Signs you might have a homophobia problem


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[1] 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[2] 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?

Notes:
[1]  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.

[2]  These are likely people who also operate under the mistaken belief that intent is magic.

10 thoughts on “Signs you might have a homophobia problem

  1. I 100% agree with all your points except the one about jokes. In the paraphrased words of the late great George Carlin, anything is funny as long as you phrase the joke correctly. He used that to talk about rape and in general I agree with him. I don’t think your permission solves the problem except among your friends perhaps, and even then it doesn’t solve the inherent problem of making yourself the arbiter of whether or not something is funny to a gay person solves any problems. I’ve always agreed with the philosophy that comedy is supposed to push the boundaries, and if you’re not willing to try, you’re never going to go very far with it. That would be like saying you can’t make straight jokes because you’re not straight. I don’t see how that makes sense. What if your brother is straight and you wanted to make comments on him growing up or something, what about a friend down the street, maybe you haven’t spoken in years due to life being busy, do you have to call him before making an anecdotal funny about the good old days. Seems too much like policing to me

  2. @northner:

    In the paraphrased words of the late great George Carlin, anything is funny as long as you phrase the joke correctly.

    George Carlin was wrong.

    He used that to talk about rape

    I?ll let someone else address this.

    I don’t think your permission solves the problem except among your friends perhaps, and even then it doesn’t solve the inherent problem of making yourself the arbiter of whether or not something is funny to a gay person solves any problems.

    You misunderstand me, and I expect that I wasn?t sufficiently clear. When I grant my friends permission to make gay jokes, I do so only when they are around me. I am not granting them blanket permission to go around making such jokes in front of everybody. Also, if another gay person is present and gets upset with my friends for making a joke around me, my friends need to deal with that. Saying ?but Jarred said it was okay? is not an acceptable response, and my friends understand that.

    Also, I?ll note that saying my friends can make such jokes around is not synonymous with saying that I will always find their jokes funny. Some of them are just bad or even inappropriate.

    I’ve always agreed with the philosophy that comedy is supposed to push the boundaries, and if you’re not willing to try, you’re never going to go very far with it.

    Like I said, push the boundaries with your own identity, your own experiences, and your own struggles. Laugh at yourself rather than someone else. My life and the lives of other QUILTBAG people are not an open source of comedy for you.

    That would be like saying you can’t make straight jokes because you’re not straight.

    I don?t make straight jokes. I?m not even aware of any straight jokes. Do you? What stereotypes do they play on? How do they deny the humanity of straight people or trivialize straight people?s struggles, suffering, and/or marginalization?

    What if your brother is straight and you wanted to make comments on him growing up or something, what about a friend down the street, maybe you haven’t spoken in years due to life being busy, do you have to call him before making an anecdotal funny about the good old days.

    Why am I telling funny anecdotes about my brother? To whom am I telling them?

    I think you?re grasping at straws with your hypotheticals to justify problematic behavior you wish to continue.

  3. I’m not a comedian, in fact I’m not very funny unless it comes to political humour. Plenty of great straight jokes out there, involving trying to pick up a person of the opposite sex etc. I still remember the one gay amateur comedian I saw once, might’ve been on last comic standing talking about his problem with picking up guys. Funny stuff. I guess your point is more that comedy should be about yourself and your own experiences. Fun fact with the way our society works. If Russell Peters was a white guy adopted by Indian parents, he’d also have to preface that in his comedy so as to not be called racist.

    Your link is not a link.

    Bad jokes are just bad, content really has nothing to do with it, inappropriate jokes can be funny if they’re done correctly which is my point. I guess that’s really the problem using a word that means something different to each individual person

  4. involving trying to pick up a person of the opposite sex etc.

    I would not consider that a “straight joke.” Nor would I consider a gay guy joking about dating mishaps or an attempt to ask a guy out to be telling “gay jokes,” at least not in the sense as I’m talking about in this entry. Quite frankly, I’m beginning to find your arguments to be disingenuous end-runs to try to win a point. I’m not impressed by that.

    The link regarding Carlin’s jokes about rape is fixed.

    inappropriate jokes can be funny if they’re done correctly which is my point.

    My point is that inappropriate jokes are inappropriate and decent people don’t tell inappropriate jokes and pretend they’re not inappropriate or attempt to defend them against criticisms of being inappropriate.

  5. again with the language that can mean so many different things to different people, decent, a word that is described by the majority, decent in southern Alabama is a god fearing christian who hates abortion and gay marriage, be specific with language to make your arguments otherwise you’re just pandering to your own crowd, which is useless really as they already get the point. Also I’m not bisexual but a good friend of mine is, and he says the approaches are quite different, Just as I’m sure that a gay man pick up attempt would be quite different in the details then a gay woman pick up attempt. Straight humour comes in the dynamics of a sexual relationship between a man and a woman, and the dating scene is a relatively easy target as most people have a decent amount of experience to relate to what the comedian is talking about.

  6. You know darn well what I meant by decent. You’re just trying to justify your own desire to engage in and approve homophobic jokes.

    I’m done entertaining your trollish nonsense.

  7. I meant no disrespect, or intention to troll, simply wanted to inform you that vague wording solves no problems and leads to a lot of confusion, especially given the inherent ambiguity of the english language. Nor do I really care about homophobic humour. I don’t tend to listen to it and I tend to ignore it from the comedians I like cause it’s generally poorly worded or just poorly done, For example, Louis CK, brilliant comedian, never found his gay rollerblading joke or his other couple of gay jokes that funny. Yes a flamboyant gay person is more likely to be rollerblading in just a thong on Venice beach and yes it’s probably an unpleasant sight to anyone who’s not into men(especially if they aren’t overly attractive), but neither of those facts are inherently funny, so I don’t get it. I don’t want to try and justify things, just state that I somewhat disagree. A lot of jokes are indeed very hurtful and therefore just insert group here bashing disguised as comedy but I don’t consider the topic to be taboo

  8. The thing about jokes is that they can be an amazing tool for oppressed peoples to take away some of the ‘majesty’ (for lack of a better word) of the people oppressing them. It’s a way for people without power to take down people with power; a way to demystify the unspeakable topics and to be irreverent about things that control you. Black humor, for example, is a way to try to break the power of death and turn it into something that doesn’t have to be feared.

    That only works going in one direction – if you reverse it, you have someone with all the advantages and power mocking the people who are oppressed, and that’s just cruelness.

    This is why I would need ‘permission’ to laugh at a joke about racial issues, for example; if the person telling the story is a member of the minority group that the joke’s about, it’s easier for me to enjoy because they aren’t just making a joke; they’re in a position to mock the system that makes the joke funny. If a person outside that same group tells the same joke, it becomes derisive.

  9. You raise some great points, Gela. I’ll also note that when it comes to humor, there is sometimes a fine line between mocking/satirizing/challenging the oppressor and supporting zir. This is especially true if the humorist has more in common with the oppressor than the oppressed.

  10. Umm, well, Im 17 and I must recognize Im homophobic but I dont want to be… Its just that I cant help it. I dont know what I should think about it. Ive never met any gay or lesbian person, and Im not entirely sure how I feel about homosexuality, but I know I have prejudices.

    I sometimes like to watch anime cartoons apart from american series, and I ended up watching something with boys love, well, it wasnt even boys love because the plot is not about their love story, but the main characters felt attracted to each other and I thought they were cute together. Gosh, since then Ive been overthinking about my own thoughts. I accept their homosexuality or bisexuality (or thats what I think?) , but I still feel uneasy and I dont know why, thats how I know I have prejudices…

    And well, apart from that, there are a lot of girls that love yaoi and only read and watch that genres, although they are heterosexual … I know this has nothing to do with the article but I dont understand why…? Its like they reject heterosexual series but they are heterosexual… Oh dude, I have headache, there are a llot of things I dont understand.. Btw, Im a girl if anyone wonders.

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