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A spin off from the debate about Kennedy calling Buffy a ??phobe?

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  • A spin off from the debate about Kennedy calling Buffy a ??phobe?

    This discussion started in the "Time of your life" thread (ie the thread for issue 16 of the Buffy comics). I thought I should bring it over here as it's not so much about the Buffy comics any more and covers contentious issues.

    To give it a bit of context, the debate was about whether or not Kennedy should've called Buffy a ?phobe ? ie a homophobe. Everyone agreed that Kennedy was wrong to call Buffy specifically a homophobe, because she is clearly ok with the gay ? and was long before she started doing gay things herself.

    But KingofCretins suggested that calling anyone a homophobe is inappropriate:

    The simple fact is, there is nobody to whom that term is applied, to whom it actually *applies* -- it's not where they're coming from, so it has no use other than as choir-directed rhetoric.
    My understanding of this (correct me if I have the wrong end of the stick?) is that anyone who might be called homophobic wouldn't see themselves in the dictionary definition of homophobia: an "irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against homosexuality or homosexuals" (According to Merriam Webster online).

    Could you clarify why they wouldn't agree with the term? I think I know what you're getting at, but I don't want to put words in your mouth. Do you mean because they think their aversion to homosexuality is justified, so it's not actually an aversion, it's a positive moral impulse? And it's not discrimination, it's treating people as they should be treated? IE not allowing or supporting gay marriage isn't discrimination, it's just giving the appropriate treatment.

    KoC suggested that we should use a term that speaks to the position of the person
    KoC said:I'm a big believer in addressing even discordant opinion on the terms understood be the person holding the opinion.
    So, King, if Buffy DID have a problem with Kennedy's homosexuality (or anyone's), I have a question: What term do you think would be better?

    Or, if not a term in particular (if putting labels on things is part of the problem as you perceive it?) then how do you think Kennedy should talk about what she perceived to be Buffy's anti-homosexuality feelings (whatever they were specifically, from visceral revulsion to a more religiously motivated viewpoint). Would "anti-homosexual" be ok?


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  • #2
    Originally posted by Wolfie Gilmore View Post
    Could you clarify why they wouldn't agree with the term? I think I know what you're getting at, but I don't want to put words in your mouth. Do you mean because they think their aversion to homosexuality is justified, so it's not actually an aversion, it's a positive moral impulse? And it's not discrimination, it's treating people as they should be treated? IE not allowing or supporting gay marriage isn't discrimination, it's just giving the appropriate treatment.

    KoC suggested that we should use a term that speaks to the position of the person


    So, King, if Buffy DID have a problem with Kennedy's homosexuality (or anyone's), I have a question: What term do you think would be better?

    Or, if not a term in particular (if putting labels on things is part of the problem as you perceive it?) then how do you think Kennedy should talk about what she perceived to be Buffy's anti-homosexuality feelings (whatever they were specifically, from visceral revulsion to a more religiously motivated viewpoint). Would "anti-homosexual" be ok?
    Couple ground rules -- the origin of homosexuality is irrelevant to answering this question. Likewise, the question of justification is irrelevant to answering this question.

    The term "-phobia" is a clinical one, which is the biggest reason it's misapplied when used in "homophobia". There is no clinical homophobia. There is no irrational or compulsive fear response to homosexuality. It's a rhetorical term; the purpose of the term is to take a discordant viewpoint and define it as 'crazy'. I have always objected to it as a dishonest way of arguing.

    People who are most often labelled 'homophobic' are actually people with a moral position. Whatever else homosexuality is or isn't -- learned, biological, a whimsy of sexual preference -- it's behavior. By which I mean, it's "a thing people do", and why they do it as irrelevant. There are people who disapprove of that behavior. They aren't irrationally afraid of the behavior, they dislike the behavior.

    It's application to broader political questions... well, sure. There are many behaviors which, whether they are voluntary or not, are genetic or learned, are socially unacceptable to the point of prohibition. Stripping away your second concept of "justification", I could restate the option you gave me as "not actually an aversion, it's a moral impulse". Whether the impulse is justified is a side issue. But it is a moral judgment on the behavior, the expectation being that the behavior should be curtailed regardless of why it takes place. But it's not a "fear" anymore than riding a bicycle on a sidewalk is "feared".

    "Anti-homosexual" would probably be the most precise term, yeah. But the point of the popular term "homophobia" isn't to be precise, it's to win It's the same phenomenon seen in the abortion debate where the terms "pro-life" and "anti-abortion" or "anti-choice" are in tension as are the terms "pro-choice" and "pro-abortion". People aren't interested in morally neutral, accurate language, they are interested in winning the argument.
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    • #3
      Originally posted by KingofCretins View Post
      The term "-phobia" is a clinical one, which is the biggest reason it's misapplied when used in "homophobia". There is no clinical homophobia. There is no irrational or compulsive fear response to homosexuality. It's a rhetorical term; the purpose of the term is to take a discordant viewpoint and define it as 'crazy'. I have always objected to it as a dishonest way of arguing.

      People who are most often labelled 'homophobic' are actually people with a moral position. Whatever else homosexuality is or isn't -- learned, biological, a whimsy of sexual preference -- it's behavior. By which I mean, it's "a thing people do", and why they do it as irrelevant. There are people who disapprove of that behavior. They aren't irrationally afraid of the behavior, they dislike the behavior.

      It's application to broader political questions... well, sure. There are many behaviors which, whether they are voluntary or not, are genetic or learned, are socially unacceptable to the point of prohibition. Stripping away your second concept of "justification", I could restate the option you gave me as "not actually an aversion, it's a moral impulse". Whether the impulse is justified is a side issue. But it is a moral judgment on the behavior, the expectation being that the behavior should be curtailed regardless of why it takes place. But it's not a "fear" anymore than riding a bicycle on a sidewalk is "feared".

      "Anti-homosexual" would probably be the most precise term, yeah. But the point of the popular term "homophobia" isn't to be precise, it's to win It's the same phenomenon seen in the abortion debate where the terms "pro-life" and "anti-abortion" or "anti-choice" are in tension as are the terms "pro-choice" and "pro-abortion". People aren't interested in morally neutral, accurate language, they are interested in winning the argument.
      I see what you're saying here, and I agree to a certain degree. But if we're going with the definition that Wolfie posted ("irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against homosexuality or homosexuals" ), then the main question becomes not whether people are afraid of homosexuality or not (the 'aversion to' and 'discrimination against' parts of the definition are probably more relevant to common usage of the word), but rather - how do we define "irrational"?

      In many ways, it is a moral judgment on an attitude, a societal judgment. When used clinically, rationality is probably very specific, and I am no psychologist so have nothing really to say there. And maybe you're right that since the word connotes psychology it shouldn't be used any other way. But as it is used in common language, it seems to imply a societally unacceptable level of aversion or discrimination. I'm not sure exactly what those levels are, but I guess I assume it's a bit like porn - you know it when you see it.

      FYI there is a term for discrimination based on sexuality that covers at least part of the meaning I think we're searching for here - heterosexist. Personally, I hate it - I think it makes a serious issue sound silly, petty, and uber-PC. But there you go.
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      • #4
        Thanks for replying peoples

        Couple ground rules -- the origin of homosexuality is irrelevant to answering this question. Likewise, the question of justification is irrelevant to answering this question.
        Fine re ground rule one – I agree, not relevant.

        But there are a lot of your points I can’t answer without delving into the verboten topic number two – the reasons people are anti-homophobic or the justifications they give for it. But shall answer what I can without going “there”. However, I don’t agree that it’s irrelevant (because the reasons people have for being anti-homosexual and the way in which they are anti-homosexual contribute to whether they’re homophobic in one of the dictionary definitions of the word).

        I can see what you mean about the emotive nature of “homophobia”. I still wouldn’t want to avoid using it in the context of public debate, because I don’t want it to be forgotten that there IS a moral element to being anti-homosexual, and one that I feel deeply uncomfortable about when it takes on a political force. But in the context of a personal debate – a debate on a forum such as this one – I don’t mind using anti-homosexual in certain contexts. Not if someone was being all “ewww, gay sex”, because in that case? There is nothing you could call someone but homophobic (well, you could call them poop head, but I don’t think that’s very grown up).

        About the definition of homophobia:

        The term "-phobia" is a clinical one, which is the biggest reason it's misapplied when used in "homophobia". There is no clinical homophobia. There is no irrational or compulsive fear response to homosexuality. It's a rhetorical term; the purpose of the term is to take a discordant viewpoint and define it as 'crazy'. I have always objected to it as a dishonest way of arguing.
        It’s not intended as a clinical term in its dictionary sense, and its lack of a clinical meaning – or a notion of compulsion - doesn’t come into it, because people who call others homophobes aren’t saying they’re suffering from a disease, they’re saying they’re being irrational or showing aversion to something that doesn’t merit such a reaction.

        Originally posted by litzie View Post
        I see what you're saying here, and I agree to a certain degree. But if we're going with the definition that Wolfie posted ("irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against homosexuality or homosexuals then the main question becomes not whether people are afraid of homosexuality or not (the 'aversion to' and 'discrimination against' parts of the definition are probably more relevant to common usage of the word), but rather - how do we define "irrational”?
        The definition of “irrational” requires us to go into ground rule two territory, but I think it is key to that particular definition of homophobia.

        There’s another definition from a different dictionary (one of the big ones we have at work, it’s in the other room, but I think it’s Collins):

        “An intense hatred or fear of homosexuals or homosexuality”

        It doesn’t include the irrational element, so we could look at that without having to get into the justification arena. Now, KoC phrases anti-homosexuality in terms of dislike, not hatred.

        There are people who disapprove of that behavior. They aren't irrationally afraid of the behavior, they dislike the behavior.
        I think that “dislike” is rarely accurate as a summary of an anti-homosexual position based on…stuff relating to ground rule two. Dislike is something I’d apply to chips with Mayonnaise or someone who annoys me. I think it’s something stronger than that, or people wouldn’t care so much. For some, it’s not hatred of homosexuality… but for some it is. In which case, I agree that a word like anti-homosexual would be better because it caters to the whole range (from granddads who go “humph, I’m not sure how I feel about that sort of thing” to people waving “Fags burn in hell” placards).

        "Anti-homosexual" would probably be the most precise term, yeah. But the point of the popular term "homophobia" isn't to be precise, it's to win.
        I’ve always used homophobia because it’s the word everyone uses to mean anti-homosexual in most debates. It’s just the common word for it. It’s not used with an agenda – I’d never heard anyone object to it til you did, so I was just using it because it was the word I’d always used. I don’t think it’s imprecise, but I can see that it is very emotive. I’m ok with anti-homosexual as an alternative. Though I feel there must be a word already?

        Oh, just noticed that Litzie posted about it…

        FYI there is a term for discrimination based on sexuality that covers at least part of the meaning I think we're searching for here - heterosexist. Personally, I hate it - I think it makes a serious issue sound silly, petty, and uber-PC. But there you go.
        Homosexualist? Sounds equally silly though.

        But as it is used in common language, it seems to imply a societally unacceptable level of aversion or discrimination. I'm not sure exactly what those levels are, but I guess I assume it's a bit like porn - you know it when you see it.
        Homophobia as porn… hey, isn’t that the Daily Mail? Though that’s more general misery-and-hatred porn I guess.

        EDIT: oops, missed a bit:

        It's the same phenomenon seen in the abortion debate where the terms "pro-life" and "anti-abortion" or "anti-choice" are in tension as are the terms "pro-choice" and "pro-abortion". People aren't interested in morally neutral, accurate language, they are interested in winning the argument.
        No doubt! When so much is at stake, I don’t think anyone wants to be neutral.

        But outside of a political context, I think anti-abortion works ok, but “pro abortion” doesn’t really describe the position of many people who are on the opposite side. There’s a range of people who think that abortion is not always wrong, from people who think it is never wrong to people who think it is allowable under very special circumstances but that it is wrong if you do it on a whim. Pro-abortion also seems to imply thinking it’s a good thing in itself – like being pro-equality, say. But not many people who think that abortion is justified would ever pretend it’s a positive experience or something to be sought out.

        EDIT TWO:

        To avoid the no-go areas, I was thinking of ways to take the spirit of this debate and move it onto a less religious topic.

        KoC, you were saying in the other thread (and I reposted it above:
        I'm a big believer in addressing even discordant opinion on the terms understood be the person holding the opinion.
        Now, it might be interesting to apply this to politics. Setting aside issues such as homosexuality and abortion, which are pretty hard to discuss without talking about religion… how about the question of where you place someone on the political spectrum? Finding neutral ways of approaching that is a tricky question.

        For instance, that political compass thingie had a lot of US politicians fairly far to the right. From point of view, that’s just factually accurate. From another point of view, it shows a left wing skewing to the table.

        Perhaps we need a new spectrum that does away with notions of left and right – which are so often relative to where you’re standing? How might we approach “addressing opinions on the terms understood by the person holding the opinion”. Should you use their terminology? Or agree on a middle ground? Or is there no middle ground to agree on?
        Last edited by Wolfie Gilmore; 07-07-08, 07:11 PM.


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        • #5
          Originally posted by Wolfie Gilmore View Post
          But there are a lot of your points I can't answer without delving into the verboten topic number two ? the reasons people are anti-homophobic or the justifications they give for it. But shall answer what I can without going "there". However, I don't agree that it's irrelevant (because the reasons people have for being anti-homosexual and the way in which they are anti-homosexual contribute to whether they're homophobic in one of the dictionary definitions of the word).
          As litzie alluded to, the "dictionary definition" of homophobia expresses some of the inherent bias I find in the word. Discrimination is not derived from clinical -phobia, either.

          I can see what you mean about the emotive nature of "homophobia". I still wouldn't want to avoid using it in the context of public debate, because I don't want it to be forgotten that there IS a moral element to being anti-homosexual, and one that I feel deeply uncomfortable about when it takes on a political force. But in the context of a personal debate ? a debate on a forum such as this one ? I don't mind using anti-homosexual in certain contexts. Not if someone was being all "ewww, gay sex", because in that case? There is nothing you could call someone but homophobic (well, you could call them poop head, but I don't think that's very grown up).
          See, I wouldn't say that "ewww, gay sex" is any more indicative of a genuine thing like "homophobia" than a similar "ewww" would be indicative of... what, fallatiophobia? Analphobia? Is there an irrational, clinical -phobia for that, or just people that don't approve of it and don't want to do it?

          I really don't think the word has any application that isn't founded in framing a discussion against one side.

          The definition of "irrational" requires us to go into ground rule two territory, but I think it is key to that particular definition of homophobia.
          I was going to address litzie's point on this as well -- "irrationality" only brings in a moral context if we don't use a very narrow, clinical definition of the word. And, since we're talking about the appropriation of clinical terms, I suspect we should.

          There's another definition from a different dictionary (one of the big ones we have at work, it's in the other room, but I think it's Collins):

          "An intense hatred or fear of homosexuals or homosexuality"

          It doesn't include the irrational element, so we could look at that without having to get into the justification arena. Now, KoC phrases anti-homosexuality in terms of dislike, not hatred.
          Well, again, this definition contains the very bastardization I'm talking about. A -phobia has nothing to do with "intense hatred", and the fear in this definition is really only there pretextualy to lump in the "intense hatred".

          I've always used homophobia because it's the word everyone uses to mean anti-homosexual in most debates. It's just the common word for it. It's not used with an agenda ? I'd never heard anyone object to it til you did, so I was just using it because it was the word I'd always used. I don't think it's imprecise, but I can see that it is very emotive. I'm ok with anti-homosexual as an alternative. Though I feel there must be a word already?

          Oh, just noticed that Litzie posted about it?



          Homosexualist? Sounds equally silly though.
          I think that anti-homosexual and heterosexist sound like much more intellectually honest terms than "homophobic". Certainly I've encountered people who I would consider "homosexist", or whatever the correctly applied opposite term would be. Unless they'd be better called heterophobes?

          No doubt! When so much is at stake, I don't think anyone wants to be neutral.

          But outside of a political context, I think anti-abortion works ok, but "pro abortion" doesn't really describe the position of many people who are on the opposite side. There's a range of people who think that abortion is not always wrong, from people who think it is never wrong to people who think it is allowable under very special circumstances but that it is wrong if you do it on a whim. Pro-abortion also seems to imply thinking it's a good thing in itself ? like being pro-equality, say. But not many people who think that abortion is justified would ever pretend it's a positive experience or something to be sought out.
          Personally I settled on "pro-life" and "pro-choice", since those terms reflect what both sides think the primary underlying issue is. Which segues nicely into your other subject...

          EDIT TWO:

          To avoid the no-go areas, I was thinking of ways to take the spirit of this debate and move it onto a less religious topic.

          KoC, you were saying in the other thread (and I reposted it above:

          Now, it might be interesting to apply this to politics. Setting aside issues such as homosexuality and abortion, which are pretty hard to discuss without talking about religion? how about the question of where you place someone on the political spectrum? Finding neutral ways of approaching that is a tricky question.

          For instance, that political compass thingie had a lot of US politicians fairly far to the right. From point of view, that's just factually accurate. From another point of view, it shows a left wing skewing to the table.

          Perhaps we need a new spectrum that does away with notions of left and right ? which are so often relative to where you're standing? How might we approach "addressing opinions on the terms understood by the person holding the opinion". Should you use their terminology? Or agree on a middle ground? Or is there no middle ground to agree on?
          I'm a big fan of arguing from terminology used by opponents. But I argue toward the goal of actual persuasion, and you can't persuade anyone with concepts they don't accept the basis of.
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          • #6
            Originally posted by KingofCretins View Post
            I'm a big fan of arguing from terminology used by opponents. But I argue toward the goal of actual persuasion, and you can't persuade anyone with concepts they don't accept the basis of.
            But if it's true that some people's dislike of homosexuality is based on homophobia - in the sense of an irrational fear or aversion - then you can't persuade them. Their feelings are irrational and therefore not subject to reason or discussion. And while your experience may differ, most people I've heard express anti-gay sentiments start from the basis of "Eww, that's disgusting. Keep it away from me" rather than intellectualised religious or biological or whatever justifications.

            At best, you might be able to convince such people that it's inappropriate to give expression to such sentiments, and they should perhaps work to overcome them in the long term. Describing their feelings as an irrational phobia is actually helpful, in that respect.

            Compare xenophobia, which is the other '-phobia' term which is not used purely in a clinical sense. It's perhaps natural to feel fear and dislike towards people who have different coloured skin or speak a different language or dress differently or whatever - but we've more or less managed to convince the majority of society that such feelings are irrational, and expressing them in public is unacceptable. We've got further to go when it comes to attitudes to homosexuality, but - at least in my country - we seem to be heading in the right* direction.


            * 'Right' from my point of view, of course.

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            • #7
              was going to address litzie's point on this as well -- "irrationality" only brings in a moral context if we don't use a very narrow, clinical definition of the word. And, since we're talking about the appropriation of clinical terms, I suspect we should.


              Well, again, this definition contains the very bastardization I'm talking about. A -phobia has nothing to do with "intense hatred", and the fear in this definition is really only there pretextualy to lump in the "intense hatred".
              I guess it comes down to whether you accept the dictionary definition of the word or not...obviously, words are powerful. And accepting common use isn't always the straightforward way to go - "gay" is often used to mean lame, stupid, etc. This pisses me the hell off, just like using "retarded" to mean stupid pisses me of - because gay does not mean lame/stupid and shouldn't mean lame/stupid, and if we let it mean that as slang it affects our overall understanding of the 'real' word/concept.

              I'm not sure if you can say the same thing about the term "phobia" though (because actually, it seems like the bastardization of that part of the word is what you object to most), for a couple of reasons.

              Reason 1 (don't mind me I'm feeling listy): "clinical" does not mean value free. Just because we might talk about certain phobias (agoraphobia, for example) in clinical terms doesn't mean that we are going to be discussing it in a morally neutral way. The discipline of psychology deems it a Bad Thing...based on contemporary social mores, based on the consensus of the discipline's practitioners as a whole...etc. Until the 70s, homosexuality was listed as a mental disease by the American Psychology Association - and that changed because the surrounding society changed - obviously (I say obviously but then some people might disagree with me and this just goes to show just how subjective clinical terminology can be) homosexuality was never a mental illness.

              Reason 2: homophobia as "intense hatred" or "irrational discrimination" etc is not just slang, like using gay to mean stupid - it is in fact the official/standard/whatever definition of the term. Homophobia isn't actually a clinical concept. People do not get treated for homophobia the way they would for agoraphobia. I doubt that it is even in any APA list of phobias, but I don't actually know. It's a term that has a general meaning, not a clinical one, so that when people say that someone is homophobic, they are not actually implying that said person is crazy. Irrational, maybe, but not crazy. It never occurred to me that the term carried any connotation of 'mentally ill' until you pointed it out...now, I'm obv. not the end all be all of the connotations of the word homophobic, but...

              Ok, well my list really didn't end up being much of a list...but right, that's my thoughts at the moment.
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              • #8
                I guess it comes down to whether you accept the dictionary definition of the word or not...obviously, words are powerful. And accepting common use isn't always the straightforward way to go - "gay" is often used to mean lame, stupid, etc. This pisses me the hell off, just like using "retarded" to mean stupid pisses me of - because gay does not mean lame/stupid and shouldn't mean lame/stupid, and if we let it mean that as slang it affects our overall understanding of the 'real' word/concept.
                I agree that we shouldn't necessarily agree with general usage for the reasons you've given above. Problem I see is how far that goes - we end up with a kind of Wittgenstein's beetle in a box - you call Object A one thing, I call the Object B the same, and we think we're referring to the same thing. And if no-one accepts the same, or at least similar meanings, all arguments will be defeated, because, as King said
                'you can't persuade anyone with concepts they don't accept the basis of.'
                I'm reminded of the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland (After much searching, Google has let me down!!!! First time for everything I guess). Well, the gist of it is that Alice disagrees with the Cheshire Cat about the meaning of a word, and he says that a word means whatever he wants it to mean. And so not only can you not persuade people with words they don't accept the meaning of, you can't even discuss it with them. And I'd rather lose the fine point of a word's meaning in an argument to persuade someone. Once you've established common ground, then the meaning of words can be fully explored. But even then, problem. We all have different interpretations of what words mean. When we read the same book, we all might agree roughly on the same points, agree on the meanings of motifs and characters' intentions etc. but we all have a different interpretation. The only way we're able to communicate is by assuming everyone else has roughly the same meaning when they refer to objects ... but really, we don't. We all draw on differing experiences and emotional resonances and so on. So there can't really be a universal meaning of words, I think we have to go on the majority opinion, but just be aware that the majority can be and often is wrong, and try to correct the meaning of words where possible. But that causes problems, 'cos what if it's me that's got the wrong definition? What if the majority has it right, and I'm the minority who thinks differently? Aargh, too many questions!

                And random thought, half related. How often, when hearing someone talk about a friend who happens to be homosexual, though that has no bearing on the point they're about to make, do you hear them say 'My gay friend ...' But why do they feel the need to include the word 'gay'? If it's for descriptive purposes, why not include the fact that your friend is also tall, and has brown hair, and speaks with a slight Mancunian accent, etc. They don't say 'My straight friend ...' when talking about their heterosexual friends. The fact that people don't include all this info, indicates that it's not for description, but because they're making a point about that person's sexuality. Now I'm not saying they're necessarily prejudiced or anything, but making a point of mentioning someone's sexuality is unnecessary, it's as though they're pointing out how someone is different to them. And when people start pointing out each other's differences without saying that both are equally as valid as each other ... that's when in peoples' minds 'different' turns into 'wrong' and we get more prejudice and ignorance.
                Last edited by The_Narrator; 07-07-08, 10:07 PM.

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                • #9
                  I actually think that Homophobia as what it says it is 'An intense fear of Homosexuals' does exist. Moreover I think it's primarily a male disease (Although that may be because my gender filters me that way). So apologies, but i'm going to frame the below in male terms.

                  I've seen and heard male aquaintances talk about gay men in such terms as 'backs to the walls lads' and 'If he tries it on with me...' Now this might come across as light hearted banter but a lot of it is, in my opinion, bravado and the real emotion ruling these comments is fear. Now obviously we're not talking paralysed by 'x' fear or unable to go out ecause of 'x'fear but it does seem to get to the stage where such a man will be palpably agitated at being left alone in a room with a gay man. There does seem to be a fear that a gay man cannot control himself in some way that the very fact he is gay means he'll be 'trying it on' with all and sundry, especially his male colleagues (probably the funniest thing about this is what it says about the males in questions view of their own attractiveness in my opinion.)

                  Do I think this fear is old fashioned? Yes. Do I think it's less prevalent now than a generation or two back? Yes. Do I think it still exists? Yes. So wether it's a true clinical phobia i'm not sure. I'm not a psychiatrist. I don't know how these things are measured but fear cannot be ruled out from some peoples aversion to homosexuality in my opinion. Perhaps the word Homophobe is a valid word but just one that gets bandied around in too general a sense. I think it is the case though that when reading or talking about homophobic people or behaviour it is an expression that has transcended the meaning of the broken down word. I would read it as connotating intolerance, aversion, strong opposition. I wouldn't see the word and think 'fear' unless, like in this thread, it's pointed out to me. Words change their meaning all the time. Sanguine used to mean hot blooded and looking at the word and it's root you can see why. Now we take it as laid back and that is how it is generally understood unless people point out the above.

                  Personally I settled on "pro-life" and "pro-choice", since those terms reflect what both sides think the primary underlying issue is. Which segues nicely into your other subject...
                  I actually think that Pro-life is just as emotive as some of the other terms. To me the connotation there can be interpreted as 'we're pro life - ergo - you're pro death'. It's a tricky subject though and I don't think it's ever really possible to discuss these things in completely neutral terms.
                  JUST ENOUGH KILL

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                  • #10
                    I’ve got quite a bit to say about the KoC’s comments re a clinical meaning of homophobia, but just in case anyone wants to skip what I’m saying, I think that this isn’t actually the main issue… though it is interesting in a linguistics-y way.

                    Originally posted by KingofCretins View Post
                    Discrimination is not derived from clinical -phobia, either.
                    I was going to address litzie's point on this as well -- "irrationality" only brings in a moral context if we don't use a very narrow, clinical definition of the word. And, since we're talking about the appropriation of clinical terms, I suspect we should.
                    Well, again, this definition contains the very bastardization I'm talking about. A -phobia has nothing to do with "intense hatred", and the fear in this definition is really only there pretextualy to lump in the "intense hatred".
                    I’m not quite sure why you think we should be talking about clinical phobias?

                    The word homophobia may carry connotations of other –phobia words due to the shared suffix, but the word itself does not currently mean something clinical in its general usage – eg Kennedy did not mean Buffy had a clinical phobia, just that she was anti-gay, whether in an “ew” way, or a more moral stance.

                    There may well be a specific clinical usage for psychologists that’s separate, and describes a particular clinical phenomenon (crippling nervous reaction to homosexuals?) but that is not how the word is generally used.

                    The etymology is interesting, though, and it does bring with it a certain baggage and associations which are worth exploring. I’ll come back to that when discussing the notion of bias.

                    The question of general usage, and whether something can be an accurate description of something in dictionary-correctness terms but problematic for political reasons or discursive purposes is also relevant to bias. This is something you get a lot with feminist discussions of language, actually. Interesting! (erm, to me, in a language geek way )

                    But the current meaning of the word homophobia is the intersection of the various dictionary meanings with the ways in which it is used in speech (which add layers of meaning that may not be fully grasped in the dictionary, because dictionary explanations don’t unpack implications/political echoes/associations fully.)

                    There is perhaps an issue with the idea of finding the true meaning of a word where different dictionaries have different slightly different meanings, and language is a shifting beastie, and who gets to be the authority on language anyway…cf linguistics questions re “Is there such a thing as standard English”?

                    But that goes for any word, not just this one, so…perhaps best left to linguistics professors who find that sort of thing terribly exciting and get spittle on their chins just thinking about the idea of the impossibility of defining a standard version of English.

                    Now, KoC I think the objections you were making in terms of the clinical implications of homophobia were fallacious (oh, come on, allow me that poncy word…it’s always funny…to me), but I think you have a point when it comes to the resonances that the word has. Shocker, but this is where I agree with you a bit…

                    Using a word that sounds like words that DO describe clinical phobias means we probably think about those phobias on some level when we hear the word, even if it’s not part of the definition of said word. The question is, should we find a new word because of these implications?

                    As litzie alluded to, the "dictionary definition" of homophobia expresses some of the inherent bias I find in the word.
                    This is comparable to some feminist discussions of language, in which it doesn’t require conscious bias to use language in a sexist way. For example, the use of “he” to mean “a person who we’re not going to name, just some unidentified person of gender unknown”. When I write, “An astronomer often uses a telescope to do his work”, I don’t have to be some rotten chauvinist to do so… but I’m unconsciously supporting the notion that male is the norm. Or if I say “everyman”, or something along those lines.

                    Now, there are alternatives – saying he/she or using she as the default… or using the grammatically dodgy yet gender neutral “they” (my personal preference is to force language change such that “they” becomes the default, screw grammar, it’s easier to write than he/she… and “she” isn’t really that great, as it then redefines the norm as female…when there’s no such thing as a human gender norm).

                    So, like with “he”, homophobia has an inherent value judgement. The question is, what should we do about that, and in what context?

                    Now, in general societal terms, I don’t think we should avoid using the word homophobia, or attempt to replace it, because I think that losing the bias is a way of conceding territory that should not be conceded.

                    I think it IS bad to be anti-gay, and I think losing sight of that isn’t a step towards world peace, just another concession to the powerful lobbies who believe that gays shouldn’t have equal rights. In this way it’s very different from the gendered language question, as I think that it IS right to give men and women equal treatment in language, as in life. So, the issue isn’t bias, per se, it’s the direction of the bias.

                    So perhaps I’m saying…bias can be a good thing, in the right context (my right, obviously… but in a way, it doesn’t make sense to say “my view of right”, when the notion of believing something is right is predicated on feeling sure that it IS the right thing).

                    It’s a show of self-belief, a way for society to say that certain things aren’t acceptable. Well, depends on the society, obviously. But I don’t believe that stripping away the bias is a good thing, when that bias is towards what you think is good, right, just, humane…and all the tasty things in life.

                    But in the context of arguments like this, where I’m not dealing with society, but with individuals, and it’s more a game of ideas than making a moral stand (though, cf above, there’s obviously some of that)– a debate for the sake of debate, rather than something upon which you stake your sense of self and your position in the world – stripping away the bias is interesting as a way of exploring how we argue. A game of devil’s advocate, a way of exploring other viewpoints.

                    After all that, perhaps I should sum up. I agree that homophobia is a biased word, that it has inherent value judgements attached.

                    But I also think it should be in terms of general usage, as I don’t think that it’s just a matter of preaching to the choir, but showing the non choral members of society that you are not going to be cowed into pretending that being anti-gay is ok, or even morally neutral.

                    So, all that probably brings me to the point that I don’t think you can or should try to change hearts and minds by pretending that you agree with them or think that what they’re doing is acceptable.

                    Hearts and minds change in other ways, through time…and through people realising that the gays are not going to bring about the end of civilisation - for example, there’s the Wolfenden report in 1957, which was a step towards legalising homosexuality (though not the whole step, and still full of some pretty rotten stuff), finding that the world isn’t going to end because two men like to have sex together.

                    I think that anti-homosexual and heterosexist sound like much more intellectually honest terms than "homophobic".
                    The question of intellectual honesty is an interesting one. It’s not so much a matter of honesty, in the context that I’m laying out here, but one of attempted objectivity – ie, the word homophobia could be said to contain both a description of a particular reaction to homosexuals AND a judgement on that reaction, and not be dishonest, if you admit the judgement and stand by it. I am trying to be an honest woman (aside from all the prostitution, gambling and crack dealing obviously).

                    However, in the context of purely intellectual debate, objectivity is often the goal (though…not if your some postmodern, postructuralist make-my-brain-bleed kind of a mo fo ). So, after aaaaall that, I agree that anti-homosexual offers a non-value-laden approach to the subject.

                    Certainly I've encountered people who I would consider "homosexist", or whatever the correctly applied opposite term would be. Unless they'd be better called heterophobes?
                    Heterophobes, yes. I think that’s fair enough as a term. Because I’d be happy to keep the moral component in there – it’s just as bad to be anti-straight as anti-gay. The whole judging people based on their orientation… it all seems so arbitrary that sometimes I find myself not angry but just baffled about the whole thing.

                    I remember meeting a heterophobic young man at university. On seeing me kissing my then-boyfriend, he said, “Hetersexuality! It’s almost like bestiality! It’s a different species, darling!”

                    Obnoxious little wannabe Brideshead toad, but I have dined out on that story for years so, perhaps worth the hatred.

                    Oh, this is random, but I just spotted the actor who played Ethan Rayne in the old televised Brideshead Revisited! As a young man. Was hilarious.

                    Re flammorshion:

                    Personally I settled on "pro-life" and "pro-choice", since those terms reflect what both sides think the primary underlying issue is.
                    From the point of view of accepting the opponent’s terms, those sound fine, given that those are the terms that people of those persuasions use to describe themselves. However, I’ve just realised…. We’re talking about two different things here.

                    1) Talking to opponents in terms they accept – whether those terms are emotive or biased.
                    2) Talking to opponents in neutral terms

                    As Tangent said:

                    actually think that Pro-life is just as emotive as some of the other terms. To me the connotation there can be interpreted as 'we're pro life - ergo - you're pro death'. It's a tricky subject though and I don't think it's ever really possible to discuss these things in completely neutral terms.
                    So, the question is… would you prefer to discuss things in neutral terms, or terms that may or may not be emotive but that express the opponent’s point of view? And, if the latter, is it a matter of doing a terminology swap? IE you say “homophobe” and I say “making a moral stand about bad sexual behaviour”…or something a bit snappier

                    Or should we strive for neutral terms, rather than something that works for the opponent specifically?

                    In which case, “pro legal abortions” and “anti legal abortions/pro illegalizing abortions”?? Though that doesn’t cover the moral element obviously, and doesn’t allow for the abstract debate.

                    I'm a big fan of arguing from terminology used by opponents. But I argue toward the goal of actual persuasion, and you can't persuade anyone with concepts they don't accept the basis of.
                    So, do you think I will be able to persuade you to change your views on gays by talking about anti-homosexuals? I will do so then, and do so often…

                    Originally posted by stormwreath View Post
                    But if it's true that some people's dislike of homosexuality is based on homophobia - in the sense of an irrational fear or aversion - then you can't persuade them.
                    True. Though you can really freak ‘em out by coming onto them.


                    And while your experience may differ, most people I've heard express anti-gay sentiments start from the basis of "Eww, that's disgusting. Keep it away from me" rather than intellectualised religious or biological or whatever justifications.
                    I think any school or pub will bring you those experiences. “Backs to the wall!” was a common one at my concert band (yes, I did go to band camp). It was said jokingly, but as tangent said, with a grain of truthful fear involved. Or, the shameless stuff that is said in more old fashioned offices (my friend’s evil law firm has a client who talks about “the gays” and how they’re ruining society, with no justification whatsoever, except that they are filthy homos, honestly, real men don’t do that sort of thing, it’s just not on…I mean, obviously I was buggered senseless at Eton, did me good, made me the man I am today, but that was just good clean boyish fun… but adult gays, they’re dangerous.)

                    but we've more or less managed to convince the majority of society that such feelings are irrational, and expressing them in public is unacceptable.
                    I don’t know… the Sun has three million odd readers! Not sure what the Daily Mail’s circulation is.


                    Originally posted by litzie View Post
                    I guess it comes down to whether you accept the dictionary definition of the word or not...obviously, words are powerful.
                    Sorry, meant to quote this above – it’s what got me spinning down the comparison-with-feminist-language road. I think it would be odd not to accept the dictionary’s definition of the word as the right definition, in terms of being correct/the way the word is used. However, I think as you say, words are powerful, so a word can be correctly used and yet morally problematic. As I said above, I don’t think homophobia is problematic in terms of general usage, but in terms of trying to argue with someone on neutral ground, it is.


                    Well, the gist of it is that Alice disagrees with the Cheshire Cat about the meaning of a word, and he says that a word means whatever he wants it to mean.
                    I thought it was humpty dumpty? But yes, we cannot start constructing private languages (except for fun).

                    And so not only can you not persuade people with words they don't accept the meaning of, you can't even discuss it with them.

                    Once you've established common ground, then the meaning of words can be fully explored.
                    Yes – I think if you use words carefully, and explore them together, it’s not so much which words you choose as WHY you choose them, and the context in which they’re to be used.


                    What if the majority has it right, and I'm the minority who thinks differently? Aargh, too many questions!
                    “You have too many thoughts” (I know, pot, kettle…)

                    How often, when hearing someone talk about a friend who happens to be homosexual, though that has no bearing on the point they're about to make, do you hear them say 'My gay friend ...' But why do they feel the need to include the word 'gay'?
                    Usually, they’re showing off that they are so modern and cosmopolitian and sex and the citylike. A GBF, it’s what all the girls want…in 1998. Catch up, peoples!


                    They don't say 'My straight friend ...' when talking about their heterosexual friends.
                    Maybe they would if they were gay and most of their friends were gay? Probably not though, unless they were doing it in a really self-conscious way.

                    Originally posted by tangent View Post
                    I actually think that Homophobia as what it says it is 'An intense fear of Homosexuals' does exist. Moreover I think it's primarily a male disease (Although that may be because my gender filters me that way). So apologies, but i'm going to frame the below in male terms.
                    I wonder how much of it is down to the idea that some people have, that lesbians don’t really exist? Like unicorns. Not many people fear unicorns.



                    Do I think this fear is old fashioned? Yes. Do I think it's less prevalent now than a generation or two back? Yes. Do I think it still exists? Yes. So wether it's a true clinical phobia i'm not sure. I'm not a psychiatrist. I don't know how these things are measured but fear cannot be ruled out from some peoples aversion to homosexuality in my opinion.
                    It seems to be the trend now to call any human emotion we don’t like a disease. I think some fear can be “healthy”, ie indicates no kind of mental illness, but still morally corrupt. EG racism…I don’t think that has to be a disease to be bad.

                    I would read it as connotating intolerance, aversion, strong opposition. I wouldn't see the word and think 'fear' unless, like in this thread, it's pointed out to me. Words change their meaning all the time. Sanguine used to mean hot blooded and looking at the word and it's root you can see why. Now we take it as laid back and that is how it is generally understood unless people point out the above.
                    Yes – the meaning of homophobia, as it is generally understood, does tend to be more about hatred than fear. Though fear is in there too, whether it’s a culturally-transmitted fear or a direct one.
                    Last edited by Wolfie Gilmore; 09-07-08, 12:54 PM.


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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by KingofCretins
                      As litzie alluded to, the "dictionary definition" of homophobia expresses some of the inherent bias I find in the word. Discrimination is not derived from clinical -phobia, either.
                      In a moral discussion, words are usually loaded (what could you expect), but "bias" seems to also express a negative judgment to the use of that word.

                      I mean, are moral words like right, wrong, evil, good, etc. biased or not?

                      Originally posted by KingofCretins
                      People who are most often labelled 'homophobic' are actually people with a moral position. Whatever else homosexuality is or isn't -- learned, biological, a whimsy of sexual preference -- it's behavior. By which I mean, it's "a thing people do", and why they do it as irrelevant. There are people who disapprove of that behavior. They aren't irrationally afraid of the behavior, they dislike the behavior.
                      Well, if we want psychiatric accuracy, homosexuality, heterosexuality and bisexuality are not defined in terms of behavior, but orientation.

                      To frame homosexuality in terms of behavior is what those oppose to homosexual behavior usually do, and it seems to be a means of trying to win the argument (even if unconscioulsy).

                      Originally posted by KingofCretins
                      "Anti-homosexual" would probably be the most precise term, yeah. But the point of the popular term "homophobia" isn't to be precise, it's to win It's the same phenomenon seen in the abortion debate where the terms "pro-life" and "anti-abortion" or "anti-choice" are in tension as are the terms "pro-choice" and "pro-abortion". People aren't interested in morally neutral, accurate language, they are interested in winning the argument.
                      Granted, the purpose of moral disputes is usually to win. The terms are loaded. But that doesn't mean that they don't also describe some group of people, even if they're also used to express moral reprobation.

                      For instance, if A calls B anti-choice, and B calls A pro-death, that gives a reader a good idea of the stances of A and B in regard to abortion - not with much precision, granted, but "supporter of allowing abortion", or "supporter of banning abortion" wouldn't give much greater precision, either (since there's no clarification about the precise circumstances where they support allowing/banning abortion).

                      Context (as usual) can give more information.

                      But the social purpose* is, I think, not to describe the other person's stance (though that's a secondary purpose, or a side-effect), but to effect some social change, either by trying to change the stance of the person the criticism is directed at, or of someone else - or maybe as a sort of a war cry, enraging the people on one's own camp and getting them ready for (social, not necessarily violent) action.

                      *I'm not saying that people are usually aware of that, making a deliberate move; they might just be angry; but that seems to be closer to how moral words (or morally loaded words) are used, in my view.

                      I don't know the circumstances in which Kennedy called Buffy a "phobe", but I doubt that Kennedy was trying to describe Buffy or her actions (or only trying to describe them; if Kennedy was talking to someone else, description may have been part of it, but not all or the main part).
                      Originally posted by KingofCretins
                      I'm a big fan of arguing from terminology used by opponents. But I argue toward the goal of actual persuasion, and you can't persuade anyone with concepts they don't accept the basis of.
                      But actual targets of persuasion might be the undecided. Also, such language can also be used to rally one's own ranks and get them ready for action - though, again, I think often judgments are just passed when people are outraged and not making specific plans.

                      Originally posted by tangent
                      I've seen and heard male aquaintances talk about gay men in such terms as 'backs to the walls lads' and 'If he tries it on with me...' Now this might come across as light hearted banter but a lot of it is, in my opinion, bravado and the real emotion ruling these comments is fear.
                      Not to mention (or, well, I will mention it ) the fear that homosexuality would spread like drugs, and acceptance would lead to more homosexuality, which they deem bad for society - indeed, it'd be bad if the goal is to live in the kind of society they'd like to live in.

                      In general, the people who morally disapprove of homosexuality may well also fear that it'll be more widely spread and socially accepted in the future.

                      Originally posted by tangent
                      I actually think that Pro-life is just as emotive as some of the other terms. To me the connotation there can be interpreted as 'we're pro life - ergo - you're pro death'. It's a tricky subject though and I don't think it's ever really possible to discuss these things in completely neutral terms.
                      I think it'd be possible for some people (not for most), but they too would get to an impasse, when they agree on the non-moral issues regarding the matter if they can, or realize they won't agree, and they still disagree about what to do.


                      Originally posted by Wolfie Gilmore
                      Using a word that sounds like words that DO describe clinical phobias means we probably think about those phobias on some level when we hear the word, even if it’s not part of the definition of said word. The question is, should we find a new word because of these implications?
                      Gay-rights denier, perhaps?

                      I'm not sure people usually think of those phobias. Is the clinical usage of the suffix more common than the non-clinical one? "Xenophobia" is as common as it gets.

                      Still, you might be on to something. Many anti-gay activists discourage the use of "gay" and prefer "homosexual" instead - trying to give the word a negative connotation that it used to have (it used to be considered a mental disorder).

                      Originally posted by Wolfie Gilmore
                      So, like with “he”, homophobia has an inherent value judgement. The question is, what should we do about that, and in what context?

                      Now, in general societal terms, I don’t think we should avoid using the word homophobia, or attempt to replace it, because I think that losing the bias is a way of conceding territory that should not be conceded.

                      I think it IS bad to be anti-gay, and I think losing sight of that isn’t a step towards world peace, just another concession to the powerful lobbies who believe that gays shouldn’t have equal rights. In this way it’s very different from the gendered language question, as I think that it IS right to give men and women equal treatment in language, as in life. So, the issue isn’t bias, per se, it’s the direction of the bias.
                      It would be like, instead of saying someone is "anti-choice", activists said: "He (or she, right?) supports banning abortions under circumstances x, y, z, so he's a wrongdoer." That would separate the description of their opponent's stance from the moral condemnation of it, but it'd be somewhat cumbersome I think.

                      That said, I don't think that being confrontational - i.e., passing a negative judgment - is always (or usually) the best way to convince an opponent.

                      That depends on the circumstances, but I think it usually isn't. On the other hand, it may be more effective in reaching out to "independents" so to speak (i.e., those without any particularly strong commitment), and it's usually better for lifting the morale of one's own supporters or allies.

                      So, in general, effectiveness of words it depends on whom the arguer is talking to, who's reading/listening, and whom the arguer is trying to convince.

                      I don't think that most people make those choices in a deliberate manner, but in general, I think there's a point in not being quick to condemn someone one wants to convince. But that also depends on the specific situation.

                      In any event, trying to convince opponents is usually a futile endeavor. Both sides are more likely to remain adamant, demonizing one another.

                      Originally posted by Wolfie Gilmore
                      But in the context of arguments like this, where I’m not dealing with society, but with individuals, and it’s more a game of ideas than making a moral stand (though, cf above, there’s obviously some of that)– a debate for the sake of debate, rather than something upon which you stake your sense of self and your position in the world – stripping away the bias is interesting as a way of exploring how we argue. A game of devil’s advocate, a way of exploring other viewpoints.
                      Someone sufficiently evil could say that moral disputes are also a game of ideas (or words, or rhetoric), only playing for a bigger amount.

                      Originally posted by Wolfie Gilmore
                      Hearts and minds change in other ways, through time…and through people realising that the gays are not going to bring about the end of civilisation
                      Not to mention the hearts and minds of the undecided.

                      But it's interesting that you mention that it won't be "the end of civilization": without reaching that extreme, it's quite common for people to be afraid of the (real or imagined) effects of the actions of gay people, and of their very existence.

                      To the point to which the consequences are imagined, that is, indeed, groundless fear of homosexuality. And, perhaps, one could call it irrational fear, if they have no grounds for their mistake - of course, "irrational" is also a loaded word, and they'd say they do have grounds for it, but if people refrain from using the word "irrational", either, and for that reason, it seems soon the dictionary will be in need of serious pruning.

                      In the sense of "intense hatred" of homosexuality, there are also homophobes (often, they both fear it and hate it).

                      Originally posted by Wolfie Gilmore
                      The question of intellectual honesty is an interesting one. It’s not so much a matter of honesty, in the context that I’m laying out here, but one of attempted objectivity – ie, the word homophobia could be said to contain both a description of a particular reaction to homosexuals AND a judgement on that reaction, and not be dishonest, if you admit the judgement and stand by it.
                      I think you're right, and the same goes for words like "anti-choice", or (on the other side) "pro-death".
                      Originally posted by Wolfie Gilmore
                      However, in the context of purely intellectual debate, objectivity is often the goal (though…not if your some postmodern, postructuralist make-my-brain-bleed kind of a mo fo ). So, after aaaaall that, I agree that anti-homosexual offers a non-value-laden approach to the subject.
                      I wouldn't be too sure of it. Anti-gay would probably strongly laden. Anti-homosexual might be laden against one side or the other, depending on context.

                      In general, context can determine whether expressions are actually morally laden, so it's quite difficult t o avoid such expressions in a moral dispute.
                      Last edited by EvilVampire; 13-07-08, 05:11 AM.

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                      • #12
                        Ooofff, long thread.

                        On the subject of language in general, I'm a strong believer in usage being primary, and etymology being irrelevant (but interesting). Language can't (and certainly shouldn't) be policed, the "correct" meaning of a word is the way in which it is most widely used. So, in this instance I'd strongly disagree with the idea that
                        the majority can be and often is wrong
                        because it is right by (the above) definition.
                        In this vein, I think that lobbying for words like "heterosexist" as a replacement for existing words is completely pointless. If one wants to use a word that isn't in common usage, it needs to either be precise in the sense of its meaning being precisely the sum of the meanings of its constituents (which isn't the case here, it could mean a bunch of different things), or one needs to preface it with a definition. If no word exists that covers an intended meaning, or if none of the existing words that do cover it are narrow enough in scope, the latter approach is of course necessary.

                        Regarding "homophobia", I'd like to ask (both as an honest inquiry from a non-native speaker and to nudge the discussion) in how far the word, as it is generally used, describes a condition, and in how far it describes a behaviour. To clarify, there are plenty of people (especially males, with regard to male homosexuality) who admit that they can't help feeling a certain revulsion about gay sex, but try to ignore it or even feel guilty about it, and are in no way opposed to gay rights. Such a person would fit a meaning of "homophobic" which is very close to the clinical phobias - after all, most arachnophobics don't lobby for the extermination of spiders either.
                        At the other extreme, one could imagine a politician who has no personal issues of any kind with homosexuality but who lobbies against it using moral or religious arguments to achieve some goal. Could that be described as "homophobic behaviour" or not?

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