It might seem bizarre for me as a gay man to try to take a sympathetic view on homophobia, but that is precisely the reason why I feel as if I should try. I have to know why people, who I have never met and that know nothing about me, have decided to hate me on principle. I know there is that well known saying among the gay community “it’s not a phobia; you’re not scared, you’re just an asshole”; but I don’t think that that is entirely true. I think that while homophobia is obviously a reprehensible and incredibly offensive thing – there is more to it than people simply choosing to be cruel.
This is an interesting subject for me as, while it is not something that is commonly talked about – in fact although I have seen it often enough that it seems almost commonplace I can’t recall anyone ever mentioning it – a surprisingly large amount of gay men (women too for all I know) are heterophobic. Let me clarify: it’s not really a fear of straight people , we don’t have hate groups, we don’t go around beating up straight people’ and we aren’t trying to ban straight marriage. It’s true I have often heard the cry ‘I can’t stand straight people!’ but it’s always been said in jest, and considering that all of us interact and create friendships with straight people daily it’s hardly as if we’re crazy radicals.
What there is, for a lot of people, is a simple knee-jerk reaction to something that’s different. I’d like to emphasise that this by no means comes from all gay people, just a select few, and that it in no way translates into dislike. I am completely willing to admit that I don’t like to think about straight sex, the thought makes me uncomfortable and to be honest it just seems a little bit gross. Nevertheless, me not particularly wanting to think about a person’s sex life has absolutely no bearing on my ability to be friends with them.
Homophobia is a terrible and destructive thing, but if I too feel some instinctive reaction towards the sex lives of people of a different sexual orientation to me, then surly I can empathise in some slight way with homophobic people. Fear of the unknown and fear of the different is inbuilt in all human beings; whether it is fear of the dark or fear of change, it all stems from the same point and it is what I believe is the root of homophobia.
But if someone lets this feeling of discomfort dictate their attitudes towards people or uses it as an excuse to justify an act of cruelty, then I have no shred of sympathy. Nothing justifies persecution and nothing justifies wilful cruelty. The fact that it’s also cowardice makes it worse, not better. Having the courage to open your mind enough to accept someone the way they are should not be seen as impressive, it should be expected.
I believe that the only reason that there are no straight hate groups out there is that straight people are seen as normal, even people I know who don’t have a homophobic bone in their body still view us as the ‘different’ ones. Until society as a whole views everyone as normal no matter what their sexual orientation, then homophobia will always exist – the fear of the different is too strong. This fear has started religious wars and, in all probability, was the beginning of racism.
We as a society have managed to overcome these past mistakes – in ideal at least if not always in practice– and accepting people’s ethnic and religious differences is the new normal. I hope that this happens for gay people as well; so that a priest preaching against gay rights will be met with the same indignation as if he were preaching racism today.