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10 April 2006
The Nurture And Nature Of Homophobia
by Paul A.

I finally saw Brokeback Mountain last night. Iíd read the reviews and heard glowing reports from my friends, but Iíd been putting it off because frankly, the truth is, I canít stand to see two men kiss. Does that make me a homophobe? Maybe so, but if it does, then Iím not your average redneck homophobe. Call me homophobe-lite...

As far as Iím concerned, people have the right to do whatever the hell they like as long as theyíre not hurting others. Would I object to two guys screwing on the subway? Sure, but Iíd also object to a heterosexual couple doing the same thing (although I might watch). Do two men have the right to kiss - and I mean full lip lock - in a park with kiddies running around? Absolutely. But would I smile and gaze upon them in fond remembrance of the wonder that is love? Not on your life buddy! And therein lays the curious crux of the matter. Iím of two different minds on the issue - literally. The part of me that supports the right of two men to neck in public comes right out of the cerebral cortex, a logical extrapolation of an innate appreciation of fairness. But thereís a part of me that comes from somewhere deeper which makes me want to run screaming for the hills. Is this instinctual?

This is a very contentious idea. The prevailing view of homophobia in our society is that it is a social construct. If we feel revulsion at homosexual behavior itís because we were taught to have those feelings. Not taught institutionally, but more subtly, through societal signals. And there is no doubt that these societal signals exist, everywhere from the schoolyard to the office. But thereís a qualitative difference in the sensation of being offended by ideas which break with social norms and the visceral feeling of repulsion that other concepts engender. When I first learned about homosexuality, which was well before I was exposed to prevailing societal attitudes towards it, my first thought was "eww".

Why do I find the idea of two men doing it inherently disquieting? It isnít simply sexual disinterest; there is something deeplyÖ icky about it. The idea of passionately kissing another man is somewhere between kissing my sister and kissing my Mom on the continuum of icky. Itís interesting that men can happily watch two women kissing but not two men. According to feminist theory, this discrepancy arises from the male association of sex with dominance. So in the case of men kissing; our sense of revulsion grows out of the idea of a man subjugated instead of a woman. This is utter nonsense. Men relish watching men dominate and subjugate other men. Itís called sport.

Itís also interesting that women do not demonstrate the same abhorrence to the idea of a male-on-male sex romp. And women donít mind the idea of two women going at it. This gender difference goes a long way to explaining the feminist slant. They just donít get it. Iíve yet to meet a woman who would rather sleep with the most unattractive man they know than the most attractive member of their own sex (Yep, hang around me youíll get into some pretty strange conversations). Yet given the same choice - ugliest woman vs handsomest man - most men would go for the Broom Hilda look alike without a backward glance. They may not enjoy it, but hey, anything is better than going down on some dude, no matter how handsome he is.

But my hypothesis about a homophobic instinct is challenged on two fronts; ancient Greece and the prison system. In Greece, homosexual behavior was common and in Sparta, pederasty was institutionalized. Boys left their homes and mothers before adolescence and were thereafter raised by men to be warriors. Each boy was paired with a mentor who was not his father. These two would then bond emotionally and physically. Dicks were definitely out on the island of Peloponesia. It should be noted that throughout ancient Greek culture, the man-boy relationship was seen to be the highest union, higher even than father and son and waaaay higher than husband and wife. I think this explains at least part of the Greek exception and in a way supports the idea of homosexual acceptance as a social construct. You can become inured to just about anything. Repeated exposure is the only way known to cure most phobias and maybe homophobia is no exception.

Men having sex with other men in prison (and thereís a lot less of it than weíve been led to believe from TV) is a different matter altogether. Itís all about dominance, not sex. And this is one thing the feminists have absolutely right. In the act of sex, especially anal sex, there are definite dominant and submissive roles. Getting "screwed in the ass" is a common way of describing an act of involuntary submission.

So where does this leave us? If homophobia is instinctual, does that mean gays will have to suffer bigotry and repression and the occasional horrific act of violence because thatís just the way we are? Of course not. Racism, a form of xenophobia, has its roots in instinct. We have lots instinctual tendencies that are incompatible with civil society, but that doesnít mean we have to allow ourselves to drift to them. And if homophobia it in part instinctive, what purpose does it serve to ignore this fact? Far from giving succor to the political and social homophobes, it actually undercuts their case. Homophobes have always drawn on scripture and dubious philosophical arguments to justify their position. Identifying their inclinations as an expression of some base instinct allows us to reject their position.

And despite all my cringing anticipation of watching two guys doing it for two whole hours, Brokeback Mountain was a great movie. Yeah, there was liplock. It was furtive and desperate - these guys were a study in repressed desire. If you havenít seen it, check it out. Youíll be the better man for it.

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