I found myself discussing this question with a friend of mine after he read my last post about Skirt Club.
Describing his own emphatically homophobic training in “guy-ness” about what’s okay to do with other guys and what’s definitely not, he wanted to know how I felt, as a heterosexual woman, about the prospect of having sex with another female. Did I feel the same kinds of angst, trepidation, aversion, and general homophobia?
Tuning into myself to answer the question, and speaking with him and others about it, something began coming into focus. Now, my homophobia still exists even after having explored other women’s bodies, but its very covert, subtle, internalized form stands in sharp contrast to how my friend described his own. Suddenly I recognized a vivid pattern that runs through the culture.
For men, homophobia is usually something very well defined, emphatically articulated, and assertively defended while, for women, it’s often much more amorphous and unspoken.
Why is this?
The answers (as usual) get pretty annoying for us all. But (as usual), we’ll find a way to make it constructive for all hot-blooded folks concerned. Because we have to be honest and tell the most real truth here…because the awareness that comes from that is the only thing that really empowers us to take responsibility for the unsavory situation in which we all find ourselves…and because this makes us into more vibrant, open, intelligent creatures, that’s just what we’ll do: Roll up our sleeves and take it on!
One answer to the above question is this: Women are property. That’s a factual remnant of our historical legacy that we’re loath to acknowledge. But take an honest, up-close look at it and you’ll see it’s still there kicking around. The gendered discrepancy in the quantity and quality of our modern homophobia reflects the fact that, traditionally viewed, male sexuality has an agency all its own, while female sexuality exists for the benefit and enjoyment of men.
Since the girl-on-girl spectacle is enjoyed by men, then it’s condoned…as long as they get to be involved in some way (hence all the criticism of Skirt Club). “Everyone knows” a man is, and ought to be, in charge of his own sexuality and sex life (at least theoretically), so when women exercise real, sovereign power in this area the shit hits the fan. But, in our world, a woman needs some kind of a leash so her exploration can still fall within a comfortable radius of male (societal) ownership.
It follows then, that in a heteronormative, post-Puritan world that hates “dykes” and “fags”, homosexual activities among (preferably attractive, feminine) women is not an unthinkable, earth-shattering thing. It’s got a somewhat alluring mystique. And, honestly, because of the devaluation and dismissal of a woman’s autonomous humanity, it simply doesn’t matter that much since she, after all, is property. But a man’s sexuality, now that’s an important thing because, of course, men matter in this world. Heavy lies the crown! And, it turns out (as for my friend), it’s a burden to bear the crap that comes along with that too.
So my own homophobia is silent and subtle. But it’s there. It began manifesting as soon as I hit puberty and began shunting all my physical affections in the male direction. That’s due to the discomfort and confusion that arises once we come into our own as sexual creatures, and it’s something guys will also find themselves doing.
Another answer to the question? Fear of the vagina! I came face-to-face with this one when I started having sex with a woman in my twenties. This phobic aversion was very bodily felt, and highlighted my disgust toward my own anatomy, which is an inevitable experience fostered in a misogynist culture. (This is still such a problem that venture capitalists practically avoid FemTech entirely, because they don’t want to have to say the word “vagina” every day at work.)
While homophobic males may get incredibly squeamish about getting intimate with another penis, their response is more likely to be rooted in the holy terror of being labeled a “fag”, rather than in a cultural mythology of the wicked, nasty organ (as the vagina).
As usual, women got the most rotten lot of rubbish on the deeper levels. But, regardless of gender, we all got stuck holding the stinking bag, as sexual humans. Most of the men I know are disgusted by the situation and don’t identify as part of the problem. And they shouldn’t shoulder any more blame than the rest of us, at this point. We all have our work cut out for us, and we women are holding not just the bag, but actually the reins. We have to lead now with big hearts and lots of smarts.
In practice, if women can truly root out the toxic, subversive elements of modern sexism’s internalized misogyny, our position offers us an advantage. Not bearing the exaggerated version of homophobia gives us an easier access to the natural fluidity of sexual response. In other words, we don’t have such a massive obstacle to hammer in order to explore same-sex curiosities.
Men can look squarely at their own homophobia and learn to cut themselves a little more slack in a world that is gradually bending more and more towards supporting that movement. Understanding the background particulars that shape our homophobias gives us all an extra edge.
But we can’t expect to sit back on our hefty haunches and just let the modern generation lead us into a more pristine, less homophobic world. We each have to examine our own personal refuse and find a way to freshen up from the inside out.
I’m joining Skirt Club. I’m going to keep pressing into my fears and reservations. I’m going all the way, babe.
Besides, sexuality is too nuanced, faceted, and alive to stuff it neatly into an identity based on a specific orientation. These days, when asked the pointed question of how I identify, my honest answer is simply, “I respond.” While Alfred Kinsey outlined the reality very well with his seven-point scale, I think author Glennon Doyle put it best when she said, “We’re all fifty shades of gay.”