Sociologist Mark McCormack has written on boys, gays, bullying and homophobia for The Good Men Project before. When he began researching 16 to 18 year-old male students, he had expected to find the boys would use homophobia to “prove” their heterosexuality. But not only did he not see that, what he found was that most of the boys treated each other with respect, were inclusive of differences, and displayed physical affection with each other un-selfconsciously.
Mark was interviewed for Salon for who asked him what he saw as trends, particularly in the U.K., and how that reconciled with the reports here in the U.S. which has seen a “spate of horrifying stories stateside of bullied gay teens committing suicide.” McCormack believes the U.S. is “a decade behind the U.K.” He further believes that the focus on the suicides doesn’t accurately reflect the progress that has been made: “We need to look beyond the worst-case examples to see what is happening in the majority of schools,” McCormack writes. “We do no-one any favors if we only fight prejudice that is, for some, yesterday’s battle.”
Here is an excerpt from Salon:
Salon spoke to McCormack by phone from his office at Brunel University in West London about the disappearance of the insult “that’s so gay” — across the pond, at least — and why the U.S. still lags behind.
How has homophobia changed over the past couple decades in the U.K.?
In the past, homophobia has been hugely significant. Being gay was criminalized up until 1967, so it’s only in the past 45 years where it’s been possible to be openly gay. In the ’80s and ’90s, when I was growing up, there was Section 28, which prevented teachers from talking about homosexuality; they didn’t feel able to combat homophobia in schools.
It used to be in the ’80s that there was “homohysteria,” which is the fear of being socially perceived as gay. What boys needed to do was to make sure they weren’t seen as gay. It was kind of this game of tag where boys would deploy homophobia competitively because the person perceived as gay would be the person who was bullied and marginalized. What better way to prove that you’re not gay than by being homophobic yourself?
But you’ve found that that’s changed dramatically.
Only in one of the three schools I studied did I hear of any form of homophobic language, and that was heard twice by two different kids. Apart from that, homophobic language wasn’t used.
In the U.S., we’ve had a terrible spate of stories about gay teens committing suicides. Is the situation that different in the U.K.?
There are two different issues here. The first is that the spate of suicides has become the media narrative; maybe it was guilt from not covering it 20 years ago. While [these stories are] terrible, and they show that homophobia is still out there, they aren’t evidence of increased homophobia.
The other thing I would say is that America is a country of polarities. The U.S. is further behind but things are changing; homophobia isn’t socially acceptable in the way that it used to be.