The Sexist

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.

Payne writes:

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.

  • http://rickmangus@aol.com Rick Mangus

    ALL members of the Westboro Baptist Church are!

  • Ellen

    I don't really like the term "homophobic" as meaning prejudiced because the root phobic means afraid. Venustraphobia is not the same as sexism even though the two are not mutually exclusive. Someone who is homophobic is afraid of homosexuals for some reason (maybe they feel that they threaten their own masculinity/femininity, way or life or religion). There needs to be a different term for someone who has a psychological fear about gay people and another for one who "likes to hate gays". Unfortunately, I'm not creative enough to think of any terms that are catchy. All I got is gayist, homo-ist, LGBTist and Queerist. I'm stuck on the isms. :( Any suggestions?

  • TroyNotorious

    Isn't hate the direct first born of the word fear? Fear and Ignorance being the ugly parents..

  • kza

    I think it's pretty safe to say Drew Magary isn't a homophobe. I've been reading him for a while and I've always thought of him as very pro-gay especially compared to other sports writers.

  • Charlie

    I have stopped using the term homophobe and homophobic in my writing. I like "anti-gay bigot". And bigoted over homophobic. Do a little search and replace in your mind on this article and see if it works for you.

  • rhane

    @kza I think that is the issue at hand. How can someone who is "very pro-gay" still belittle gays by making gay jokes and using the work faggot? Where is the line drawn?

  • kza

    He uses the word "faggot" ironically. He is a humor writer, it is funny to make fun of people who are homophobic by pretending to talk like them. Don't base your opinion of him off that slanderous article on Tiger Beatdown. It was pretty lame.

  • mdesus

    Kza you are without doubt the most interesting internet commentator I have ever come across. I see you comment on deadspin fairly regularly (I must say I almost never actually read the deadspin comments). Anyway I completely agree with your take on Magary, and on humorists in general having more leeway with language.

  • kza

    I comment Kissing Suzy Kolber not deadspin. I don't find deadspin commenters to be funny, it's like they are reeeeally trying hard be funny.

  • Reid

    This is basically the same problem you see with the term racism. I see it stemming from a good thing: namely that there's a harsh social stigma in being racist and (to a lesser extent) homophobic. The stigma is so bad that we hesitate to apply the term where it logically applies. So when people who don't want to lynch a black person say a joke at the expense of black people, other people hesitate to call it what it is.

    In a way it would be better if we didn't have such a huge stigma for people acting racist and homophobic, that way you could call someone out for it when they're being casually racist and homophobic, and rather than freak out and get hugely defensive they could think about how what they said is wrong and why they shouldn't say something like that. Maybe this would be worse, but I think it would be more honest because it would force us all to acknowledge that being racist or homophobic isn't something that doesn't kick in until you're like crazy bad, but rather it's something that exists in almost all of us.

  • noodlez

    ACCORDING TO THE COMMENTERS OVER AT THE DCIST BLOG SITE IM A HOMOPHOBE.

    I GOT BANNED BECAUSE A FEW OF THEIR GAY, DAILY SNARKERS LABELED ME AS SUCH. THE CONSTANT COMPLAINING TO THE EDITOR ON-LINE AND OFF-LINE SEALED MY BANISHMENT. BY ME USING WORDS LIKE COCKSUCKER, HOMOSEXUAL AND EXPRESSING MY RIGHT AS A DC RESIDENT BY NOT BEING ABLE TO VOTE ON SAME-SEX MARRIAGE BILL LABELED ME SOMETHING THAT I WAS NOT.

    I CHALKED IT UP TO RACISM AND AN OVERSWELL OF GAY PRIDE DURING THE TIME THAT I WAS MAKING MY COMMENTS. SOME OF THE GAY FOLK OVER THERE HAD MY BACK BECAUSE NO MATTER WHAT I SAID IT DIDNT AFFECT THEIR PSYCHE. THEY SOMETIMES APPLAUDED MY ATTEMPT AT HUMOR AND BEING AN ASSHOLE BECAUSE IT BOUGHT SOME FORM OF EITHER COMICAL OR OUT RIGHT RELIEF.

    MY DISCLAIMER IS I HAVE HOMOSEXUAL AND GAY FRIENDS. MOST OF THEM ARE BLACK AS AM I. WE HAVE HAD SOME HEATED EXCHANGES ON HOMOSEXUALITY AND THE GAY MARRIAGE BILL ALONG WITH OTHER ISSUES (GAY AND NON-GAY) AS IT AFFECTS POLITICS AND OUR COMMUNITY. WE AGREE TO DISAGREE IN MOST INSTANCES, SOMEONE BUYS THE NEXT ROUND AND WE MOVE ON. I ALSO CALL THEM NAMES LIKE COCKSUCKER, GAY ASS AND ANYTHING ELSE THAT COMES TO MIND. THEY RECIPROCATE, WE LAUGH AND IT'S LIKE WHATEVER. SO I MISTOOK THE RELATIONSHIP I HAVE WITH THEM AND APPLIED IT TO MY COMMENTS AND BOY WAS I VILIFIED.

    LOOK I DONT HATE ANYONE. I AM AGAINST TWO MEN GETTING MARRIED (I CANT SPEAK ON TWO WOMEN GETTING MARRIED BECAUSE IM NOT ONE. SHIT MY WIFE AND I DISAGREE ON THIS ISSUE AS WELL. SHE IS ALL FOR IT TO MY SURPRISE BECAUSE MOST BLACK WOMEN AREN'T.) HOWEVER IF IT WAS PUT TO A VOTE AND THE CITIZENS OF THE CITY VOTED FOR IT THEN I WOULD NOT HAVE A GRIPE. THAT WAS MY POSITION AND I EXPRESSED IT AS SUCH. IT WAS BECAUSE OF MY STANCE ON THAT ISSUE AND THE USE OF GAY SLANG FREELY THAT CREATED THE BLACKBALLING.

    IF I DIDNT HATE HOMOSEXUALS THEY SURE GAVE ME REASONS TO START. HOW CAN A GROUP OF FOLK WHO CLAIMS DISCRIMINATION BE DISCRIMINATORY? HOW CAN FOLK WHO CLAIM THEY WANT TO BE THOUGHT OF IN THE MAINSTREAM NOT ACCEPT MAINSTREAM THOUGHT. JUST BECAUSE SOMEONE IS AGAINST SOMETHING DOES NOT MEAN THAT THEY HATE IT.

    TO SUM IT UP IM NOT A "HOMOPHOBE" BECAUSE I DONT FEAR HOMOSEXUALS. IM NOT A (WHATEVER WORD IS TO DISCRIBE SOMEONE WHO HATES GAY FOLK) BECAUSE I DONT HATE OR PROMOTE HATRED TOWARDS GAY FOLK. I DO HAVE SOME SENSE AND IT MAKES NO SENSE THAT EVERYTIME SOMEONE IS ANTI-GAY THAT SOME GAY PERSON AUTOMATICALLY RINGS THE HATE BELL OR CALL THEM A HOMOPHOBE!

  • kza

    GEE WHY DONT YOU YELL ABOUT IT?!?!?!?!?!?!

  • supplementfacts

    Ellen,

    There's nothing wrong with the term 'homophobia': a word's meaning only rarely corresponds to its etymology. Indeed, if we just looked at etymology, 'homophobia' would mean 'pathological fear of sameness' (and 'pedophile' would mean 'someone with a friendly love of children' instead of 'someone sexually attracted to children', and 'hemophilia' would mean 'having a friendly love of blood'). Also, if you want another example of a '-phobia' having to do more with animosity and bigotry than fear, consider 'xenophobia'.

  • Artsynomad

    Ellen - how about heterosexist?

  • Ellen

    @ supplementfacts: You make a good point- I never really thought of it that way. I guess the "if it ain't broke don't fix it" rule applies. Still, it irks me, (and since reading your comment, those other words will now also irk me) :) But, at the same time, I think there needs to be a word for the psychological fear of gay people. A close friend recently came out to her parents and her mom is acting really strangely about it. This can be expected in when making an announcement of that magnitude, however her reaction seems to be more phobic in the sense that people are phobic of spiders or heights.

    @ Artsynomad: Heterosexist would work but I feel like the implication is one of prejudice against heteros and not a radical promotion of heterosexual via bigotry towards homosexuals. But it gets a gold star on the catchiness scale. :)

    @ Charlie: That is absolutely perfect. This is one of those "D'oh" moments. It makes so much more sense and its so much more parsimonious. Thanks for the help- though I was kind of looking forward to inventing a word. :P

  • kza

    I think homophobia is a good word, I can't think of another reason you would arbitrarily hate a group of people if their wasn't some sort of fear involved. I would say that most racism comes down to fear, whether it stems from a fear of the people themselves, a fear that a group of people will make an area less desirable to live in, a fear that they will take all the jobs away etc.

  • http://rickmangus@aol.com Rick Mangus

    Do you all know that those twisted fucks from the Westboro Baptist Church were protesting at Virginia Tech about the massacre that took place there! They skirt around the law with there inbred kids in tow, I am not a violent man but I do wish that someone one day would shoot everyone of those bastards down!

  • Rae

    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.

    OK, as a person who actually studies logic for a living, I have to take issue with this. The Law of Non-Contradiction says roughly "that it's impossible for a thing to be a thing and not be that thing simultaneously". (Not my preferred phrasing, but has the advantage of avoiding pedantic-sounding logician-speak. I guess I'd say that where A is any sentence, it's impossible for "A and not A" to be true.) The Law of Excluded Middle says, roughly, that where A is any sentence, "A or not A" must be true. This may not sound like much of a distinction, but it does sometimes make a difference: some logical systems reject the Law of Excluded Middle but accept the Law of Non-Contradiction, and some go in the opposite direction. If Payne must misuse my discipline to defend homophobes (which I really wish he wouldn't), he should at least get the goddamn logic right!

  • http://rickmangus@aol.com Rick Mangus

    'Rae', explain it so us mortals can understand!

  • supplementfacts

    Rick,

    I'll try. Payne is mixing up two distinct laws of logic: the Law of Non-Contradiction (LNC) and the Law of Excluded Middle (LEM). LNC says it's impossible for a proposition to be both true and false: i.e., it can't be both at the same time. LEM says every proposition must be either true or false: i.e., there's no third option available.

    These are distinct laws. After all, you could deny LEM and accept LNC: allowing propositions to have some sort of perplexing neither-true-nor-false status while insisting that they can't be both true and false at the same time. Likewise, you could deny LNC and accept LEM: allowing propositions to be both true and false at the same time while insisting that it's impossible for a proposition to have a neither-true-nor-false status.

    Anyway, Payne's mistake was that he called LNC by the wrong name: he called it the Law of Excluded Middle. Also, the counterexamples he presented aren't very convincing, but perhaps they were meant jocularly.

  • Rae

    What supplementfacts said. (Very nice translation of my comment into English, by the way.)

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