I've been saying for a while that perhaps the word (if not the concept) of "homophobia" should be replaced since it doesn't really describe the whole of the concept. I'm not making the Amelia Bedelia argument that homophobes are not necessarily "afraid" so then the word doesn't apply (does hemophilia mean someone really loves blood?), but that it says nothing about biphobia and transphobia and queerphobia, all of which are about the fear and disgust people feel towards transgressions of gender and sexuality rules and the resulting anger. While it's important to understand the distinctions between gender and sexuality and sex, as well as the distinctions in the ways people break the more fundamental rules that come with "A doctor said you were X, so you must live your life a certain way," and the associated reactions from others, it's also important to understand and underscore that these are all coming from the same place lest we get lost in distinctions that aren't relevant to what people are seeing or feeling.
Take, for example, this story out of Israel from last week that some people in the LGBT blogosphere said demonstrated homophobia among Arabs:
Four residents of the northern Israeli Arab town of Tamra are suspected of kidnapping their homosexual relative and taking him on a 12-hour nightmare, all because of his sexual tendencies. They were arrested when they tried to "hide" their victim in one of the houses in the village.
The four were expected to face the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court on Wednesday afternoon.
The young man, 19, had left his family and moved to Tel Aviv, where he thought it would be safer to lead his life, but was persecuted by his relatives.
Several days before he was kidnapped he filed a complaint with the police, saying he was being threatened by his relatives who demanded that he return to the village and "act like a normal person".
On Monday night, the relatives decided to act on their threats. They arrived at the man's house in Tel Aviv's Florentine neighborhood, armed with pepper spray, and waited for him. As they spotted him walking on the street with a friend, they assaulted the two, sprayed them, snatched their relatives and escaped.
The man's friend rushed to call the police and report the incident. Investigators from a Tel Aviv police unit sought the help of the Shafaram Police, and discovered that the car was making its way to Tamra.
The four suspects allegedly beat the young man on their way to the north and threatened him. They held him for 12 hours before being caught by the police a moment before arriving at their hiding place in Tamra.
"Angel," a 19-year-old living in Tel Aviv, was targeted by his Arab relatives for working as a drag queen in the city's nightclubs and posting photos of himself cross-dressing on Facebook.
His family was so disgusted by his lifestyle that they tried to scare him into getting "back on the right path" through violence.
"I started working as a drag-queen, and after my photos appeared on the Internet, I started receiving threats," Angel told Israeli news site YNetnews.com after he was kidnapped for the third time.
"At first they told me 'take the pictures off the Internet, or we'll kill you.' I was surprised, but moved on as usual. I had a good relationship with my family, so I ignored it," he said.
The indictment charges eight of his family members for kidnapping and assaulting Angel over a period of four months to "defend the family's honor," according to the Jerusalem Post.
Angel's relatives first tried to kidnap him in May, forcibly driving him to his parents' home where they handcuffed and beat him.
"I considered filing a police complaint, but then I spoke with my family. There was an upcoming wedding, so everyone pretended that everything was OK," he told YNet.
Three weeks before the wedding, however, his mother called to threaten him, telling Angel to remove the photos of himself in drag or else "the family will come get you, and that'll be the end of you."
Sure enough, his family tried to attack him at the wedding, but he was able to escape.
I'm not saying that he is or isn't transgender; there's no way of knowing with the information we have now. The newspaper says "drag queen," but then newspapers don't always know the lines between "drag queen" and "cross-dresser" and "trans woman" and "woman of history." We're also talking about a culture at the border between East and West; these definitions might not apply the same way. On the other hand, he may just be a drag queen and he put up pics of himself in drag on Facebook.
None of this is to take away from the basic horror of the crime and how it shouldn't happen to anyone, for any reason. What I'm getting at is that here's a story that was originally labeled as a sign of "homophobia" that's looking more like what we'd call "transphobia," with a victim who may not be trans. (Can cissexual people experience transphobia? Can straight people experience homophobia? I'd say yes.)
I don't want to go too far in the direction I've seen some go and say that homophobia is, basically, fear of gender transgression and is really only about gender rules. Take, for instance, this story from this week out of Massachusetts:
The athletic director at Cathedral High School lost her job this week, saying she was pressured to leave after marrying her female partner in August.
Christine M. Judd, who served as athletic director and dean of students, said she is no longer an employee of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield school system after a meeting Wednesday with administrators of the Catholic high school.
The diocese listed her departure as a resignation, but Judd said she is still exploring her legal options.
"I was given a choice of termination or resignation," Judd said. "I'm hurt, but I wish nothing but the best for Cathedral, its students, the parents, the athletic teams, administration and faculty. I bleed purple (the school's color)."
Judd, a Springfield resident, worked for the Catholic school for 12 years, beginning as a science teacher in 1998. She became dean of students six years ago and was given the added duties of athletic director three years ago.
"I married my partner this summer," Judd said. "I was hoping that my loyalty, my professionalism the last 12 years would supersede the current hypocrisy that has already been shown with the Diocese of Springfield."
Asked to elaborate on her claim of hypocrisy, Judd said she questions if there are lay persons who work for the Catholic diocese who divorce and remarry without an annulment, or employees who use birth control, or men who have had vasectomies, or individuals who are pro-choice on abortion.
It does sound like the marriage itself precipitated her termination. If she worked at that school for twelve years and presented herself as she did in that photo and was then promoted to athletic director/dean of students, I'd have a hard time saying this is about gender expression and not sexual orientation itself.
Then there are the cases where these concepts get really mixed up. Consider this video that accuses ads of being anti-gay, yet...
The comments when I first posted that video here on TBP said, basically, that the ads are about gender and not sexuality so they're not homophobic. Perhaps under a narrow understanding of the word, but to me anxiety about gender is part and parcel with the concept of homophobia. Often gender is the only way to identify someone as gay, and people make instant assumptions based on gender that, while they may or may not be true, are basically about sexuality itself (if the the reaction to these gender markers isn't based in anything sexual, why was Miller Lite man there talking to a supermodel/bartender?).
It brings back Pansygate from the Democratic primary in 2008. In case the part of your memory that stores knowledge about Obama vs. Hillary has been blocked because it risks infecting the rest of your brain with extreme stupid (it's a good precaution to forget that whole year in politics), some Democratic governor said Hillary Clinton would make Rocky Balboa look like a "pansy" (he meant it as a compliment to Clinton). What followed was a weird debate in the LGBT blogosphere about whether "pansy" was an insult to gay men or whether it was an insult to effeminate men. For the record, Webster's says both are definitions of "pansy."
I found it interesting because to me those are both the same thing. No, effeminate men and gay men aren't the same, as there are straight, effeminate men and gay, butch men, but the hatred/anxiety/disgust/fear of either comes from the same source and is about rigidly enforcing gender-based rules. It's about a fear of fluidity, that somehow something could go terrible wrong if men are allowed to be not-men, so both homosexual sex among men and effeminacy among men are made taboo. Whether Rocky Balboa was supposed to look like a gay man or an effeminate man is besides the point - the governor was saying that a real man would be made to look like a he was not a real man.
For one last example, there's the right's constant attacks on Rachel Maddow's gender, expressed once by someone who worked for Tucker Carlson:
I have the gift of wisdom. Does that sound arrogant? I'm sorry, that wasn't my intention. I didn't choose wisdom. It chose me. If I had my druthers, I'd have chosen another gift, perhaps the untold riches of Lil' Wayne, whose teeth are made of actual diamonds, or to be the sexiest man alive, like Rachel Maddow. But wisdom is what they gave me, so wisdom is all I have to give back to you.
He wasn't the first and he won't be the last person to make a statement like that. Now, would the right be making that insult if Rachel Maddow were straight but presented herself the same way? I doubt it - there have been other famous women with short hair and glasses who don't get called men. Then again, I can't imagine a famous lipstick lesbian being treated the same way (although I can't think of any that are ideological liberals whose views, first and foremost, would stir up the right). That's just my instinct; I could be wrong.
My argument here isn't that gender and sexuality overlap, but that homophobia and transphobia overlap. In general, homophobia comes with lots of gender baggage, as lesbians are seen as wanting to be men and gay men are painted as uniformly effeminate. On the other hand, transgender people are often stereotyped as overly sexual and kinky, mixing anxiety about gender with anxiety about sexuality. That doesn't happen because people get their hates mixed up and don't know whether to be homophobic or transphobic towards a certain person or act, but that homophobia and transphobia, each, are about both sexuality and gender.
Which is why we ought to have a unified concept of the two. I'm not going to suggest a new word since it'll never catch on, but there has to be more of an understanding that homophobia is more than shouting "faggot" at gay people for what they do in bed and transphobia is more than making fun of "trannies" because of they don't present the way someone else thinks they should.