Bert Hummel would totally get today’s post.
Like racism, sexism, and transphobia, homophobia is something that can be quite subtle, yet persistent. Some people think that not calling gay people “dykes” and “faggots” and not perpetrating physical violence against gay people means they are free of all homophobia. However, they miss the little things that they say and do that continue and encourage negative attitudes — no matter how subtle — toward QUILTBAG people.
I was reminded of this earlier this week when I watched a random person stutter and stammer, and try to demonstrate his self-perceived non-homophobic status to me. As I listened to him, I began to compile the following list of things that indicate one has a homophobia problem. Some of the statements in this list are things that this person actually said, while other ones are things that came to mind.
“I’m not homophobic, but….”
I think it’s good to start with this one because it’s based on a greater and possibly universal principle. You can replace “homophobic” with “sexist,” “racist,” “transphobic,” “ablist,” “classist,” or just about anything else, and the statement will still be problematic.
This statement fails because basic communications teaches that the word “but” cancels out anything said up to that point. The preceding clause can be removed and not change the rest of the message. So if whatever comes after the word “but” is the true message. If that message “sounds” homophobic, it is homophobic.
This statement is actually about self-deception, in that the person knows what they are about to say is indeed homophobic, but they do not wish to be perceived — by themselves or others — as homophobic. They think that simply asserting that they are not homophobic, they are somehow insulated by the homophobic sentiments they are about to express or imply.
If you find yourself saying “I’m not homophobic, but,” stop talking immediately. Accept that what you were about to say was homophobic and be a better person by not saying it. Ever again.
“I didn’t know you were gay.”
If you say something in front of me and realize it wasn’t a good thing to say in front of me due to my sexual orientation, then you shouldn’t have said it in my absence, either. It’s amazing to me that people don’t get this concept.
People are more concerned about not appearing homophobic than they are with actually being homophobic. In their minds, it’s okay to make homophobic and other problematic statements as long as no one — at least no one who doesn’t share those same sentiments — actually hears them. I’m reminded of the saying that what a person does when others are watching defines zir reputation while what zie does when no one is looking defines zir character. It seems that we live in a society where many people are concerned about their reputation, but not their character.
“I have gay friends.”
To be frank, I think every QUILTBAG person I know is one of those “gay friends.” If you talk about your “gay friends” as a defense against accusations of homophobia, stop and ask your “gay friends” how they feel about this. Quite frankly, I’m the “gay friend” of several people, and they don’t make my list of people I’d call up if I just had a bad break up, if I needed to talk to someone about an STD scare, or even if I was just feeling depressed and needed someone to talk to. Quite frankly, such people overstate the strength and value of our “friendship.” I often suspect the person who starts telling me about their “gay friends” in this context are doing likewise.
There’s also the fact that having gay friends — even real gay friends — does not make one a perfect person when it comes to being an ally for gay people or homophobia-free. I do have legitimate friends who occasionally slip up and say something stupid and hurtful. The reason they’re still my friends is because when I point it out to them, they acknowledge it and apologize. They don’t start telling me how they can’t possibly be homophobic because they have friends like me.
“I was only joking.”
Now, I like gay humor. I make all kinds of jokes about myself, especially those areas in which I actually fit the gay male stereotypes. I also make such jokes because humor can be a powerful way to reclaim power over something that is hurtful and othering.
However, as a gay man, I have the right to make that choice. I can joke about things that hurt me because it’s my life and my pain I’m joking about. When I do it, it’s a powerful weapon I’m wielding. When someone else — such as a heterosexual person — does it, it’s likely to be rubbing salt in my wounds. Someone else making light of that which hurts and others me is not empowering me, it’s having a laugh at my expense.
I may let some friends — those true allies that have walked beside me through my struggles and who would be the first to step up to my defense — engage in such humor. They have earned that privilege in my mind, so I choose to grant it to them. But if I have not explicitly granted you that privilege, claiming it for yourself is hurtful and wrong. Joke about your own pains and struggles.
“Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”
This is another one of those deflective phrases that people use. It was a common catchphrase used by the WINK 106 morning show back when I lived in the Elmira area. Whenever they topic of homosexuality came up, one of the show’s hosts would quickly add, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that!”
Here’s the thing: If you have to utter that phrase, then it’s clear that even you — or some part of you — feels like you’ve said something that implies there is something wrong with being gay. People who sincerely believe that there’s nothing wrong with being gay and demonstrate that belief through their words and deeds need no such disclaimer.
If you find yourself making any of the above statements — or remember when you’ve made them in the past — it’s time to re-evaluate your understanding of and attitude towards non-heterosexual orientations. It’s time to admit that, yes, maybe you need to address some homophobia still lurking in your thoughts. That admission does mean that you’re a horrible person. But refusing to make that admission will keep you from becoming a better person. And ultimately, isn’t actually becoming a better person preferable to trying to convince people you’re a better person?
 I’m actually hesitant to use such an inclusive term for this discussion. While much of what I say is applicable to — or can be modified to be applicable to — intersexed, transgender, and asexual people, there are entire lists of ways that such people are additionally marginalized and othered which I will not be discussing in this post. As such, mentioning them without at least acknowledging their unique experiences where I am actually privileged strikes me as problematic.
 These are likely people who also operate under the mistaken belief that intent is magic.