The Standardized Red Herrings of Homophobia

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If you have gay-hating friends or relatives (and who doesn’t) or if you’ve been exposed to the mindless prattling of media cesspools like Fox “News” (and if there’s any way to avoid it, please let us know), then it’s almost certain that at some time or other (and probably more than once) you’ve heard something very similar to this:

I’m sickandtired of gays ramming their lifestyle down my throat. They’re a small minority, and they’ve chosen to be the way they are. They shouldn’t have any special rights.

This is a very standardized comment, as if those using it had learned it at some kind of special school or seminar. It consists of four separate red herrings, which may be used separately or in combination. Let’s look at each of them.

1. Ramming down my throat

Gay haters are invariably a bit vague about exactly how homosexuality is being rammed down their throats. They can’t seem to cite a single instance of someone trying to force them to marry or even sleep with a person of the same sex. What they really seem to mean by gays ramming their lifestyle down their throats is gays existing in their direction.

But suppose gays indeed were interested in ramming their “lifestyle” down people’s throats. What kind of behavior might that entail? We don’t have to search very far to answer that. There happens to be a superb illustration in the conduct of the very people who so often persecute and malign gays.

Christians have a long history of ramming down throats. Sometimes quite literally — one of the many delightful medieval treatments for “heresy” was to pour hot lead down the heretic’s throat. There, that’ll teach ’em the proper way to love God. (Heresy, by the way, wasn’t unbelief; it was belief in a slightly unapproved fashion.) But things have changed a bit since then, haven’t they? Well, sure. We have laws now against barbaric tortures. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that religious fanatics are any nicer. And it certainly doesn’t mean that religion no longer has the world — or the nation — in its grip.

Church membership, or other religious affiliation, is still the default mode, and religion is often presumed to be a yardstick for morality. Ministers perform weddings, funerals, and other rites of passage.  The official (and probably unconstitutional) motto of The United States is “In God We Trust”, which glares at us from our currency every time we make a financial transaction. Officials are sworn into office on a Bible. Witnesses in court place their hand on the Bible and swear to tell the truth “so help you God”.

The words “under God” were inserted into the Pledge Of Allegiance, which school children are compelled to parrot every day. Christian activists tirelessly spread the blatant lie that prayer was banned from public schools, and work overtime to turn voluntary school prayer back into mandatory school prayer — which we had when I was in school not so very long ago. Religious crusaders stick the so-called Ten Commandments under people’s noses, including on government property when they can get away with it. They also vigorously (and successfully) campaign to get fundamentalist dogma inserted into science textbooks.

Christianity is promoted on billboards, on window signs, in TV spots, in Internet advertising. Proselytizers preach on TV or in the streets in an effort to convert people to the one true faith — namely their own. Sometimes they even go from door to door soul-hunting. There are entire TV networks — quite a few of them — devoted to devotion.

Prayer is injected into as many public and private events as humanly possible. When was the last time you heard of someone asking if anyone objected before praying at the dinner table? When have you ever heard of parents asking their children if they really want to go to church? Children are dragged along because it is supposed to be “good for them”, whether they have any beliefs of their own, or even understand what religion is all about. They are baptized into their parents’ religion as infants.

But enough about religion. We could go on and on, but you get the idea — the Christian culture provides a textbook model of what throat-ramming really looks like. The question is, what exactly about gay culture is any any way, shape or form comparable to any of the above?

The only possible answer is that, just as Christians have churches to assemble in, gays have certain bars. But it’s a very weak parallel. Gay bartenders don’t aggressively recruit new drinkers, telling them they’ll go to hell if they don’t come in and have a stiff belt. And they don’t ring their damn chimes at odd hours when people are trying to sleep.

2. They’re a small minority

Roughly 3 percent of the American population is either gay or bi. That’s certainly a minority, but’s it’s by no means the smallest of minorities. It’s about 6 times the number of American adults who are legally blind, for instance. So if numbers were really what mattered, then gays should be treated with 6 times as much respect as the blind.

But it isn’t really about numbers. It’s about the fact that the wielders of this red herring are confusing (deliberately?) majority rule with majority tyranny.

I happen to be part of a 10-percent minority myself: I’m left-handed. That has resulted in more forms of awkwardness than most right-handers would ever think about. Not only are most baseball gloves, guitars and books designed for right-hand dominance, but so are most pianos, scissors, can openers, and even — no fooling — kitchen knives.  No problem. I understand perfectly that in a world dominated by right-handers, most things are going to be designed for their convenience. I even realize that there is a good reason why in the game of baseball southpaws are totally barred from four positions. I’m okay with it now and I was okay with it even as a kid when I had to contend with right-handed school desks and pencil sharpeners.

What I was not okay with then and am still not okay with now is the way I was relentlessly coerced and badgered into trying to be “normal”. There is a big difference between the majority determining what the norm is and the majority trying to compel everyone to conform to it. The line between the two is not the least bit fine.

3. They chose to be the way they are

This is an all-too-common form of Christian arrogance: the presumption that cherry picking an out-of-context biblical passage that seems to support your prejudices makes you an instant expert, more knowledgeable on a particular topic than people who have studied it professionally for years –even in highly technical fields like biology, climate science and evolution.

Experts say homosexuality is NOT a choice, based on extensive biological and psychological research — though we might have come to that conclusion a lot sooner if more people had been willing to just ask gays themselves. Just about any of them will tell you that they didn’t choose it, and quite a few will tell you that they would have chosen otherwise if they could have. But of course the gay-bashers know better. They know the gays are lying. They know that they absolutely wanted to be rejected by their families, marginalized by society and harassed and beaten, sometimes to death.

Aside from being drastically wrong, the “choice” belief is drastically irrelevant. In a sense, saying that gays choose to be “the way they are” is simply saying the same thing that gays themselves say: they do choose whether or not to acknowledge their predilection, but that doesn’t mean they deliberately created it.

But does it really matter? Suppose it were true that homosexuality is chosen with as much utter volition as deciding what kind of car to drive or what flavor ice cream to eat. Whether you realize it or not, there are factors beyond your control, and probably even beyond your comprehension, that cause you to prefer a red Chevrolet to a black Ford, or strawberry to chocolate. And even if that were not the case, should people who drive red Chevrolets and eat strawberry ice cream have to live in the closet?

4. Special rights

What special rights exactly have they asked for? Do you hear gays demand to be exempt from traffic fines, or be allowed to shop half price at any store, or be allowed to vote twice, or to be bowed down to every Thursday morning?

What they want is to be able to marry whom they choose — like anyone else. They want to enjoy the full legal benefits of such unions — like anyone else. They want to be able to partake of the services of government agencies and private businesses without discrimination — like anyone else. They want to be able to live openly wherever they choose without fear — like anyone else. It is the gay-haters who are special, not the gays themselves.

When I was a child, some adults suggested that I used my left hand in order to stand out and gain attention; in reality, what I wanted was just the opposite. That’s true of most gays as well. They may attend a Pride parade to combat the years of stigma thrust upon them, but at the end of the day they want to be thought of as friends and neighbors rather than oddballs and outcasts.

It’s quite interesting — and more than a little amusing — that at the same time they’ve been insisting that homosexuality is a choice, the gay haters have also tried (successfully) to portray it as a disease, a mental disorder. Is that supposed to mean that people consciously choose their mental illnesses?  But recent research (not to mention an overwhelming weight of anecdotal evidence) strongly suggests that it is in fact homophobia and not homosexuality that is connected to mental dysfunction.

A popular quote on the topic, falsely attributed to actor Morgan Freeman, is a bit more blunt:

I hate the word homophobia. It’s not a phobia. You are not scared. You are an asshole.

That’s true enough in some cases, but not always. Not all homophobes — and there is indeed a fear factor at work — are candidates for the Westboro Baptist Church. Many are, despite their virulent homophobia and perhaps other forms of bigotry, otherwise decent folks who would make good friends and neighbors to gays and transgenders, as long as they don’t know those people are gays and transgender.

But they are still folks who fall prey to ridiculous knee-jerk soundbites odiferously loaded with red herrings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One thought on “The Standardized Red Herrings of Homophobia

  1. Hello POP,

    Again a great post about homophobia, falsehoods and the supposed “rights,” which many religious people seem convinced they don’t have.

    I was recently taken aback after submitting a letter to a local newspaper’s opinion page and being told I was engaging in aggressive and combative behavior when asking a few simple, hypothetical question about the author of a previous letter. This author was convinced that his freedoms were being denied by lawmakers who would force public businesses to sell wedding cakes to gay couples—never acknowledging that under the 14th Amendment, no American citizen assured of their life, liberty, equality and “the pursuit of happiness,” can be denied those rights. My contention was that, until a bakery owner is forced to attend the wedding of a gay person, or perhaps forced to spiritually preside over a gay wedding ceremony, that his or her rights are not jeopardized due to the simple act of selling a wedding cake in a public venue which normally provides, (among other things) weddings cakes. But as you point out, we are still being influenced by myths about gay relationships and LBGT people in general. So yes, the cards have long ago been stacked in favor of religious faith being used as a default mode in so many aspects of our lives.

    Near the end of my letter to one of my local newspapers, I tried to pose a series of hypothetical questions similar to those you use in this article to directly confront the author, who apparently felt that allowing the LBGT community equal protection under the law, will certainly deny his own rights to religious freedom. But what people like him fail to “get” is that he is essentially asking for the privilege of forcing his spiritual beliefs on others—not merely for the protection of his religious beliefs and values under the law—as they presently and most certainly already are! What I learned after the local opinion page editor modified my letter without my permission, was that, in my neck of the woods, asking such simple and relevant hypothetical questions, is considered combative or aggressive behavior which discourages civil discourse. It hardly mattered that I did not mention the author’s name, or claim that he was truly homophobic, or actually felt oppressed in the ways that my hypothetical inquiry posed—Just asking questions was apparently bad enough! I simply asked if the other writer had been prevented from attending the church of his choice, denied the freedom to read spiritual literature of his choice, or prevented from writing and publishing articles and books that support his own ideas and/or religious beliefs? I also asked if he had ever been denied the right to marry someone of his choice if others disagreed, or been denied the purchase of a simple wedding cake—and if not—why he thought he could deny that right to others?

    Apparently my hometown Newspapers consider it wrong to merely ask relevant questions based on the points brought up by others—even when I stated those questions in terms of hypotheticals, and did NOT include the names of others? But what I found even more astonishing was that, when I noted that the author of the opinion page letter stated that gay weddings were “pretend marriages, “the editor would also not even allow me the right to characterize his words as statements which conveyed the writers “own judgements?” So apparently the delicate leash which tethers the press while allowing the editors of our opinion pages to basically make up many of their own rules, is not even approving of writers who mention the beliefs of those that they are responding to?

    I take only two exceptions to how you stated your new post POP. Firstly, you imply that many religious people may not have been “made any nicer by laws which constrain barbaric torture.” But, this is just as erroneous an attitude as those held by right wing fanatics who want to convey the belief that President Obama is guilty of just about any immoral or twisted crime you can imagine. You may be right in saying that the prohibition of such barbaric forms of torture doesn’t “necessarily” mean that religious fanatics are any nicer. But it also does not mean that many people of faith are not working long and hard to provide charitable aid in barbaric regions of the world, while being prepared to lay down their lives, or that they have never stood up against the arbitrary laws established by dictators and the various military junta’s or repressive societies under their command. The religious fanatics you speak of, if you are referring to those in evangelical and fundamentalist sects, do not by any means represent the vast majority of religious people. And even though you did not outright make the claim that “all” religious people are barbaric fiends who might consider torturing non-believers, the way you posture your comments definitely promotes this insinuation. The truth is that most people of faith, whether Christians, Moslems, Buddhists, or Jews etc. would be horrified by the use of barbaric torture on anyone! It’s time for us to quite making insinuations that stereotype any group of people one may not like, without also making mention of the virtues that many religious people honestly do have. Faith is not necessarily synonymous with “religious” faith, and those Christians or member of any religions which promote barbaric and cruel behavior are in a very small minority—most religious people do indeed condemn violent torture—even if certain people wanting political power, wealth and/or prestige may not!

    I also take issue with your insinuation that prayer is arbitrarily expected at dinner tables and seldom respectful of the rights of those who disagree with that personal observance. I have been at many meals provided in private homes in which the host sincerely asked those who did not want to pray, to feel free to refrain. And even if a host were to pressure his guests into saying prayers before a meal is served, there is a great difference between the personal rules observed in one’s private residence, and the mores which many people may not agree with when made mandatory at public functions. The first case simply concerns the right of any host to set the protocols that his family and guests should obey, (like taking off one’s shoe before entering, or refraining from smoking). And, as long as these rules are required in one’s own home, and guests are free to go elsewhere, one’s own objections may be at odds with a homeowner’s individual freedom to choose the religious practices he observes in his own kitchen—especially those which virtually always, do not include barbaric torture.

    Certainly those who gripe about their own rights to impose religious ideas on others, and who see even public venues as areas in which their religious rights are being denied—simply because everyone is not being forced to conform with them—are not nearly the poor picked on “righteous” people that they may want to be publicly considered as. But, I think it’s appropriate to admit that most of us have come a long way, (in many respects) from the arbitrary and barbaric rules that the authorities in charge during the middle ages, or during some other period of humanities faltering and of our frail social history, have required of everyone. Just like it’s easy to call anyone a Nazi simply because they may display a macho or a politically conservative set of beliefs, it’s also easy to realize that, although others may not share our views, they are not necessarily in favor of tossing heathens (defined mostly as those having different beliefs than our own) into volcanoes, or, of torturing others barbarically just for adhering to one unfavored belief or another. Although they may not be the movers and shakers who seek to control and influence the course of human history, the vast majority of ordinary religious believers, tune into the many positive credos that their religious icons taught. Out of the more than a billion Christians or Muslims in the world, how many of them are eager to assume the horrific and violent ideology of ISIS? Very, very few!

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