Social Question

DominicX's avatar

Is the term "homophobia" useful?

Asked by DominicX (28701 points ) January 29th, 2013

Or rather, is any term that uses the suffix ”-phobia” to refer to something other than fear useful and valid?

A common complaint against being labeled a homophobe is “I’m not afraid of homosexuals”. And yes, one definition of the word “homophobia” is a fear of homosexuals, so it would seem then that this word is inaccurate. However, another definition of the word refers to discrimination, hatred, and aversion. In this case, I think the word is more accurate.

But is using this word to mean the same kind of thing as “misogyny” and “racism” wrong because it automatically links it to fear, which may or may not be present?

The word “homophobia” was in fact coined by a psychologist who was fighting against the classification of homosexuality as a mental illness. Rather, he suggested, anti-homosexuality bigotry was the irrational behavior, stemming from a mental illness called “homophobia”. The term soon became used to refer to the bigotry and not so much the alleged mental illness.

I personally see “but I’m not afraid of homosexuals” as a cop-out because when someone is calling someone a homophobe, they are not talking about fear, but talking about bigotry.

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10 Answers

syz's avatar

I immediately thought of this

I tend to think of the word “phobia” in the medical context, so it does seem a poorly designed descriptor to me. But it seems very firmly established.

wundayatta's avatar

Well, the people who don’t like gays but say they aren’t afraid of them are probably wrong about themselves. The fear is about what gays do and how icky that might be to people who it disgusts.

I don’t want a man kissing me. Ew. Those fags fuck each other in the butt. How gross is that? I don’t want that happening to me.

That’s what is behind the fear, I think. They aren’t afraid of being attacked by someone who is gay, but I think they are afraid of what gays do when thinking about it happening to them. So it is fear, even if they don’t admit to being afraid. They are afraid. Very afraid.

And worse, they fear they might actually like it in some way. Men who have ever had any feeling at all of affection for another man in a culture where that affection is tabboo, will wonder if they coiuld be gay, and that thought probably frightens them more than anything. They can’t even admit to having the thought. So they shove it down deep and get angry and act like gays are a threat that isn’t a threat, but needs to be eliminated somehow, anyway.

It’s a mess. I think people growing up today have much less of this, but when I was growing up, I went through all these things. Eventually I realized I had nothing to be afraid of and that I could be affectionate with men without wanting to love them or make love to them. But that took some doing.

It really helped that my first roommate was gay. I’d never met anyone gay before that. And later on, my two best friends in the world turned out to be gay. Wow. That sure made me wonder about myself. Why were my friends gay? Did that mean I was gay? But after a few years, I realized I could enjoy the company of gay men without being gay. That probably sounds ridiculous and obvious, but it wasn’t easy for me.

And now we are not friends any more because it turned out that when I got sick, they couldn’t handle it. They didn’t know what to do. They’re not mentally ill and I am, and they don’t want anything to do with me any more. How’s that for irony?

Mariah's avatar

For awhile I thought “phobia” was an odd choice of suffix, but I think of it differently now.

Most homophobes I’ve known aren’t afraid of homosexual people. They are, however, afraid of being perceived as being homosexual. Because they view it as something shameful to be, something they would be embarrassed to be.

ETpro's avatar

Any term that accurately defines something that exists is useful. There are homo-antogonists and homo-revulsionists. As @wundayatta and @Mariah note they probably are not afraid of homosexuals attacking them, but their hate is motivated by fear. Then there are also true homophobes who fear that if homosexuality isn’t opposed, it will spread to everyone, the human race will die out for lack of reproduction, teachers and scoutmasters will recruit all our children into homosexuality, and in general the sky will fall.

Words that have perfectly valid meanings can be misused. But that doesn’t negate their usefulness. It negates the usefulness of poorly informed commentators.

bookish1's avatar

@wundayatta: they fear they might actually like it in some way.
What you said x 10 dude. I hate that shit so much. Yet another example of how the doctrine of essential ‘sexual orientations’ oppresses everyone. In high school I developed the theory that most homophobia is tied somehow to disgust with butt sex. Even though the majority of gay men (in surveys at least) say they are more interested in other things. It’s just the easiest association to make. And have you seen how much butt sex there is in straight porn? But I digress.

@ETpro: Obviously it must be mercilessly opposed because it’s almost impossible to say no to that temptation!!!!!!! (Do I really need to put the ~ there? ;) Heterosexuality is a difficult path that must be cultivated and defended every step of the way…

fremen_warrior's avatar

Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to the dark side…

ucme's avatar

I’d argue that it is actually fear that fuels these bigots, fear of diversity, fear of peer pressure, fear of anything that diverts from their perception of “normal.”

SavoirFaire's avatar

For what it’s worth, “phobia” doesn’t just mean “fear.” It also means “aversion.”

KNOWITALL's avatar

To me it’s correct to use, because people in my area are afraid it will ‘rub off’ or they simply are ‘afraid of the unknown’ which to some hetero’s is gay sex. Either way it’s a fear and most of the time, aversion.

My husband was slightly homophobic until he started working with a guy we know well who is gay. After he got to ask all his questions and got to know this guy, he was okay with it. I think for some men they think only of the sex and not the actual emotional relationship between two people and it freaks them out at hetero’s.

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