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Who’s Afraid of a Little Man-on-Man Action? George W.! 7 July 2006

Posted by Todd in Gay Rights, Homosexuality, Political Commentary, Sexuality.
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In the June 29th edition of Rolling Stone, Tim Dickenson analyzes the recent amendment vote that would have enshrined Ward and June Cleaver into the Constitution in his article “The Politics of Fear” (pp. 43-45). Laying aside all the problematic assumptions about history, biology, marriage and family that the right has to make in order to rationalize its social politics, Dickenson zeros in on the political viability of using homophobia as a strategy.

Creepily, Dickenson points to a parallel Republican move in the 1960 election cycle when they were fighting against inter-racial marriages. At the time, 16 states had anti-miscegenation laws and 70% of Americans opposed inter-racial marriage. In 2006, George W. Bush gave a speech in which he noted that 19 states have banned same-sex marriage outright and that 71% of Americans oppose recognition of same-sex relationships.

Although I’ve been on the receiving end of homophobia indirectly all my life and directly on more than one occasion, I still find myself naïvely baffled by it. What exactly is the fear all about? Guy Hocquenghem theorized in the early 1970s that it was a man’s fear of being penetrated anally, and of Western culture’s general disdain for anal sex. Feminists have long theorized that it’s a man’s fear of being treated like a woman (as abject) and a woman’s fear of never gaining social status as men pair off with each other instead of with them. There are of course status issues in American culture, where to be gay is nearly always to loose social status in terms of gender and esteem. And several contemporary studies have shown that the most violent of homophobes are probably homosexual, as their psycho-sexual responses are nearly almost always to people of the same sex.

Given monotheism’s virulent homophobia (starkly contrasted to the softer homophobias of Asian religions and of smaller pre-modern societies), it’s hard to believe that the origin of Hebrew homophobia was merely as a differentiation between Jews and their Babylonian captors, that is, as a social boundary. How did we get from social boundary to “he shall surely be put to death?” Given the multitude of societies who have functioned perfectly well with various homosexual roles, and the nearly universal existence of homosexual individuals across cultural boundaries, it is difficult indeed to believe that homophobia is natural in any way.

But the Republican strategy, electoral not political, is to tap into something viceral and knee-jerk, an emotional response that will tip the balance at the voting booth, pulling in seniors and evangelicals.

Dan Savage was a little more sanguine in his response to Dickenson:

I think one of the reasons you’re seeing so much sturm und drang from the conservatives is that they know that they’re losing the debate. … Republicans want to lock in the bigotry now, while they have what they perceive to be a majority. You can’t have Rosie on the View and Elton packing Mom and POp in at Caesars Palace and gay peole all over television, and then have these politicians run out there with a straight face and say that ‘gay relationships are a threat to the family.’ We are winning the culture — which is why we’ll ultimately win the political war.

If Savage is correct, then perhaps the more pertinent questions will be to look ahead to the time when gays and lesbians are fully equal citizens, and to figure out what will life be like then without an active opposition?

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