Tag Archives: covert homophobia

A world without oppression

What do you think your life would be like without homophobia, racism, or sexism? This might sound like a utopian impossibility, the asking of the question a mere philosophical exercise. But it’s the question that Ilan Meyer and his colleagues posed in their new study, “‘We’d Be Free’: Narratives of Life Without Homophobia, Racism, or Sexism,” which was published this past September in the journal Sexuality Research and Social Policy. Fifty-seven adult sexual minority women and men responded to this question, and their narratives were examined for common themes – a method of psychological research referred to as a content analysis. The goal of this study, of course, wasn’t just to pose a hypothetical but unrealistic scenario – it was to identify some of the less tangible and difficult-to-measure stressors that sexual minorities experience. By asking about life without oppression, hopefully we can better understand life WITH oppression.

So what would my life be like without homophobia, racism, or sexism? I could be more affectionate with my partner in public. And I’m not talking about inappropriate PDAs – I’d just like to be able to hold her hand, or give her a hug, without it being weird. I wouldn’t have to deal with the crazy-making experience of determining whether an act of homophobia or sexism just occurred, or whether I’m just reading into it too much. I wouldn’t have to deal with the equally crazy-making experience of asking myself whether I hurt someone because my own internalized racism, sexism, or homophobia leaked out in an inappropriate way. I’d have a more diverse array of friends, colleagues, and neighbors. I’d probably have a closer relationship with my partner’s family, and they’d be a bigger part of my daughter’s life. I wouldn’t have to think about whether the space I’m entering is friendly or hostile to LGBTQ people. I wouldn’t have had to go through an internally turbulent coming-out process. I’d probably feel like I could move through the world without having to fear the judgments of others. I wouldn’t have to take so many precautions to prevent being victimized. Going to church (or any place of worship) would be a spiritual experience, rather than an uncomfortable one. I could live authentically and unapologetically – and celebrate the fact that others are living the same way.

And yet, as much as I dream of a world where oppression no longer exists, I feel like these experiences have made me a stronger person. As a woman and as someone who has been in relationships with both men and women, I’ve had so many experiences that have been stressful, upsetting, and in some cases traumatic. But these experiences have tested the limits of my strength and my character, and at this point in my life I feel confident, capable, and resilient most of the time – largely because of those experiences. As heretical as this might sound, I think there’s a part of me that’s actually grateful for what I’ve had to go through, and for the fact that I came out the other side stronger. Adversity builds character, they say. Moreover, adversity builds community – when you’re a member of an oppressed group, you tend to band together for support and to fight back.

So do my experiences match the findings from the study?  Three themes emerged in the narratives of the participants: 

(a) Access to possibilities and opportunities was deprived because of homophobia, racism, and sexism;

(b) Safety and acceptance were challenged because of homophobia, racism, and sexism; and 

(c) Despite this, experiencing homophobia, racism, and sexism created a sense of “positive marginality” – in other words, strength and community were born out of the experience of oppression. 

So here’s the million-dollar question: What do you think YOUR life would be like without homophobia, racism, or sexism?

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Filed under covert homophobia, homophobia, overt homophobia, racism, sexism, Uncategorized

The problem that has no name

I’m okay with gay people – they can choose whatever lifestyle they want to live.

God loves all of us, regardless of our sins.

It doesn’t bother me if someone’s gay – they just don’t need to be so obvious about it.

Homophobia is damaging – there’s no question about it. My last two posts addressed the consequences of overtly homophobic acts, such as anti-gay bullying in schools and violent hate crimes perpetrated against LGBTQ people. These are obvious forms of prejudice. You can put your finger on it. You can see it for what it is. These forms of prejudice are unequivocal. And yet, even though these forms of homophobia are incredibly harmful (even potentially fatal), they inflict only a particular type of wound. It’s the more covert forms of homophobia that are more like the silent cancer, killing your soul without you even knowing the disease was there in the first place.

What does covert homophobia look like? One of my students told me that she was riding the light rail train in our city and reading her textbook from our Psychology of Sexual Orientation class (a book which prominently displays the words “lesbian” and “gay” and “bisexual” and “trans”), and a couple of people sitting near her changed seats after she took her book out of her bag. Another student told me of an incident where a friend wanted to know what classes he was taking this semester, and after he mentioned the Psychology of Sexual Orientation class, there was a momentary uncomfortable silence before his friend abruptly changed the subject. Sometimes covert homophobia leaks out in the form of an embedded assumption – for example, when a person says that they’re fine with the “lifestyle” that gay people “choose” for themselves, they are using very loaded words that are often associated with broader heterosexist and homophobic attitudes. The most challenging part of these forms of homophobia is that they are intangible. Even more challenging is the fact that these behaviors or statements are made by people who consider themselves to be good-hearted, well-meaning, and accepting. If my student had gone up to any of the people who had changed their seats and accused them of being homophobic, they would probably have gotten defensive with her. If I were to correct the person who used the words “lifestyle” and “choose” or “choice” in the same sentence and clarified that being lesbian or gay is not a lifestyle or a choice, I run the risk of being accused of being too sensitive. So now we’ve got a double whammy on our hands – a homophobic belief or attitude is leaking out, and you can see it, but your hands are tied. You don’t feel like you can take it up with the person who is engaging in the behavior. If you do take it up with them, they are likely to deny or rationalize their behavior. And then you begin to doubt yourself – which is where the silent cancer of covert homophobia begins to spread through the soul.

A colleague of mine, Kristin Anderson, Ph.D., who is a professor at the University of Houston-Downtown, has recently published a book titled Benign Bigotry: The Psychology of Subtle Prejudice (http://www.benignbigotry.com/Site/Home.html. In her book, she addresses six commonly held cultural attitudes towards historically oppressed groups (including LGBTQs) that appear harmless on the surface, but that actually encourage prejudice and discrimination. I think this is the direction that our current cultural dialogue about prejudice and discrimination needs to go. The first call to action here is to name “the problem that has no name.”

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Filed under covert homophobia, homophobia, overt homophobia, Uncategorized