1. Fear of or contempt for lesbians and gay men.
2. Behavior based on such a feeling.
History: Coined by clinical psychologist George Weinberg, the word “homophobia” first appeared in Time magazine in 1969. Weinberg later popularized the term in his book Society and the Healthy Homosexual, published in 1971, using it to characterize those who either feared or hated homosexuals and homosexuality. Soon thereafter, the word was taken up by the Gay Liberation Movement in its push to recast homosexuality, a onetime psychopathology in most psychiatrists’ books, as an inborn trait comparable to left-handedness. Once homosexuality was normalized, which came with its removal from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (the official guide to psychological disorders), gay rights advocates then attempted to characterize homophobia as the true pathology, it being an “irrational” response to a supposedly natural human attribute. Currently, homophobia is not listed in the DSM, though more and more people each day are buying into the view that it is a mindset in need of some serious psychotherapeutic treatment.
Etymology: “Homophobia” is a difficult word to unpack. The immediate temptation is to break it down into “homo,” which is of course the genus that includes human beings, and “phobia,” meaning an uncontrollable, irrational, and persistent fear. What you end up with, however, is a “fear of humans,” which is a pretty far cry from the intended definition. An alternative is to read “homo” as “homos,” which means “sameness.” But while such an interpretation may work well with “homosexual,” it leaves us in this case with “a fear of sameness,” which doesn’t quite hit the mark either. Then there is the problem with “phobia,” a term typically associated with a sort of knee-jerk panic or terror. The issue here is that those typically accused of homophobia exhibit not so much a fear of homosexuals as a disapproval of their lifestyle, and they do so not rashly or in an automatic fashion but because of a reasoned belief that the practice is unnatural in the same way that pedophilia, incest, or bestiality is unnatural.
Effect: The ambiguity inherent in the term “homophobia” is reflected in its haphazard diagnosis. The word is a catch-all label that encompasses a wide range of attitudes and behaviors, from those who would assault or kill homosexuals to those who speak about homosexuality in a derogatory manner to those who merely hold opinions about homosexual issues that run counter to the gay establishment. Consequently, it has also become a method by which to immediately silence critics—whether scholars, journalists, or policy makers—of the gay agenda. No one wants to be associated with homophobia and the image it conjures of redneck lynchings or other violent expressions of prejudice. And so it is somewhat ironic that the indiscriminate connotations of “homophobia” are of precisely the same sort as those used to characterize previous social victims. Since the tag “homophobe” stereotypes its target as dangerous and depraved, in other words, it’s not all that different from calling a Jew a usurer or a black a rapist. Ultimately, the classification is as intolerant and misleading as the hateful viewpoint it purports to describe.
Article first appeared in Salvo issue 1