What Do Homophobic Bigots Really Think?
How to debunk the most revolting arguments.
Photograph by David McNew/Getty Images.
There were thousands of comments in response to my last piece at Slate, in which I lashed out against Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy’s policy of funding anti-gay causes. I tried to dip in and out of the comment thread as often as I could while they were piling up, scanning them for interesting points (of which there were many). But I quickly lost track and had to get back to work on other projects.
Then a reader sent me a link to a discussion of my article at the popular conservative website Free Republic. It’s pure masochism for someone like me to wander such halls; I don’t need to read their posts to know just what ultraconservatives think of my “homosexualism” and me. But curiosity got the better of me. And my, my, my, they really do hate us queers over there. It’s not just Free Republic, of course. Similar anti-gay sentiments are a staple of many gathering places online, not to mention those in the real world.
People are free in this country to say what they will, nasty though it is, about gays and lesbians. What to do about it, then? I believe that treating bigots as scientific specimens is the best way to disarm their hate. I can’t tackle all such propaganda in a single article (I won’t be able to cover the all-gay-men-are-pedophiles argument, the-all-lesbians-just-hate-men argument, or the next-thing-you-know-we’ll-all-be-marrying dogs-and-horses argument), but for now I’ll dissect some of the other common rhetorical devices deployed by those with an anti-gay mindset.
So without further ado, let’s put these mean bastards under the psychological knife.
The homosexuality-as-choice argument: Those who repeatedly make this claim are actually revealing something about their own sexuality: they are bisexual. Since human beings use a form of mental analogy whenever trying to understand another person’s behavior, the “choice” argument reflects the reasoning process of an individual who has experienced notable arousal to the same sex in addition to the opposite sex, but has chosen to act only on that inspired by the latter. A true heterosexual, by contrast, has never experienced meaningful same-sex desires and understands that one cannot choose to act on what is simply not there.
The secret bisexuality of those who just cannot seem to grasp that being gay is not, in fact, a choice also helps us to understand the intense hostility that some males feel for openly gay men. Research has shown a positive correlation between a man’s loathing of gay men and his own repressed same-sex desires. “Since homosexual behavior violates both their moral code and their sense of identity,” explained the psychologists Donald Mosher and Kevin O’Grady long ago, “homosexual threat is experienced as men become aware at some level of their … arousal to homosexual stimuli. This awareness can be avoided by anger, disgust, and contempt directed against homosexuals, as a means of bolstering hypersexual identity.” The psychologist Henry Adams has used a device called a plethysmograph that measures penile arousal to show that the more aversion a man says he feels toward gay men—and even more disturbingly, the more willing he is to inflict pain upon them—the more intense is his erection to gay porn.
The homosexuality-is-disgusting argument: One of the most potent propaganda devices is the age-old ploy of dehumanizing the oppressed party by stirring up feelings of disgust for them. The Nazi author of an animated children’s book from 1938 Germany, for example, wrote this for his young readers: “Just look at these guys! The louse-infested beards! The filthy, protruding ears, those stained, fatty clothes … Jews oftentimes have an unpleasant sweetish odor. If you have a good nose, you can smell the Jews.” (The publisher was later executed as a war criminal.)*
In our own country’s lamentable past, disgust rhetoric slowed down the hard-won civil rights achievements of women and blacks. In the present case, scatological language litters antigay conversations, along with the portrayal of gay men as being unique carriers of “horrific diseases” such as AIDS. Over at Free Republic, for example, you’ll read comment after comment such as these:
* If your personal identity revolves around your lust for other men’s stinking anuses, a particularly disgusting form of depravity that spreads horrific diseases, the chest swells with self-satisfaction. What a sick world we live in.
* homosexuals should never have got their special rights like civil unions let alone marriage or don’t ask in the first place. The ignorant and stupid on our side wanted to appease them because as they usually say “I know a couple and they are nice” friggin idiots, so when did we base special rights based on fecal diseased sex in the constitution?
This blatant tactic of painting all “faggots” as depraved, concupiscent creatures rife with infectious disease, and who enjoy wallowing in each other’s feces and smelly assholes, is alarmingly effective at keeping anti-gay bigots from seeing gay men as fellow human beings. It also shields them from the realization that they are, in fact, bigots, and not heroes who alone have the courage to protect a snoozing, media-duped society from an infiltration of moral degenerates.
We needn’t dwell on the obvious: that anal sex is not limited to gay men, that not all gay men have anal sex, that straight people can acquire HIV through intravaginal sex, that condoms exist, that vaginas don’t always smell of roses either, and that gay men are no less repulsed by feces than are any other human beings. In fact, the only documented cases that I could locate in the scientific literature of coprophilia—a rare paraphilia involving an erotic attraction to feces—were of heterosexual males.
Given the anti-gay bigots’ preoccupation with gay men’s anuses, the claim that homosexuals can’t keep their sex lives to themselves (on hearing stories such as Anderson Cooper coming out of the closet, or a lesbian couple kissing in a park) is patently absurd. But because of disgust rhetoric, they have sexualized gays and lesbians to such a degree that all they can see in them is contaminated bodily excretions. Lofty emotions such as love and romance are for actual straight human beings like them, not for filthy animals fornicating and spreading disease.
The homosexuality-is-a-mental-illness argument: According to every major accredited psychiatric organization in the Western world, homosexuality is not, in point of fact, a mental illness. But this wasn’t always the case. From the late 19th century, when the construct of sexual orientation was first distinguished from sexual behavior, gays and lesbians have endured a soul-crushing range of treatments to “cure” their homosexuality. There are far too many to list here, but among such manipulations, our forerunners were poisoned with emetics, pumped with hormones, electro-shocked to the point of burns, deprived of liquids until they could show measurable arousal to the opposite sex, chastised by therapists, chemically neutered, surgically altered, conditioned with repulsive imagery to accompany their fantasies, hypnotized, and coerced into having straight sex. Nothing worked.
The American Psychiatric Association officially removed homosexuality from its diagnostic manual in 1973. The consensus—which has been reiterated many times since—was that in spite of the toxic social conditions in which they so often find themselves, the majority of gays and lesbians are well-adjusted, high-functioning, and contributing members of society. Emotional health issues such as depression, low self-esteem, and suicidal thoughts found at higher than average rates among gays and lesbians are the consequences of their living in an intolerant world.
Nevertheless, the disease model of homosexuality continues to be embraced and proselytized within many circles. Gays and lesbians are likened to alcoholics or drug addicts who should be supported in their abstinence, and tolerating their homosexuality is seen as akin to enabling an addict. “Just because it feels good,” gays and lesbians are told as though they are meth heads, “doesn’t mean you should do it.” The APA’s removal of homosexuality is brushed off as political, the result of leftist psychiatrists caving under pressure from gay activists. This claim has been scrutinized and ultimately discarded by scholars. Although (justifiable) pressure from gay rights advocates did play a role in the committee’s decision-making, it was only one of many such factors behind their reasoning. What weighed more heavily were scientific data that simply did not support the continued classification of homosexuality as a disorder. [Read the original position statement of the American Psychiatric Association on homosexuality and civil rights, reaffirmed July, 2011.]
The homosexuality-is-unnatural-and/or-against-God’s-design argument: Claims of the “unnaturalness” of homosexuality permeate antigay bigots’ dialogue. Consider just a few comments plucked from an especially vituperative Free Republic thread concerning a recent New York Times piece. The article was about how some young gay male couples are beginning to feel societal pressure to have children.
*The libtards keep saying 2 faggots are “normal”. If they’re normal, how come they can’t have kids?
*I am still looking through my high school biology text to see if “fertilized excrement” can render life. Nope, it requires a female ovum. Oh well, back to the reality of the natural order.
This last comment is tactless. But it isn’t wrong, of course. It’s just irrelevant. Nature is two things and two things only: mechanistic and amoral. Intravaginal heterosexual sex can produce offspring. Homosexual intercourse cannot produce offspring. To extrapolate from these mechanistic facts of procreation some moral directive about what we should and should not do with our genitalia is to assume an intelligent creator that designed our reproductive anatomies. And that old philosophical error—that an intelligent mind is needed to account for our bodies, and that this preconceived design should in turn dictate our social behaviors—lies at the flawed heart of the “unnaturalness” argument against homosexuality.
It’s also where the scariest part of the story—religious zealotry—comes into focus:
* how EVIL —to destroy the chance for a child to be raised by his mother....With biology you get a connection to the past and future-—when I married and had children. It is the Law of Nature-and makes life meaningful-as God Designed.
* Homos & lesbians are the lowest form of degeneracy as pointed out in Romans 1:18-32, when God gives them over to their own reprobate desires, to enter into unnatural affections, men with men and women with women, doing those things which are an abomination & reprehensible. They will be judged and destroyed as a result of their sexual perversions.
I suffer absolutely no illusions, none whatsoever, about making even the slightest of dents in the scripture-fortified cerebral cortices of religious fundamentalists. A childhood inoculation against any form of scientific reason about topics such as evolution and homosexuality has made so many of their brains impenetrable to logic and appeals for careful, dispassionate introspection. (It’s important to point out, however, that being raised religious, even deeply so, is not an inevitable life sentence in the demon-haunted world. The lucky ones manage to scale the biblical wall and escape onto the side of reason and science; in fact, several former evangelicals have even turned into eloquent atheists with unique insight into their former communities.) To those on the religious far right, reason and humanism are just seductive tools of that ever-crafty Satan. In their eyes, I may as well be sitting here cloven-hoofed and horned, nudging them along with a pitchfork borrowed from my devious boss.
Yet even if we stay in keeping with their terrifying supernatural worldview, religious fundamentalists may want to rethink their commitment to the “unnaturalness” argument against homosexuality. If God really were the creative architect behind our reproductive anatomies, gays and lesbians aren’t the only ones doing it wrong—those in the supposedly moral majority are also, it turns out, living in open defiance of his plan. And they must either change their ways to accommodate this new revelation or they, too, will be shaking their fists at him.
Here’s why. We now know that the human penis possesses its unique shape because the coronal ridge (that umbrella-like lip beneath the glans) is designed to remove from the vaginal canal the sperm cells of other males who had sex with that same woman within the past 48 hours, the shelf life of spermatozoa. Any person who would therefore tout the virtues of heterosexual monogamy as the created natural order is only slapping God in the face. Given this anatomical feature, what all men really should be doing is putting their penises to the promiscuous use for which they were intentionally designed. And about every other day, women should fill their vaginal canals with the seminal fluid of a different man. If that makes you uncomfortable, take it up with the Creator—that is, if you’re so brazen and arrogant as to question how he engineered our bodies to work. You couldn’t possibly be so bold as to think that God would give what is arguably man’s most critical body part its distinctive ridgeline as a mere frivolous flourish, or even by mistake?
Those who live in the natural world rather than the supernatural aren’t burdened by any such ridiculous anatomically-based moral quandaries. There is no need to decipher deep ethical principles from biological adaptations, because there are no divine messages to be found in the natural selection of traits created by random genetic mutations. The concept of evil does not exist for those of us in the natural world, but cruelty, ignorance, and fear of the unknown are plentiful; and they are more destructive than any evil imaginable. We shudder not at the thought of a wrathful God who smites Sodomites, but at the very real wrath of people who actually believe that they are the warrior allies of this imaginary beast. Yes, a beast. Any god that would have in his hell of a heaven not Lord Byron, Oscar Wilde, Willa Cather, Michel Foucault, Walt Whitman, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Marcel Proust, Jean Genet, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Arthur Rimbaud, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Alan Turing, Virginia Woolf, and the many other gay, lesbian, and bisexual immortals that have graced this ephemeral earth, but would flank himself instead with Chick-fil-A enthusiasts, can be no more than that.
In the United States today, gays, lesbians, and other sexual minorities remain at substantial risk of both physical and psychological harm, mainly because of those who live in a supernatural world where treating them as fellow human beings, much less as equals, is literally to do the devil’s own labor. There are so many people in this country who are miserable, afraid and dying as the direct result of the religious freedom that we afford to those who simply interpret this as the freedom to demonize anyone not like them. Is it any wonder that gays and lesbians still face such an uphill battle in obtaining their equal rights in the very society that grants others the right to regard them as evil? I’d much prefer ours to be a nation of rational citizens choosing to live in a natural world and who face our human fears together. But if you prefer a supernatural America and want to maintain its dubious reputation as a “Christian” nation, then at least clean up your goddamned act.
Correction, Aug. 27, 2012: This article originally stated that the author of an anti-Semitic children’s book from 1938 Germany was executed as a war criminal. It was the book’s publisher who was executed. (Return to the corrected sentence.)
Jesse Bering is the author of The Belief Instinct and Why Is the Penis Shaped Like That? (July 2012). He is a frequent contributor to Slate and writes the "Bering in Mind" column for scientificamerican.com. His next book will be on the curiously scandalous science of human sexuality. Follow him at www.jessebering.com, on Twitter @JesseBering, or try adding him on Facebook.