Who Qualifies as a Homophobe?
I noted Tiger Beatdown's "Visions of Manliness" series in today's Sexist Beatdown, but I wanted to highlight a particular post in the series because (a) "Visions of Manliness"? How can I say no? and (b) VOM guest-blogger B. Michael Payne made a really interesting point about who qualifies as a homophobe in our culture and who doesn't.
Payne focuses his critique on Deadspin sportswriter Drew Magary, the kind of guy who can write a post bemoaning the fact that America will never see an out, gay major sports star anytime soon—and then end the post with an ironically homophobic sentiment like "Also, Jimmy Clausen eats cock."
Margary, as he'll tell you, isn't a homophobe. He knows this because he used to be one. Payne highlights this interesting autobiographical admission in Margary's work:
I’ll go ahead and freely admit now that, when I was in high school, I could easily be characterized as a homophobe. I used the word faggot all the time (even more than I do now!). I adored Dice Clay. I didn’t think gays deserved rights or anything else other than ridicule. I didn’t LIKE gays. At all. And not for any sort of bullshit moral reason. No, I was that way because I enjoyed it, and I suspect many other homophobes also hate gays simply because they like to hate them. I could blame youth or growing up in the ’80s for how I felt, but that’s a bullshit excuse. It’s embarrassing and shameful and I wish I’d never felt that way.
It's great that Margary is getting his historical hatred of gay people out of his system, but note the language up top there. When Margary was in high school, when he used the word "faggot" all the time, when he believed that gays did not deserve equal rights, when he hated gay people because hating them gave him pleasure, he could "easily be characterized as a homophobe." Not that he was a homophobe—that he could have been characterized that way. "I’ve emphasized Magary’s characterization of his homophobia as being ‘characterizable as’ rather than being a full-blown case of hating the gays," Payne writes. "But then he goes on to say that… he liked to hate gays."
Margary doesn't then go on to insist that this "characterization" of his hatred of gay people was an unfair characterization; instead, he sincerely apologizes for being a homophobe. Payne notes that it's "really difficult to start out a paragraph by saying ‘I was a homophobe’"; it's a lot easier to avoid the label, admit to the substance of the accusation, and emerge as a good person who happens to have thought some bad thoughts and said some bad words. Unfortunately, homophobes don't allow gay people the same opportunity to define their own nuanced, subjective experiences. In this word, "faggot" is a bad word, but "homophobe" is downright oppressive.
Most humans who don't hate gay people have come to a consensus that being a "homophobe" is a bad thing. What we can't seem to agree on is that almost everyone helps perpetuate homophobia in some way, intentionally or not. And in fact, one way this whole thing is perpetuated is by pinning homophobia on distinct, identifiable "homophobes" (who are certainly not us) while justifying the behavior of us remaining not-homophobes as necessarily not-homophobic. Margary performs this trick on himself when he admits that he still employs the word "faggot" and makes jokes about gay shit, but that he's not a homophobe like his former self because he no longer takes pleasure in hating gay people. One has to wonder what the true distinction between making homophobic jokes and taking pleasure in hating gay people is; but one also wouldn't want to mistakenly characterize a smart writer and seemingly good guy like Margary as a homphobe.
Magary’s beliefs are like the beliefs of basically everyone about basically everything. There’s a supposed law of logic called the Law of the Excluded Middle, which says briefly that it’s impossible for a thing to be a thing and not be that same thing, simultaneously. You can’t be alive and dead at the same time. Of course, we know that that’s not true at all in practice. What about the person in a coma? The patient etherized on the table? The cubicle drone? People all over the world are simultaneously alive and dead. In the same way, Magary (and us, very likely) are simultaneously homophobic and not homophobic. Most of our friends who say things like, ‘That shit’s so gay’ are not the same people who would beat the living hell out of a homosexual. But the sedimented notions of sexuality perform a subtle alchemy on our day-to-day lives that leads imperceptibly but inevitably to casual rape culture, misogyny, hate crimes—all the ugly shit no one owns up to but everyone contributes to.
Photo via George Eastman House.