Note: Some of the issues/incidents in this piece have been mentioned in other articles (as recently as yesterday!), but never before in this exact word combination and never before by someone with my exact name. So, here, I present you with my fresh take…
There have been a few high-profile scandals in recent years which have caught my attention. The sex scandals of politicians Larry Craig and Mark Foley, and influential evangelical preacher Ted Haggard all had one interesting feature which was difficult to ignore: they all involved men who publicly proclaimed or endorsed homophobic attitudes while privately being gay (or at least bisexual) themselves. Of course, like many people, I always find it hilarious when the most smug, obnoxious public figures amongst us are brought down in a wave of hypocrisy and absurdity, but that’s not all there is to this story. I’ve always had a suspicion that people who are overtly homophobic are often secretly gay themselves. There just aren’t many other reasons for people to be so worked up about something as seemingly trivial as sexual orientation. There are the religious issues of course. It’s true that the Bible contains verses which certainly seem to be disapproving of homosexuality. But I’ve read the Bible (an exercise in tedium I suspect many self-proclaimed Christians in America and elsewhere haven’t actually experienced), and it’s not as if the Bible is some long, ranting manifesto against gay people – despite what Fred Phelps (the idiot behind the “God Hates Fags” campaign) and a few other random lunatics might want you to believe. Of course, as an atheist, I ultimately could not care less what the Bible or any other religious text has to say about this or anything of importance, just as long as it doesn’t negatively affect me or anyone else I care about. Unfortunately, I care about most people, and what is essentially the attempted transference of religion, or religious interpretations, upon the laws of this country is of serious concern to me.
Of course, in the cases of Craig, Foley, and Haggard there’s a possibility that they were following an anti-gay agenda for reasons that had little to do with real homophobia in the first place. All three had clear motives to oppose gay rights – Craig and Foley were career politicians, and conservative Republicans, who had almost no choice but to follow an agenda in line with conservative Christian “values” if they wanted to get (or stay) elected. Of course, that begs the question of why they would adopt or adhere to these values in the first place, and I suppose the best explanation for that is denial. And of course, a politician being disingenuous is hardly a new concept. Haggard was preaching a conservative theology based in biblical literalism which frankly leaves little room for acceptance of homosexuality; on the other hand, it also leaves little room for certain things which are scientific fact, like the age of the earth being older than a few thousand years for instance, but that’s probably a topic for a different time. It’s impossible to know for sure what’s going on in another person’s mind, but they didn’t necessarily hate and fear gay people, they may have just used their support of homophobic ideas and legislation as a smokescreen to conceal their own sexuality. Either way, the effect of powerful people taking such positions remains the same, regardless of the cause.
But what about those who vociferously and irrationally oppose homosexuality to the extent where no amount of political or personal scheming will explain it away? The aforementioned Fred Phelps, for instance, is clearly obsessed with the issue to the point where it could be, and probably should be considered mental illness. Here is a man who has dedicated decades of his life and his “ministry” to preaching what is explicitly hate in the most outrageous circumstances. When I first became aware of him and his “Church,” I assumed it must be some form of performance art, because it’s so over-the-top it’s hardly believable, but unfortunately it’s gone on far too long and is far too pernicious for that to be the case (although, if that IS the case, Phelps is still one of history’s biggest assholes). His group, made up primarily of his immediate family members, famously protest not only the funerals of dead gay people (to celebrate them “going to hell”) but also funerals of soldiers because, somehow, they feel the United States and a few other (seemingly randomly) chosen countries “endorse” homosexuality by – I don’t know – not immediately stoning all gay people to death? Talk about overcompensating.
The idea that Phelps could be “as queer as a three dollar bill” isn’t all just speculation. Research conducted in 1996 at the University Of Georgia and published in The Journal Of Abnormal Psychology suggests there may be a scientific basis for the notion that a majority of homophobes are, in fact, homosexual themselves. Two groups of self-proclaimed straight men were presented with different sets of pornographic images, straight and gay. One of these groups of “straight” men held overtly homophobic attitudes, while the other held no such attitudes. Instruments used to measure the arousal of the men were placed on their penises while they viewed the images. Both groups exhibited arousal to various extents when shown the straight images, as well as lesbian images. But only the homophobic group showed arousal when presented with the gay male images – and a vast majority of this group showed arousal. This is of course only one study, and more research in this area needs to be conducted to draw any solid scientific conclusion, but it certainly adds a modicum of credibility to the idea that homophobic attitudes are often present because the homophobe is trying to hide their own sexuality. Interestingly, as this study only applied to men, it doesn’t say anything about the possibility of the same being true of straight women who might hold hostile attitudes towards lesbians – although that situation certainly seems somewhat rarer, at least in the United States. Still, there must be some explanation, and it clearly isn’t one based in logic.
In the end, this is all a pretty sad state of affairs, because homosexuality is not something that people should feel the need to hide, or be ashamed of in any way. I feel we are at a turning point in human history on this issue. The gay marriage “debate” is strewn with lies and misrepresentations. The most commonly used argument opposing gay marriage is the suggestion that it somehow undermines “traditional” marriage. This is a patently absurd argument, which should be dismissed outright. Gay people getting married is about as threatening to the marriages of straight people as a Bar Mitzvah is to a Baptist’s Baptism – not at all. The real issue at the heart of this is whether or not all people should be afforded equality under the law, regardless of how they happen to be wired, or what any of us do or do not believe. I think most people who value a sense of rationality and even basic compassion above fear, hatred, and stupidity believe that equality is essential. One thing I’ve often heard parroted by the (almost always religious) people who oppose gay marriage but perhaps don’t consider themselves homophobic is “I don’t have a problem with the people, I just don’t personally approve of it.” Well, as it happens, another person’s sexual orientation is something which neither asks for nor requires your approval! There are certainly few people who are as blatantly and malevolently homophobic as Fred Phelps and his minions. Those who are seem fairly likely to be gay themselves, which is both comical and tragic. However, passive forms of homophobia, and perhaps even being unwilling to stand up for the rights of all people does not lead to anything positive for society. I feel that eventually the idea of gay people not being able to get married and being subjected to hostile attitudes because of sexual orientation alone will be regarded as barbaric, and history will look back on this issue as one that was essentially about the process of letting go of archaic, ethically bankrupt values. It’s up to all of us, regardless of who we are, to decide whether we want to be history’s idiots. If you’re in Washington State, please vote to approve referendum 71.
Now, who’d like some pie?