Homophobia seems ubiquitous at the moment, doesn't it? Here in the UK the P.M. is desperate to push through an act legalising gay marriage, rather than the shoddy 'civil partnership' deal we have now (hurrah!), which has brought every right-wing idiot out to put their twopenneth in, while Stateside it seems I can't go onto the internet without someone spewing bile across my computer screen. Homophobia is a term I'm seeing bandied about all over the web at the moment, accusations and denials flying thick and fast. What is a homophobe, how does one spot one, and are they a protected species or are they considered vermin that can legally be killed???
Okay, too far. This isn't going to be a rant, there's enough of them on the net already.
First maybe we should consider what we mean by 'homosexual' - after all, that quote above indulges a lot of technicalities when it says 'homosexuality is found in over 450 species.' What they are talking about 90% of the time, one assumes, is sex. After all, how do you gauge animal emotions? There have been documented instances of same-sex animal pairs bonding for life (my favourite is the two flamingos in a zoo who stole another couple's egg and raised the chick themselves) but under most circumstances one assumes that the majority of such pairs go unobserved and therefore we really have no idea how common an occurrence it is.
Sex is far easier to quantify. Determine the gender of the participants and there's a tick on your chart. The influence of environment - the availability of opposite-sex partners, for example - can then be considered, but it will only ever be speculation. A pair of male finches were observed rejecting an endless succession of females in favour of each other, making it very tempting to claim them as both gay and in love, but honestly any such categorisation will only ever be highly subjective. Until the finches learn to speak and tell us why they stay together, we'll simply never know for sure.
In humans, however, we gauge homosexuality by a different standard. As George Michael once put it, "it's not who you can get it up for, but who you can fall in love with." Love is a wonderfully wishy-washy sentiment. There's no way of proving it or quantifying it. Personally I think there's some truth and some falsehood in that quote. Kids are coming out earlier and earlier, but many, many times I've heard people ask the question "if you've never slept with someone of the same sex, how do you know you're gay?" Well I don't recall ever hearing anyone ask a virgin how they know they're straight. It comes down to the fact that sex is quantifiable, emotions aren't.
And then there's all the shades of grey that make up the human condition. People all all orientations experiment. People get drunk and do silly things. People sometimes fall in love with someone of the opposite sex to which they're attracted. In single-sex environments homosex is a common occurrence, but most participants revert to heterosex given the opportunity. And that doesn't even start to touch on the occasions when sex isn't about desire, but about power, control, domination.
Homophobia, by definition, is a fear - a phobia. How do we define the fear if we can't define the thing that people are phobic of? There's no word for a vague fear of anything small and hairy and crawly with many legs that may or not bite, instead there are specific fears - arachnophobia, chilopodophobia, myriapodophobia and so on. (The last two are centipedes and milipedes, by the way). So is homophobia the fear of homosex, of people who define themselves as homosexual, or just campiness in general? Are they afraid of being forced to become homosexual or to engage in homosex themselves, or are they afraid of others doing it? Are they, in fact, afraid of an abstract concept that has very little basis in reality but instead exists merely as a folk devil created in the fevered minds of the religious right?
If any of those people are reading this now (unlikely, I know) I guarantee you they're currently railing against my use of the word 'afraid'. After all, homophobia is famed for aggressive, unprovoked attacks on the queer community - physical and verbal. I'd suggest that's a case of attack being the best form of defence, and lashing out because you feel threatened. People might scoff at the idea of finding us queers scary, but just listen to their rhetoric sometimes: it's all semantics of invasion, of domination and assimilation. Words like dangerous and insidious abound: people argue that learning about homosexuality damages children and leads to the dissolution of national morality. Homosexuality is clearly a threat - to marriage, to families, to children, to Joe Blogs when he walks down the street.
The SPLC has just released a report detailing 1018 hate groups active in America in 2011. The number of specifically anti-gay groups increased from 17 in 2010 to 27 in 2011 - an increase of over 50%. That's huge.
Homophobia suddenly seems to be all the rage again. Marginal groups like the Westboro Baptist Church are becoming less marginal. They're just the extreme end of a movement that is gathering force in government, in religious groups and in the public arena. I did a post a couple of weeks back in reaction to the jailing of some UK fanatics who posted flyers through people's doors in the run-up to a Pride event calling for all homosexuals to be brutally murdered. The point of the post was about freedom of speech and where we draw the line, and that, ultimately, is what this debate comes back to.
Enough people have seen Michele Bachmann tell Piers Morgan that she's not in a position to judge anybody and it was rude of him to say that she did, but who in the hell believed that, other than maybe her? And the sad thing is, I think she did believe it. Here's some of her choicer quotes:
— Senator Michele Bachmann, speaking at EdWatch National Education Conference, November 6, 2004.
– Senator Michele Bachmann, on what will happen if her same-sex marriage ban amendment fails to pass in 2004, appearing as guest on radio program “Prophetic Views Behind The News,” hosted by Jan Markell, KKMS 980-AM, March 6, 2004
— Senator Michele Bachmann, appearing as guest on radio program “Prophetic Views Behind The News”, hosted by Jan Markell, KKMS 980-AM, March 6, 2004.
Spot the theme? Yup, suffer the little children, because the gays want to get their dirty hands on them. She actually has the nerve to use the phrase child abuse. Well here's some very uncomfortable data on child abuse in Minnesota, the state of which she has been senator and is the US house representative for. All this data come from the US Dept. of Health's Child Maltreatment Report 2010, which can be found here.
2010 Child Abuse Cases by Child's Age
<1 - 12.3%
1Yr - 6.7%
2Yr - 6.3%
3Yr - 6.5%
4-7 - 25.6%
8-11 - 21.6%
12-15 - 15.2%
Total Victims 2010
Boys - 2087
Girls - 3274
*Of which 14 children were killed
Maltreatment by Type
Neglect - 72.2%
Physical Abuse - 20.4%
Sexual Abuse - 18.5%
Other - 1.9%
*Note that some cases fell into more than one category
Perpetrator in Relation to Victim
Biological parent - 4369
Unmarried partner of parent - 399
Other relative - 484
Daycare provider - 94
Legal guardian - 54
Foster parent - 34
Friend / neighbour - 30
Group home staff - 4
Other professional - 5
Other / unknown - 140
*Total number of perpetrators
Now these aren't the worst state records by a long shot, but overwhelmingly these statistics show that the average child abuse victim in Minnesota in 2010 was a white girl aged between 4 and 7 who was neglected by her biological parent(s). These are not new parents at the end of their tether or overwhelmed by the addition of a baby to their household. These are not marginal groups. These are not strangers snatching children in parks. These are not homosexuals who want the right to get married. Before Bachmann starts levying accusations at any group, she wants to get her own house in order. That fourteen children died in a single year due to abuse or neglect by their caregivers is unforgivable in this day and age.
There were 5361 unique cases of child abuse reported in Minnesota in 2010. That's nearly fifteen a day. One every 90 minutes. Call me a silly liberal if you like, but that's the kind of child abuse I expect every government and authority to be focused on. How Bachmann has the nerve to waste time campaigning against gay marriage, and dares to argue that gay rights are tantamount to child abuse, and claims that she is doing what she is doing to protect children, when in her own backyard children are routinely neglected, abused and assaulted by their caregivers, is something I will never understand.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not laying the blame for these statistics at Bachmann's door, and I have no illusions that we will ever, sadly, live in a world where every child can sleep safe in their beds at night. The point is that there are bigger things out there to worry about. All that time and effort she's put into denying and opposing gay rights could so much more productively have been channelled into far more worthwhile causes. Then she really would have been a champion of the children. There's at least 5,000 kids in Minnesota who'd rather she campaigned to ensure that they are never abused again than worried about what they were taught in sex ed. For 14, it is already too late.
But homophobes don't think like that. No hate group does. I could be talking about the KKK or fascists or any other extremist group you can think of. The pick their folk devil and they blame them for all the world's ills, no matter how irrational their claims. The more extreme they get, the more irrational they get too. That's what defines a phobia: irrationality. That teeny-weeny little money spider is not going to poison you if it lands on you, but still you run screaming. Getting water on your face in the shower won't drown you, but you still won't do it. You're perfectly safe stood by the window of the top floor of a skyscraper, but you still want to puke when you look down. The gay couple next door are not going to abduct your kid, or turn them gay. Homosexuality is genetic - if anyone's turned them gay, it's you.