Several weeks ago Waymon and I got into a comments discussion about the origins of homophobia. It's a big question and one I hope our community activist and media folks, as well as queer people like you and me, would think about more. While it's easy to think that it's just a hatred of difference or that it's just a narrow interpretation of some people's religions, those common analyses don't hold up under scrutiny.
More about the origins of homophobia, my wonderful weekend, and what this all has to do with consumerism, after the jump.
First, my wonderful weekend. I went to one of the local nightclubs to meet French people on Saturday, and after a few frustrating hours I was about to leave. I instead decided to hang out for at least a little while even though almost no one was there (it was about an hour until closing). I ended up people watching and an older man walked up to me and we started talking, talking about expansiveness, about connection, about life. He was rather sweet, kinda quirky, and very French - right after he asked my age (a number that gives me some anxiety in professional contexts), I asked him his (a number that gives him anxiety in cultural contexts), and he just laughed and told me that in France one doesn't ask a lady her age.
He was in town for the weekend for a conference and we headed to a late-night kebab shop after stopping at a cafe for coffee, talked some more, and found out each other's names. It was fun, it was affirming, and, yes, the connective value was derived from non-consumerist sources.
We left in the wee hours of the morning and gave me his card - if I'm ever in Paris I'm supposed to give him a call. (Of course I will!) I might not ever see him again, but we each left a little more secure in ourselves, a little more aware of experiences different from our own, and a little happier.
I'm thinking that there are two main components to homophobia - the policing of gender (to keep women oppressed, to keep working class men working for ruling class men, and to maintain an obsession with order and mushy sameness ubiquitous in a post-Industrial world) and the regulation of connection.
The latter is more concerned with preventing things like my story above from happening, and you can see it in all the ways we violated cultural mores that aren't directly related to homophobia, like the distance between our ages, the fact that the connection didn't advance any grand scheme like a relationship or producing children, and that we met in a deconstructive.
But looking back on that cycle that Annie Leonard was talking about in the video above, connection that doesn't involve consumption and doesn't produce anything physical doesn't do all that much to benefit people who make their millions selling stuff. If we're supposed to feel like we suck so that we go out and buy things to fill the void, a system that I know a lot of people in the US participate in, what would happen if we the people started feeling happy and good about ourselves without buying things? Would we stop buying so much stuff?
The answer is, in short, an emphatic yes. While it's not as simple as "people with confidence buy less" or "happy people don't shop," I can't help but see a direct correlation with obsessive money and product accumulation and spiritual emptiness.
There's a Creole expression "Sak vide pas kanpe" - "An empty bag can't stand up." It's often used to refer to the starvation of Haitian people and how they can't rise up for themselves because of it, but I think it's also a useful idea for understanding why some people are invested in maintaining as much spiritual emptiness in others as they can. Sure, that stick figure in the cartoon just jumped off the circle, but making a step like that in real life is a whole lot harder than it looks, especially if people caught in the cycle think that their happiness is dependent on staying in that cycle.
Almost anyone who works in activism will tell you that they don't do it for the money (if there is any). And there's nothing scarier to those concerned with maintaining the current economic order than the prospect of an entire population unconcerned with money itself, just with the needs that it can buy (like health care, water, food, rent). Add to that some spiritual security, "spiritual" in whatever that word means to a person, a connected and integrated society, and a clarity of purpose, and you have the recipe for what can turn power upside-down in America.
That's probably why so many of us are disappointed to see that goals of gaystream activism changed from a politics of affirming connection to one of affirming normality, and probably why the latter will have a more immediate success, since it isn't butting heads up against power itself and isn't challenging the roots of homophobia itself.
I'm eager to hear what people think about the origin of homophobia, either my ideas or some of your own. It's one of the big questions that must be answered to effectively fight for our freedom and equality.