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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

¿SHOULD WE JUDGE STRAIGHT MEN FOR BEING HOMOPHOBIC?

Slate Contributor Zach Howe of Slate had my Twitter mentions in a debate when I tweeted my agreement with his article, “Why Straight Men Are Right To Be Afraid Of Homosexuality.”

 I was confused because I thought the article was clear in its approach; obviously negating its misleading and provocative title. The title is where I believe most of the gay men who read it became lost and angry. This is where I also think most readers made the mistake of allowing their emotional reaction to let them jump to conclusions about the content of the article. So, instead of reading the piece for what it is and directly states, some readers quickly assumed statements that the author may not have even intended.

Howe writes:
Clearly, men in America have grown up learning to be scared of gayness. But not only for the reasons we typically think—not only, in the end, because of religion, insecurity about their own sexuality, or a visceral aversion to other men’s penises. The truth is, they’re afraid because heterosexuality is so fragile.

Heterosexuality’s power lies in perception, not physical truth—as long as people think you’re exclusively attracted to the right gender, you’re golden. But perception is a precarious thing; a “zero-tolerance” policy has taught men that the way people think of them can change permanently with one slip, one little kiss or too-intimate friendship. And once lost, it can be nearly impossible to reclaim.

Most of the strong criticism and disapproval I encountered surrounded the terms “right gender” and “zero-tolerance”. I didn’t take “right gender” to imply that anything outside of heterosexuality was wrong. Instead, I understood it as a simplification of how society views gender as a binary. Maybe the author should’ve ornamented it with quotation marks, but I don’t believe the author intended to offend those that lie outside of this binary.

The article was not even about gay relationships, I thought to myself. It also wasn’t about a divide between gays and straights. It was about why homophobia exists. Is this what gay men received from this piece? What were gay men detecting that I wasn’t?
My overall take-away from the article is that heterosexuality is, in fact, fragile because of the small construct that has been placed upon it, particularly for males. The construct is very limiting and rooted in absolute beliefs about maleness. Therefore, people have defined maleness by creating stipulations that determine strict norms for “pure” non-heteronormativity/masculinity, which makes it dangerous for straight men to stretch outside of that confinement, and accept others that do. With that said, maybe heterosexuality isn’t fragile, but, instead, maleness in general is.

Most of us are taught a narrow spectrum of what it means to be a man.  The fragility of this condensed and overly restricted construct is risky because so much can make it falter. Society constantly polices the  gender performance of men—gay and straight alike.  Howe explained the threat of the “zero-tolerance” policy in the article.

For months now, I’ve been thinking about the fragility and rigidity of maleness, partially due to “The Mask You Live In”, which is a documentary about the effects of “conditioned maleness” on young males, and how society neglects the detriments of this, and instead focuses solely on the effects of patriarchal standards and femininity of young females. Since society’s focus on boys and heterosexuality/maleness is so rare, the pressure to be a “man” is perpetuated generationally, resulting in males—heterosexual ones, in particular—with behavioral and attitudinal issues that society dismisses and overlooks as “boys just being boys.”

Howe further elaborates on this point by stating, “Put another way, the zero-tolerance rule means that if a man makes one “wrong” move—kisses another man in a moment of drunken fun, say—he is immediately assumed to be gay.” Howe then proceeds to contrast females’ freedom with sexuality against males’ “unidirectional” sexuality, stating that research on sexuality is proving sexual orientation to be complex and fluid. If a man kisses another man, he can’t have done it just for fun or for the sake of feeling the lips of another on his; he has to be deemed sexually attracted to this man for life. A “real man” can’t even be bisexual, because “bisexuality doesn’t exist”, and male sexuality being unidirectional, means you can only be gay or straight—no gray area.

Howe also addresses non-hetero sexuality in the conclusion: “The result of all this is that men are not allowed “complex” sexualities; once the presumption of straightness has been shattered, a dude is automatically gay. That narrative does not allow much freedom to explore even fleeting same-sex attractions without a permanent commitment.” Here, I can agree he’s no longer talking about the effect of maleness on heterosexuality, but male sexuality as a whole; however, it doesn’t deviate from his main point about society defining a “right” gender. The idea actually reinforces his point. What society considers as gay—behaviors, attitudes, and personalities—does harm to hetero men, who, in turn, harm non-hetero men through homophobia.

The argument about this article not being in depth may be valid, but all the hate it received is not. Howe made very good points on maleness, and how it confines hetero-men to its perimeters, just as much as non-hetero men.

For me, this post was about two things: first, the effects of maleness on males in general; and, second, how people can read too much into something. I want readers to be wiser about what they assume is prejudice because everything isn’t a dig or attack on homosexuality—misleading title or not. Also, I want us to begin thinking critically about the detriment and violence maleness inflicts on the psyche and physicality of males.


The perceived inflexibility is the reason homosexuality and sexual fluidity are difficult to grasp when it comes to men, as compared to women.  We cannot solely fault men for homophobia, without considering the environment that has produced them and the oppressive attitudes about non-heterosexuality/masculinity. Therefore, education should begin there—expanding the construct of maleness to incorporate more humanity. This would allow masculinity to be redefined with more freedom in terms of behavior and sexuality. Hopefully, as a result, this will also eradicate the negative connotation of any orientation that deviates from heteronormativity, thus discouraging violent homophobia in society.

SOURCE: MUSED MAG

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