Where does homophobia come from?
WHY IS homophobia still so prevalent around the world? Can lesbians and gay men achieve equality under capitalism? To answer these questions, we need to understand the role families and relationships play within the current social and economic system – capitalism.
Families vary from the extended family where several couples or generations live together to the two adult nuclear family typical of most developed capitalist countries. In earlier societies, and their survivals today, the family was a unit of production – the family farm or small workshop. But capitalism has restricted the family to a social unit, where the ability to work is daily reproduced and the next generation of workers is nurtured and socialised. According to bourgeois ideology the family is a place of security, acceptance and love.
But for all women, for lesbians and gay men it is also a place of social oppression. Women are oppressed because of their role as the main child rearer, carer, cook and cleaner of the household. Men are expected to be the principal wage earner and to play their main role outside the home. From the bosses’ viewpoint, workers their wives and children are simply present and future means of producing wealth and profit. But lesbians, gay men and those people who wish to change their gender are victims the vigorous enforcement of the heterosexual roles in society. Thus only a (usually) monogamous, heterosexual, child rearing unit is promoted as “natural” and “normal.” It’s no surprise, therefore, that any behaviour that is seen as a challange to the family is stigmatized and repressed.
Sexual and moral codes reinforce this, no matter how stultifying and oppressive this is for all, including for heterosexual men. But women, children, lesbians and gay men suffer especially. Religious bodies still play an important role in perpetuating this morality.
Under our present society, the idea of men and women falling in love, having children and living together ‘happily-ever-after’ is a powerful emotional ideal, even though the reality of married life under capitalism is often at variance with this. The number of people who get divorced or live unhappily ‘for the sake of the kids’ testifies to the gap. between the ideal and the reality. Yet if same sex couples seek to live in this way many people still see them as unnatural and abnormal, wrong, or immoral.
This is why even people who are not religious can be full of hate for gay men and lesbians, without even really knowing why.
Until relatively recent times, medical ‘science’ and psychology also promoted the view that non-heterosexual behaviour was perverse, sick or abnormal, and even attempted to ‘cure’ it! American Psychologists treated homosexuality as a mental illness until 1975.
And for many years homosexuality was treated as a crime. Many states had a battery of repressive laws enforced by the capitalist state imposed brutal penalties for gay sex and laws still deny full equality for single-sex partners. Today many states around the world still imprison or execute people for same sex relationships.
Gay rights in history
The reality is that the heterosexual family has not always existed in the form that it does today. In ancient Greece relationships between men and women were seen as being necessary for having children and maintaining the household. Greek men viewed love between older men and teenage boys (pederastry) as being a higher and more virtuous form of love than the ‘erotic’ love of women. From Alexander the Great to the Roman Emperor Hadrian many famous figures in classical antiquity had male lovers. In 600 BC the famous and respected poet Sappho, from the island of lesbos wrote a series of love poems for young women, which today formed the basis for the word lesbian.
The Spartan warriors, recently featured in the film 300 institutionalised homosexuality as a way of developing a closer bond to make them better warriors. Of course the movie 300 ignored that bit of history.
Indeed it was also discovered to be the case in other warrior castes in societies in Asia, the Americas and Africa. Western missionaries from the 16th to the 20th century were usually scandalised by this discovery and conducted brutal campaigns to stamp it out and spread homophobia with Christianity. Yet despite horrible denigration and violent persecution same sex relationships always exist in all societies. The claim that it is unnatural or harmful to society has no basis in science or history. Homophobia – with its results in turns of murders and beatings, its driving of young people to suicide, its psychological misery, is truly against against human nature and society.