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March 09, 2004

And, speaking of redefining sex and gender roles, I'm interested in this gender-loosening trend.

Women have been reinventing themselves for 30 years or more and it's about time men got to play.

But that that leads me to another thought.

A friend mentioned that, in a book she's reading, the author, on a tour of restaurants, made casual mention of needing to use the restroom at one point, saying that the atmosphere in the bathroom "was as tense as it always is" which leads me to wonder if men are, indeed, that freaked out by public restrooms?

The clear inference in the book was them-there men are terrified of the possibility, and they seem to think there's a good chance, that someone might look at them, or even do a little bad touching while they're in the bathroom.

I think I'm sad that we live in such a rabidly homophobic culture that the idea that someone could look at you and somehow taint you is, apparently, so widespread. And I do wonder where this paranoia came from.

Contrary to what some would have you believe, homosexuality hasn't really been the scourge of western civilization for thousands of years, you know. While tolerance has waxed and waned over the centuries, outright, organized persecution of homosexuals has rarely been the norm and certainly not to the extent we saw in USofA culture in the last century and, it seems, even today.

Homophobia has always puzzled me. I mean, I grew up in Kansas, hardly a bastion of liberality. I was raised by a father who was racist and homophobic, although he was rarely outspoken about those things. They were...those things were just the attitudes he was raised with, the assumptions he based his life on, like his faith. So my own more liberal beliefs are neither the result of an enlightened upbringing nor a reaction against a repressive upbringing.

Based on that, I find it difficult to understand why others aren't able to look themselves in the eye and get over what I see as an irrational fear.

So, I went looking for enlightenment.

I found correlations (not causative factors, as the page makes clear, but correlations) that show that homophobia is most often found in older, religious, conservative, uneducated men from rural areas. Nothing surprising there.

Oddly enough, a significant portion of these people still believe homosexuality is a freely made choice, so there seems to be a fair amount of ignorance at work. Nothing surprising there, either.

The same site also offered some interesting ideas about motivations for sexual prejudice. Motivations included adopting such attitudes as a way to gain acceptance from others (these people have the wrong heroes), to reaffirm that the prejudiced one is "right" and (by inference, "good"), and, yes, to lower their own unacknowledged, internal conflicts about sex and gender. (Homophobia linked with homosexual arousal.)

So far, although dressed up in psychological language, all I'm seeing is uneducated bigots doing what they've always done. Identifying and singling out a group they can mob together against to reinforce their own fragile egos. There's a page where they phrase it better:

Some people with low self-esteem appear to need to identify some minority that they can hate and feel superior to. Over the past 50 years, Afro-Americans, Communists and now gays and lesbians have fulfilled this role in sequence.

I don't think this "low self-esteem" problem is a recent development either. It's responsible for a lot of the herd behavior our species has demonstrated over the centuries. Men of little personal conviction (and women, although in western civilization their power has frequently been muted and indirect and at times they've been the target of such behavior themselves), "born followers", in search of a leader.

People really are sheep, aren't they?

There are some fascinating pages on the topic on-line, none of which 'taught' me more than I already knew about the topic, unfortunately.

What I believe, though none of these pages said so (I assume I'd find the information on other sites if I had more than 10 minutes to spend on this topic), is that it's all rooted in fear.

Fear of the "other" (isn't that Freud?) and fear of something different.

Fear of being on the outside of something. Not that I'm arguing that most homophobes want to be "in", but there's a kind of fear that comes up when you're forced to acknowledge there's a group that, for whatever reason, you're never going to be able to be 'part of.'

Maybe 'fear' isn't the right word? It's just that some people feel there are only two choices. Admit your own inadequacy (as defined by whatever quality the group possesses that you'll never posses) or work out a way that the group is inferior so that your own exclusion is proof of your superiority. Admitting personal inadequacy is hard.

What about a third way? Why can't we all just admit we're not alike and that there's no "good" or "bad" necessarily inherent in those differences? Nice idea, but it doesn't work for us, does it?

"Separate but equal" is an interesting phrase, but in reality it's just not practicable for our culture. We're as deeply rooted in a class system as any feudal kingdom (although handicapped by our refusal to admit it) and further, there seems to be something in our psyches that makes it incredibly difficult to accept that we're excluded from a group without attaching a value-assessment to that exclusion.

In the end, I don't have any astounding conclusions. Maybe that's because I didn't learn anything new.

Some people are afraid and that's just all there is to it.

Posted by AnneZook at 12:52 PM


I sometimes think that this xenophobic reaction is "lizard brain" thinking, an ancient survival reaction to change in the environment.

While it may have been quite effective thousands of years ago, it doesn't really belong a modern society.

Of course as a military "brat" who changed schools often and was used to the role of new kid, my view is skewed.

Posted by: Bryan at March 9, 2004 07:29 PM

I'm not sure a "lizard brain" reaction accounts for all of this reaction. You have to be taught what "other" is; either explicitly told or absorbed from the environment. Then, perhaps, fear of other can kick in.

In the case of homosexuals I believe it is a mixture of learned behavior and the "ick factor" that so many heteros cannot overcome.

But that's just me...

Posted by: Charles2 at March 10, 2004 01:22 PM

Well, as I understand it, you don't actually have to be taught what "other" is.

Animals in the wild have a variety of mechanisms for defining "us versus them" even inside their own species.

We have the ability to overcome that kind of primitive tribal reaction but some of us are either still too primitive (cheap shot) to use it or just don't see why we can't do things the way we did when we lived in the trees (cheap shot).

Seriously. Maybe some people's brains (or a combination of nature plus nurture) just don't allow them to make that kind of adjustment.

Posted by: Anne at March 10, 2004 02:56 PM


Did your research unearth any discussion of the gender differentials in homophobia? Clearly there is some, numerically.

Posted by: Jonathan Dresner at March 10, 2004 08:14 PM

While I don't really do any formal research regarding my visits to the men's room, I've not seen a general culture of fear there when I've answered the call of nature. There are some guys who tend to ignore others while they're in there, while others are more open and willing to talk. I've never seen anything that would suggest, to me, that the other guys were all terrified that someone else was going to sneak a peek or cop a feel, but perhaps that's just my own impression.

Posted by: Andrew at March 11, 2004 02:53 PM

Jonathan - my research was cursory at best and didn't discuss gender differences. In my (admittedly extremely fast) scan through the 'top' resources I found, I did notice a bias toward discussing male homosexuality, and ignoring female homosexuality.

To tell you the truth, I'm knee-deep in that "Lost Cause" research that Cliopatria inspired me to start a couple of weeks ago and didn't give this research the attention I probably should have. I may come back to this topic later, though.

Andrew - Well, none of the guys I've ever known have ever mentioned it, but when I thought about it, I realized there was no particular reason why they would.

It's always possible that that particular author was projecting his own fear and assuming everyone else felt the way he did.

To be honest, I'm happy to hear he's wrong. I was feeling seriously sorry for men.

Posted by: Anne at March 11, 2004 04:33 PM

During an Alternative Spring Break trip to Appalachia, there were men's and women's gyrmnasium showers (spigots on the wall, no seperators between spigots). The men all showered at the same time. The women insisted on showering singly because they did not want to see each other naked. I'm not sure if that's the same or different then men being on edge using the urinals. As a male, the only tenseness is this weird Subway Syndrome code where you are supposed to pretend no one else is there. I never chalked it up to homophobia. We're supposed to be embarrassed by all our bodily functions (it is considered rude to blow your nose in a restaurant at the table). I had to have people get offended by my actions to learn the Code of Behavior, but then I'm not homophobic nor embarrassed by bodily functions.

Posted by: EdgeWise at March 14, 2004 08:23 AM

Well, I guess it's all a matter of what group you're with, then. I've never run into that problem of women demanding solitary showers myself.

My last 20 years' experience is mostly in health clubs where the women, although far from perfect-bodied, were casual about shower rooms.

(But it's unappetizing, and unsanitary, to blow your nose at a table in a restaurant. Also, small, enclosed spaces like elevators are also taboo for such things.

And I wish everyone would learn to cover their mouths and noses when they cough. I'm tired of getting sprayed with people's bodily fluids and coming down sick.)

Posted by: Anne at March 15, 2004 11:44 AM