Posts Tagged ‘gay’

Homophobia (or “Warning – Label May Be Misleading”)

October 3, 2012

A couple years ago I took a class called “Lifetime and Human Development”. Fascinating class that reaffirmed that not only were my kids normal and right on track, but my husband and I weren’t so bad off, either – or so I thought. Well, he’s okay. I’m the one who got into trouble.

As part of the course, we talked for a time about sexuality. Of course, sexual preferences were part of the discussion. Since the beginning of the class, our instructor made it clear that all opinions/pov’s/etc were to be accepted and no one was to be ostracized for being different. In a class such as this, that reminder is hugely important. That being said, there was a particular PowerPoint presentation that discussed statistics regarding sexuality. According to this PPt, around 10% of the people we encounter are likely to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. What caught my attention was one particular slide that talked about points of view. In describing people who disagree with the gay perspective, this slide used the word “homophobic”.

Let me say one thing before we continue. Everyone, and I mean everyone, has the right to live without fear, without harassment and without feeling less valuable because of their beliefs, lifestyle, faith, or other intensely personal character traits. There is NO excuse for bullying, discrimination, degradation or any other disrespect of another person, no matter the age, no matter the setting. This piece is not about homosexuality. It is about language, communication, and censorship. There is a difference. So, on with the story…

Being the quiet, demure student that I am (uh, well…) during the discussion following the presentation I raised my hand. I said that I had a problem with that particular word (“homophobia”) because it correlated disagreement with a given ideology with being “phobic”, or unreasonably fearful of gays or of homosexuality. I said, in what I had thought at the time were very carefully selected words, that while I may disagree with a certain ideology, that doesn’t make me “afraid” of it.

With only a minimal comment from our instructor, we moved on. A couple days later, I received an email from my instructor stating her concern that my words had offended some of the other students, two of whom had approached her after class and complained. One of those was a gay who had suffered years of abuse and derision from others and was quite understandably concerned that I was going to cause him/her more problems. The other was from another student – I assume hetero – who was simply offended by my view point.

I, of course, responded as soon as I could after taking some time to think about it all. First, I had no intention of causing anyone undue alarm. I didn’t realize that I had given this first student cause for fear for his/her own safety, and I was very sorry for doing so. There was no opportunity to make amends directly. I hoped that the teacher had been able to assure this student that I had never meant to cause him/her distress. From what the teacher said, I think she did. On the other hand, I thought the second student was being as intolerant as she/he viewed me to be. I had voiced an opinion in a class where all opinions were supposed to be considered important. I had not spoken against homosexuality, only the misuse of a specific word.

That’s where that episode ended. But I haven’t been able to completely stop thinking about it, and here’s why:

First – “Homophobia” and “homophobic” are words that, thanks to a very liberal main stream media, are sprayed around the United States like Weed-Be-Gone. Anyone who doesn’t openly support homosexuality and all related variations is immediately labeled as hostile, closed-minded, bigoted, and otherwise intolerant.

I can accept that the media are going to use specific words to push their agendas. But to find that same bias in a class that is all about tolerance and acceptance is very disturbing and disappointing to me. My instructor, of all people, should have been aware of the actual definition of such wording and the implicit connotations. The label of “homophobic” should never have been allowed in that classroom, especially when we were discussing the effects of some teachers’ seemingly harmless words/actions/jokes/etc on their more vulnerable students.

Second – by very definition, “homophobia” and “homophobic” are demeaning and prejudicial, even inflammatory. A phobia is, according to another teacher, an “unreasonable fear of something.” From,
Type: Term
Pronunciation: fō′bē-ă
1. Any objectively unfounded morbid dread or fear that arouses a state of panic.

We’re all familiar with arachnaphobia – the “unfounded morbid dread” of spiders – and agoraphobia – the “unreasonable fear” of public or open places. Since when does simple disagreement with an ideology equate with unreasonable fear? Because I disagree about sports teams or the way my son eats spaghetti, does that make me fearful of them? I may have serious disagreements with policies of the current presidential administration, but I’m not at all afraid of them, and I’m certainly not unreasonable in my disagreement.

That applies equally here. I – or anyone else – may have our own reasons for having our own thoughts and opinions about the ideology and/or practice of homosexuality without being fearful of such and certainly without being unreasonable or without foundation. To label someone who disagrees as “unreasonable” or “unfounded” is inherently biased, intolerant and even censoring. If I can’t voice my opinion – taking into account better than I did at that time the likely effect on those who have a very painful history of dealing with intolerance – then I am being censored in the very manner our class was supposed to prevent. In this country, where our core values are based on our right to speak our minds without fear of retribution or censorship – as long as we respect the rights of others – how can such labeling be a good thing?

We have seen this homophobia label so often we actually are starting to believe it. But it’s a lie, plain and simple. Repeating a lie to the point of acceptance doesn’t change it to the truth. It is still a lie. To allow such censoring labels to be perpetuated is damaging to all of us. Such crimes against our basic rights of speech and print are even crimes against our thoughts. They will spread from this area to others as surely as a cancer metastasizes until the whole being is consumed.

To my friends and acquaintances whose views differ from my own – Keep them! Speak them! And be prepared to defend them. As Evelyn Beatrice Hall badly paraphrased Voltaire, “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it!”