On sympathizing with homophobes

It’s a pretty common joke, in my experience, to insinuate that anyone violently anti-gay is just deeply, deeply closeted. But the thing is, I think it’s probably the truth.

This old post of Portly Dyke‘s does a good job of summing up my Supporting Evidence One (emphasis mine):

It just so obvious. One of the ways that I personally determine where people score on the “gay aptitude test” is their level of knowledge about/interest in anything gay (regardless of whether this expresses as a positive or negative attitude).

Example: A friend (I call her “Sherry”) was quizzing me about being a lesbian. I had always thought of her as one of the most heterosexual people I had ever met, but until this day, I wasn’t exactly sure why I thought that. She asked me, “So, when you make love with your girlfriend, don’t you miss the closeness?”

I was completely baffled. “What do you mean?”

“Well, you know . . . . the closeness.”

“I really don’t know what you mean, Sherry. Do you think we have sex, like, from separate rooms, or something?”

I then realized that she simply could not imagine having sex without having a penis in a vagina. She literally could not imagine it. That’s why I think of her as unremittingly straight.

See, people who don’t want to have a certain kind of sex don’t seem to spend a lot of time imagining what it might be like. They also, in my experience, don’t spend a lot of time insisting that other people not have that kind of sex — it just doesn’t occupy much (or frequently any) space in their minds.

So, to me, arguing vehemently about the dirtiness of gay sex means admitting that you spend a lot of time thinking about gay sex, often in very explicit terms. Which, you know, I don’t think straight people do. I mean, I know that I, as a gay person, never think about het sex. Well, sometimes I do, but only when my heteronormative culture forces it on me, and even then my brain censors everything below the waist. I tend to be pretty oblivious to phallic symbols for this reason, I guess; I just don’t think about penises.

But how, one might ask, can a man spend all his time thinking about gay sex in explicit detail and not consider that maybe he’s gay? And for this I bring you Supporting Evidence Two: I had no idea I was gay until I was fifteen, despite the fact that I knew I was attracted to women. Bear with me here.

So, here’s the thing. I’ve got a best (female) friend, and a boyfriend. I love having sleepovers with the best friend, and cuddling and talking and if we go swimming maybe we’ll shower together and oh my god that’ll be so exciting. The boyfriend’s a cool fellow, we talk on the phone a lot, every now and then we see a movie and he buys me candy, and I really love hanging out with him.

But of course, I was straight.

That feeling of getting all hot and bothered, and really wanting to look good for the other person, and wanting to know everything about them and never stop touching them? That was admiring a close friend. That feeling of respect and affection, and a vague interest in the other person’s opinion? That was love.

This probably sounds ridiculous, but I honestly had no idea that for actual straight people, it was reversed. I just applied the name “friendship” to the bonds I formed with women, and the name “love” to the bonds I formed with men, and assumed that’s what friendship and love felt like for everyone. Since obviously I was straight, this must be what “straight” is like.

It’s because I’m a product of a heteronormative society. As soon as I met a gay person, and someone actually explained to me what gay was, I knew that was me and I came out. (The moment in question was really sweet, actually: my to-be girlfriend explained how she knew she was gay. I said, “Well, I know I’m straight because…” and then couldn’t think of a single thing. I spent a few days processing the information, then let the good times roll.) But I made it to 15 before I ever discovered that straight people don’t masturbate to members of the same sex.

I was raised with total ignorance of “gay.” But what if I grew up knowing, knowing that homosexuality was wrong and sinful and evil, just like adultery and murder? Well, then there’d be an incentive to resist the idea that “maybe I’m gay.” A strong incentive.

So now you’re in a pickle. Here’s your train of thought: People of the same sex make you hot and bothered. People of the opposite sex are kind of uninteresting. This might be how gay people feel. But gay people are evil, and you are not evil. So obviously, you must be straight. Except that you, as a straight person, have a really hard time resisting gay acts! This must be because the evil of the gay is so seductive; all straight people have to fight homosexual desires. Oh no! What about straight people who aren’t strong enough to resist the delicious gay? We’d better keep down all those unrepentant gays, lest they seduce more straight people into their sexy, sexy evil!

And I can see how easy it would be to fall into that thinking, because I was so close. I lucked out; all I knew about gay people was that this super-cute girl was gay. If things had been different? I probably wouldn’t even have noticed that I was deluding myself.

Which is why I always have a tiny bit of sympathy for the vicious homophobes, because even though their views are abhorrent…I can see where they’re coming from, and it’s not a pretty place.

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9 Responses to On sympathizing with homophobes

  1. dollyann says:

    I think that third to last paragraph is brilliant. It’s certainly something I never would have thought of on my own, yet it makes lots of sense. It’s people who are working from what they consider established truths (gay=sinful) and go crazy-shit from there. Talk about confirmation bias.

    You know, I’ve always had a hard time identifying my sexuality–mostly because I’ve never really dated in my adult life (uno boyfriend, and that was in MIDDLE SCHOOL!). I *think* I’m straight, mostly for the fact that I’ve had similar thoughts as Teh Portly Dyke’s (who, btw, is awesome) straight friend: “How can you have sex without a penis? Does it feel as good/close?” Then again, I’ve never met a guy who I’ve *ever* had an intense emotional connection with. To me, that’s crucial to any relationship; so I end up wonering what lesbian sex is like. So, I’m starting to wonder if I’m just a little bi-curious (thnx Butters). HEY! Maybe I should write a review of that South Park episode from an LGBT perspective! What do you think?

  2. eloriane says:

    I’ve never seen the episode in question, but if you want to write about it, go right ahead!

    I think the key to surviving questioning your sexuality is to be relaxed about it. It’s worth sorting out for your own peace of mind, but it shouldn’t really matter which way you swing, or if you’re right in the middle. If you ever want to talk about it, email me (eloriane at gmail) or IM me (ladyeloriane). Like I said, it was hearing my now-ex explain how she came out to herself that helped me sort out my own feelings. I’d be more than happy to talk to you (or anyone lurking who would like a friendly ear) if you ever want to. Just let me know.

  3. dollyann says:

    Alright! I’ve got the post drafted; I’ll probably do some minor revisions tomorrow and then I’ll send it your way. Hopefully it is worthy of Gender Goggles’ high standards of quality! 😀

    Hey, that’d be cool to IM. I’ve never really talked much about it before; like you said, I’ve figured things would work themselves out at some point, but since I’m not all that interested in dating at the moment I’m content to wait and see. My screenname’s missdollychan. I’ll let you know if I get the urge to chitchat. 😉

  4. Jonathan says:

    An excellent post. I’m coming to the conclusion that someone VERY close to me who’s always been rabidly homophobic might actually be On The Team basing that on some insider knowledge of past relationships I gleaned this week from a close friend of theirs. The sad thing is that this person is well into the Seventies and will go to their graves closeted and unhappy.

  5. […] may actually have homosexual interests. This isn’t surprising, as eloriane discusses in this post that the more adamant someone is about how disgusting nature of sexuality, the more likely they are […]

  6. […] may actually have homosexual interests. This isn’t surprising, as eloriane discusses in this post that the more adamant someone is about how disgusting nature of sexuality, the more likely they are […]

  7. Toni says:

    Great insights.

    The older I get the more I appreciate my parents & family who never uttered a derogatory remark about homos. I can’t imagine how hard it must be for queer folk who come from gay=evil backgrounds.

  8. […] On Sympathizing with Homophobes – Insightful, especially the last few paragraphs. […]

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