Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Homophobia as Self-Loathing 

by Aaron B
There is an idea in American culture – it pops up in all sorts of places – that extreme homophobia is often a sign of repressed homosexuality. The idea goes something like this: Certain men who have subscribed to cultural norms of hyper-masculinity discover, much to their chagrin, that they sometimes experience homoerotic feelings. This doesn’t fit into their carefully constructed self-image. It also conflicts with, say, their religious and societal upbringing, from which they learned that homosexuals are sissies or “not real men.” This discovery makes them angry. They have a personal crisis, colored by extreme self-loathing. How do they handle it? They lash out at those who appear to be overtly homosexual, or even just effeminate, as these people serve as reminders of what they “really are,” even though they don’t want to admit it. Thus, the reasoning goes, when you see a particularly virulent or nasty homophobe, it is fair to surmise that this person might really be a repressed homosexual.

The most obvious recent incarnation of this idea, in my mind, was the 1999 film "American Beauty." Chris Cooper plays a harsh, unforgiving military father who has a distant relationship with his wife and son, and who spends his time grumbling about “faggots” getting all in his face and watching old Ronald Reagan films. He begins to have paranoid suspicions (unfounded, as it turns out) that his neighbor, played by Kevin Spacey, is sexually involved with his teenage son, played by Wes Bentley. At the end of the film, just as you think Cooper is going to confront Spacey about this and become violent, he instead makes a homosexual pass at Spacey. Spacey politely rebuffs the advance, and Cooper becomes disoriented and confused. He then becomes enraged at what has happened, and in the last scene of the film, he returns to Spacey’s house, presumably consumed with self-hatred, and shoots Spacey in the back of the head.

(Other examples of this idea could be given. Think of the long-standing allegations of homosexuality and cross-dressing that plagued J. Edgar Hoover, as popularized by Oliver Stone’s film “JFK.”)

What I would like to know is … where does this idea come from? Furthermore, is there any truth to it? Off the top of my head, I have several theories:

(1) Maybe it’s really true. Maybe sexually-repressed homosexual homophobes are a real phenomenon. The theory, as I’ve laid it out above, doesn’t seem totally implausible. Certain gay friends I have known have articulated this idea to me, and hey, maybe they’re in a position to know.

(2) Then again, maybe it’s all bunk. Maybe it’s a tactic to scare homophobes into taking the sharp edges off their rhetoric. After all, if they don’t, maybe we’ll all start thinking they’re gay (gasp!).

(3) Maybe it’s just a story that homosexuals tell themselves to make themselves feel better, or to make sense of the irrational, over-the-top antipathy directed at them that they can’t otherwise understand. Only someone having a major sexual identity crisis, so the thinking would go, could possibly find the energy to loathe them so much.

I honestly have no firm position on this question. I have known some really homophobic Mormons in my life, and I have never understood where they find the energy to vent like they do, or why they give the gay issue such high priority in their hierarchy of complaints about the world. (By “really homophobic,” I mean REALLY, REALLY, REALLY homophobic. Nobody who has ever posted here or at T&S could possibly qualify). I’ll admit … sometimes it’s fun to imagine that they must be gay!

What do you all think?

Aaron B

P.S. If you don’t like this topic, feel free to turn this thread into an unfocused, gay-themed stream of consciousness outlet. Since I know there’s so much gay interest in the Mormon Blogosphere, and nowhere else to write about it ( :) ), BCC is here for you!

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