Gay-on-gay hate has a strange place in our collective consciousness. While straight gay bashers are collectively condemned, when we talk about homo-loathing from one of our own we sound a bit softer. Gay people have grown up in a culture that at some point made us feel repulsive, so we understand a certain degree of anger or self-loathing. Even Ricky Martin, now a gay icon, has admitted to homophobic bullying as a closeted teen. Self-loathing can quickly become just loathing, and internal pain is often expressed by inflicting pain on others. In a recent interview with GQ, Martin said “I used to look at gay men and think, I’m not like that, I don’t want to be like that, that’s not me.” There’s something particularly infuriating about seeing someone who embodies a quality we want to destroy within ourselves. “I was ashamed,” Marin continued, “When you’re told you’re wrong by everyone, from society, from your faith — my self-esteem was crushed. I took my anger out on those around me.”
It’s rare for a celebrity to admit to “bullying” anyone, and there is rarely proof lying around of past cruelty. Perhaps the best trove of gays-hating-gays can be found within leaders who espouse homophobia while secretly being gay. In fact, there’s a whole website dedicated to the sorry lot. Gayhomophobe.com tracks prominent gay-bashers who were actually gay, and even gives cute little rainbow stars to the ones who changed their tune and renounced homophobia. Among the most recent star winners are Alan Chambers (former ex-gay ministry Exodus leader who formally apologized for the damage he caused), Paul Wyatt (Republican who voluntarily came out to oppose “Don’t Say Gay”’ Bill), Kathryn Lehman (Republican who voluntarily came out, married and working to advance gay rights), Roy Ashburn (Republican Senator who voluntarily came out and now is gay rights activist), and Ken Mehlman (Republican Chairman who voluntarily came out, resigned from the party, and now advocates gay rights). As with Martin, we forgive these people for the harm they inflicted on us. We forgive them not just because they asked for our forgiveness, but because they’ve proved a devotion to righting old wrongs.
Then there are the ones we don’t forgive, the arrogant, selfish ones who not only fight gay progress, but to continue to do harm even being exposed. It’s takes a horrible audacity to deny their own identities in the face of overwhelming evidence and continue to foster hates towards the very minority they are a part of. Sadly, these hypocrites continue to flourish, but one wonderful aspect of our culture’s lack of privacy is that we can publicly shame and discredit such vile turncoats. One stellar example is Republican Senator Larry Craig. In 2007, scandal erupted when officials arrested Craig on charges of “lewd conduct” in an airport restroom. Craig denied the debacle with a dubious excuse and served the rest of his term continuing homophobic policies. Craig is now a lobbyist who continues to deny his identity and work against gay rights. Or Republican Rep Bob Allen, arrested after offering an undercover cop $20 to let Allen blow him. Funnily, Allen’s excuse was that he offered cash to suck dick because he was “afraid” of the officer. Solicitation is certainly a unique reaction to fear.
Examples aside, there is scientific evidence suggesting that homophobic people are more likely to be suppressing same sex desires. In a recent study from the University of Rochester, the University of Essex and UCSB, researchers found that people who identified as straight and expressed homophobia were more likely to experience same-sex-attraction than non-homophobic straight subjects. Netta Weinstein, one of the researchers, stated that, “Individuals who identify as straight but in psychological tests show a strong attraction to the same sex may be threatened by gays and lesbians because homosexuals remind them of similar tendencies within themselves.” Again, it goes back to lashing out at others who not only embody what we dislike most about ourselves, but who flaunt that characteristic.
Like Martin, and maybe many gay people, I’ll always regret the way I behaved towards gays when I was a teenager. Although I never spouted homophobia, I did something nearly as pathetic. I was complicit. Growing up in the South, gay people were simply not tolerated. They did not have the right to exist and so they did not exist. At least, that was how it felt. Because of gay invisibility, I didn’t witness any gay bullying first hand, there were no gays to bully. However, I did sit quietly and allow my friends and classmates to mock and express revulsion at even potential homosexuality. There are two moments in particular I remember quietly accepting homophobia from two close friends. Both incidences were casual and seemly inconsequential, but I’ll never forget how I acted. Or more accurately, didn’t act, just allowed. The first incident happened while walking with a friend in the mall. My friend and I were walking along and saw two girls holding hands. It was one of the few times I saw lesbians in Tallahassee. “Eww” Hannah hissed “can you believe that? I can’t believe they would do that in public. It’s just wrong.” I said nothing. She looked at me suspiciously. “Don’t you think that’s wrong?” she insisted, pointing vigorously at the offensive display. “Yeah,” I said quietly “I think it’s wrong.”
The second incident was even more shameful because it happened as I was just coming out. My best friend from high school called up, unaware of my recent epiphany, and started gossiping about someone from school. “Amber’s gone way downhill,” she announced “her roommate is a lesbian. Like she has girls over and like… hooks up with them. In her house. I can’t believe she would live like that.” I said nothing, mortified. Again my silence was noted. “Don’t you think that gross Chloe?? Like could you be around that? You couldn’t be around that either.” It seemed easier to just agree and make it go away, so that’s what I did. “Yes,” I found myself saying once again, “I think it’s gross.”
Now, I look back and think “I was coward” because that’s what I was. However, what separates me and anyone else who said nothing in the face of wrong, is we can admit that part of ourselves. We are aware of our own shortcomings, and because of that awareness are capable of actively fighting that capability for cruelty. This gives us the ability to stop, change, and promise ourselves that we will never allow that shit fly again. As the ever-spectacular Martin explained, “I look back now and realize I would bully people who I knew were gay. I internalized homophobia,” he added. “To realize that was confronting to me. I wanted to get away from that.”