Homophobia or gayism? It’s all a question of fear

Dear Mr David Quinn, journalist and director of the Iona Institute,

I hope you don’t mind me writing to you like this. You don’t know me, and I don’t know you. I’d never even heard of you until a few weeks ago in fact, and I’d be very surprised if you’ve ever heard of me. However, something happened earlier this month that brought you squarely to my attention, and made it absolutely imperative that I write. The incident to which I am referring is the one that involved you receiving a payout of several thousand Euros from Irish broadcaster, RTE, as settlement for a libel claim that you brought against them for airing the view of a drag queen who claimed that you are a homophobe because you do not support equal marriage (or ‘gay’ marriage as you like to call it).

I’m a man who’s open to change. I’m no stuck-in-the-mud or Luddite. But there are some things in life about which I thought I would never have to change my mind. A few universal truths that I figured pretty much everyone knew were true. These immutable facts included such things as the third universal law of clothing (no black with blue), the law of social engagement on the London Underground (don’t) and the laws of equality (if you actively campaign against me having the same rights as you because I am gay, then you are, in the broad sense of the word, homophobic. Not because you have an actual phobia of gay people and are afraid to be in their presence, but because you are afraid of what allowing them to have equal rights will do to your religiously-controlled world), which is where you come in.

You see, because of these truths that I believed to be self-evident (mainly the latter), I was pretty shocked that rainy February morning a few weeks ago when I read that you had been paid money as an apology because you were offended when someone suggested that your active campaigning against them having equal rights because of their sexuality was homophobic.

I had kind of thought that that was what homophobia was: discriminating against someone on the basis of their sexuality because you are afraid of what not discriminating against them will do to you or to the society around you.

And let’s face it, for all people who oppose equal marriage (or ‘gay’ marriage as you like to call it), there is fear involved, some being fearful of ‘what society will become’ if gay people have equal rights, and others fearful of what God or the neighbours will think. And it was the knowledge that these people’s discrimination was rooted firmly in a fear of the unknown or a fear of contradicting a capricious god, that made me believe that I was right to call them homophobic, being as the word homo relates to homosexuality and the word phobe relates to being scared of something. But how wrong I was.

You see, your case proved that, just like the snow that falls in the UK each winter and cripples the roads and railtracks, this fear wasn’t the right kind of fear. Unless someone had an irrational, perhaps even pathological, fear of gay people, then they couldn’t be called homophobic. Unless, when in the presence of an actual gay person, someone was unable to stop themselves from leaping onto the nearest table like a musophobe confronted by a mouse, then you couldn’t call that person homophobic. Unless, when in the presence of an actual gay person, someone was unable to stop themselves from throwing cups of water over said gay person like an arachnophobe over a spider, then you couldn’t call that person homophobic. It was not fair to call someone homophobic simply because they disliked or hated gay people, or because they thought they should not have equal rights. To be called homophobic these anti-equality advocates had to be physically afraid of homosexuals, in any shape or form and of any age, everywhere in the world, at all times.

And this is, of course, why you can’t be called homophobic, even though you actively fight for continued discrimination against gay people in Ireland and around the world. I think it’s fair to assume that if you were in the same room as me, you wouldn’t, simply because I am gay, suffer a panic attack like an acrophobe on a tightrope, or develop an inability to articulate words like a chronophobe in a calendar shop, and therefore, we can conclude, that you are not irrationally fearful of my physical being and are not, therefore, in the strictest sense of the word, homophobic. Go you.

But that does lead me onto a slightly awkward point, and I really hope you don’t mind me bringing it up here. You see, if I’m not allowed to call you homophobic because you do not have an irrational fear of gay people (even though you don’t believe that they should have equal rights with you because God has told you that that is as it should be, and you actively campaign to see their rights curtailed), then what am I allowed to call you?

If you campaigned against me having equal rights because of the colour of my skin, but not because you had an irrational fear of my race, I could call you racist. If you campaigned against me having equal rights because of my gender. but not because you had an irrational fear of my sex, I could call you sexist. If you campaigned against me having equal rights because I’m 6’3″, but not because you have an irrational fear of tall people, I could call you heightist. And if you campaigned against me having equal rights because I’m gay, but not because you have an irrational fear of gay people, I could call you homoph….. Ah wait, the forbidden word. I’ll try again. If you campaigned against me having equal rights because I’m gay, but not because you have an irrational fear of gay people, I could call you…er…mean?

I think you can see my problem, Mr Quinn. The word gayist simply does not exist. One day maybe it will. Over the years, most of the discriminatory behaviours that society has, quite rightly, come to loathe and detest have been given an ism to describe them. So we have sexism, ageism, classism, anti-semitism, and many more. This has allowed us to describe people who display, for example, anti-black or anti-Jewish behaviours without making use of the Greek word phobia, lest we offend them by suggesting that they are acting out of an irrational fear rather than plain hate or ignorance (and God forbid we offend a racist or an anti-semite). But that time has not yet come for anti-gay behaviour. I cannot call you gayist for campaigning to deny me equal rights because the word does not exist. If I want to describe your behaviour with a specific word, the only word I have to choose from in my lexiconical arsenal, is, for the time being, homophobic. But I’m guessing, being as you took an entire TV network to task to the tune of several thousand euros for using this word to describe you and your lack of support for equal marriage, that you are not going to like my use of it either. I imagine it will offend you. And for that I am genuinely sorry. I hate the thought of offending somebody, however much they may have offended me by telling me that I am sinful and/or do not deserve the same rights in life as them.

And therefore, I would like to offer you three ways in which you could lessen any offence that you may feel at being called homophobic for campaigning against equal marriage (or ‘gay marriage’ as you like to call it):

1. Stop campaigning against equal marriage (or ‘gay marriage’ as you like to call it) and then no-one will ever have cause to call you anything other than good and decent for treating your fellow men and women as you would expect to be treated.

2. Accept that all people who discriminate against gay people do so out of a certain amount of fear: fear of offending God, fear of offending other people, fear of changing the status quo and fear of the unknown. If you accept that, then a word that contains the word phobos (meaning fear) and homo (meaning same, and in this context, gay) becomes quite appropriate.

3. Invent a new word to describe people who campaign against gay people having equal rights. I’d happily use it if you came up with it. You could even have two different words: one for those who campaign against gays because they hate them and would like to see them wiped off the face of the earth, and one for those who campaign against gays because they love them so much they want to protect them from God’s wrath.

If you can follow one of these three pieces of advice, hopefully any offence that this letter may have caused you will be lessened, and, more importantly, you’ll be less likely to feel that I should also pay you thousands of euros for describing your anti-gay behaviour with the only specific word that currently exists to describe it.

Who knows, maybe one day I’ll have another word to choose from, one over which we cannot quibble about semantics. It seems a bit unlikely for the time being, though, doesn’t it being as the one we’re using at the moment is fairly apt? But I’ve always been a sucker for a dream and I’m holding out for the day when we no longer need a word to describe anti-gay behaviour at all because it doesn’t exist any more. Seems a bit pie in the sky that thought, right? I know. I know. But one day it could happen. And imagine how much more quickly that day could arrive, Mr Quinn, if you stopped fighting to deny your fellow men and women their rights simply because they happen to fall in love with someone of the same sex, and instead starting fighting for equality for all; if you stopped being gayist

Best wishes,

R