Another piece of the homophobia puzzle

I have formed a theory about anti-gay activists. Some of them, anyway.

My theory is a refinement of Haggard's Law, which states that the more you complain about homosexuality, the more likely you are to be secretly homosexual. That not-entirely-serious observation has some basis in fact beyond the numerous examples of preachers and politicians that've led us to anticipate the ending of every news story that starts with a listing of some right-wing fellow's anti-gay credentials.

I've always found it implausible, though, that secretly-gay people make up any very large percentage of the anti-gay population.

If you're a member of a stridently anti-gay fundamentalist religion, then you're likely to regard gays and atheists and members of other fundamentalist religions that outside observers insultingly claim are really very similar to your own as all being part of the vast Satanic sea upon which your brave little ark of true believers must voyage. Maybe a member of such a religion will get a bee in his or her bonnet about evolution, or Jews, or homosexuals. Not many people would claim that a noisy anti-evolutionist might secretly be reading Richard Dawkins books, or that an anti-Semite secretly celebrates Rosh Hashanah, and I think it's just as possible to be a really obnoxious gay-hater without, yourself, being gay.

You could, for instance, be very genuinely heterosexual, and therefore find gay sex a fairly repellent idea. Now, if you're unable to comprehend that anybody else in the world could not find it as repellent as you do, you'll regard homosexuals as filthy deviants who've managed to make a lifestyle out of a ghastly activity. Raping small children is also a ghastly activity, if you're one kind of horrible sexual deviant then you might very well be ready to give another deviation a go, and bingo, there's a freshly-minted all-homos-are-child-molesters argument all neatly gift-wrapped and ready to be sermonised about.

The particular thing that led me to a new piece of this puzzle (well, it's new to me; I'm sure many other people have figured this out) is that weird characteristic of so much anti-gay rhetoric - the insistence that homosexuality is not just a choice, but an easy choice. Gayness is, essentially, just laziness. Instead of having a proper, adult relationship with a woman, the homosexual chooses to have meaningless physical dalliances with other men.

Those of us who reside somewhere near the left side of the Kinsey Scale find this argument preposterous. Most heterosexual men were desperately dateless in their teenage years, when the hormonal urge to have sex is at its strongest, but not very many of us went gay as a result. (Well, not as a lifetime choice, anyway. What happens in the Navy, stays in the Navy.)

There's a strong societal component here; in the Western world it's much more socially acceptable for women to experiment with homosexuality than for men to do it, and some other societies, past and present, either accept homosexuality as being entirely unremarkable, or consider it weird if a person hasn't had some sort of gay relationship.

But if we restrict the scope of inquiry to male homosexuality in the Western world, as anti-gay demagogues usually do to make sure nobody starts asking awkward questions about the Spartans, straight men seldom consider this "choice" to be a real option at all.

So why, I wondered, do so many anti-gay people keep saying it's easy to just sort of carelessly fall into the "gay lifestyle"?

And then I realised. It's because those anti-gay people are, yes, gay - but they don't know it.

They're good, Bible-believing Christians. They had girlfriends. Now they have a wife, and children. They're pillars of the community, and may never have had any homosexual encounters at all.

But boy oh boy, do they ever want to have homosexual encounters. The cock, it calls them. It's been calling them as long as they can remember. But like a border collie that's never seen a sheep, they don't know what this urge within them actually is. For them, gayness is like the Dark Side of the Force, or the One Ring.

Now, it all makes sense. These poor men think it's like this for every man. They think that secret schoolboy assignations and sordid encounters in public bathrooms are as appealing a prospect for the rest of us as they are for them.

You're gay because you're weak, or perhaps, especially bizarrely, because you're greedy. You just have to fight it!

But straight guys don't have to "fight" an urge to have sex with men. Stereotypically, they'll fight to avoid it!

Being gay, but unaware of it, can fit quite neatly into other religious beliefs. God requires you to not be envious, to not be lazy, to not lie or cheat or steal; the Lord wouldn't have needed to tell you not to do those things if they weren't rather appealing. So gay sex must be the same. It's a sin into which one can, in weakness, fall.

If this is the way you think, then it becomes perfectly sensible to say that gay people, as a category like "Irish people" or "tall people", don't really exist at all. Saying you're born gay is like saying you're born a burglar.

I've no idea what's actually going on in the head of Ted Haggard...

...or Larry Craig...

...or Mark Foley or George Alan Rekers:

Who knows how many of these guys were, and are, well aware of their true sexuality, and just lie about it, in the same way that they've lied about many other things for personal gain.

But I think the poor people who're gay but don't know it really do help to better explain exactly how this situation's gotten so dramatically messed up.

Now we just need a catchy name for this sexual permutation of the Dunning-Kruger effect. I invite your suggestions in the comments!

16 Responses to “Another piece of the homophobia puzzle”

  1. Ziggyinc Says:

    when I was young I ... experimented with everything, now I am old with two kids and happy. It annoys me to no end that people feel the need to stick their noses in other people's bedrooms. I liked the analysis, and you might be smack on, but its not something we can ever know until a real truth drug is invented.

  2. iworm Says:

    Interesting read!! What comes out (geddit? Fnar. Sorry - last innuendo joke of the comment...) clearly although you don't quite put it directly, is that almost all gay-haters are fuelled by religious belief. I'd be interested to know how many gay-haters in the public eye would NOT claim to be deeply religious. How often would one hear "Sexually deviant, disgusting, immoral, yadda yadda, oh I'm an atheist actually."? I suggest not so very often at all!

    Non-religious who hate gays? I suppose one might mention fascist/Nazi types - but I'd speculate that they are probably less fuelled by true "I hate what they do" and more by "They are an identifiable minority, so I hate them." Which of course is not even true: Nazi-gay-hater likely hates the stereotypical "effeminate gay" for how he appears, rather than what he does. Macho, manly, leather clad gays? Methinks they actually don't mind them so very much at all!

    So we're back to my suggestion that the SOLE fuel for true, fundamental gay-hating is always religion in its more extreme manifestations. Which I guess is not such an insightful thought, except that I had never thought about it with quite such clarity until I wrote this comment!!

    I am so very very thankful that I am both an atheist and don't give two damns what consenting adults get up to in private - and whatever that thing is, I vigorously defend their right to do it and to enjoy it. (And if they want to video it, I'm more than prepared to watch and give a third-party evaluation.)

  3. Bern Says:

    It's funny that you mention that hypothetical link between being gay and a child abuser... I can't comment on the men (and I rather suspect if they find men attractive they wouldn't find children to be so - I'm more concerned about the 'straight' guys who are into very skinny women with breasts so small that they look like 10-year-old girls), but of the dozen or so lesbians I know, nearly every single one had their first gay encounter as a teenager at the hands of a woman in her late 20s or older. What this means, I don't know, but I find it to be a mildly disturbing factoid - although a much larger sample set would be required to draw any conclusions, it could just be coincidence or something.

    Re the main premise of the article, though - yeah, it's interesting how the more rabidly anti-gay people are so often busted doing things that I find rather unappealing, while I take the approach of "none of my business what they get up to".

    I do remember I went out clubbing with a group of friends after a Pet Shop Boys concert some years back, and we must have looked too straight on the dancefloor, because a gay couple pushed into the middle of our group & started making out. Mind you, one of the guys in our group *did* react badly to that, so I guess they had a point (which is funny, because he was the biggest Pet Shop Boys fan of us all!)

  4. farnz Says:

    The part of the anti-gay "being gay is a choice. An easy choice. You can just choose to be straight" rhetoric that never quite makes sense to me is that we do socially persecute homosexuals in a significant fraction of the western world. It's not always blatant gay-bashing, but you have things like it being OK to use "that's so gay!" as a synonym for "that's utterly awful".

    Given the background of western homophobia, surely everyone for whom homosexuality versus heterosexuality is an easy choice has actually chosen heterosexuality? And the remaining minority are those for whom homosexuality is not a choice, as those who can choose aim to be heterosexual for the social acceptance they obtain.

    This does actually tie back into your idea - being heterosexual is a hard choice for some people, but they can just about force themselves to ignore their homosexual desires, and that subgroup potentially provides a lot of the homophobic activists.

  5. carlmanaster Says:

    I think the concept that best explains this is Cognitive Dissonance. Given a population of homophobes, the subset of those who have an inclination toward homosexuality will, because of cognitive dissonance, be more vocal and more passionate about it. For this subset, it would be easier to just give in to their natural desires, and they project that onto everyone: onto out gays, who are "just lazy" in giving in to their own desires, and onto other apparent and actual hets, who (reading into the assumption) are (like them) resisting their gay urges. The statement that "gays are lazy" is indeed a remark that reveals deep conflicts.

  6. Tony Mach Says:

    There is one more possibility (or more a variation of your thought): They are gay and they know it. But in their religious delusion they think it is wrong to be gay and want to save others. They think it is a kind of addiction, they don't want to admit to others that they are addicted, but want to warn others.

  7. Bedlam Says:

    My great-grandmother went to boarding school in Ireland around the turn of the century. It was as delightful and enlightened a place as you'd imagine. She suffered terribly at the hands of the nuns, who administered both physical and verbal torture on her to correct her sinful, deviant ways that were an abomination in the eyes of the lord.

    After many years of this, she eventually emerged right-handed, but her handwriting was always horrible.

    This is more a story about the bizarre lengths the zealously religious go to in enforcing whatever they think to be the current version of God's Word. I can't imagine there were too many nuns furtively doing left-handed things behind closed doors and then saying a dozen rosaries barefoot in the snow as punishment.

    I think the point about Dan's article is that there's a line between the normal fundy whackjobs who go on about homosexuality with about the same intensity and purpose as the other evils of the world such as abortion, atheism and videogames, and the super-obsessed anti-gay lunatics who doth protest too much.

  8. Otara Says:

    The study linked seems to be getting used a bit nowadays (Straight Dope seems pretty keen on citing it), but its really a very small sample and very little followup was done on it.

    I think the fact that it doesnt have a lot of empirical support suggests its an idea that appeals more as an argument than really makes a lot of sense. I think its simpler just to view it as a variety of discrimination rather than something needing an entirely different theory from other forms of discrimination to explain it.

  9. Phil Says:

    You're not the first to have this thought Dan. See threads on metafilter passim, although I'm not sure whether anyone has coined a convincing name for the "is virulently homophobic due to being gay themselves and in denial about it" phenomenon, which has become such a trope that the moment some western politician starts making anti-gay pronouncements you can pretty much start the clock on them being discovered cottaging in airport toilets.

  10. Daniel Rutter Says:

    I really think the key for however many of these guys exist (and maybe women too, though strong female voices of any sort are are strangely hard to find in paternalistic fundamentalist religions...) is that they think it's this way for everybody. Again, who knows what mental gymnastics they do to account for any gay sex they actually have, but this is different from just being in denial, or whatever, about your personal proclivities.

  11. Anne Says:

    There's a slightly milder form of this idea: that lots of anti-gay bigots, and in fact lots of the population in general, are "really" bisexual. Bisexual people are at least potentially attracted to people of both sexes, but nearly everyone is, at some point, attracted to someone inappropriate. Saying to yourself "no, I won't pursue that attraction" is perfectly normal, and can be for a whole range of reasons, from "he's my boss, that's asking to trouble" to "God says it's forbidden". So if you're bisexual, and you think everyone is bisexual, then "being gay" is about behaviour, not attraction. And telling everyone "just say no to same-sex attraction" isn't all that different from saying "just say no to sleeping with your boss". In particular, it isn't telling anyone "you are never allowed to fall in love".

    Of course, the gay liberation movement has pretty clearly demonstrated that some people really don't have a choice: some people are really only attracted to people of the same sex, to the point that they'll date people of the same sex in spite of it being punishable by death.

    As for people being bisexual, I would bet that if we had a machine that could read someone's real attraction, and we turned it on the populace, we would find a very large number of people who felt same-sex attraction but never acted on it because even now there's enough social opposition to it that it's just not worth it for them. You see this in people who were queer in college but settle down into what looks like bland heterosexuality afterward.

  12. Red October Says:

    I've always looked at it this way: I hate mashed potatoes. (I really do.) I think they're disgusting and don't even like to watch other people eat them. But that doesn't mean I think they should be banned from stores or restaurants or that advertising for mashed potatoes should be censored, because that'd be preposterous. I suppose you can take the angle of "homosexual lifestyle puts you at risk of disease!"(i.e. AIDS) but I smoke so I can't abide that argument either. Unless you're deliberately and maliciously (either directly or through negligence) harming others, I can't stand to see something restricted because it "might be dangerous". Of course someone could maliciously spread a social disease but a person of any sexual orientation could do that, just as an uncouth smoker could flick cigarette ends into a Koi pond.

    In other words, I've always thought that the general "anti-gay" sentiment was precisely as silly as, say, an "Anti-beans" movement. In fact it reminds me of nothing more than little kids making lists of all the stuff they'd ban if they were in charge of the world/the country/municipality/school/whatever.

  13. Daniel Rutter Says:

    I hate mashed potatoes.

    Get the hell out of my blog, you filthy pervert.

  14. Alan Says:

    I'm not keen on the concept of gay men, but I'm opposed to banning homosexuality.
    It would be nice to think I'm enlightened, or protective of a gay relative, but the sad truth is that banning homosexuality would mean banning lesbian porn movies.

    You'll take my copy of Lesbian Spank Inferno from my cold, dead fingers.

  15. Ken Drummond Says:

    Dan said "You could, for instance, be very genuinely heterosexual, and therefore find gay sex a fairly repellent idea."

    I think your logic may be a littile flawed here, I don't see how being genuinely heterosexual infers that you would fing gay sex "a fairly repellent idea."

  16. Anne Says:

    iworm: I don't think it's fair to blame religion for all homophobia. For a counterexample, I'd suggest Cuba: when Castro and the communists came in, homosexuality went from something that was more or less accepted to being something many people got thrown in prison for. Remember, one of the tenets of traditional communism is that "religion is the opiate of the masses".

    I'd say, instead, that institutions of social control often spread homophobia. Religion is one of the traditional institutions of social control, but government can do the same things, and sometimes does.

    Maybe we can convince the American Tea Party that anti-gay laws are a Communist idea?

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