Rethinking Homophobia(s)

Dear SMC readers: I work at the intersections of queer studies, digital media, and ethnography. Sometimes I like to dip deeply into the disciplinary wells of one area and serve it up to the other audiences I hope I engage with my research. The review below highlights some of the best work coming out of queer anthropology right now. I hope you’ll think about how it squares with/applies to your own musings on all things social and digital. Enjoy!

When Psychologist George Weinberg used homophobia—a fear of same-sex desire—to diagnose the collective loathing that met the rise of homosexual rights in the late 1960s, the implicit remedy seemed to be: get to know gay and lesbian people and everything will be ok (a take on immersion therapy, perhaps). But, today, when acceptance of gay and lesbian people feels like a no-brainer to some, particularly among those who consider themselves progressive (dare I say hip), the analytic purchase of homophobia falls short. Homophobia is, for example, unable to robustly address the geopolitics of queer-bashing, unpack the particularities of violence unleashed on bisexual or trans-identifying people of color, or shepherd gay and lesbian rights activists and allies through a thicket of profoundly complicated concepts like “marriage” and “human rights.” In other words, the explanatory promise of homophobia, its appeal to a kind of blind, idiosyncratic disgust, cannot carry the weight of such a complicated, intersectional world. And, just as importantly, attributing rejection of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer rights to individual ignorance, fear, or hatred, means we miss the chance to see how norms of love and sexual desire cut to the core and sharply organize a range of institutions, practices, and contexts. Homophobias: Lust and loathing across time and space, by David A. B. Murray, helps us imagine a more complicated paradigm that moves homophobia beyond the interpersonal and irrational to a place of collective and deliberative debate and interlocking systems of oppression.

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