Phil 327

Patrick Hopkins “Gender Treachery”



(1)   Hopkins distinguishes between ‘heterosexism’ and ‘homophobia’ (although he does not attempt to draw a clear boundary between the two)


‘Heterosexism’ characterizes a political situation in which heterosexuality is presented and viewed as the natural, normal (and superior) form of sexuality. On the basis of this, heterosexuals are accorded privileges (e.g. the right to marry).


‘Homophobia’ is applied in cases of physical violence and strong verbal, economic, and juridical abuse of gays and lesbians. It pertains to strong, visceral emotions such as fear and hate.


            According to Hopkins, homophobia is grounded in heterosexism.


(2)   Hopkins examines three accounts of homophobia. His account is limited to homophobic reactions of MEN to gay MEN.


(A)   The Repression Hypothesis. According to this account, homophobia arises in gay men who have repressed their own homosexuality. Hopkins objects to this account on the grounds that not ALL homophobes are repressed gay man.


Let me add two other objections: (1) The view actually seems homophobic insofar as all homophobes turn out to be gay men (i.e. there is no such thing as a straight homophobe!!!); (2) They explanation is circular. For why would gay men repress their sexuality, if not for external homophobia and internalized homophobia? In order to explain repression, we need to appeal to homophobia. So we can’t explain homophobia by appealing to repression.


(B)   Ignorance/Irrationality Hypothesis. According to this account homophobes are either ignorant (i.e. they are ‘backwards’) or else irrational (i.e. they have a condition similar to an irrational fear of heights). Hopkins responds to this by pointing out that there is a kind rationality built into homophobia. Boys are taught to act ‘as boys are supposed to act’ and to avoid acting ‘like girls’. They are taught that to prove one’s masculinity, on should be homophobic. Thus: They are rewarded for being homophobic, and punished for NOT being homophobic (“What, are you really a fag!!!”). Because of this, Hopkins thinks that the hypothesis fails because it does not appreciate that far from ignorant boys learn a system, and behave rationally on the basis of this system.


(C)   The Political Response Hypothesis. According to this account, gays and lesbians are viewed as a political threat to the family, to the institution of marriage, etc. Hopkins responds to this by pointing out that while this might explain SOME homophobia, it does not explain all of it. (Many homophobes are not so concerned with POLITICS!!!).


(3)   Hopkins provides his own account of homophobia. According to his view, one's self-identity (sense of self) is deeply bound up with gender. (Think of the hand-out on self-identity and the view that self-identity is like a self-locating map). Beliefs about gender are fundamental to one's sense of self. Think, for example, about the way in which (in English) third-person pronouns ('he', 'she', 'it') reflect the view that unless one is male or female, one is inhuman.


According to Hopkins, gay men are a threat to the identities of straight men because gay men occupy a strange location where they are ‘non-men’ insofar as they do not act like traditional men, and ‘men’ because they are male. They are a kind of ‘monstrosity’. In particular, gay men point to the fact that there is a tension between masculinity as an essence (on the one hand) and as a performance (on the other).



(4)   There are two concerns about Hopkins’ position.


(A)   If gay men are a threat to the self-identities of homophobic straight men because they challenge the binary division between male and female, and because they point to the gap between essence and performance, then why don’t lesbian likewise threaten them?


It seems to me that homophobic straight men are not so much threatened by gay men, so much as they are threatened by other homophobic straight men. And it seems to me that there is not a genuine conflict between performance and essence. Rather, it is part of the essence of this kind of masculinity to compete according to standards of excellence. Thus, room within the game is allowed for men who do not live up to the standards. According to the rules of this game, men who do not live up the standards are punished accordingly. Consider a bookish kid at school who is beat-up. Is he a threat to other identities? Or is it part of the ‘game’ just to beat him up. Are the kids who join in afraid of the bookish kid? Or are they threatened by others who might pick on them as well?


(B)   Hopkins does not identify race, ethnicity, class, or other significant cultural factors in his account of homophobia. However, from some perspectives it might be important to mention the connection of homophobia to specific cultural values. Considerer, for example, Trujillo’s article. Is an article which does not discuss these issues simply more general? Or is it actually white, anglo, etc.? Why should the intersections of race and homophobia be pushed to the side?