Homophobia as Self-Loathing

There is an idea in American culture–it pops up in all sorts of places–that extreme homophobia is often a sign of repressed homosexuality. The idea goes something like this: Certain men who have subscribed to cultural norms of hyper-masculinity discover, much to their chagrin, that they sometimes experience homoerotic feelings. This doesn’t fit into their carefully constructed self-image. It also conflicts with, say, their religious and societal upbringing, from which they learned that homosexuals are sissies or “not real men.”

This discovery makes them angry. They have a personal crisis, colored by extreme self-loathing. How do they handle it? They lash out at those who appear to be overtly homosexual, or even just effeminate, as these people serve as reminders of what they “really are,” even though they don’t want to admit it. Thus, the reasoning goes, when you see a particularly virulent or nasty homophobe, it is fair to surmise that this person might really be a repressed homosexual.

The most obvious recent incarnation of this idea, in my mind, was the 1999 film “American Beauty.” Chris Cooper plays a harsh, unforgiving military father who has a distant relationship with his wife and son, and who spends his time grumbling about “faggots” getting all in his face and watching old Ronald Reagan films. He begins to have paranoid suspicions (unfounded, as it turns out) that his neighbor, played by Kevin Spacey, is sexually involved with his teenage son, played by Wes Bentley. At the end of the film, just as you think Cooper is going to confront Spacey about this and become violent, he instead makes a homosexual pass at Spacey. Spacey politely rebuffs the advance, and Cooper becomes disoriented and confused. He then becomes enraged at what has happened, and in the last scene of the film, he returns to Spacey’s house, presumably consumed with self-hatred, and shoots Spacey in the back of the head.

(Other examples of this idea could be given. Think of the long-standing allegations of homosexuality and cross-dressing that plagued J. Edgar Hoover, as popularized by Oliver Stone’s film “JFK.”)

What I would like to know is: where does this idea come from? Furthermore, is there any truth to it? Off the top of my head, I have several theories:

(1) Maybe it’s really true. Maybe sexually-repressed homosexual homophobes are a real phenomenon. The theory, as I’ve laid it out above, doesn’t seem totally implausible. Certain gay friends I have known have articulated this idea to me, and hey, maybe they’re in a position to know.

(2) Then again, maybe it’s all bunk. Maybe it’s a tactic to scare homophobes into taking the sharp edges off their rhetoric. After all, if they don’t, maybe we’ll all start thinking they’re gay (gasp!).

(3) Maybe it’s just a story that homosexuals tell themselves to make themselves feel better, or to make sense of the irrational, over-the-top antipathy directed at them that they can’t otherwise understand. Only someone having a major sexual identity crisis, so the thinking would go, could possibly find the energy to loathe them so much.

I honestly have no firm position on this question. I have known some really homophobic Mormons in my life, and I have never understood where they find the energy to vent like they do, or why they give the gay issue such high priority in their hierarchy of complaints about the world. (By “really homophobic,” I mean REALLY, REALLY, REALLY homophobic. Nobody who has ever posted here or at T&S could possibly qualify). I’ll admit: sometimes it’s fun to imagine that they must be gay!

What do you all think?

Aaron B

P.S. If you don’t like this topic, feel free to turn this thread into an unfocused, gay-themed stream of consciousness outlet. Since I know there’s so much gay interest in the Mormon Blogosphere, and nowhere else to write about it ( :) ), BCC is here for you!


  1. Matt Evans says:

    Aaron — I think your theory #2 is right. There are far, far too many examples of people having strong distastes for a particular group or behavior, that are obviously unrelated to any possible cognitive dissonance the person is feeling, to assume that in this one instance of distaste is stems from self-loathing.

    Or maybe the more rabid the anti-Bush zealot, the clearer we know the size of the W they have tatooed on their posterior. The greater their pathological denial about their tatoo, the bigger their placard.

  2. Babs does NOT mean anything!!

    Now, the Judy Garland is a little more difficult to explain….

    What’s your take on all this, Kaimi?

    Aaron – a question for you: how can mormons approach the idea of homosexuality as sinful behavior without being homophobic?

  3. http://www.affirmation.org/media/2004_03.asp
    Wendy: Sis. Dew says is way out there. I heard her speak about her function on some delegation for AIDS where she was pushing abstinence of course and joking that she knows a lot about it! And anybody who was angry over her position was EVIL. yoo hoo sheri, orgasms may not be important to you but they sure are to the rest of the world.

  4. I have wondered about this theory also. I haven’t seen any research, and don’t have any compelling anecdotes, that lead me to dismiss the theory outright or put a lot of stock in it.

    But I would like to ask Sheri Dew what she thinks about it: http://www.affirmation.org/media/2004_03.asp

  5. I like this snippet from a website regarding causes of homophobia:

    1. Reporting no homosexual experiences or feelings.

    2. Being negative about types of sexual behaviour and relationships which are neither procreative nor take place within marriage.

    3. Having a lower educational and social status, for example the lower a person’s level of educational attainment and social class the more negative their attitudes are towards homosexuality.

    4. Having and adhering to strong religious beliefs which disapprove of sex and/or homosexuality.

    5. Having little/no social contact with lesbian and gay people.

    I like it for two reasons: first, it’s more like the risk factors of homophobia — you may be at risk for homophobia if…

    Second, I like it because it describes pretty much every mormon out there.

    I don’t think that it’s all bunk, but it seems to me that modern psychologists have yet to isolate real causes of homophobia. Matt’s political analogy is interesting but ultimately unsatisfying, because once you enter a sexual context, you’re dealing with emotions and deep-rooted psychoses that politics can’t match (well, with some exceptions *cough*lyle*cough*).

  6. I’d disagree that racism may be a closer parallel, because everone agrees that you can’t choose race…

    But I’m arguing of a general theory of sexuality as a root of homophobia, not specifically repressed homosexual urges. In the world of your analogy, I would say that racists have ill-formed personal ideas about race in general, that get mixed with hatred and fear. Is that more palatable a theory, in your view?

  7. I’ll be the brave guy who admits having seen flirtations of the devil suggesting the possibility of enjoying homoerotic situations. And I’ll be equally honest in saying I’ve happily supressed them and enjoyed living my straight, blessed, and highly enriched heterosexual life with my gorgeous wife and 2 children.

    yes, I’ve woken up from dreams after realizing there were some gay elements in them. Perhaps they’re repressed anxieties? Perhaps they’re evil inspirations? perhaps it’s God’s way of testing my sexual orientation? I dunno. I do know that I seriously disdain the thought of indulging those homosexual thoughts.

    I would submit, on your topic of where homophobia comes from, that I’ve sensed the shaking cringes of disgust after having experienced one of those far and few moments of temptation. It’s not hard to imagine someone who is vigorously trying to display his machoism to get outright pissed at such dreams. And then, it’s not hard to imagine that same macho-man getting pretty angry, if not violent in his homophobia.

    It starts when that macho man starts saying really rude things, speaking out against all faggots and queers and dykes, etc..then it turns to violence and brainwashing those around you.

    So I think that while some homophobes derive their angst from concealing their own homosexual tendancies, I think most follow my example above that they just are disgusted at the proposition that they could have those tendancies..and then overplaying their macho-man image to really distance themselves.

    But give one of those guys a gay friend, and suddenly that distance is diminshed and then true representation of how to act is manifest.

    I work with, and have gay friends. They are god’s children, they are my brothers, they suck in their decision making and will have a longer trial in their lives if they want to have salvation. But they certainly are not to be hated or derided. I have no doubt that ANY mormon who has a testimony would be in danger of condemnation for thinking otherwise. If God love’s all of his children, especially his sinning ones, and His goal is to bring to pass their immortality and eternal life…then we better be helping that homosexual do it to. It’s that simple.

  8. It seems plausible to me that at least some instances of homophobia are motivated by self-hatred. At the same time, I’m doubtful that they all are caused by that.

  9. Sherri Dew is over 60 years old- doesn’t that make her a double menace to society?

  10. Matt Evans says:


    I deliberately chose an outlandish analogy. A much closer analogy are the ways racists view particular races. I’ve heard some otherwise normal people say some shocking things about different races, and I don’t believe it had anything to do with the person fearing that they were actually part of the despised race. I’ve heard equally mean spirited things against pedophiles, but I’m not persuaded that pedophiliophobes are reacting to a suppressed sexual desire for prepubescents.

    But as every homosexual activist knows, the harder the prosecutor pounds on the lectern to send the pedophile to the slammer, the more he displays his desire to sleep with boys.

  11. Sure you aren’t, Steve. And you just _happen_ to have an extensive Streisand collection, right?

  12. Thank you, Aaron, for providing an outlet for all of mormon homophobia. Good thing we upgraded our comments!

    My personal belief is that severe homophobia isn’t necessarily the result of repressed homosexual urges, but is linked to how that person views sexuality in a general sense. People unable to ‘deal’ with their sexuality or that have negative associations with sexuality in general may manifest their sexual ‘unhealthiness’ via homophobia.

    In other words: they’re not necessarily gay deep-down, but something weird is going on. And whatever that means, I’m not gay.

  13. The escalation of anti-Mormon leadership rhetoric and actions reached another high in your post.
    In one of the most hate-ridden moments you said “yoo hoo, sheri, orgasms may not be important to you but they sure are to the rest of the world”. Nice caricature.