Home » Posts tagged 'homophobia' (Page 2)
Tag Archives: homophobia
A couple of weeks before the semester started, I was introduced to a colleague in another department — an older white man. He shook my hand, but did not speak right away. He looked in my face, puzzled. Initially, I registered his stare as one of familiarity, a face he could not place. As this was the first time we were meeting, I was ready for the stare and the silence to break — there was no memory to jog. But, he kept staring, though he finally said hello. The “you look familiar” stare and furrowed brow that I initially read began to look more like confusion or anger.
Was he confused by something on my face? By me? Or, that they hired me for this tenure-track position in sociology? Classes had yet to start, so I was not “dressed to the nines” at that point; maybe the image of a young brown man in casual attire did not fit his mental image of a professor. I figured once I did start wearing the
costume suit, attention would shift away from my age, my newness, and any assumptions about my credentials or experience.
A few weeks into the semester, I attended a workshop on facilitating discussion in the classroom. I had recently introduced true discussion in my upper-level gender and sexualities course, so the timing of this training was great. Some seasoned faculty recognized my face as unfamiliar and asked if I was new, and then welcomed me and asked how my first month had been. When the session began, I saw a middle-aged white man staring at me. I expected the stare to break because he had been caught staring (custom holds that you look away when caught), or to realize he was staring out of the window behind me. Neither was he case. He continued to stare, his unwelcoming eyes beamed a hole into my forehead.
I decided to ignore him and listen to the panelists. Ignoring ignorance is only partially effective, if at all. His unwelcoming stare made me self-conscious. I looked at how I was dressed; were jeans, a sports coat, and tie too casual for a Friday?
Then, I looked around the room. White, white, white, white, white… Somehow, I had not noticed I was the lone brown face in the room. His unwelcoming stare had effectively pointed out that I was a true outsider. Things went downhill from there for other reasons. Though I appreciate some of the panelists, I was distracted by the burning desire to scream to one panelist, “you can get away with that as an old white straight man!”
An Unwelcoming Environment
In my mind, the confused or even hostile stare of older white straight men at me — a young queer brown tenure-track man professor — is a microaggression. It sends the message that I am an outsider and, frankly, unwelcome. These stares are just one message in a chorus of messages that I do not belong, be it internal (imposter syndrome) or external (e.g., recently, the dining hall cashier asking, “are you a visitor?”). These colleagues likely represent what I have heard described as the “old guard” — a generation of faculty who have a different set of expectations for the professoriate than the generation that has taken the reins in leadership. So, they are few in number (on the campus at least). But, I still face the occasional possibility of interacting with them.
Yesterday, in my upper-level course on gender and sexualities, my students and I discussed the life-long process of coming out as LGBT. In essence, because of heterocentricism (the assumption that everyone is heterosexual) and, what we can call ciscentricism (the assumption that everyone is cisgender), LGBT people are forced to out themselves to each new person they meet (if they decide not to be presumed cisgender and heterosexual). As one student pointed out, that, of course, presumes one is closely aligned with the stereotypical images of heterosexual and cisgender people; any displays of gender non-conformity may lead one to have their sexual and/or gender identities questioned. Still, to some degree, we believe there is some choice in the matter, whether to out oneself or confirm others’ suspicions.
In this conversation, I chose not to out myself — a position I usually take until the end of the semester (once course evaluations are in). I have mentioned “my partner” to two students, and, aside from wearing suits, I rarely obsess over presenting myself as hypermasculine (or even masculine, for that matter). So, my students may already have suspicions about me, at least regarding my sexual identity.
And, though quite relevant, I had not mentioned an incident that occurred immediately before class. I briefly returned home to regroup before the late, 4:30pm-7pm class. As scheduled, our front and back doors had been replaced. The workers had thrown our door mats aside, failed to return moved furniture to their original location, and left sawdust on the floor and some furniture. The blinds from the original back door sat on our kitchen table. And, a bag of used doorknobs sat on our front porch. This was just shitty, inconsiderate work.
The worst sign of their inconsiderate presence was this:
Ugh. This pamphlet from a Billy Graham affiliated church in the city was left on our kitchen table. If this was “innocent” proselytizing, it was inappropriate. But, with a number of pictures of my partner and me up in the kitchen and other rooms, I suspect this was something more. An unknown number of strangers entered our house and decided we needed Jesus in our lives. As gay people, this was a minor, yet symbolic assault from strangers who decided we were immoral because of our sexual orientations and our relationship.
Connecting this back to my class’s discussion, I realized that I could be in the closet in every aspect of my life: at work, with friends, doctor‘s visits, etc. No one but my partner and I would know we identify as gay and that we are in a long-term, committed, loving relationship. But, if we lived together, as we do, at some point the apartment complex may know (or suspect), and the service people who enter our homes would figure it out. To these strangers, we would have no choice about being out, unless we went to the lengths of hiding any signs of a relationship, or even living apart. There is a base level of outness that life demands if you want any semblance of a full life as a queer person.
As I threw clean dishes into the cabinets later in the evening, I began to realize just how upsetting this experience was. Simply put, I feel violated. Strangers were given access to my personal home, and judged me, and had the audacity to leave behind their propaganda just to let me know what they thought. Even in my own fucking home I am not free from homophobia. It is bad enough that I bring the stress of bigotry home, in its wear on my health, in the suits I quickly strip off when I get home like taking off a costume, and in the taxes I pay for my partner to receive benefits in a state that ignores our relationship. But, this incident pushed beyond that. I came home to a visible reminder that strangers think I am immoral. Fuckers.
In recent years, I have either stayed clear of women’s and feminist groups I presume to offer a safe space for women, or ask outright whether they are intended to be a safe space before I begin participating. Feminism is not intended to offer something to me as a man, so I acknowledge and respect that much of it is not necessarily a space for me.
2005 Take Back the Night Rally at UMBC.
I am in the funky blue shirt, holding a sign, on the left side of the picture.
Men’s Pro-Feminist Groups
It appears that others know well that men’s place in feminist activism is a precarious one. I am aware of a few groups — some pro-feminist, some for sexual violence prevention — that are run by and for men who wish to advocate for gender equality and eliminate violence against women. (Thus, I am not confusing these with “men’s rights” groups, that advocate for advancing men’s status in society even further.) There are also resources like The Guy’s Guide to Feminism that are produced for and by men to better understand feminism, gender inequality, and sexism.
I am uncertain of the particular histories of these kinds of groups. Were they started because feminist women effectively articulated a need to have groups that serve as a safe space for women? Did men feel out of place in these kinds of groups? Or, are (some) men aware that the kind of advocacy they would pursue would be qualitatively different — for example, more inviting to men, and possibly even more influential among men as a whole?
My Involvement In Men’s Pro-Feminist Groups
I understand the significance of pro-feminist groups for men. But, I initially felt no particular draw to such groups. A few years ago, I did actually become involved in one — not necessarily by my own decision-making.
I became involved with a local sexual violence prevention organization as a graduate student. The organization also served as a rape crisis center and shelter for women (and their young children) fleeing abusive partners. Understandably, the organization limited the number of volunteer positions that men could hold in order to maintain a safe space. But, that meant my involvement was constrained to external programming, namely sexual violence prevention education in local schools. Since that ended up not working for my schedule, I was invited to help start a group, “Man Up!”, for men to raise awareness about and eliminate sexual violence.
I knew from the start that I felt out of place in Man Up! Even the group’s name symbolizes the emphasis on men‘s involvement. I did my best to stick with it, but slowly drifted out of the group until I was no longer participating at all. I dreaded meeting with other men — especially straight men — about gender politics. I was not enthusiastic about reaching out to young men about healthy relationships and consensual sex — presumably heterosexual relationships and sex. And, even the perspective of the group — men‘s sexual violence prevention advocacy — felt distant from my feminist politics.
Fortunately, I moved to another external project — healthy romantic and sexual relationships among young gay, bisexual, and trans men — and stuck with that until I had to focus exclusively on my dissertation.
Invisible In Men’s Pro-Feminist Groups
This summer, I had the pleasure of meeting a bright undergraduate student who presented a paper on men’s anti-sexual violence groups at the American Sociological Association. From my own experiences, I had assumed it was just me; because of my gender politics and genderqueer identity, I feel uncomfortable in predominantly-male spaces. But, this student pointed out larger problems with these groups.
In particular, (some of) these groups are founded upon whiteness and heteronormativity. They are created for heterosexual men to have healthy, consensual relationships with their women partners. Advice like, “just don’t rape your girlfriend or wife!”, presumes that all men participants are engaging in heterosexual relationships. What about bisexual, queer, and gay men? Similarly, advice to check one’s white privilege erases men of color who are involved in pro-feminist and sexual violence prevention advocacy. So, as a queer man of color, I often walk away from these groups for men feeling invisible.
The student also pointed out the missing structural and cultural perspectives of these groups. The flip of blaming women for their own victimization is to blame individual men for perpetrating violence and discrimination against women. There is inattention, then, to the ways in which organizations and institutions reproduce sexism and to the larger rape culture. Systemic problems cannot be properly addressed with individual behaviors.
Carving Out My Own Space
I suppose the starting point to finding a space for myself in feminist activism is a recognition that it cannot be a space for men. It has to be a space that explicitly acknowledges queer men’s social location in our sexist and heterosexist society. We are still privileged as men, albeit disadvantaged by trans-, bi-, and/or homophobia. It is a major oversight to assume that queer men are immune to sexism and free of male privilege. Sadly, I did not find much on queer men’s feminist advocacy, so I created a short essay, “A Gay Guy’s Guide To Feminism – A Brief Introduction.” But, even these initial efforts fail to directly address my perspective and experiences as a person of color, and a fat person.
In some ways, I feel I should still participate in groups where I am the only man, only queer person, only person of color — or even only queer man of color — to ensure that my perspective is reflected. But, in others, I need to acknowledge that a focus solely on gender simply does not fit for my perspective — one that is is inherently intersectional. I do not fit as a fat brown queer man, not simply because I hold these identities, but because of the worldview that is shaped by the intersections among them. I suppose at best, I can collaborate with feminists and be an ally to women; but, the space in which I will be most instrumental, and feel most comfortable, is one that advocates for human rights, with explicit attention to the intersections among racism, sexism, classism, fatphobia, transphobia, heterosexism, ableism, ageism, and xenophobia. I suppose I found the answer to my question.
In my and other scholars’ research, the damage of discrimination to one’s health and well-being is clear. On top of the constraints discriminatory treatment places on one’s life chances and livelihood, victims of discrimination are furthered burdened by the blow to their sense of justice and fairness, and their well-being. It is no surprise then that so much research focuses on discrimination as a mechanism through which social inequality is maintained.
From my personal life, exercised in my professional life but not as a topic of research, I know well about the “positive” consequences of prejudice and discrimination. I do not mean positive as in good or desirable. Rather, I mean the consequences that otherwise would be good or desirable if they were not the product of facing discrimination or prejudice. I mean the sense of solidarity with fellow members of one’s oppressed group, pride in one’s identity and community, and a drive to persevere and overcome adversity.
The “Gay Tax”
I know well of the “Black tax” that I and other Black people face, having to work twice as hard to receive equal recognition. This is because Black people are stereotyped as unmotivated, unintelligent, culturally inferior, unprofessional, and immoral. I find myself particularly concerned with how others will evaluate me and my work. I find myself having to give a second thought to people who don’t give me a first. It is hard for me to let trivial slights go because I refuse to be undervalued or underestimated.
In comparing how I navigate this homophobic society as a gay man to the “Black tax,” I can discern a “gay tax” that manifests as regulating (read: suppressing) my gender and sexuality. To minimize heterosexual men’s discomfort with my sexuality, I remain physically and emotionally distant, and “man up” my gender presentation. To dodge religious folks’ judgement, I make as little reference to my sexuality as possible. And, as many couples do, my partner and I are rarely affectionate in public.
All at once, I am aware of these aspects of the “gay tax,” critical of them, but pay them for my safety and well-being.
Another “Gay Tax”: Overcompensation?
But there may be another aspect to the “gay tax” that is similar to the “Black tax.” Aware of the devalued status of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people in society, some gay men have expressed through autobiographies that they throw themselves into their work to elevate their status. Maybe, just maybe, if you are the first gay president, the world will see you just as “the president.”
In a recent study, Pachankisa and Hatzenbuehler (2013) found support for the “best little boy in the world” thesis. In a sample of gay and heterosexual male college students, their results suggest that gay men are more likely than heterosexual men to derive their self-worth from academics, appearance, and competition. And, the length of time that gay men remained in the closet, and the level of homophobic prejudice and discrimination in their state, were strong predictors of the extent to which these young gay men derive their self-worth from competition.
It’s the idea that young, closeted men deflect attention from their sexuality by investing in recognized markers of success: good grades, athletic achievement, elite employment and so on. Overcompensating in competitive arenas affords these men a sense of self-worth that their concealment diminishes (from NYT review).
The downside of this “positive” consequences of the stigma gay men face is their health and well-being. Through a nine-day diary, these gay men’s focus on elevating their status (either professionally or aesthetically) predicted long periods of isolation, interpersonal problems, unhealthy eating behaviors, and emotional distress.
All Gay Men? What About Women?
The researchers devoted a great deal of discussion to the generalizability of their findings. With a non-random sample of gay male college students, there is reason to worry that these findings do not translate into the experiences of all gay men, particularly those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Further, the sample is overwhelmingly white. So, in a blog post about the article, the lead author noted:
Importantly, like the authors of “best little boy in the world” narratives, the participants in our study were mostly white, middle class, college-educated men. The extent to which possessing multiple stigmatized identities might shape self-worth remains to be seen, as does the extent to which this or a similar phenomenon applies to women.
What about female sexual minorities, you might ask? “The notion of the ‘best little boy in the world’ crops up everywhere in stories about gay men’s early lives and not as much in the narratives of young lesbians,” lead researcher John Pachankis of Yeshiva University told me in an email. “That certainly doesn’t mean that women don’t experience a similar phenomenon, but only that lesbians’ personal stories don’t seem to emphasize it as much.” Exploring that particular question is a next step for research, he says.
Ironically, the language of “overcompensating” has been used in discussions of this study, but without explicit reference to the gendered notions of (men’s) overcompensation. It may be the case that these young men are emasculated by homophobia, and they (like many men) have found some way to compensate in their effort to measure up to the rigid expectations of masculinity. And, funny enough, many appear to set their sights on arenas that are not vehemently homophobic — academics and aesthetics. Athletics, sex with lots of men, and big trucks do not seem to top the list of the things gay men wish to brag about. So, this raises some interesting (unaddressed) questions about gay masculinity.
Ah, yet another study where I, as a scholar, am humbled to reminded that I am a human, equally affected by the social world as everyone else. In his NY Times article, federal lawyer Adam D. Chandler echoed some of these sentiments:
But seeing your reflection in an empirical study has its drawbacks. The flip side of discovering you’re not alone is the melting of your presumed snowflake uniqueness. Now I’m a statistic, another data point, just an ordinary overachieving closet case.
That’s bad enough. What’s worse is that the biography is half finished. They haven’t told me what’s on the other side of the closet door. Once I’m no longer harboring my secret, will I lose my drive? Or will my lifelong trophy hunt expand to include a search for a trophy husband?
I don’t know the answers. But I’m ready to find out.
Toward (Some Of) The Answers
Like any manifestation or consequence of oppression, a starting point is becoming aware of this drive to overcompensate. This is yet another aspect of the homophobic reality gay men note and challenge in raising our gay consciousnesses. And, I can provide (some of) the answers Chandler wants.
In a general sense, strong social support will help to minimize some of the distress. And, having multiple roles or other important, ongoing tasks, events, affiliations, relationships, etc. is beneficial as well. We do ourselves a disservice as gay men by isolating ourselves — that’s the opposite of seeking social support and others like us (as well as supportive allies). By focusing narrowly on elevating our status, we place so much stock into too few things, leaving us vulnerable to having our entire self-worth tank when those aspects of our status do not go well.
But, more specific to gay men is a strong, positive gay identity and connection to the LGBT community that helps to buffer the harmful effects of our exposure to prejudice and discrimination. While inevitable, how we respond to these stressful aspects of homophobic oppression can reduce their impact to our health — namely, challenging discriminatory treatment and confiding in trusted others about these experiences rather than accepting and repressing them. And, rejecting (rather than internalizing) the homophobic prejudice and stereotypes of our society, and general self-acceptance are crucial for our well-being. I recommend (again) Dr. Crystal Fleming‘s advice on rejecting others’ stereotypes and hatred.
The lead author of the study, a psychologist, offered the following recommendations:
Our research also reveals some important lessons for young gay men’s health and well-being. The results of our research suggest that gay men take careful stock of the extent to which their self-worth derives from seeking status from domains like being the best, looking the best, or earning high grades or lots of money. If gay men do recognize that their self-worth comes from those domains, they might consider the health costs of doing so. Do they experience trouble in relationships with others, such as frequent arguing or spending lots of time alone? Will they compromise personal values to attain status? Are they chronically stressed or engaging in unhealthy habits, like going to the gym to an unhealthy degree or restricting their food intake?
If gay men answer “yes” to any of these questions, it will first be important to recognize that these difficulties are not personal failings and may have their source in stigma and the early lessons learned from growing up in a stigmatizing world. Psychotherapy with a compassionate, gay-affirmative therapist can help gay men understand the legacy of experiencing early stressors like hiding one’s sexual orientation during adolescence or growing up in homophobic environments. For many gay men, the negative effects of these early experiences may not be obvious at first, but can nonetheless be successfully addressed with supportive help from friends or professionals.
In understanding this “gay tax” as a stressor unique to gay men (similar to the “tax” that other oppressed groups face), I also recommend mental health service that treat patients who are gay as gay patients. That is, care that understands the unique needs and experiences of gay people, rather than treating them as interchangeable with any other patient. I strongly recommend The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man’s World.