In U.S. Identity Politics we have been talking about homosexuality. Actually, the professor has been talking about the heterosexist/heteronormative nature of our society, but for much of the class this seems to unconsciously translate into responses about young, middle-/upper-class, white, nondisabled, male homosexuality.
One young, nondisabled, white, heterosexually oriented woman in class keeps bringing up that the most virulently anti-homosexual men generally have homosexual feelings. She asserts that these men compensate for their true feelings with “homophobia.”
I don’t know whether this is true or not, but to be fair, I don’t generally believe that there is an empirical truth to be found.
However, this one explanation of male heterosexism seems shallow to me. Plausible, but shallow.
In my heart, I believe that there is something more.
I think about Black male heterosexism. Just adding race complicates the issue, and this compounding shows who we think we are talking about when we talk about “homosexuality.” Surely if the concept of “homosexuality” referred to more than a slight modification of hegemonic masculinity there would be no need to talk about “heterosexism” as different from “Black heterosexism.” When we add race to discussions of sexuality, issues become de-centered.
And, that’s the reality of race: melatonin content, bone structure, hair texture drastically change things.
Further, the reality of race changes social location until race and class become inexorably entangled. Disability status, age, gender, and sexual orientation, too are all bound up with color/ethnicity and class—impossible to separate.
So, when we talk about heterosexism and only talk about men and when we talk about men and leave out the deeply-rooted, white supremacist, propagandistic portrayals of Black men as ineffectually “weak,” Brown men as lecherous pedophiles, Native men as historic relics, and Yellow men as effeminate, we become unable to enact change because society-wide change demands a full and unflinching understanding of the cultural terrain.
Heterosexist slurs exist for a myriad of reasons, some of which overlap, and some of which are starkly specific to certain groups. Easily, people from all walks of life may call upon anti-homosexual epithets for self-protection (Michael Kimmel makes a wonderful argument for this in his essay “Masculinity as Homophobia”). Just as easily, one may seek this protection for different reasons and under different circumstances depending upon social location.
It is my belief that, in addition to the above, anti-homosexual slurs can also work to test the waters—to see how accepting one’s loved ones are of ugliness and hate.
Heterosexism makes social boundaries of acceptability visible, so that one can be reminded of the costs of transgressions and/or be alerted if social tides are beginning to turn.
I wonder if the men my classmate was speaking of, those anti-gay, closeted men who were so quick to degrade others, were sending out a signal that was buried in their internalized heterosexist disgust.
I wonder if the signal was one of the hope of compassionate rebuke, of unconditional love and trust in the humanity in us all.
I hope that there is that something more because hope and love are the tools I have.