While the Viki Knox case winds its way through the educational and legal systems in New Jersey, the debates still rage on the Support Viki Knox page at Facebook. Two opposing views are at play; support of Ms. Knox and opposition to homosexuality, and vice-versa. The expression of these views has taken on many forms, including picture posts, logical arguments and flat-out finger-pointing from both sides. Concepts of respect, tolerance and acceptance have been discussed, as well as fear and hate. The latter is what I want to expand on in this article, only because I think there’s a gross misunderstanding on the part of some as to what the exact issues are. The word we’re going to focus on, is “Homophobia.”
Now, there are some in the “straight” camp that have gone so far as to deny the very existence of homophobia, such as one Enoch Glover III, who recently posted a reference to a video he recorded on the topic.(1) Mr. Glover’s video approaches the topic from what I would consider to be a severely uninformed / under-informed basis, completely discounting widely-accepted word definitions and etymologies. Indeed, this seems to be an underlying issue with many anti-LGBT arguments in the Facebook venue.
Those who have read my weblog, know exactly where I stand on issues impacting the LGBT community. So, in an effort to clear up the misconceptions surrounding homophobia, I’ll start by clarifying the definition(s). In my opinion, any reasonable person with a modicum of intelligence will acknowledge the following definitions as being accurate.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “homosexual” in the following manner:
homosexual (\ˌhō-mə-ˈsek-sh(ə-)wəl, -ˈsek-shəl\) 1: of, relating to, or characterized by a tendency to direct sexual desire toward another of the same sex. 2: of, relating to, or involving sexual intercourse between persons of the same sex.(2)
The word “homosexual” is derived from the root words “homo” and “sexual”:
homo- (1) comb. form meaning “same, the same, equal, like,” before vowels hom-, from Gk. homos “one and the same,” also “belonging to two or more jointly,” from PIE *somos (cf. Skt. samah “even, the same,” Lith. similis “like,” Goth. sama “the same,” samana “together;” see same.(3) E.g.: “homophone,” “homonym.”)
sexual- 1650s, “of or pertaining to the fact of being male or female,” from L.L. sexualis “relating to sex,” from L. sexus (see sex). Meaning “pertaining to copulation or generation” is from 1766; sexual intercourse attested by 1778; sexual orientation by 1967; sexual harassment by 1975. Sexual revolution attested by 1962.(4)
Now, let’s examine the word “Phobia”:
phobia (\ˈfō-bē-ə\) 1: an exaggerated usually inexplicable and illogical fear of a particular object, class of objects, or situation.(5) An extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something: “he had a phobia about being under water”; “a phobia of germs”; “a snake phobia”.(6) 1786, “fear, horror, aversion,” Mod.L., abstracted from compounds in -phobia, from Gk. -phobia (in widespread popular use with native words from c.1800), from phobos “fear,” originally “flight” (still the only sense in Homer), but it became the common word for “fear” via the notion of “panic, fright” (cf. phobein “put to flight, frighten”), from PIE base *bhegw- “to run” (cf. Lith. begu “to flee,” O.C.S. begu “flight,” bezati “to flee, run,” O.N. bekkr “a stream”). Psychological sense attested by 1895.(7)
“Homophobia” therefore, can be defined as an extreme or irrational fear or aversion to homosexuals and / or homosexuality (or some aspect thereof). It is in this light that we all need to examine our statements, actions and responses. For those in the LGBT community and their supporters, I think that whenever we come up against someone or some statement that opposes homosexuality, we need to consider whether that person’s words or actions are borne from a genuinely rational approach, or if they exhibit an “extreme or irrational fear or aversion.” The words “homophobe,” “homophobic” and “homophobia” tend to get bandied about quite a bit whenever we come across opposing views. Even I am guilty of having engaged in this type of knee-jerk reaction from time to time.
On the part of the straight community, a thorough inventory of motivations needs to take place at some point. Each person needs to ask themselves what it is exactly, that bothers them about the concept of homosexuality. Could their actions or statements be considered fearful or irrational by any reasonable person? A good indicator of fear and / or aversion is to examine (honestly) how your personal interactions with those in the LGBT community differ from those with straight people. If you notice a marked difference between the two, you might be homophobic! If you find yourself engaged in willful ignorance towards homosexuals or homosexuality, I would encourage you to examine the motivations behind the “I don’t want to know” mentality. Fear of the unknown, while being an understandable basic human reaction, can only be overcome by enlightenment.
As for Enoch Glover III and those like him, I think it’s safe to say that their statements attest to a degree of homophobia, based upon their irrationality and blatant disregard for established facts. More’s the pity.
Straight, not narrow!