homophobia, yes it's real!

Gah, this bloody quote (attributed to Morgan Freeman) looks set to do the rounds again:

I hate the word homophobia. It's not a phobia. You're not scared. You're an asshole.

Bollocks. Plain and simple, bollocks.

If you look at the roots of the word, then according to the Oxford English Dictionary:

homo-
means uniformity or sameness
-phobia
is a suffix creating a noun meaning "fear of..." or "aversion to ..."

If you take these two roots and put them together you get "fear of sameness". The OED actually does give a suitable definition of homophobia which falls under this idea: "fear of mankind" (as in fear of other humans). This is clearly not what people mean when they talk about homophobia. The point here is that you cannot just look at the root of the word to narrowly define what it means which is what this quote does.

To carry on, closer to the argument, it is true that "phobia" is often used in a medical sense as an "irrational and debilitating fear of..." and taken as a "fear of" in general usage (for example, I have a squick about spiders which people may refer to as arachnophobia, I do not have the medical condition arachnophobia). If you were talking at a psychiatrists conference you might want to be careful about defining the term "homophobia", but even there I think the more common understanding of the word "homophobia" would be taken (Oxford English Dictionary):

Fear or hatred of homosexuals and homosexuality.

Language is about communication of ideas. Homophobia has roots in the "homo-" prefix and the "-phobia" suffix and the ideas they represent, but has become it's own word with it's own meaning.

It is also arguable that homophobia is a fear of gay people as Other. They see us as representing a threat to their understanding of gender, sexuality, family. Fear can be present in homophobia - to discount it as this argument does is to ignore a key part of the problem.

I think we can all (very nearly) agree on the final part of Freeman's quote though: They are arseholes!

Alex
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