I don’t have a homophobic bone in my body. These words we’ve heard spoken several times by celebrities and public figures in defense of controversial, homophobic tweets or statements they have made, and were then challenged on. What stands out to me about these comments is this notion of not being influenced by heterosexual, social constructs (which are created and accepted by society) and traditional ideologies of relationships. These comments almost dismiss a bigger conversation that could be had about socialized heteronormativity (the idea that opposite sex relationships are the default), and internalized homophobia (the inner conflict and shame LGBTQ+ individuals can feel because of those adopted societal ‘norms’).
The truth is we have all been impacted by heteronormative ideologies that contribute to how we judge ourselves and others. Homophobic rhetoric, a form of hate-speech using ideologies based on religion and beliefs; and behaviour, are embedded in the way we communicate and socialize with one another. Whether it be advertisements showcasing opposite-gender romances, offensive comments by peers or institutions, and people disapproving of diverse gender expression and sexual orientation. When it comes to this disapproval, I like to take on the motto of my old supervisor which is, “if you don’t agree with same-sex marriage, you shouldn’t marry someone of the same-sex.”
Homophobia can manifest in many ways, and can cause real, life-long emotional, mental and physical damage for LGBTQ+ individuals and communities. In extreme situations, this can even lead to loss of life. Traditional social constructs remain within contemporary society, and it can be difficult to identify what these are and, more importantly, talk about them.
Homophobic rhetoric is not just sourced externally though; oppression and hate can also brew within queer identifying individuals. For myself as a queer woman, I struggle consistently with seeing my sexual orientation as something to be proud of rather then deviant and shameful. Having grown up Christian and active within the church, hiding my identity was how I managed for most of my life. In the moments I did slip up or share, I would be met with judgement, by either others or myself. Internalized homophobia can dictate how you judge others as well. For myself, I would be intentional at not associating with being “gay” or affiliating myself with the queer community. I would even go as far as intentionally proclaiming my heteronormativity by the way I spoke or behaved, both to trick myself and others that I belonged in a world of “straights.”
It wasn’t until I spoke with other LGBTQ+ individuals and allies about homophobia and how it impacts all of us, that I actually started to feel less judgmental of myself and others. Allowing ourselves and others a space to openly speak about social constructs and socialized behaviours that contribute to and reinforce heteronormativity is a vital step in efforts towards healing and inclusion. Acknowledgement allows for open conversations and learning, and can also help us hold each other accountable. Homophobic rhetoric and ideologies are unfortunately part of contemporary culture, and for those of us who are working to improve inclusion and equality for others, having an open conversation rather than a dismissive one, can facilitate dialogue, and bring forth awareness and growth.