It’s a very clever slogan. The anti-homosexual lobby in Jamaica has really outdone itself this time. It’s catchy, it helps bolster the idea of the need for freedom of speech, it fits neatly on a placard.
But, is it true?
Before we get into it, I think we need to briefly address what ‘homophobia’ actually means. Many want it to mean, “Fear of homosexuals.” But it doesn’t. In most use around the world, it refers to discriminatory action or thoughts against homosexuals, including having heteronormative ideals. We can’t fight that, no matter how hard we try. We can’t make a word mean what it doesn’t; language doesn’t work like that, unfortunately. So, to be clear, I am using the term ‘homophobic’ for homosexuality in the same sense that ‘racism’ applies to race.
Next, we have to break down ‘truth’. I presume it refers to honesty, whether it refers to accurately reporting scientific/statistical information, or when expressing thoughts, emotions, and opinions. The question we have to ask now is, “Can this still be homophobic?”
Let us look at a few scenarios. A young girl is told that she is pretty “for a black girl”. A few minutes later, her friend makes a passing remark about how bad her “tough” black hair is. A decade after that, she is told by a professor that he is impressed with her work, that he did not expect it from someone who looks like her.
What would you call the aforementioned comments made to this girl, and then to this woman? Would you say they are racist? I think many of you would. What if I told you that the people who said these things to her were speaking the truth, that they were being honest?
So, let us think of a gay man who happens to tell his female friend that he is gay because she just expressed a romantic interest in him, and he didn’t want to lead her on. She tells him he doesn’t act gay. She means it as a compliment. She’s speaking the truth. But couldn’t that be homophobic? Holding preconceived notions of what a gay man acts like is no different from telling someone, “You don’t act [insert racial, religious, other affiliation here].” Who are you to decide what [blank] looks like? And saying it with a smile suggests that you think it’s less-than to act [blank]. Is that not discriminatory?
I should mention here that discriminatory thoughts and comments like that are not limited to those outside the group. Sometimes the most vocal ‘pretty hair’ and ‘browning’ rhetoric comes from those you consider one of you. In the same vein, it is arguably homophobic when gays themselves look down on others for not being ‘straight-acting’. Discrimination is discrimination, no matter where it comes from.
The above examples have been fairly innocuous, but, to further explain the point, let us go with something a bit more likely to stir up some emotion: HIV. The ‘plumbing’ involved in much male-male sexual activities makes it ‘risky’; the rectal lining is thin enough (and easily damaged enough) for HIV and other pathogens to pass through, and so infection can spread. So, HIV/AIDS and its statistics are often mentioned in anti-homosexual rhetoric. But, is that homophobic?
What if I told a young lady that she was better off being a lesbian, because HIV is more easily passed through penile-vaginal sexual encounters than lesbian sexual encounters. I’m being truthful. The statistics do say that but surely you see the problem. Do you really except a young woman to give up men just because of that? So, why say the same kind of things to (and about) homosexuals? Why associate HIV/AIDS so exclusively to homosexuals when condoms and lubrication work just as well for them as for the heterosexuals?
I think it should be clear by now that truthfulness and homophobia can exist together. Clever as the catch-phrase is, it does not really stand up to scrutiny, I am afraid. In my opinion, it is intellectually dishonest to hide discriminatory words behind a banner of ‘truth’. As a society, we should do better.
Ken, also known as Mr Multilingual, is a tutor of Japanese, and a sign language interpreter. After listening to both ‘sides’ of this issue, he decided some definitions were in order.