I don’t get it.

Is that too obvious of a statement, that I don’t understand homophobia? Fine. I’ll start with something a little more specific.

I don’t understand the word “homophobia.” Because of course, the suggested root meaning is irrational fear of homosexuals. (All right, I agree with part of that — it’s certainly irrational.) But homophobia isn’t used to describe fear of — even if that was the original meaning. It’s hatred. It’s the sexual orientation version of racism. It’s orientationism.

(Though, homophobia also seems to get used to describe the same feelings towards any queer identity, not limited to homosexuality. I guess the homophobes don’t care to correctly classify their prejudice.)

Of course, dictionary.com manages to cover its bases — “unreasoning fear of or antipathy toward homosexuals and homosexuality.” The word has come to mean “antipathy toward” but it sneaks in the fear clause to satisfy the Greek roots, the real meaning.

Plus, as New Orleans Saints linebacker Scott Fujita says, “People do call it homophobia, and even that term alone is interesting to me. Because I don’t even know how they call it homophobia, because that’s a fear of the same. It’s more heterophobia. It’s a fear of something different from yourself,” according to Xtra West.

So the only part of the word that really fits is its irrationality. Though I guess I can accept the “homo” prefix as easier to understand by the ignorant — and easier to say than homosexophobia or something. Queerphobia.

So that brings us back to the phobia. I mean, I guess there’s the proffered fear of the “gay agenda,” the fear that the gays will ruin, I don’t know, good ol’ antiquated so-called family values by subverting the minds of today’s youth and eventually taking over the world. Like some kind of queer Illuminati conspiracy. (I sense a story idea coming on.)

But again, the real meaning has come to be hatred, prejudice, not fear. Is this just another example of evolving language? At some point the word did refer to the fear of its subversion, or something similar, and since then has entered the common vernacular to the point that trying to coin a more appropriate term is doomed to failure.

But then, maybe there is something to the idea of fear, even on an individual level, today. But it’s not a fear of homosexuals. I think it’s a fear of being thought homosexual. Or being homosexual. And the antipathy just stems from that motivation.

After all, many straight males* do anything to avoid people thinking they’re gay. Calling a straight guy a fag could be more of an insult to them than calling a gay guy a fag (especially since that word may be on its way to being totally coopted by the gay community as much as queer was). And most of the guys I know who are truly not homophobic are the ones who don’t care what people think of them.

So maybe in that way, the word does make sense, it does work. And maybe what it will take to end homophobia is for people to realize that — realize that it’s their own fear of being thought gay. Because if they can manage to get over themselves and be comfortable with who they are and stop caring what other peopleĀ  think, they can let everyone else do the same and live in peace.

But maybe that’s too much to ask.


*My experience is almost solely with male homosexuality, rather than any other queer identity, so that’s what I’m using for reference. Apologies if I overlook other viewpoints.

Sexuality , , , , ,


  1. Framing the opposing viewpoint as fear is actually good business. People are afraid of things like tigers and bears. That’s good company to be in. And by bears, I mean like actual bears. Not the ones at the Pumpjack.

    • Lucas J.W. Johnson

      When people are afraid of something they perceive as a danger, the common response is, for example, to shoot the bear. So not necessarily company I want to be in.

  2. On the definition of the word, sometimes we have to use the vernacular, regardless of how it might make us cringe. Very interesting post.

  3. Pingback: An open letter to Blake Skjellerup « Words and Things

  4. Phobia comes from the Greek phobos. Therefore all prefixes shouldB Greek too…. arachni (spider) = arachnophobia, agora (open space) = agoraphobia, acros (top) = acrophobia, ophis (snake) = ophidiophobia, xenos (stranger) = xenophobia. There are exceptions, but this is a general rule of thumb.

    Homophobia is made up of a Greek root with an abbreviation of the modern homosexual ( from Latin), Incongruous! It is more likely, culturally, that homophobia is the fear of a sidedish made from chickpeas and sesame seeds, with a dash of lemon!!!!!

    So the way I see it, fear of same-sex relationships should be idiophilophobia!

    As a personal aside; I was born male, but with no genitalia. I have suffered extended social phobia. But is that xenophobia? Xenophobia is the fear of the alien, but usually refers to “foreigners”.

    Or is there a fear of zero sexuality? Thenfilophobia? Aphilophobia?

    Hugz, Will

  5. Random

    I guess it’s just easier to say. I do think it’s just English changing itself and just because the root meaning of the word phobia means fear of, doesn’t mean it’s not interchangeable with irrational hatred of.
    Us laymen frequently misuse words in order to get our message across, for example one might say, “I’ve read this book literally a million times.” Now, if you fail to take into account the nuanced literally, one could interpret that statement to mean that the person in question has read the book at least a million times. In reality the word literally in this context is merely used in order to emphasize a particular position, ie, the person really loves the book and has subsequently read it alot of times. This is what happens because spoken English does not always follow rules of grammar, punctuation ect.
    People rarely mean what they say, or say what they actually mean. Seriously, try it out for yourself. Take everything someone tells you at face value and literally. It’s quite amusing.

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