Often when I use the word homophobia—especially in spaces that aren’t exclusively leftist—someone challenges my usage, saying that it isn’t an accurate term, that it isn’t a true fear.
Except I argue that the word homophobia actually does describe a real fear.
People who express (or even feel) homophobia are afraid of what the presence of gay people means for society in general and even are afraid of others perceiving them as gay.
They’re afraid that marriage equality will “destroy the family”.
They’re afraid of being overwhelmed by queerness: that queer sexualities are being “shoved down their throat” or that “there are too many” identities and initials in the 2SLGBTQQIA acronym too keep track of.
They describe queerness as “a lifestyle” and are afraid that this lifestyle will erase their own. They’re afraid of their children being gay, or more specifically being turned gay.
They’re afraid of people thinking they’re gay, particularly if they’re a man. It’s why they avoid pink, why they don’t stand too close at public urinals, why they don’t wear jewellery or skirts or makeup, why they don’t have lingering hugs with other men.
It’s why they react so abruptly to anything that might be interpreted as a sexual advance: sitting too close together on a couch, sharing a bed, or touching a body part when talking. To say nothing of their responses when people actually do come on to them or even come out to them.
When my oldest came out to a friend, for example, one of the first things she asked was whether my child was attracted to her. Fear.
My second oldest is serving a church mission in Québec, and he’s had some missionary companions who are quick to tell people that they’re not a couple. Fear.
A few years ago, when I was in the YMCA waiting room to pick up my children from classes, a big burly guy noticed my painted nails and just stared at me with a stern look, like he was ready to pick a fight. Fear.
Around the same time, I went inside a gas station to pay for my gas, and the clerks were giggling to themselves about my painted nails. Fear.
And it’s that fear that drives homophobic people to sometimes react in abusive ways, through slurs and even physical violence.
Straight society has a lot of garbage to clean up before straight people can say that homophobia isn’t an actual fear.