Thursday, August 20, 2009

This is how homophobia works

Recently I posted a discussion of heterosexism, an unconscious set of presumptions about the world that begins with the presumption that everyone is either heterosexual or ought to be. In many ways, because heterosexism is more subtle and tends to be invisible (much like “race” or “ethnic” always means other than WASP) it is harder to get at than the more blatant kinds of irrational prejudices we would identify in folks like Fred Phelps and his travelling Theatre of the Absurd family troupe out of Topeka, KS.

But the scale from a normative, presumptive heterosexism to blatant, misanthropic homophobia has a lot of gradations along the way. Here’s one that caught my eye this week.

The story involves a quarterback out of Wake Forest University in North Carolina. Riley Skinner is about as cute as they come (one friend responded to his photos with “How does anyone get so beautiful?”) and apparently not bad as a football player. He comes from a preppie WASP background in Jacksonville, FL, having attended an academically well regarded private academy also known for its football prowess. The son and nephew of southern college football players, Riley would seem to have everything going for him. Until now.

Apparently Mr. Skinner had someone take a photo of himself out of uniform – completely out of uniform. The nude photo of this southern jock Adonis quickly went viral on the web. Not surprisingly, the assessment of Riley’s sexuality was almost immediately the subject of web chatter.

One of the more interesting comments on this matter comes from the website Fratdog Sports Blog whose motto is “Sports journalism for the arrogant.” Apparently the pathology in the blogger’s thinking doesn’t end at arrogance. Having heard about the Skinner scandal, the blogger provides a picture of Skinner (from the waist up) and the following entry on Feb. 4, 2008.

Entitled “Riley Skinner Smokes Noles Poles,” the blogger begins, “ I am extremely uncomfortable reporting this. “ No doubt. Of course, the obvious response would be “And why would that be?” but I suspect this is not a man (and I am presuming this writer is male given what follows) prone to much critical reflection. He continues: “Fair warning - this is very, very, legitimately gay. Riley Skinner has apparently taken a nude picture of himself or [Wake Forest University head coach] Jim Grobe has has (sic) this picture under his pillow since 2005. No joke, that link will ruin your f***ing day. We are unbelieveably (sic) rattled over here.”

Clearly this frat boy has missed more than a few English grammar and comp classes and he apparently has not figured out how to run the spell check. And the childish play on the abbreviation for Seminoles to create a homophobic slur is pretty much par for the course for many frat boys (and middle school kids). Beer tainted functioning tends to do that. (yes, speaking from experience both as frat boy and being beer tainted). The result is a blog entry that suggests the frat boy’s problem is either stupidity or immaturity (perhaps both) rather than arrogance.

But what’s interesting about this blog is his presumption that this exhibitionist jock is gay. Ultimately, the self-revealing statements that the blogger is “extremely uncomfortable” and “unbelieveably rattled” say much more about him than the handsome narcissist he would malign. Indeed, the study out of the University of Georgia on homophobic responses might suggest that the young man “doth protest too much.” Highly homophobic responses can readily be unconscious responses to fear of homoerotic feelings in oneself, according to the study.

The apparent truth about poor ole Riley (this from a friend of the family in Jacksonville) is much more complicated (and amusing) than the simplistic presumption of the poor beer addled frat boy. Apparently, Riley was fooling around with another girl while going with his girlfriend. When she found out about it, she broke up with him and Riley began seeing the other girl. Deciding to impress his new love object, he had the photo made and sent it to her as an email attachment. He thought. In fact, he mistakenly sent it to the ex-girlfriend who quickly distributed the photo to the web including a number of gay porn sites. As Shakespeare observed, "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned." Riley had been hoist on his own petard (mightily resisting the temptation to make the obvious salacious comment here, having seen the photo - you can find it in an images search if you must see).

I doubt it would do much good to actually send this observation to the purveyor of the fratdog sports blog (indeed, what am *I* presuming about the right to do so?). If his own obvious homophobia is rooted in a fear of homoerotic feelings in himself, he would not be able to hear it. And given the general tenor of his postings, it’s rather unlikely he would be able or willing to check his irrational presumptions.

That, folks, is precisely how homophobia works and why we have such an uphill battle in overcoming this virulent social disease.

The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.

Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes.


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