A few years ago I finally realized how homophobic I was.
I was shopping for clothes at a local mall. As I browsed the dress shirts, I made sure to avoid any that were too stylish. I remembered how my friends used to make fun of me if I was too fashionable so I picked a shirt that looked good, but not too good.
Guys who look too good might be gay.
I walked up to the register and noticed a cute girl working behind the counter. I didn’t want her to think I went shopping all the time by myself, so I acted aloof and clumsy. Cause you know, I don’t normally do this sort of thing.
Guys who like shopping a lot might be gay.
“Nice shirt!” she said.
“Oh yeah… it’s cool” I replied.
Hetero-card still in tact, I walked out of the store, partially embarrassed that I was at a mall with a shopping bag of clothes and not accompanied by a hot girl, I went to pick out a case for my iPhone.
I immediately ruled out two-thirds of the cases because I was looking for darker, non-pastel colors… because I’m a man, obviously. When the girl working at the phone case kiosk asked me if I was looking for anything specific I habitually shrugged my shoulders and said “nah”, because let’s face it… I don’t really care about what case I get.
I’m a guy after all, and I’m not gay or anything.
On my way out of the mall I decided to stop at the food court and get something to eat. As I looked at the food options I noticed that anything greasy and hearty was manly and anything healthy and salad-like was girly. The choice was clear.
After ordering something manly, I noticed another guy in line who was about my age. I liked his jacket but of course I didn’t say that or ask him where he got it. Clearly that would be gay.
This is my life, and it’s ridiculous.
It’s ridiculous because I live with a constant fear of being something I’m quite sure I’m not. See… even that sentence “I’m quite sure I’m not” comes from this neurotic place of constantly trying to re-enforce my straight-ness, like there is some sort of hetero-gestapo lurking around every corner waiting to jump out and announce to the world that I did something “gay”.
As I look back over my life, I realize that thousands of my choices have been influenced by “not wanting to be gay”. Everything from how I walk, how I talk, what jobs I choose, my hobbies, they are all informed by my fear of being perceived as gay.
I think many men can relate.
That’s because we live in a homophobic culture. In fact, our culture is so homophobic, that part of how we define manliness is the degree to which someone resists being seen as gay.
The more afraid you are of being gay, the more manly you are.
So why do I want to talk about this? Who cares if men act this way? The more I researched and examined this in my own life, the more I found that homophobia is the cause of many of the problems men experience today. It leaves us feeling lonely, it creates unhealthy competition and it turns us into needy, co-dependent partners for the women we choose to be with.
So let’s lean in and look a little closer… but not too close dude. I mean, I’m not gay or anything.
Homophobia Disconnects Men
Have you ever watched two homophobic men hug?
It’s incredibly awkward. It’s full of back patting and nervous statements like “aw, brothers gotta hug” which is a subtle way of communicating don’t get the impression that I go around touching guys all the time.
That’s because too much affection between men can be perceived as gay, so we avoid it. Most guys are uncomfortable giving another man a massage, cuddling, or putting their head on another man’s shoulder, because of what we think that would mean. We’re even scared of sleeping in the same bed together.
So where does that leave us?
We’re human, we need things like touch, love and intimacy so we are left needing to source everything from women.
Dependence on Women
Many men have a love/hate relationship with women.
They love that women are their source of intimacy, but hate them for the same reason. Can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em. But what if it wasn’t that way? What if we could have relationships with women from a place of wholeness instead of need?
One of the unseen effects of homophobia on our culture is the way it makes men completely dependent on women for all their emotional and intimacy needs. When I say intimacy, I don’t mean sex, I mean the feeling of letting yourself really be seen by another person. Admitting your deepest insecurities, showing them your deepest desires and trusting them with your whole body.
When we do this as men, it gives us a superpower with women that we never knew we had. Instead of playing a game of pretending we don’t need them and posturing ourselves, we can actually approach them from a place of feeling totally complete, because we are.
This helps in our romantic relationships as well. When a man doesn’t have people outside his relationship that he can fully trust, he lives a lonely existence. That’s because his romantic partner can’t always be there for him, and if he needs to work through something, she may not be the best person to turn to, especially if his upset is related to her. He needs someone he can be vulnerable with, whom he can cry with, and who won’t judge him for letting down his walls.
This dependence on women has another brutal side effect, which plays out in larger ways than just relationships.
Homophobia and Unhealthy Competition
Competition is a function of scarcity.
Because homophobia makes intimacy scarce, men feel as though they have to compete for it. It’s such a part of our culture at this point that most people don’t even notice it, but it’s there.
It’s true for women too. Notice how the groups of men and women that are the most competitive are also the least intimate with each other.
It’s worth pausing here to articulate the difference between healthy competition and unhealthy competition.
Unhealthy competition means for someone to win, someone else has to lose. For someone to benefit, someone else has to suffer. It’s a zero sum game.
Healthy competition uses the model of winners and losers but focuses on the competition itself as the reward instead of the outcome. Healthy competition raises the stakes for the sake of elevating everyone’s performance, but it celebrates the game as a whole, not the results.
Athletes often describe this as playing for the love of the game.
When I started traveling and living outside of the United States, I noticed that men in other cultures didn’t have the same kinds of hang ups that Americans do. Each culture determines what people are “allowed” to do, and each culture is different. In fact, historians say that homosexuality as an identity didn’t even exist in Western society until the 19th century.
I know that it’s possible to overcome homophobia, because over the last several years I’ve gradually felt more and more comfortable around men. My intention isn’t to change my sexual orientation, it’s simply to stop being so afraid of intimacy with men.
Before we identified ourselves as gay or straight, we just loved who we loved, and cuddled with who we cuddled with. Skin was skin, and a massage was a massage.
That’s the world I want to live in.