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Sean Thomas, a presumed heterosexual, was writing in the Times about the Corrie kiss. Being a good liberal it took brutal honesty to admit that the sight of two men kissing created in him “a brief flash of repugnance, a subconscious recoil”. Having come clean about this, he was anxious that we should not get the impression that he is some kind of crude homophobe.
Despite his involuntary shudder, he said, he was still able to dismiss these feelings, and continue standing shoulder to shoulder with his gay friends as they “fight for the right of all adult homosexuals to order their love lives as they see fit.”
All the same, Mr Thomas is confused by his reactions. Despite his gay friendliness, these feelings seem to come straight from the gut (and a straw poll among his straight buddies finds that they all have the same “discomfort” in the presence of homo affection). So, he wants to know, is “the shudder” part of the natural order for straight men, or is it conditioned into them? It’s a question that is becoming increasingly important as a wave of anti-gay agitation washes across the world.
“Homophobia has a long lineage,” Sean Thomas says. “Take a few famous examples. The Hebrews had virulently homophobic attitudes, symptomised by the destruction of Sodom in the Bible. The Roman Empire was homophobic: early laws prescribed deportation for gay officials, later Roman laws recommended burning at the stake for all homosexuals. Most world religions have been anti-gay: Islam has severe Koranic strictures against homosexuality and Buddhism in many forms reviles gay sex. Such historical intolerance seems to indicate that homophobia is deeply rooted, and is perhaps reflexive, even genetic.”
But is it? Mr Thomas consulted gay academic Ian Rivers to get his take on whether homo hatred is a natural state of being for straight men or whether they learned it from the society they live in.
“There are examples of ancient homophobic cultures,” says Mr Rivers, but they are homophobic usually because of their links to homophobic tradition in Judeo-Christian civilisation. Cultures that haven’t been touched or tainted by the Church’s intolerance have often been remarkably accepting of homosexuality. So we can say that homophobia is not the norm, it’s not genetic. Homophobia is socially conditioned without a doubt.”
The feelings of antipathy that straight men have to gay men seem to vary in intensity. We’ve all heard men on radio phone-in shows saying “just thinking about it gives me the creeps”, and others who’ll go so far as to say “it makes me feel physically sick – they should be lined up against a wall and shot.” The former are the Sean Thomas’s of this world, and from the latter are drawn the queer bashers who lurk in cruising spots and cottages, anxious to dole out punishment to those who cause such feelings of discomfort.
But we still need to know where these feelings originate, and why some people can cope with them and others can’t.
A lot of religious people obviously can’t. At the moment the Catholic Church is trying hard to refute the idea that their religion is the source of the homophobia that infests the churches and subsequently the whole of society. It argues that its hostility is based not only on the Bible, but on a concern for what is good for society.
The Zenit News Agency (a website that peddles Vatican propaganda) recently carried a long interview with a Dr Rick Fitzgibbons, a high-up in the “Catholic Medical Association”.
Dr Fitzgibbons tries at length to justify the reclassification of homosexuality as a pathological condition, a theory that has been so assiduously dismantled over the past few decades. He claims that we are disease-riddled, psychopathic and a danger to children. He says that society’s acceptance of the “homosexual agenda” is catastrophic. In his opinion: “Same-sex attraction is a manifestation of serious emotional conflicts that are preventable and treatable.”
Ah, yes, we can be cured. Now, that takes me back to the good old days of the fifties, when electric shock machines and emetics were used to “cure” gay people of their tragic affliction. The more it hurt, the better the homophobes liked it.
In reality it was doctor administered gay bashing.
And Dr Fitzgibbons is quite clear that homophobia is natural and good, while the acceptance of homosexuality is wrong and dangerous. “The homosexual agenda aims to desensitise people to homosexuality via the media and ‘diversity weeks’ held in many schools,” he says on Zenit. “It portrays those who oppose homosexual behaviour and unions as being troubled, in violation of the law and in need of help, similar to those who have racial prejudices… And, of course, the main goal is to convert people to the homosexual agenda.”
Indeed, Dr Fitzgibbons has got himself worked up into such a state of self-justification that he recommends an organisation called the National Association for the Research and Treatment of Homosexuality (www.narth.com). On the website, NARTH declares that its primary goal: “is to make effective psychological therapy available to all homosexual men and women who seek change. Furthermore, we wish to open for public discussion all issues relating to homosexuality. NARTH wants to build an atmosphere which allows an honest debate – balancing the one-sided distortion which has characterized the discussion.”
NARTH has religion painted right through it. Once more, instead of resisting or challenging their hatred of homosexuals, this crowd – prompted by their “faith” – has embraced homophobia and they revel in it.
People who want to devote their life to eradicating homosexuality must be at the very top of the “shudder index”. Their unpleasant “gut feelings” must be so intense that they won’t be satisfied until the perceived cause is obliterated. They will search assiduously to find ways of rationalising their obsession, and religion is one such route.
The Vatican’s renewed aggression towards homosexuality has opened a Pandora’s Box of hatred, and where it might lead is frightening to contemplate.
For instance, a poll by the Scottish paper The Sunday Post found that 60% of its respondents were “against” legalising gay marriage. One of the reasons for rejecting it included religious beliefs, with “many repeating the Vatican’s claim that homosexuality is against the ‘moral law’.”
The Associated Press reported that in the United States, the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops gave “general support” to “amending the US constitution to define marriage as a union of a man and a woman. They also condemned same-sex unions.”
In this country, the Catholic Bishops have replied to the Government’s consultation on the proposed partnership registration scheme. In a nasty document, riddled with homophobic double talk, the bishops say: “By publicly elevating same-sex relationships to a legal status virtually equivalent to marriage, the signal given to society would be that these two states of life are equally deserving of public protection and respect, when in fact they are not”.
Evangelicals in the Anglican Church, too, have suddenly begun to say that not only is it OK to have these feelings of disgust about gay people, it is desirable and holy. Homophobia is being embraced, exploited and institutionalised by Christian conservatives. As we went to press, Anglican bishops from around the world were gathering in London for yet another gay-bashing jamboree.
In Egypt, the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church has called for an “all-out assault” on homosexuality. He told the Middle East News Agency that he will launch a “global campaign to root out the ‘plague’ of homosexuality”.
And so now we see the violent words beginning to threaten violent action. If this religious hysteria about homosexuality continues to gather pace, gay people are going to be hurt.
And yet religious people could overcome their feelings of revulsion if they tried. Many of them have. There is a liberal wing of each religion whose members may feel the shudder, but who do not want to translate that disquiet into hatred.
Going back to The Times, and Sean Thomas, we can see that those on the lower end of the shudder index can easily overcome it. “Even if we accept that homophobia is partly genetic,” says Thomas, “it does not in any way excuse overt homophobia. As another friend put it: ‘Yes, I used to look at gays kissing and go “Ugh!”, but I’ve taught myself not to do that. Now I just shrug and think: who cares? I think it’s a lot healthier, don’t you?” And he didn’t have to use electric shocks to do it.
Why not give it a try, Dr Fitzgibbons?