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The problem with the redefinition of homophobia

Posted by Exit Sign Fuses , Sep 22 2012 · 2,398 views

This was originally an entry I wanted to make about a week ago, but considering how heated things were around my entry about my bisexuality and my struggles with it I decided not to. Hopefully with tempers tempered (ha ha ha I made a funny), this won't result in the negative kneejerk reaction that led to the trouble of the last entry. At least that's what I'm hoping.

In light of a recent blog post I believe this needs to be seen again for those who possibly missed it.

Now then! This is actually something I have some authority to talk about. In about four months from now I'm going to graduate from school with my minor being the attic Greek language. The two words that we get from homophobia, homos and phobos, are attic Greek in orgin! Thus you can know that I didn't just read wikipedia and copy and pasted some words and called it a day. I'm pretty much a certified expert on this subject.

Now then onto the main subject of this entry and that is my issue with how people have been trying to redefine homophobia. They root of their argument takes place in the definition of phobia part of homophobia. They say that phobia comes from the greek word of phobos, which literally means fear. They claim that they're not afraid of homosexuality, and therefore they are not homophobic. I would certainly hope that they're not afraid of homosexuals. We're not some sort of rabid people with no control over their id. We don't riot in the streets or attack people or commit crimes. For the most part we're just ordinary people like the majority of the population. We have jobs. We pay taxes. We love our significant others.

I'd lack to unpack the word phobos a bit more just a bit more if only for completionists sake. The word phobos just doesn't refer to a sort of rational fear. phobos refers to such an overpowering fear that it completely dominates everything else. It's the kind of fear that causes flight. A more apt translation would be terror or panic. Phobos is a fear so overpowering that there is no other room for any emotion.

The more you know.

Now then so far so good. People say they aren't homophobic because they don't fear homosexuals. However if there is one thing that I cannot stand it is a sort of dastardly ragamuffin trained in the most basics of logical thought and proceed to pilfer and wriggle certain parts of arguments until they can get things to mean what they want. In the context of this post, I'm referring to people who are accused of being homophobic but then say that they're not because they're not afraid of homosexuals. To put the exchange in a more stock form, we could say the following.

"I accuse you of being X. You respond by saying that you're not X because of Y."

This is of course simple logic. Point and counter point. However the responders argument only stands if Y is true and is sufficient to counter the claim of being X. Getting back to the argument at hand, the responder is only not homophobic if homophobia refers to the fear of homosexuals and they do not fear homosexuals. Simple enough, right?

Not quite. The problem comes down to a difference of definitions. The accused response holds an interesting implication in that they are claiming my definition of homophobia is wrong. It is obviously intended in my statement that I don't mean homophobia to mean a hatred of homosexuals. They counter that homophobia doesn't mean a hatred but rather a fear of homosexuals. They back up this claim by refering to the roots of homophobia. phobos means fear. Therefore homophobia refers to a fear rather than a hatred. Alas! Alas! I am vanquished. Woe is me.

But I am not quite finished yet. I take offense to their redefinition of homophobia. I say that they are not allowed to pick and choose which words to translate literraly, especially within the context of the same word! I say that if they must translate homos literally to back up their counter, I will force them to translate homos literally as well. Homos means same. It's where we get words like homogenous. Thus then they must literally be saying that they are not afraid of things that are similar. Fair enough. I will conceed that they are not afraid of things that are similar. My original point of them spouting homophobic rhetoric still stands.

I am now realizing how long this blog entry is, but I have not yet begun to fight!

On a less technical level, the meaning of words often change. Language is a fluid, trecherous animal that if you do not watch your words you might be saying the complete opposite of what you say. Thus I might contend that at one point if homophobia literally refered to the fear of homosexuals, which I might add that at one point it did not, it doesn't mean that now. When I use the word homophobia and you hear it in public discourse, it is in reference to the hate of homosexuals. When I call someone homophobic I am saying that on some level at least they have a dislike of homosexuals. This dislike or hate is incredibly dangerous and leads to damaging things being said that stay with people for as long as they live. Even something as simple as calling a situation or event 'gay' has start to grow wearisome to me. The equivocation with something I am in a negative manner is rather mean spirited at best and potentially deadly at worst.

But I digress. The discussion on the damaging aspects of homophobia can be covered at another time.

Returning once again to the argument at hand, it's worth noting that the actions of the accused are rather illogical. I claim that they are homophobic (i.e. that they hate homosexuals), but they counter that my definition of homophobia is wrong and therefore they are not homophobic. They seek to attack the technical aspect of my argument. They seek to prove me wrong by assaulting the very definitions that they use. If they are not homophobic by definition, then they have won. They are right. I am wrong.

Take a second and ask yourself this question. If they are right, what has essentially changed?

The correct answer is nothing. Absolutely nothing has changed at all. Let us assume I cede the point. I admit defeat. Homophobia does mean the fear of homosexuals. My use of the term was wrong, and I do apologize for the misnomer. Yet at no point has my underlying point been addressed. I have accused them of a hatred of homosexuals, and my point essentially still stands. They have not attempted to counter it and it is still valid as it has not even withstood a semblance of assualt. I conceed that homophobia means fear of homosexuals, but I still stand by my claim that the person is acting in a way that betrays their hatred of homosexuality.

It begins to dawn on you that everything you have read has proved to be a colossal waste of time.

Any logical objections to my logic are more than welcome to take place in the comments. Irrational homophobia is not welcome and will be reported.

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Personally, "it's not because I fear you, it's because I hate you" seems like a shallow defense for any argument.

Context!
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Exit Sign Fuses
Sep 21 2012 01:40 PM
It would be funny if it weren't so sad.
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As a confirmed resident of the deep south I can let you know right now that logical thinking isn't going to get you very far. I actually work in a place that exposes me to a lot of people who are so discriminatory it's ridiculous. I'll admit I see a lot more hateful speech towards those of other races than I do of sexuality, but even so. Logic doesn't work on these people, so I just do the next best thing and mock them mercilessly.
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^Rayg's approach is a healthy one.

This was a well-thought out and very valid piece of logic and very persuasive to those who use logic and acknowledge it.

Sadly, logic doesn't work against the forces you have aligned yourself against.
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Ymper Trymon
Sep 21 2012 03:35 PM
Well, trying to use old definitions or root words as the sole basis for a counter-argument is kind of a weak move on their part. Dictionaries exist, not to tell people how words ought to be used or how they were originally used, but how they are used - this is why dictionaries are updated, either as meanings change or as words are added, and this is why the word 'moot' is technically its own antonym, as it means both "open to discussion" and "not worth discussing."
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Etymology is really a lot of fun. For instance, "knight" derives from a German word (Knecht) that actually means "servant." The derivation isn't quite as transparent here, since the word isn't borrowed directly from German. Like you said, languages change. (And that fact is really just as technical as any other point.)

Oh, and one more thing, it might be helpful to note that "homophobia" was a term coined rather recently (circa 1970), which I suppose distances it from its root meaning. So at no point was "homophobia" regularly used (at least in the English language) to mean "fear of the same."*

*In all fairness, it briefly was equivalent to "androphobia" in the 1920s. But I don't think any English author has used "homophobia" to mean "fear of the same."
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Gato, this is seriously one of the best entries I have read. It really makes one think about things.
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I AM MELON LORD!
Sep 21 2012 10:10 PM
Ah, literal definitions... I myself don't really use this technique to win an argument; I'm far more of a "change the subject" kind of guy. The way I see things, if you just get caught up on one opinion or trait of a single person, then everyone loses the idea that "every human is human despite what they may say, do or believe." Of course, that in it of itself is also a touchy subject and it would take me a long rambling to explain myself... But the point being, "Is it intolerance if you do not tolerate intolerance?" Always sounded like a vicious cycle to me.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying at all that I support or do not support the ideology of either viewpoint; I generally can't tolerate fighting (I don't tolerate intolerance), so I normally try a certain tactic depending on the situation. Though, I rarely make fun of somebody for their opinion (and I know that probably sounds heartless of me considering this is a touchy subject, however that is how I tend to stand on these sorts of situations). Also, I'm generally a stubborn person; I don't care what anyone's logic is; if I want to end a dispute I merely focus on "what's the best tactic to use?" sort of mindset. Basically, I don't focus on what's morally "right" or "wrong" (the way I see it it's "what's society's correct or preferred way of being a human being?" cold as it sounds).

It's not that I think a healthy debate is wrong or anything, it's just the way I am. I'd rather have people ignore each other or attempt to co-exist or even be pals than have them fight. That's my general objective in a social group and that's what I generally try to do when I'm in a good state of mind (I have my grumpy days too. Not pretty, not perfect. Just an erroneous human).

Sorry for being so general, but I do have my opinions on the subject and I prefer to keep that anonymous in public. ^^
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Exit Sign Fuses
Sep 22 2012 01:50 AM

As a confirmed resident of the deep south I can let you know right now that logical thinking isn't going to get you very far. I actually work in a place that exposes me to a lot of people who are so discriminatory it's ridiculous. I'll admit I see a lot more hateful speech towards those of other races than I do of sexuality, but even so. Logic doesn't work on these people, so I just do the next best thing and mock them mercilessly.

Don't worry. I'm right there alongside you. I've lived in the deep south for most of my life, and I've worked at Chick-Fil-A for about seven years. I am no stranger to bigotry. I understand that logic might not have the impact that I want, I can dream though.

^Rayg's approach is a healthy one.

This was a well-thought out and very valid piece of logic and very persuasive to those who use logic and acknowledge it.

Sadly, logic doesn't work against the forces you have aligned yourself against.

I am pretty much the impossible dream, but I know the world will be better for this. That one man, scorned and covered with scars still strove, with his last ounce of courage to reach the unreachable star ...

Etymology is really a lot of fun. For instance, "knight" derives from a German word (Knecht) that actually means "servant." The derivation isn't quite as transparent here, since the word isn't borrowed directly from German. Like you said, languages change. (And that fact is really just as technical as any other point.)

Oh, and one more thing, it might be helpful to note that "homophobia" was a term coined rather recently (circa 1970), which I suppose distances it from its root meaning. So at no point was "homophobia" regularly used (at least in the English language) to mean "fear of the same."*

*In all fairness, it briefly was equivalent to "androphobia" in the 1920s. But I don't think any English author has used "homophobia" to mean "fear of the same."

I thought I mentioned it at my post, but I know homophobia has never meant that. My apologies.

Gato, this is seriously one of the best entries I have read. It really makes one think about things.


Ah, literal definitions... I myself don't really use this technique to win an argument; I'm far more of a "change the subject" kind of guy. The way I see things, if you just get caught up on one opinion or trait of a single person, then everyone loses the idea that "every human is human despite what they may say, do or believe." Of course, that in it of itself is also a touchy subject and it would take me a long rambling to explain myself... But the point being, "Is it intolerance if you do not tolerate intolerance?" Always sounded like a vicious cycle to me...

-snip-

The problem with co existance is that it just doesn't work. When one group of people actively hate another group, peace is not an option.
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You have not only fed my love of rational argument and etymology, but my love of ancient civilizations with this entry.
Gato, Gato, you so fine. You so fine you blow my mind.
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Exit Sign Fuses
Sep 22 2012 04:13 AM
Hey gato you're so fine you're so fine you blow my mind hey gato




and then the beat drops
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You da man, Gato. B)

-Gata Posted Image
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Would this be logical? If a person is homophobic, then they would have an overwhelming terror of it; thus, they would instinctively, like animals trapped one might say, strike out in fear and anger, against people who support homosexuality, and people who have that orientation. Would this be in accord with your idea of the connection between terror and hatred?

At any rate, I'm glad to see that neither myself nor friends of mine who hold the same position that I do, are homophobic according to your standards. :)
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My mind is still reeling over the whole "disagreeing is harmful" thing.
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Is it really considered homophobia if someone thinks it's wrong, but doesn't really treat gays differently?
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I AM MELON LORD!
Sep 22 2012 12:35 PM
You... you snipped my words in your post. -sniff- What did it ever do to you?! D=

On a serious note, I actually disagree with that statement. I believe co-existence is entirely possible. On large scales it may seem impossible, however I have met others who put differences aside and act mature despite what differences they may have. Sure, it may not be the entire world or even a single nation with this sentiment, however I do not believe co-existence doesn't work in every case. The world is pretty big, after all.

"A strong wind can make treetops sway and fan flames, but flames burn trees to the ground."
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an actual real life horse
Sep 22 2012 12:37 PM

My mind is still reeling over the whole "disagreeing is harmful" thing.

Because it's not like disagreeing with somebody's opinion, it's disagreeing with a deeply-rooted aspect of a person's identity that they cannot change. Saying you disagree with something that's a part of their identity is essentially saying you don't recognize this aspect of their life as being valid or in any sense real. It is very real and very important to have this recognition and acceptance in our society.
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My mind is still reeling over the whole "disagreeing is harmful" thing.


The reason why you're having so much difficulty understanding is simple. This isn't a matter of "disagreement." It's not a simple difference of opinion. It's a matter of one side saying that a fundamental aspect of a person's identity and personality is somehow wrong.

Here's how a disagreement works:
>A: I think that The Avengers was a great movie. It was humorous and had great action scenes.
>B: I found it overrated. The introductions were tedious and the third act was far too long.

OR
>A: It would be a good idea to use more bio-fuel. That could save the planet.
>B: On the contrary, that could have negative economic effects.

Do you see how one side starts off by saying something that they personally believe? And then the other side counters that. It's all good and actually is vital to, well, all communication, for one.

Compare that with disapproval, which looks more like this:
>A: *Is The Avengers*
>B: I don't like the pacing.
See, this isn't disagreement.

And, you know, it's just fine to disapprove. Of movies. Or books, or TV, or a belief system, and so on. But it's never acceptable to disapprove of a person or any of the basic, fundamental aspects of that person.

Because that form of disapproval has another name: discrimination. That looks most like this:
>A: *Is a ___*
>B: I don't approve of your nature and you shouldn't be a ___.
Substitute in any fundamental, unchangeable aspect of a person's identity and being (e.g., race, sexuality, gender, height, whatever else) but nothing learned (i.e., any belief system). And, yes, sexuality is immutable.

Here's how DeeVee put it in Kohaku's most recent blog entry:

Being anti-homosexual is not merely an "opinion". It is a choice that affects more than 10 percent of the world's population, and infringes on rights, responsibilities, and the basic enjoyment of life. It is intolerance, and there is no way to respectfully state it.

It is like me looking over to Nukaya who is sitting next to me and saying "Hey, I'm not sexist, and I don't hate women, but I don't approve of women, so I don't think you should be one."

It is also 100% against the BZPower rules.

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But Deevee is wrong there. He says there's no respectful way to say it, and there is.

You can disagree with what they do, and not treat them any differently.
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Some viewpoints:

1)
Dye X turns people blue when they drink it
I hate it when people turn blue for no reason
Therefore, I hate Dye X and the people who drink it.
2)
Dye X turns people blue when they drink it
I hate it when people turn blue for no reason
Therefore, I hate Dye X.
3)
Dye X turns people blue when they drink it
I hate it when people turn blue for no reason
Therefore, I hate it when people drink Dye X.
4)
Dye X turns people blue when they drink it
I like it when people turn blue for no reason
Therefore, I like Dye X.

You could substitute the rather nonsensical analogy I used for anything of that has a similar essence (consuming it or whatnot has some sort of effect, or whatever). But anyways, I think that sums up minimally some of the basic views of the subject. What would you say is homophobic if you changed the example to homosexuality? I would say 1 and maybe 2 (depending exactly on what the person meant). 3 is the position closest to what I hold.

You could of course further divide it, further provide examples and analogies... This was just a quick example I whipped up. What does everyone think?
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About Me

"I have never seen such a cocky and egocentric man (or woman) with such an inflated, festering wound of self entitlement as yourself." - Hothead
 
"He's an easy guy to love, but really hard to respect." - Princess Grace
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