I was discussing homophobia the other night, and I have some views on this for the record. I have some theorize on why homophobia is the way it is.
Paranoia of Others
I feel as though homophobia has a different shade of bigotry than other types. Unlike ethnic and cultural biases, homosexuality can occur in any society, in any race, and in any gender group. So in a sense "gayness" can happen anytime, anywhere. Someone could come out of the closet at any time. So there's a paranoia of others.
Paranoia of Self and "the Spectrum"
We were in agreement with the concept of a sexuality spectrum. Few people are "100% straight" or "100% gay". I think I'm on the spectrum enough to recognize a guy that women would find attractive — I wouldn't confuse George Clooney for George Costanza. And I think most people who fall into a homo or hetero bucket are similarly on the spectrum.
This is in contrast with what society has been telling itself — until recently, we've lived in a cultural landscape populated with John Wayne on one side, and Richard Simmons on the other, with no gray area inbetween. For one to have thoughts that puts oneself on the spectrum, yet be shaped by this black and white dichotomy creates a tension. There's a paranoia that if you aren't "The Duke", you must be the guy in leotards, making sweating to the oldies with limp wrists.
And the pressure is high, because of the stakes that society has created. Homosexuals are marginalized, the victims of prejudice and violence. Outing yourself as a homosexual has long been the social equivalence of bankruptcy. You lose everything - your friends, sometimes your family. You essentially have to rebuild your life from scratch. I can see why that is terrifying - ignoring the fact that these pressures are created by the intolerance of our own society. I do feel this paranoia crosses gender lines, but is generally more pervasive and vitriolic among men. And I do feel that masculine stereotypes in western culture is tied more strongly to heterosexuality, then feminine stereotypes.
Introspection and transcending the Spectrum
When I was in high school, I had some very private and tense moments, where I simultaneously couldn't stop thinking about homosexuality, while being terrified that that meant I was gay. At the same time, I wasn't aroused by the thought of sex with men, and I was very aroused by women. Still, I was shaken to say the least.
In time, I realized that introspective people consider all ranges of human existence. Part of intelligence is to consider that which you are not. What would it like to be Asian? To live in Ancient Rome? To be a tree? To kill someone? To win the Nobel Prize? To eat a live octopus? How can we not consider these situations at some point in our repose. And when the consideration is aimed at wondering what being gay would be like, the questions are pretty specific and graphic. What would it be like to live with someone of the same sex, to have a sexual relationship with them?
But because of the self-paranoia, this specific type of consideration is terrifying in our culture. We wonder - does this mean I'm gay, and I just can't accept it. In the John Wayne/Richard Simmons world - simply thinking about gayness means you are gay.
Ultimately, I matured to a point where it just sunk in that the physical act of homosexuality was totally unappealing to me on a visceral level - like the idea of eating a live octopus is totally unappealing to me. And the crisis passed. Of course, the difference is that there is no cultural paranoia that I might secretly want to eat octopus.
I believe that people are either fundamentally introspective, or they are not. non-introspective people do consider other possibilities, but I would say those considerations are more pragmatic, and often subconscious.
For this group of non-introspective people, considering alternatives is probably like the edge of your peripheral vision. Those things are there, but they just don't ever get examined or pursued - it just fades into grayness. By not considering these things consciously, you are unable to follow the train of thought to its conclusion.
When it comes to homosexuality, that means a subconscious consideration that is never fully completed, and therefore a crisis that is never resolved.
To deal with the paranoia of this particular unresolvable crisis, firewalls are created. There is a "I'm not going there" mentality. But in doing so, the paranoia is actually heightened - because rational thought is not allowed to hold court. In the void of rational thought, the paranoia takes over.
And you see it in heterosexual relationships. We catch each other, and issue warnings. "You sound like a fag." "What are you, a homo?" "I'm not gay, but..." It's like we create this linguistic warning system to make sure we stay in the John Wayne tent.
There is a perceived immorality about homosexuality, despite the fact that its been poven to be largely biological. This misunderstanding is based on the unresolved crisis, and a self fear that one could still be gay, if the firewall were to be breached. To cope with that incorrect assumption, homosexuality is characterized as an immoral act, and that its some type of cult. This actually reinforces the latent fear that one could become gay, and that a homosexual person would want to turn you gay, like some type of vampire.
At the end of the day, you can't catch gay. You are either gay or you aren't. I'm speculating here, but the compartmentalization one does to avoid thinking about homosexuality is probably light years away from the type of self denial and compartmentalization that occurs when somebody really is gay, and is exerting maximum force to prevent consciously accepting it.
Fear based silence on issues
The paranoia runs so deep, that to talk about gay issues seems to automatically implicate somebody as secretly gay. I'm sure somebody reading this post might come to that conclusion about me. It's unfortunate, because its the type of reactionary panic that prevents more open dialogs about homosexuality and homophobia. The kind of dialog that would allow better acceptance of not just homosexuals, but for heterosexuals to accept themselves. After all, if the paranoia is that you could be turned gay, or choose to be gay, doesn't that actually weaken one's own tie to "John Wayne" straightness - its like a broad based, cultural insecurity. One that has left millions emotional and physical casualties in its wake.
My personal wish is for homosexuality to be accepted as a biologically initiated characteristic, like left handedness. I don't want our friends and our children to have to grow up in a world where if they are gay, that it becomes a stigmatizing event. I don't want to see a world where being called gay or a fag is an insult - just like I don't want to see racism.
Unfortunately, unlike these other prejudices, homosexuality is one rooted not in fear of others, but in fear of what may be lurking in oneself. Even more sad and ironic, that fear prevents the type of self exploration that would lead to a reassuring and anti-climactic conclusion. It seems as though we as a society are becoming more tolerant, but that we still have a long way to go in the self-honesty department.