Homophobia Is Still Prevalent: Evaluating the Validity of Inclusive Masculinity

“Finally, McCormack’s (2012, 61) largely unqualified disdain for Stonewall[1] aside, what larger surveys show is that there are still high rates of assault and abuse targeted at lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB)-identifying individuals, which do not paint the same optimistic picture. In 2012, a report conducted by the UK Home Office, looking specifically at hate crime (Smith et al. 2012), demonstrated that from 2010/2011, police recorded 4,883 reported hate crimes on the basis of sexuality (p. 25). This was based on figures from England and Wales, with the British Crime Survey estimating much higher incidence rates of 50,000 cases of hate crime on the basis of sexual orientation over the same period (p. 27). Men are also still overwhelmingly more likely to be both defendants and victims in cases brought to trial (Crown Prosecution Service [CPS] 2012, 20).

In direct contrast to McCormack’s claims in British education, a report published by the National Union of Teachers in the United Kingdom (NUT 2012,) claimed that 90 percent of the teachers interviewed in the Greater Manchester area (750 in total) had witnessed homophobic bullying in the schools they worked in, with similar rates replicated through studies in other locations.[2] A Stonewall-funded report from 2014, conducted independently by YouGov and which looked at 1,832 schools, also found that 86 percent of the teachers in secondary schools and 45 percent of those in primary schools said that they had witnessed some form of homophobic bullying (Guasap, Ellison, and Satara 2014). The scope of McCormack’s research, especially, severely limits the credibility of inclusive masculinity through an inability to generalize to a population beyond a small number of schools and colleges in the South of England. It is also politically dangerous to be making generalized claims from small, biased samples—something which he accuses other sources of (McCormack 2012, 61)as the core narrative may invariably be used by those with specific agendas to justify funding cuts to programs which continue to tackle homophobia in schools.

To this end, there is a notable analytic bias around what is labeled as “homophobic” and “nonhomophobic” behavior in Anderson’s, McCormack’s, and also slightly in Roberts’ work. All three authors document the presence of behavior which may be construed as homophobic; however, they take respondents’ interpretations of whether they consider their behavior to be homophobic at face value. The starkest example of this is the fact that the word “gay” is often used as a synonym for something negative (McCormack 2011a, 348; Roberts 2013, 677). McCormack particularly notes the widespread use of “that’s so gay.” Yet, when questioning the students, he says, “[the] boys maintain that this phrase is not homophobic. Chris says ‘I say it all the time. But I don’t mean anything by it. I’ve got gay friends” (McCormack 2011a, 348). This last assertion, particularly, must resonate with anyone who is familiar with the mantra of “I’m not a racist; I’ve got Black friends.”

Both McCormack and Anderson suggest that this “gay discourse,” while problematic, is not homophobic because “there is no intent to subordinate an individual when used” (McCormack 2011a, 348). However, this is where hegemonic masculinity offers a substantial counter-critique. Even if there is often no conscious intent to subordinate or marginalize others, this is often achieved through unquestioned symbolic practices (Coles 2009; Pascoe 2005), naturalized through hegemonic representations, which stigmatize non-heterosexual-identifying individuals. In the same way that telling a young boy to stop behaving “like a girl” is not necessarily a conscious attempt to suggest that femininity should be framed pejoratively, it is precisely a historical awareness of the interplay between language and power that enables social scientists to assume some form of knowledge beyond that amenable to individuals’ direct, conscious interpretation. A narrow definition of homophobia as simply a conscious interpersonal act is therefore stripped of any wider relation to historic or social context. Intention is a specious argument which obfuscates the myriad causes of gender inequalities and which perpetrators can often hide behind, even when confronted by the implications of their actions.

McCormack and Anderson also detail a few situations where “homohysteric” attitudes may be present, noting this through observation rather than questioning. For example, they state that when one heterosexual boy kissed his friend on the cheek, there “appeared to be a moment’s discomfort” (McCormack and Anderson 2010, 854). Similarly, when challenged by a girl about “acting gay,” two heterosexual male friends avoided continuing with the same practices (McCormack 2011a, 348). However, they go on to directly ask the students about these encounters, unquestioningly accepting what is said rather than what is observed. The distinction between observation and interviewing is particularly important, as both McCormack and Anderson suggest the absence of behavior detailed by Mac an Gha´ill (1994) and Nayak and Kehily (1996) as indicative of changing masculinities. Yet, the latter studies were rigorously structured observations of behavior and they did not necessarily take the boys’ interpretations at face value. Working as openly “out gay” researchers and asking about homophobic attitudes raises some serious implications about the validity of research using inclusive masculinity more generally.

Finally, and perhaps most worryingly, when Anderson and McCormack talk about declining homophobia and low homohysteria, there is an almost exclusive focus on how their respondents perceive largely white, middle-class, gay men and boys. There is no account of how butch lesbian, queer, or bisexual identifying individuals fit into this schema. What they detail as the declining significance of homophobia appears to actually be the acceptability of some gay men in certain contexts (sport and education) and not necessarily a significant shift in cultural homophobia. Therefore, homohysteria, as a core tenet of inclusive masculinity, fails to adequately theorize the relationship between sexuality.”

de Boise, Sam. 2015. “I’m Not Homophobic, ‘I’ve Got Gay Friends’: Evaluating the Validity of Inclusive Masculinity.” Men and Masculinities 18(3): 318-339. DOI: 10.1177/1097184X14554951. [From the section, “The Problems with Homophobia and Homohysteria,” pp. 327-333, sub-section “Homophobia is Still Prevalent,” pp. 331-333. Emphasis added. Notes in original. References reproduced below.]

Coles, T. 2009. “Negotiating the Field of Masculinity: The Production and Reproduction of Multiple Dominant Masculinities.” Men and Masculinities 12:30–44.

CPS (Crown Prosecution Service). 2012. Hate Crime and Crimes against Older People Report: 2010/11. London, UK: Crown Prosecution Service.

Guasap, A., G. Ellison, and T. Satara. 2014. Homophobic Bullying in Britain’s Schools in 2014. London, UK: Stonewall.

Mac an Gha´ill, M. 1994. The Making of Men: Masculinities, Sexualities and Schooling. Buckingham, UK: Open University Press.

McCormack, M., and E. Anderson. 2010. “‘It’s Just Not Acceptable Any More’: The Erosion of Homophobia and the Softening of Masculinity at an English Sixth Form.” Sociology 44: 843–59.

McCormack, M. 2011a. “The Declining Significance of Homohysteria for Male Students in Three Sixth Forms in the South of England.” British Educational Research Journal 37: 337–53.

McCormack, M. 2012. The Declining Significance of Homophobia: How Teenage Boys Are Redefining Masculinity and Heterosexuality. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Nayak, A., and M. Kehily. 1996. “Playing it Straight: Masculinities, Homophobia and Schooling.” Journal of Gender Studies 5:211–29.

NUT (National Union of Teachers). 2012. Prevalence of Homophobia Survey Summer 2012— Greater Manchester: Local Teachers Speak out about Homophobic Bullying Abuse of Our Children and their Colleagues. London, UK: National Union of Teachers.

Pascoe, C. J. 2005. “‘Dude, You’re a Fag’: Adolescent Masculinity and the Fag Discourse.” Sexualities 8:329–46.

Roberts, S. 2013. “Boys Will Be Boys… Won’t They? Change and Continuities in Contemporary Young Working-class Masculinities.” Sociology 47(4):671–686.

Smith, K., D. Lader, J. Hoare, and I. Lau. 2012. Hate Crime, Cyber Security and the Experience of Crime among Children: Findings from the 2010/11 British Crime Survey. London, UK: Home Office.

[1] Stonewall is the United Kingdom’s leading LGB advocacy organization that campaigns and lobbies against discrimination on the grounds of sexuality.

[2] See http://www.schools-out.org.uk/? resources¼nut-prevalence-of-homophobia-survey.

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