|Homophobia, like all phobias, is an extreme and abnormal fear. Literally, in this case, a fear of the same or a fear of other men. In our society however, homophobia has been defined more narrowly as the fear (and hatred) of gay (and bisexual) men (and of lesbians).
Unlike other phobias such as the abnormal fear of spiders, or the extreme fear of crowds, homophobia is not a psychological condition but a socially and institutionally conditioned fear. It is a fear created and cultivated primarily in men, and to a lesser in women, by the society in which we live.
Men must first ask themselves why gay and bisexual men are viewed with such fear and loathing by so many men in our society. In order for men to indiscriminately take on the fear and hatred of a group of men they do not know, they must somehow be seen collectively as a threat. The next question, of course, is why gay and bisexual men could possibly be seen as a threat to other, heterosexual men.
In a patriarchal society, gay and bisexual men could be seen as a threat to the construction and maintenance of the socially accepted "normal" form of masculinity, being a male. If heterosexual men rule, it becomes important to keep gay and bisexual men in their place, on the lowest rungs of the masculine hierarchy of power. One way of achieving this is to create an extreme, generalised fear and hatred of those men who are different. This hatred is also extended to any men, regardless of their sexuality, who don’t live up to the "normal" standard.
Gay and bisexual men may also pose a threat to heterosexual men because they do not continuously strive to meet the arbitrary, dominant form of masculinity. In fact, most gay and bisexual men actively reject what it means to be "a man". By personally and politically questioning what heterosexual men take as a given, or a right, gay and bisexual men increase the threat to heterosexism, or the social assumption that everyone is heterosexual. Men who deliberately reject homosexuality must be seen as a threat.
The other possible threat that gay and bisexual men may pose to heterosexual men is the apparent ease with which they seem to be able to be emotionally intimate with both men and women. Gay and bisexual men also seem to be able to distinguish between emotional, physical and sexual needs, and to act on the difference. For most heterosexual men, the ability to be intimate and the ability to distinguish the difference between intimacy and sex can be difficult, if not impossible.
Perhaps one of the greatest threats that gay and bisexual men present to heterosexual men is the fear of their own desires. Homophobia could act as a mechanism to help contain heterosexual men’s desires to be close, to be intimate and to connect with other men.
General statistics from sexuality research (from Kinsey in the 1940’s to current surveys) indicate that despite homophobic hatred, the sexual distinctions between heterosexual, bisexual and homosexual labels and behaviours may not be as clear as we might think.
And in a recent study:
- 50% of adult men admit to being sexually attracted to men
- 37% of men have had a same sex experience to ejaculation
- 30% of men had a same sex relationship between the ages of 20-24
We must wonder how these statistics might be different if we didn’t live in a homophobic society, a society where people are not only taught to hate gay and bisexual men, but a society that currently keeps men apart, emotionally isolated and living in fear so that they never trust each other or understand that other men experience the same feelings.
- 50% of men who labelled themselves as "very homophobic" were physically and sexually aroused by same sex pornography.
Homophobia still rules! It is a way of controlling and limiting masculinity, and therefore, men. It has a negative impact not only on gay and bisexual men, but on heterosexual men as well. Perhaps it is time for all men to challenge the irrational fears and limiting myths of homophobia.
WHAT HAS BEEN LEARNED CAN BE UNLEARNED.
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