by: Carrie Kaufman
“I hate the word homophobia. It’s not a real phobia. You are not scared. You are an asshole.”
That meme has been going around the internets for a couple of weeks now. And it pisses me off every time I read it.
Really? Homophobia doesn’t exist? Just assholes?
First, let’s tackle the idea that calling someone an asshole is going to change his behavior or help move things forward in any way. One of the things I rail against is this idea that both the right and left are the same. For every Bryan Fischer or Todd Akin there is not an extremist on the left who…actually I can’t even think of the opposite extreme of people who think children of same sex couples should be “rescued” from their parents and that women can’t get pregnant if rape is violent. Albert Einstein, I suppose? Someone completely steeped in the world of reality and rationality?
The point is both sides are not equal. The right is about intolerance. Denying gay people their rights is about hate. The left doesn’t run on hate. It takes way too much energy, and we just aren’t that focused.
The problem is that when we sit back and call them assholes, then we look just as bad as they do. We give credence to the idea that both sides are the same.
But let’s step back from the far right extremists for a moment. Homophobia is a self-directed impulse. We ARE afraid… of our feelings that we’ve been told are wrong; of being cast out of our families and social circles; of forging down a path that we couldn’t even imagine as children. Coming out is nothing more than overcoming your homophobia, taking a risk that your life as you know it will change in some way, and learning to love yourself.
And now we have to saddle people going through this with the idea that they’re assholes?
Alan Chambers, an ex-ex-gay leader, has this year publicly backtracked on his previous belief that gay people can be cured. He’s taken a lot of flack from Christian Nationalists. Must we make his struggle harder by calling him an asshole?
What about the 17-year-old kid who joins in on gay jokes? Or even one who bullies? Will calling him an asshole make him stop? Will it make him deal with his attraction to men any better?
I guess part of me is bewildered by this odd charge coming from liberals. I mean, the rap against us is that we’re too accepting, that we see too many extenuating circumstances. This asshole thing is too pat for us.
I live in a homey suburban town south of Chicago. It’s got trees (and houses) older than I am. It’s right off of a train line shuttling the academics and doctors who live here to the University of Chicago, or most of the rest to their downtown offices. It’s very racially integrated. And the people are nice. A friend of mine calls it Pleasantville – with only a hint of cynicism.
I have lots of friends here for whom me being gay isn’t any different that me having blue eyes. But there are other people here who try really hard, but aren’t sure how to handle me. I’m perfectly aware that this could have nothing to do with me being gay, but rather with me being forthright and outspoken…combined with being a woman. I’m also aware, though, of a certain look in people’s eyes, a certain arms length distance.
When we first moved here a decade ago one neighbor asked who lived in our house. I (standing there pregnant next to my then 8-year-old grandson) told her my partner and I had just moved in. She actually took a step back, her voice got higher and she sputtered, “Oh, it’s good to have some diversity in the neighborhood,” before she scuttled off as fast as she could.
Here’s the thing, though: she waves to me and says hi every time she sees me pass. She was clearly uncomfortable. She wasn’t sure what to do. Having a gay neighbor stirred up a little bit of fear. But she’s made a point of pushing past that and engaging. I think it’s pretty heroic (unlike her husband, who has never said a word to me and only scowls when we walk past).
It’s a process. And coming out or having gay friends isn’t the end of the process. Popular culture is full of messages about gay people being weird. And for those of us who are older than, say, 15, the homophobic messages were more hurtful and more numerous. Because of that, it’s something that we all struggle with. When I see people engaging in the struggle, I commend them. I don’t call them assholes.
Note: This was reposted with permission, you can find the original here, at the authors newest blog- Kaufman on America.