Today is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, and I’m breaking my rule against posting to my blog on days other than Mondays and Thursdays to participate in the Hop Against Homophobia And Transphobia. More than 175 writers, cover artists, editors, and others involved with creating gay fiction are devoting their blogs to this important topic. Having lived openly as a gay man for more than 35 years, how could I not participate?
The academic in me likes to start with definitions. Phobia comes from a Greek word meaning morbid fear. Clinically speaking, a phobia is an anxiety disorder revolving around a persistent and irrational fear of an object or situation that is out of proportion to the danger posed. From ablutophobia (fear of washing or bathing) to zoophobia (fear of animals), there’s a phobia for just about everyone.
My phobias are more about dislike than fear. I’m not a fan of reptiles (herpetophobia), selected insects (entomophobia), or mice (musophobia). The idea of any of these beasties scampering on my body creeps me out. But I could cope.
These pseudo-phobias are often expressed in conversations as stuff I hate. I don’t like spiders and snakes because I fear them. The more I fear something, the more I tend to hate it.
I do have one true phobia: I abhor tight spaces. The mere idea of belly-crawling through a cave freaks me out. Want to see me lose it? Put me in the middle of a single-file line going through the same cave. Make the whole thing an underwater adventure to push me over the edge.
An exhaustive list of phobias is available here. Seems one can be afraid of just about anything. Homophobia, interestingly enough, is described as fearing sameness or monotony, as well as fearing homosexuality or becoming homosexual. Everyplace else I looked for a definition, the emphasis was more on hating homosexuals than fearing them.
Straight people haven’t cornered the market on homophobia. Plenty of gay men are just as homophobic, and I’m not talking about a fear of sameness (although truth be told, this condition permeates the gay community too). Despite all I hear about progressive young people, this internalized homophobia is just as prevalent today as was true when I came out nearly four decades ago.
I believed myself to be straight for the first twenty years of my life. My parents and anyone else I grew up around never actively bashed homosexuals. Even so, I knew being gay was perverted and unnatural — against the law in just about every state and a mental illness, no less. The only images in the media and elsewhere were drag queens and dirty old men. Until I saw guys who looked just like me dancing together, my deeply ingrained perceptions of what it meant to be homosexual (homophobia) prevented me from realizing and accepting I was gay.
The crowd I ran around with after I came out prided itself on our masculinity. We didn’t associate with overtly feminine men. We were butch — with gorgeous hair and the ability to dance. In our clique, nelly behavior was chastised. We were men seeking men. Our mantra: If I wanted a woman, I’d have one.
My little clique feared being identified as the wrong kind of homosexual. We were every bit as homophobic as the straight world outside of the gay bar. Instead of accepting someone for who they were, we demanded adherence to rigid gender roles, rejecting anyone who didn’t fit the mold.
My field research on the modern dating practices of gay men suggests little has changed in the last forty years. If anything, things are worse. Living in a college town, I see young gay men who fall into one of two groups. They’re either hot, with gym bods, perfect teeth, and good hair; or not. Being butch isn’t good enough today. Now you need a body type that didn’t even exist forty years ago.
If you ask me, most homophobia, no matter how hateful, stems from fear and ignorance. Misperceptions about gay lifestyles and the gay agenda keep getting in the way of progress. But in the 35+ years since I came out, engaging the homophobic individual in a conversation on homosexuality has never changed anyone’s mind. Not even one time.
The single most important contribution I’ve made to “the cause” is to live openly and honestly as a gay man. My family, coworkers from across the country, neighbors, readers of this blog, folks who came to know me through my books … all know I’m gay. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been the first gay man someone I know has ever known, and how many have said that knowing me changed their attitude.
Colleagues who’ve spent a few days in my house over the years always say something about how normal my life is — chatting with neighbors, visiting with family and friends, hanging out in the kitchen or on the deck drinking coffee, and eating three meals a day. I guess they expected to see sex toys everywhere, drums of lube, a sling hanging from the ceiling fan, and my partner and I lounging around in jockstraps watching porn. But now they know folks like me aren’t nearly as exotic as they thought. In fact, we’re pretty much just like everybody else.
In honor of this special day, I’m giving away an autographed copy (paperback) of my first novel, Until Thanksgiving. For a chance to win, leave a comment on this post by midnight, May 27, 2013 with a way to get back in touch with you. Given the cost of shipping, the paperback is only available to residents of the U.S. Should the winner reside outside the U.S., I’ll provide an ebook instead. For more information about homophobia/transphobia, click here. The winner will be announced on May 30, 2013.
For more information about the blog hop, visit here.