Sexually intact and emotionally healthy people really don’t care what consenting adults do in the privacy of their own homes! And sexually intact and emotionally healthy people don’t in any way demean Gay people or seek to deprive Gay people of civil rights that accrue to heterosexuals in society!
Save for crass material and political gains yielded by homophobia within “religious” and other contexts, much strident homophobia may be attributed to the interplay between hetero-normativity and homophobia within society and the psychological dynamics residing in certain people who are intrigued, and who are even unconsciously and/or consciously envious, of out and proud Gay people who express an authenticity that the strident homophobe may lack.
Heterosexism and homophobia, unfortunately, often make sexuality to be falsely perceived as fluid. However, that perception of its seeming fluidity has to do with that heterosexism and homophobia, and does not imply either “fluidity” or “choice” in one’s sexuality! It seems that most frequently people realize that they are attracted to members of the same or opposite sex at a relatively early age. (One woman told me that she realized she was attracted to girls when she was about six years old.)
However, we can’t ignore the cultural stigma still visited upon Gay people, and that stigma may well condition a person to think he/she has emotional/sexual feelings toward the opposite sex until either his/her true nature can no longer suffer the inconsistency between that nature and his/her perceived need to conform to heterosexist cultural expectations of sexuality, and he/she comes out either to him/herself and/or to others, or one unconsciously and/or consciously chooses to live a life of quiet (and sometimes not so quiet) desperation by conforming to the dominant cultural heterosexist norms of society and labels him/herself “heterosexual” when, in fact, his/her homosexuality is unconsciously repressed and/or consciously suppressed, thus causing him/her tremendous anxiety.
It is this latter group from which we can expect much of the strident homophobia that we encounter in society! Psychoanalysts refer to this defense mechanism of vociferously condemning in the other what one possesses in him/herself as “Reaction Formation.”
Moreover, one can have fulfilling same-sex relationships and then abstain from those relationships, or even marry a person of the opposite sex, and falsely think of him/herself as no longer Gay (hence, the “ex-gay” myth) when, in fact, he/she is Gay when same-sex emotional and sexual desire and also homosexual masturbatory fantasies are used as indicators (as they must be) of one’s true sexuality.
It is entirely possible, regarding feelings, perceptions, and behavior, that a person can act and even consider him/herself to be Straight for a part of his/her life and subsequently act and consider him/herself to be Gay for another part of his/her life. Or, one can act and even feel Gay for a part of his/her life and subsequently act and consider him/herself Straight for another part of his/her life! For Gay people, homophobic society can account for the former; bankrupt and dangerous “ex-gay therapy” can often account for the latter!
In this context, we can see that much misogyny, like homophobia itself, borne of barriers to the expression of authentic sexuality to be discussed below, underlies strident homophobia as well as all anti-Gay sentiment. For example, the revulsion that some people feel at the very idea of two men making love, at least one of whom is viewed as taking on “the female role,” highlights the profound discomfort and anxieties that result in those whose misogyny shows their lack sexual intactness and confidence in their own sexuality, their own perceived “manhood.” Indeed, the aggression visited upon Gay people by homophobes may also be mirrored in the unhealthy power dynamic that is likely to occur in many homophobes’ own heterosexual relationships.
In addition, this is also why transgender people are an enigma to many, even many in the Gay communities, and are so stigmatized! It is alleged that one is either a man or a woman and must act in a way that is in accord with the cultural expectations of our society. The fact is that blended gender is quite normal, and misogyny, as well as the felt need by many to place people into neat dichotomous boxes (that don’t fit the facts of many people’s experiences or the diversity of God’s creation), is the result of many people’s blind adherence to cultural norms of what is considered to be “male expression” and “female expression” that unjustly visits tremendous suffering upon transgender people.
Regarding strident homophobes who are unwittingly (or even wittingly) Gay by nature, their sexual expression is often conditioned by unconscious and/or conscious forces by which they often react to the heterosexism and homophobia that exist in society that creates their internalized homophobia. And that internalized homophobia can be manifested in all sorts of destructive behaviors against Gay people ranging from free-floating anxiety to suicide to hateful rhetoric to free-floating aggression to acts of discrimination to assaults and murder!
I truly believe that this repression, suppression, and the frustration and anxiety that ensue from unconsciously and/or consciously living an emotional/sexual lie, is one of the major causes of strident homophobia!
It is quite likely that those who repress and/or suppress their own homosexuality are among the most strident homophobes, as the very existence and freedom exhibited by out Gay people are a terrible threat and source of great anxiety to those who are unconsciously and/or consciously closeted.
Lilian Faderman wrote, “Observation tells us that the neat categories of sexual identity are often an illusion. People in real life can move in and out of those categories, spending one portion of their lives as straight and another as gay and then perhaps straight again, or vice versa, or all of it at once, or none of it at all…” [Faderman, Lillian. 1997. “Why Is It Shocking When A Lesbian Leader Falls In Love With A Man?” The Advocate, April 29, 1997:80.] Faderman buys into the notion of “sexual fluidity,” and refuses to see that our emotional/sexual nature is fixed, despite many behavioral manifestations that may not be consistent with that nature due to societal, cultural, and even “therapeutic” pressures to conform to heterosexist norms, as well as the existence of homophobia, all of which often provide barriers to the expression of one’s authentic sexuality!
Hence, the existence of strident homophobia as well as the myth of being “ex-gay!” One can act against his/her true nature as he/she was created and honestly contend he/she is Straight when, in fact, he/she was created to be Gay and will always be Gay.
As mentioned above, our sexuality is comprised of both emotion and behavior, and that emotion and behavior are often influenced, either temporarily or even permanently, by homophobia and heterosexist cultural norms and expectations that can cause repression and/or suppression of one’s true sexuality; such repression and/or suppression creates tremendous anxiety and frustration in the person that often results in his/her aggression that is either internalized and/or often displaced (externalized) onto those who exacerbate that anxiety and frustration. And those who exacerbate that aggression are out and proud Gay people who exhibit their sexual authenticity!
Given societal constraints and expectations, sexual behavior can very well be falsely manifested, as that expression can very well be inconsistent with one’s very sexual nature that has been fixed as created by God. I think that it’s that false sexual expression, largely caused by societal constraints, expectations, and unconscious and/or conscious internalized homophobia, that has a great deal to do with the phenomenon of people who make a habit of condemning Gay people. It is those who are afraid of their own sexuality because of societal constraints who are very likely to verbally and/or physically attack the person whose sexual orientation the attacker has likely repressed and/or suppressed within him/herself.
The excellent author James Baldwin made a telling remark in a 1965 interview when he said, “[T]hose terms, homosexual, bisexual, heterosexual, are 20th century terms which, for me, really have very little meaning. I’ve never, myself, in watching other people, watching life, been able to discern exactly where the barriers were.” [Mossman, James. 1989. “Race, Hate, Sex, and Color: A Conversation with James Baldwin.] It may well be that in 1965 even James Baldwin, certainly not homophobic, was unable to understand his true nature as a gay man.
Much strident homophobia and transphobia may very well be attributed to societal and cultural barriers to the expression of sexual authenticity that reside within those who make a veritable career out of bearing false witness, demeaning, and discriminating against LGBT people.
There may very well be the fear of their own sexuality as a result of those barriers that may be seen to reside in the strident homophobe and that causes him/her to fight against his/her own true sexual desires by displacing his/her aggression, borne of his/her own sexual frustrations and anxieties, onto others who hold up a mirror to his/her face by their being out and proud as fully authentic people who fully accept and embrace themselves as the LGBT people whom God made; who demand full equality in a society that prides itself on having equality under the law for all of its citizens.
It is crucial to be on the offensive when contending with “religious” and secular expressions of homophobia!
And understanding sexual inauthenticity due to heterosexism and homophobia, and the repressions, suppressions, frustrations, anxieties, and aggressions they can cause, can go a long way toward shining a light on the dynamics that likely motivate many strident homophobes and transphobes and their hateful rhetoric and actions that they unjustly and irrationally visit upon LGBT people.
And it must also be understood that these psychological and social barriers, social phenomena and constraints, and prejudices borne of the interplay between cultural norms and psychological dynamics, make any rational discussions with strident homophobes futile and fruitless! Tragically, many of them manifest their hatred based on largely unconscious repressions, drives, and tempestuous psychological forces of which they are unaware.
As I recently wrote in an article titled “Homophobia Stems From The Unconscious,” in the January/February 2010 edition of “Whosoever”:
“When confronting another’s prejudices, that person may, when asked, seem to come to a rational explanation for those prejudices, with appeal to assorted “scientific” and “biblical” claims yet, when push comes to shove, those reasons are mere rationalizations used by the person in order to justify in his/her mind and in the minds of the questioner(s) why those prejudices are “rational” when, in fact, they are anything but rational but emanate from the unconscious longings and repressions, the resistances and the untamed and untamable forces that reside within the unconscious of the person with whose prejudices we are dealing.
“In the case of homophobia, it is eminently clear that ignorance and/or hate are the root causes of those prejudices, and that hateful animus that propels and compels one to consistently seek to demean the other, and deny equal rights to Gay people, is coming from the unconscious of that person, those tempestuous forces of which he/she is largely, if not solely, unaware.
“However, the homophobe’s conscious mind must make him/her and his/her homophobia seem “reasonable” to those who ask the question as to why that person is homophobic, so there is an attempt by the homophobe to invoke “credible evidence” in his/her conscious mind, particularly the homophobe’s interpretation of certain selected biblical verses, so that credibility can be sought and often, unfortunately, irrationally obtained by gullible people to the hateful utterances made by clergy and by other professing Christians in the name of God and the Prince of Peace.
“Therefore, “sitting down and reasoning together” with strident homophobes, particularly religious homophobes, is a waste of time and energy, and is bound to degenerate into profound resistance and hostility on the part of the homophobe because his/her unconscious structure and drives make it virtually impossible for rational discourse to penetrate that structure and change those drives.”
And a good deal of the hateful animus that emanates from the unconscious repressions, suppressions, frustrations, displaced aggressions, and societal barriers to sexual authenticity (e.g. misogyny, heteronormativity, societal homophobia) that likely reside within many strident homophobes may be seen to have their origins in unconscious and/or conscious envy of out Gay people who present a mirror of the very relationships and drives that comprise much of the unconscious and/or conscious desires of those who seek to impose their own warped psyches onto both Gay people as well as onto society as a whole.
Professor Emeritus of Sociology at California State University, Chico, Rev. Dr. Jerry S. Maneker served as an ordained priest in the Congregational Catholic Church, a division of the Independent Catholic Churches International (ICCI). For many years he published a weekly column in the Sacramento Valley Mirror titled “Christianity and Society” where he dealt with a variety of social issues from a biblical and sociological perspective. He also published a blog called A Christian Voice for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Rights and the website Radical Christianity.