It’s June, and Pride season has begun. Nothing seems to promote LGBTQ visibility more than a Pride celebration – and, predictably, when Pride celebrations are held, all kinds of homophobia starts to come out of the closet. While some of these forms of homophobia are obvious, some are more subtle and covert, harder to put your finger on – and, as a result, maddeningly difficult to counter.
Martin Kantor, psychiatrist and author of the book Homophobia: The State of Sexual Bigotry Today, offers a brilliant analysis of the wide range of motives behind homophobia. Throughout his book, using a psychoanalytic perspective, Kantor provides a typology of various forms of homophobia, essentially cutting them down to size by giving them a name – which I find to be enormously helpful. There are times where I find myself in a situation, and some homophobic act occurs, and I think to myself, “I know that was homophobic, but I don’t know why.” It’s extremely unsettling to not know why, and as a result it’s very difficult to take purposeful action. Kantor, in effect, tells us why. And he uses the power of words to name the homophobia, empowering us to take action against it.
Here’s a perfect example. Read this excerpt from a recently published letter to the editor of a Bozeman, Montana newspaper:
Why do you have to openly march on the streets of Bozeman? Not all people flaunt their lifestyles before the public. Can’t you quietly live your lifestyles like we do? Just live the lifestyle you’ve chosen and keep quiet. If everyone with grievances to air acted like your group, our news media would be very busy. Why were you unhappy before you came out? Why does it please you that Bozeman officials condone your actions? Can’t you live among us and remain silent and happy?
The word “flaunt” is what catches my eye in this letter. Lots of people say, “I’m okay with gay people – but I hate that they feel the need to flaunt it!” This is what Kantor refers to as projective homophobia. Instead of recognizing and dealing with the discomfort within themselves, people who make these kinds of statements project their discomfort onto the “flaunters,” expecting them to change so that they can feel okay. Essentially, the meta-message behind a statement like “Can’t you live among us and remain silent and happy?” is something like this: “Can’t you be quiet so I can be comfortable?” If only the drag queens, and the men wearing nothing but leather chaps, and the two women kissing each other would just go away, then all would be fundamentally well with the world.
Sometimes the more subtle fear embodied in projection gives way to a more obviously histrionic fear. In response to an article published in an Indiana newspaper titled, “Not all flamboyant: Gay pride festival expands kids events,” a commenter stated the following:
“I’m not sure this is an environment I would expose my kids to.”
Another commenter simply said this:
“Recruiting the children into their lifestyle.”
These statements reflect what Kantor would refer to as histrionic homophobia – the “Chicken Little” version of homophobia, if you will. This overdramatized fear of the impact of homosexuality on children was used very skillfully by Anita Bryant in her 1970s and 1980s “Save Our Children” campaign, and it continues to be used to erode LGBTQ rights. The power of this form of homophobia lies in the drama and the emotionality of it – when someone engages in histrionics, it’s hard not to get caught up in the drama and resort to emotional reasoning. And the idea that being gay is catching is definitely dramatic and emotional.
One of the most powerful and primitive forms of homophobia Kantor talks about is paranoid homophobia. To cite an example, in Moscow, Russia this past week, a group of LGBTQ activists staged two demonstrations for the right to have a Pride parade in the city. St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city, already has a law that makes it a crime to spread “gay propaganda” among young people, and the Russian parliament is considering extending the measure nationwide. (QUIZ: Does this sound like histrionic homophobia to you?) In this climate, it’s not surprising that former Mayor Yuri Luzhkov described Pride parades as “satanic,” and that one counter-demonstrator held up a sign that said, “MOSOCOW IS NOT SODOM.” When one’s homophobia deteriorates into a fear of “catching the gay” and eventually leading to the downfall of civilization, then we’re definitely in the realm of paranoia. And it’s the paranoiacs that are most likely to act out and engage in hate-motivated violence, because paranoia is one of the most fragile and thinly-veiled defenses. When a person’s fear comes too close to the surface, and they can’t acknowledge or deal with that fear, they will often go to any lengths to keep those feelings at bay.
On a much lighter note, I thought I’d end with a link to a 2001 article published in The Onion, one of the most hilariously satirical publications on the Internet. I’m sure you’ll see all three of these forms of homophobia embedded in that article.