Guest Post: Homophobia and Closets 1/2

Today’s post was written by Dirty Nerdy and reprinted with permission. You can like their Facebook page. 

CN: mention of self harm, suicide, queerphobia/homophobia/cissexism/ableism

So you’re a straight ally to queer people and you find out a terrible bigot said terrible things about teh gayz and you rush in to defend queer people with some variation of “I bet they’re closeted and hate themselves!”.

Usually, I would simply respond by saying that expressed or overt homophobia is not a reliable indicator of whether or not a person is a closeted queer. Today, though, I’m going to expand this and explain why this is a harmful idea and how it upholds structural oppression of queer people and places the burden of queerphobia/homophobia on the marginalized while allowing the privileged to disregard their own contributions to queer oppression.

So where did this idea come from?  As far as I can tell, this argument seems to be based on one study done in 1996 in which 64 straight men were gathered and separated into “homophobic” and “non-homophobic” groups. (Just to be clear: I’m reasonably certain the idea itself is older than this one study, but I focus on it here because it is the one study brought forth as evidence.)

Already, I have a problem with this research. You cannot simply group straight people into “homophobic” and “non-homophobic”. Straight people are born and raised in a culture steeped in homophobia and heteronormativity. The best they could do is split the groups into “overt homophobic” and “not as obviously homophobic.”

*sigh* Moving on.

Then they showed the men a series of porn videos (straight, lesbian, and gay male) and measured their penile responses.

Can we play “Spot the Ableism” here? I know plenty of disabled people who do not/can not use their genitals as their primary sexual organs. Reducing sexuality to one measure of physical response is ableist and incredibly narrow. I understand that scientific studies have to be narrow at times, but so far I’m not impressed. I’d like to see research that reflects the diversity and full experiences of queer people. I acknowledge the fact that this study has been taken and misused by people who like to think homophobia is caused by secrety gays, but it would be nice for there to be more research to point to that describes and measures queer sexual responses using more than just a penis.

We could also play a game of “Spot the Misogyny” here. As far as I know there has not been a similar study done to test women for latent homosexuality in relation to homophobia. I’m thinking this is due to sexist and cissexist notions of how “difficult” it would be to test women’s sexual responses, therefore women are ignored altogether in this research (even though it is just as difficult to test men’s sexual responses because erection does not equal DTF!!).

This study also only used men with penises and ignored the possibility that any of the people in the group might possibly be trans. Who’s to say none of those men were trans women still in the closet? So, “Spot the Cissexism” is also relevant.

Next, the research is muddied by the question of separating out sexual responses from disgust responses (which can have similar physical signs). In 2006 a study was published which indicates that rather than homophobic men experiencing sexual attraction, they are actually experiencing an aversion or disgust response (akin to other phobias) to gay porn which was mistakenly attributed to sexual attraction. It appears that a single physical response to gay porn does not a gay make.

Given the small sample size of both studies and the many problems I mentioned above, I think it’s safe to say that this research is far from definitive.

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