While many have forgotten, early research on homophobia (before it became “politically incorrect” and thus expressed less overtly) showed clearly that the primary underlying dynamic is a fear of, and discomfort with, gender role violation. Some insist that the correct term for this prejudice is “heterosexism” and that is also certainly alive and well. But heterosexism implies a preference for heterosexuality. It does not capture the intense hostility and repudiation that forms the core of homophobia and the commitment to kill non-heterosexuals, legally or illegally.
In 1972, Dr. Riddle first began work on identifying the issues involved in homophobia. As a result, she created what has become known as the Riddle Scale, which has been further elaborated by other researchers and applies to other areas of discriminatory attitudes. Background on the Riddle Scale can be found on Wikipedia, and references to variations on this work can be found at:
- Attitudes Towards Differences: The Riddle Scale
- Riddle Homophobia Scale (in Gender and Sexual Diversity)
- Riddle Homophobia Scale (from V. Wall, Beyond Tolerance, 1995)
- Riddle Homophobia Scale
- Riddle Scale Survey
- Stages of Becoming an Ally
- Riddle Scale for Transphobia
While progress has been made in recognizing the civil rights of persons regardless of sexual orientation and the number of jurisdictions recognizing same-sex marriage continues to grow, the backlash also continues to grow. Those who believe that homophobic attitudes are mandated by spiritual teachings may find the discussion at Understanding Homosexuality of interest.
Working Towards Inclusiveness (June 2016)
What we witnessed in the Orlando massacre was hostile bigotry – blatant physical violence that stems from a profound alienation from others coupled with a belief that to feel good and worthwhile, one must dominate. It assumes that others are less than human in some way.
Unfortunately the seeds of that dualistic dynamic exist in us all and account for our assuming that the more “benign” forms of violence are just a part of life. Indeed, research shows that at least 94 percent of us think in “us” and “them” terms.
But that dualism is a myth. Quantum physicists have affirmed that we are interconnected through a weird kind of nonlocal entanglement. We are all part of the same cosmic energy field, and what we think or feel or do affects others. We are, at a profound level, the “them” as well as the “us.”
Obviously we aren’t aware of this reality all of the time, and some of us deny that interconnection categorically. Society reinforces a sense of difference or false duality daily. Products are “the best” or “better than x.” Social acceptability is defined by how many “friends” we have.
So what does all this have to do with the massacre in Orlando? To be violent one has to believe in the dualism, the lack of connection. One has to depersonalize the “other” and ignore or obliterate their individuality and personhood. For us in the LGBTQ community, the challenge is that homophobia is layered on top of that general habit of dualistic thinking. We become handy targets of a full range of depersonalization strategies intended to make the perpetrator feel “better than.”
If we want to change this dynamic and nurture a sense of interconnection and inclusivity, we first have to be aware of depersonalization’s common forms:
Hostile bigotry is obvious in its expressions of physical violence and psychological harassment. But did you know that early research showed that violent homophobia actually stems from fears about gender role violation? Gender beliefs are, in many ways, the most fundamental and toxic of our dualistic illusions.
Benevolent bigotry is hostile bigotry gone “politically correct.” Instead of directly expressed hostility, we get paternalism and subtle discrimination that can jeopardize our right to work, to parent, to marry, to be. Those being more blatant say things like “you’ll grow out of it” or “you just haven’t met the right person.”
Stereotyping defines us as a group, ignoring our individuality – “All queers are …” or “She’s such a dyke.”
Objectification is a form of stereotyping that focuses on one particular trait, often sexual. We see this in our own magazines and ads that portray individuals only as sexual objects.
And finally there is dismissiveness – “we’re all just people” – that ignores or makes invisible the very real jeopardy that accompanies being “out” as our whole selves.
Most of us have internalized these attitudes and have our own habits of dualistic thinking. The good news is that inclusivity starts with ourselves, with noticing and changing our own behaviors, with modelling for the world a commitment to respect the inherent dignity of all members of the human family.
So what can we do? There are three main strategies that can help shift this harmful dynamic:
- Exercise good self-care. Spend time with others who “see” you and support you for who you are. When we feel good about ourselves, we treat others better.
- Notice the dynamics of depersonalization as they play out around you and don’t dismiss them as ok. You’ll be amazed at how pervasive dualistic thinking and depersonalization strategies are.
- Practice changing those behaviors in yourself. Try always naming a third and a fourth and a fifth alternative. Interact with others as complex individuals. Start by thanking those who help you by name (and asking their name first if you don’t already know it).
While we talk in legal terms about “equality” or “equitable treatment,” these concepts themselves have a duality buried in them. What is critical instead is that we model being inclusive, understanding that we are indeed all interconnected. Thus we can gradually make trying to feel better through violence towards others completely unacceptable.