Let’s Talk About (Unintentional) Homophobia

Published June 9, 2013 by auddity

Let’s talk about ego. Let’s talk about assumptions. Let’s talk about good intentions. Let’s talk about homophobia. Homophobia is homophobia, even if you don’t mean it. But the question is, how can we stop doing it?

One time when I was at work, cashiering, a young couple came through my line. The girl went first and I joked around with her as I rang out her few items (see my post on how I am the perfect cashier). When I turned to the boyfriend his first words to me, before I could ask “How ya doing?” or even look at what he was buying, were “I’m not gay.” Completely baffled, I looked down and saw a couple of skincare products. His girlfriend laughed at him like he was being ridiculous, which he was, as he hurriedly explained he was buying them because they came with a free giftcard when bought together. I chuckled and said, “…Okay…” as I rang out his stuff. He continued rambling in a good-natured way, not trying to be insensitive, but coming off that way in his attempt to preserve his manhood, which to be honest was not in question to begin with. I had the urge to call him out by outing myself to prove a point. But then I thought that could make things even more awkward, so I chose a lighter but still ballsy, “What’s wrong with being gay?” “Nothing!” he insisted quickly, “I’m just not gay.” Gf was still laughing and agreed with me, “So what if you were? She doesn’t care.”

I’m not sure why it was so important to this guy that I was convinced of his heterosexuality; the presence of his girlfriend was enough. And honestly, I’ve had much weirder purchases, guy, and I do my best not to judge or make assumptions. It is perfectly plausible that he was just a man who wanted to take care of his skin, regardless of who he likes to date.

This is the thing though; you never know who you’re talking to in situations like these. What if I had just come out to my parents and it hadn’t gone well and they kicked me out? Imagine that guy’s face if I just broke down sobbing right then and there. Or what if I had taken the outraged I’m-gay-so-what-are-you-getting-at-buddy approach? I could’ve easily just chewed him out right there at the cash register. But I didn’t, because I wanted to keep things friendly and keep my job. I hope that my “What’s wrong with being gay?” was enough to make him think twice before making homophobic remarks the next time he embarrassedly buys skin care products.

As they were leaving, I handed him his free giftcard and he asked me if I knew if what he’d bought was any good. Just because I’m a girl I’m supposed to have an infinite knowledge of these things? I laughed and said, “I have no idea, I don’t use skincare products.” Bam. Take that social stereotypes.

The problem is that homophobia is so deeply rooted into our society that most of the time we don’t even realize we’re doing it. There’s a guy I work with whom I find annoying as hell who also happens to be gay. Am I annoyed by his flamboyancy or is he just an annoying person? And even if it was because he’s flamboyant, is that being homophobic or merely a case of opposing personality types? I don’t know; it is nearly impossible to distinguish. I will say that I have very few gay male friends, and the ones I do have are generally not very flamboyant. But is that because I am generally turned off by femininity in any form, or because I am specifically intolerant of male femininity?

As I have said before, homophobia is intrinsically linked to sexism because it stems from a reverence of “pure” masculinity. When one defines homophobia as hatred or mistrust of male femininity or female masculinity, it becomes clear that while we may approach the issue of homophobia with the best intentions and declare ourselves “open-minded” or “accepting,” in order to truly eradicate homophobia, whether intentional or not, we must dissolve sexism. Which is no easy task as it is still so pervasive in our way of thinking. Until we let go of sexism, we will be incapable of accepting that masculinity and femininity can never be separate entities and that both are present in males and females (and everyone else). Similarly, once we dispense with the hierarchy of masculinity being paramount to femininity, maybe we can break down all the other hierarchies that pop up with in the categories of sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation.

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