What if straight men are more afraid of similarities than differences?
At the risk of being the sixteen-millionth writer to do so, let me begin a column by quoting a dictionary, or in this case Dictionary.com, wherein “phobia” is defined as:
Now let me ask the question whether straight men that have been deemed “homophobic” fit the above definition, because I think there is one section of the above that suggests the term might be a misnomer for some hetero fellas … maybe even the bulk of us.
Now before you skip down to the comments section and flame me (all puns intended), let me make it clear. One would have to be morally bankrupt, politically incorrect and inherently disingenuous to deny that there are those in this world who dislike all homosexuals for the very fact that they exist. But that’s hatred and bigotry, which may or may not necessarily stem from fear. And there are certainly some who have their religious issues with the gay lifestyle. But again, that’s driven by intolerance and indoctrination as much as fear.
But what of the great majority of straight men? You know, the ones who do not lash out at homosexuals as a way of burying their own inner urges to find a public men’s room and take a “wide stance?” What of the “average Joes” who don’t know a lot of “average moes,” have never been hit on, groped, or accused of bi-curiousness, and simply have a creeping suspicion that there’s something to be afraid of in the dugout of the other team?
Wouldn’t you agree that such men are the ones who suffer from what one would most commonly term “homophobia?” After all, they certainly have a persistent fear of a specific “activity” (and “situation”) that leads to a compelling desire to avoid it. It’s why more straight men don’t go to gay bars despite the fact that they would have much less competition for the drunk women they’d find there.
But I’ve left out a word in the previous paragraph, and that word is “irrational.” Is the fear straight men feel towarsa their gay counterparts truly irrational?
In a sense, yes. Of course it is. TV series like Oz and movies like The Shawshank Redemption and Deliverance have given us breeders an unrealistic mental image of how helpless we’d be if a homosexual hulk decided we had a pretty mouth. The fact is, I’ve spent most of my adult life going to school with and working alongside openly gay men, including years of doing theater on both coasts, 11 months waiting tables a block away from the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood, California, and a decade in the entertainment business. I’ve been hit on, legitimately, twice, and never once did I fear for anything except hurting the fella’s feelings. I was never cornered or roofied or tricked into sharing a tent during a cattle drive.
I’m not saying those things don’t happen. But they’ve never happened to me, or anyone I know, and I feel confident they never will as long as I don’t head to jail or go on any ill-advised canoeing trips with Ned Beatty.
But on the other front, what if homophobia has as much to do with the perfectly rational—and one might suggest “empathetic”—process of straight men actually relating to gay men and realizing that, at their core, they are just men.
Simply put, we men know what we’re capable of and what we’re driven by. Put Wonder Woman’s golden lasso around a straight man and he’ll admit that, ever since that first middle-school in-class boner that kept him from standing up and doing a math problem at the chalk-board, he has been a somewhat-willing slave to his sex drive. Every woman we meet and find the slightest bit attractive is seen as a potential partner and immediately imagined naked. What’s even more shocking is that almost every woman becomes “the slightest bit attractive” if you’re around her often enough. Our masturbation fantasies, if catalogued, would look like a yearbook that starts around seventh grade and runs up through our interaction with the Starbucks barista this morning. Our spank banks are the only ones that are actually returning interest these days!
We write articles—on this very site sometimes—about how we can’t help it, how we are biologically predisposed to spread our seed and reproduce with as many partners as possible. In short, we men know exactly what we are. We are, on some base level, life-support and transport systems for a penis and two testicles.
So when a straight man is told he has nothing to fear from a gay man who might see him naked in the gym steam room or his army barracks, it doesn’t compute. Not because we think the gay guy is so different from us, but because we know he’s the same. He’s a dude! Without even trying, we identify with this hypothetical homosexual and admit to ourselves, “Man, if I were suddenly allowed to hang out in the women’s locker room, there’s no way I wouldn’t be getting busy!” And when perfectly reasonable people point out that gay men are attracted to, well, other gay men, we laugh out loud. We know that there’s nothing more attractive than a woman who doesn’t want us. Ever seen a guy who thinks he has a chance with a lesbian? It’s like watching Ahab spotting a white fluke on the horizon. We identify with the gay man too literally and assume our homosexual counterparts must feel the same way. We simply cannot help putting our straight feet into a gay man’s shoes, even though that act is what eventually causes the anxiety. Doesn’t that sound rational? Doesn’t that mean the “phobia” label may not fit?
Obviously, the fear of homosexuality isn’t productive for us, as a society, or as a gender. With any luck, it’s on the wane as more and more states move towards gay marriage and other same-sex equality measures. But before we call it a phobia, let’s at least consider that it might be a fear that springs, in part, from a rational place. A place where the straight man’s mind leapfrogs past centuries of emasculation and name calling—fairies, pansies, nancy boys—and acknowledges the truth; that gay men are, at their core, just men. And while that doesn’t solve the problem, at least it might suggest a potential platform for fear to be replaced by empathy, understanding, and real acceptance instead of social tolerance.
Until that day comes, let me say this to all of my heterosexual brethren. We have nothing to fear from our gay brothers. They wish us no ill. They pose us no threat. We are truly safe and secure … in their spank banks. That may make you uncomfortable, but it also leaves you totally untouched.
—Photo tinou bao/Flickr