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 people 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.