The root of homophobia

In the reading, the bit that really caught my attention was in the Bennett and Royle essay entitled “Queer”.   They quote Leo Bersani in saying “Unlike racism, homophobia is entirely a response to an internal possibility”.   While it makes sense that the two are different in that way, I wonder the extent to which homophobia is similar to other forms of prejudice in that it merely preys on some element of difference to set one group of people above another.   I was also left with the question of whether, if what Bersani says is true, a heterosexual person can better understand the view of a homosexual person as opposed to one being able to understand the view of someone of a different race.   If we inherently understand that it is possible for us to be gay, does that both fuel fear and understanding?   And what does this say about how we read?   Discussing methods of queer reading, how much of an effect does sexuality have on the way we perceive a text and the meaning we attribute to it?

3 responses to “The root of homophobia

  1. I really find this line of thinking interesting…

    To the best of my understanding, the notion that people are homophobic in response to fears that they themselves may be gay is based on psychoanalytic theory. Namely, when someone has a homosexual desire/impulse (id) which society has taught him to be morally wrong (superego), he copes with his own suppressed desires and self-loathing by instead hating those around him who are free to follow such desires.

    It’s pretty fair to say, I think, that psychoanalytic theory is NOT universally (or even very widely) accepted as an accurate explanation of our internal forces.

    My intuitive response is that “homophobia” (which might be a misnomer when we’re really referring to acts of discrimination and hate rather than classic fear behaviors) has much more in common with racism, sexism, and the many other forms of prejudice than the above theory (and B&R) would believe. I’m not going to pretend to have an intelligent, comprehensive theory of why people exhibit racism. No doubt, the behavior is a complex combination of environment, personality, genetics, fears, power-seeking, etc., etc. I’ve never thought of prejudice against the LGBT community as belonging to some “other” category of explanation, though.

    Finally, the question of whether people of different sexual orientations might understand one another better than people of different races: this question seems impossible to answer. We have no way of really comparing any two experiences to measure the degree of empathy. Even if one person were to describe it, word choice will mean different things to different parties and be utterly up for interpretation of the audience, once said. Therefore, to get post-structuralist, etc., one may think that he understands another individual (of whatever diverse background), but that is likely only because he is projecting his own interpretations onto the relatively neutral words of the other. Therefore, his subjective experience of “relating” and any actual form of understanding (if it even could be measured) might not correlate at all.

  2. In response to a question brought up by bbug8, I believe that homophobia is absolutely similar to other forms of prejudice. While it does not have to do with race, necessarily, homophobia still highlights the differences of a group as compared to some contrived, unnatural sense of “normal”, and casts this group in a negative light. The second question regarding whether a heterosexual person can better understand the view of a homosexual person v. that of one of a different race is really intriguing, and I can’t quite come up with an answer to it.
    Something in B&R that struck me was the idea that there were “more than 400 years between the introduction of the ‘odd’ or singular sense of the word queer into English and the introduction of its ‘homosexual’ sense” (187). Four hundred years is a long time; it fascinates me that words acquire these varying diverse meanings over time. Cultural reactions to certain words is also fascinating: how it comes to be that a word shifts from being derogatory to expressing pride. How might linguistic reappropriation affect reading over time?

  3. I thought I had posted something to this effect a while ago, but maybe it didn’t go through. Anyway, what I wanted to post about dealt with the B&R chapter “Queer,” specifically the part where they talk about how queerness (and homosexuality, also, so as not to wrongly use those terms interchangeably) is “defined by that which it excludes,” which they argue makes being straight somehow “rather queer” (191). This point of one category being defined as the antithesis to another category and therefore becoming classified “othered” reminds me of a point in Eagleton’s piece on Post structuralism (I think that was it, at least…) where he talks about women as being defined against men. One mandates the other to actually exist; only by having something that you are NOT can you actually BE anything. Or at least that’s the argument. I don’t know how much I agree with this point of view. I guess I think that differences (sexual preference, sex, race, etc.) exist whether or not we classify themselves as differences or whether or not we have words that are somehow “opposites” or “complementary”. This point, I think, is made more accurate by the way the term “queer” has changed over the past few decades. Since it has made a transformation from a strictly negative word to one of positive associations and community, can it really be that some “non-queer” group has changed simultaneously in the opposite direction so as to maintain its position as “queer” ‘s opposite?