While gay men get some of the privileges of being male, they also suffer oppression and discrimination because of their sexual identity.
• The issue of homophobia also shows the power relations between men. Gay men suffer oppression at the hands of heterosexual men similar to those inflicted on women; they are bashed and killed by heterosexual male gangs and mocked for their "effeminacy". More generally, heterosexual men receive social status and approval as heterosexual men, while gay men do not (at least in the straight world).
• It has been encouraging to see growing attention to homophobia among men in the men's movement and others concerned with men and masculinity. However, so far this "homophobia" has often been understood in the men's movement as referring mainly to the fear of intimacy between men. Less attention is given to other aspects of homophobia -- the contempt and attacks directed specifically at gay men because of their sexuality, and the discriminations and injustices that gay men face. Gay politics involves a wider critique of the fact of "compulsory heterosexuality" and the heterosexist ideology that says being straight is "natural" or biologically determined, and we must also incorporate this more fundamental critique.
• [A new point] Boys' and men's violence has become the focus of growing public concern and action. We cannot address this violence without also addressing homophobia. Homophobia and heterosexism are directly implicated for example in boys' and men's bashings and abuse towards other boys and men, in the young male recreational sport of `poofter-bashing' and in other hate crimes directed at those who are non-heterosexual or who are perceived to be non-heterosexual, and in some forms of violence directed at women (such as abuse of lesbians).

The strong relationship between homophobia and masculinity is also a factor in boys' and men's practice of date or acquaintance rape and other forms of sexual violence. Boys and men may seek to have sex with women to prove to themselves and to others that they are heterosexual, to prove their manhood and to gain status among their peers.

• As a general comment, I want to say that the issue of homophobia is not "just a gay issue", but a crucial one for all men and for any consideration of how to change masculinity. If we want to understand how boys and men are kept within the boundaries of dominant masculinity, if we want to understand the diverse realities of men's lives and the power relations between men, then we have to look at homophobia.
• Heterosexual men can only benefit by becoming aware of homophobia. If we are less distanced from gay men and less bothered by the idea that others may see us as gay, then we're far more able to step outside conventional masculinity. We're able to seek greater closeness and intimacy with other men and allow ourselves a more emotional and sensual personality. If the psychosexual dynamic of homophobia is removed from our senses of self and from our relations, we will feel less compelled to constantly prove ourselves and to do power to others in the name of our maleness. We will less afraid of and hostile to sexual diversity. Like the slogan says on a t-shirt I wear, men can be "straight but not narrow".

One of the roles heterosexual men can take up here is to act as allies to gay and bisexual boys and men. We can acknowlege gay boys' and men's existence, affirm the validity of gay sexuality, defend gay boys and men from attack and support gay and lesbian struggles.

Just when I thought women had a lot of 'rules,' I discover men have an equally insane set of criteria defining gender. One would think that gender roles and the definition of male and female would be less constrictive. There is clearly an enormous amount of variation in the way that people express themselves. Whereas I understand how the roles evolved anthropologically and sociologically, it would seem that there is some latitude in the modern age to allow for a more diverse expression of the masculine.

In the process of watching “The Bible told me so,” I stumbled upon the best explanation that I have seen thus far. It is a rapid fire sequence of clips about 0:40 into the 8th installment of the documentary.


Reverend Dr. Laurence C. Keene
“The consequence of homophobia is to stereotype gay people and then to define them in negative ways and once we do that we are able to treat them negatively and brutally. Fear does terrible things to a society.”

Rabbi Brian Zachary Mayer
“It is the cheapest way of getting the feeling that we’re a group, a family, a something is to make an ‘other’ and it’s throughout history, with all different groups, it’s civil rights with the blacks, anti-Semitism with Jews…to have an ‘other’ and homosexuals, unfortunately, are the new ‘other.’”

Reverend Irene Monroe
“There is something about human nature to always look for an outsider, something that is different and something, indeed, that is different we do have tremendous fear about it and, of course, ostensibly, we also have ignorance about it.”

Bishop Gene Robinson
“The thing that frightens men about homosexuality is that they think about a man allowing himself to be treated like a woman and there’s nothing worse…nothing so flying in the face of patriarchy than for a privileged man, privileged by being male rather than female, to allow himself to be treated like a female. Ugh, who would want that?”

Rabbi Steven Greenberg
“It is the hatred of women that is the fuel of this whole thing. When the coach wants to humiliate his team, he calls them a bunch of girls. Why does that work? Because the worst thing you can do to a man is call him a woman. Men who are not men in whatever way the patriarchy wants us to be threatens masculine power and it is too much to bear.”

Reverend Professor Peter J. Gomes
“So if you combine our fear of the other, our fear of sex and our fear of the feminine, homophobia is well-grounded in our psyche.”

Hmmm, so attacks against gay males are another expression of misogyny, but men are paying the price for it at the hands of other men?!?! That’s twisted. As a gay female I’m probably never going to understand the synaptic process of men. Establishing masculinity by attacking someone who has done nothing to you seems totally ineffective, useless and lacking in logical continuity.

One doesn’t have to look far these days to find extreme examples of homophobia in the paper, online, in the news, etc. If any of the aforementioned perspectives/philosophies regarding homophobia against males is accurate, then we are dealing with a nasty little trifecta of hatred/fear of women, fear of sex and fear of the unknown. History has proven the extent to which fear can lead humans down a dark path, shaping our behavior and allowing us to rationalize the most heinous of actions as just, warranted and necessary.

E: meanderingmuse@comcast.net
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