Queer Peer Services (QPS)
Homophobia and Heterosexism
Homophobia/biphobia/transphobia takes many different forms, including physical acts of hate, violence, verbal assault, vandalism or blatant discrimination such as firing an employee, evicting someone from their housing or denying them access to public accommodations. There are many other kinds of homophobia/biphobia/transphobia and heterosexism that happen every day. We often overlook these more subtle actions and exclusions because they seem so insignificant by comparison.
They are not.*
From the New York University’s Safe Zone Workshop Seminar
You do not have to be LGBT – or know someone who is – to be negatively affected by homophobia. Though homophobia actively oppresses LGBT people, it also hurts heterosexuals.
- Inhibits the ability of heterosexuals to form close, intimate relationships with members of their own sex, for fear of being perceived as LGBT;
- Locks people into rigid gender-based roles that inhibit creativity and self expression;
- Is often used to stigmatize heterosex`uals; those perceived or labeled by others to be LGBT; children of LGBT parents; parents of LGBT children; and friends of LGBTs.
- Compromises human integrity by pressuring people to treat others badly, actions that are contrary to their basic humanity.
- Combined with sex-phobia, results in the invisibility or erasure of LGBT lives and sexuality in school-based sex education discussions, keeping vital information from students. Such erasures can kill people in the age of AIDS.
- Is one cause of premature sexual involvement, which increases the chances of teen pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Young people, of all sexual identities, are often pressured to become heterosexually active to prove to themselves and others that they are “normal.”
- Prevents some LGBT people from developing an authentic self identity and adds to the pressure to marry, which in turn places undue stress and often times trauma on themselves as well as their heterosexual spouses, and their children.
- Inhibits appreciation of other types of diversity, making it unsafe for everyone because each person has unique traits not considered mainstream or dominant. We are all diminished when any one of us is demeaned.
By challenging homophobia, people are not only fighting oppression for specific groups of people, but are striving for a society that accepts and celebrates the differences in all of us.
- Looking at an LGBT person and automatically thinking of her/his sexuality or gender rather than seeing her/him as a whole, complex person.
- Failing to be supportive when your LGBT friend is sad about a quarrel or breakup.
- Changing your seat in a meeting because an LGBT person sat in the chair next to yours.
- Thinking you can spot one.
- Using the terms “lesbian” or “gay” as accusatory.
- Not asking about a woman’s female lover or a man’s male lover although you regularly ask “How is your husband/wife?” when you run into a heterosexual friend.
- Thinking that a lesbian (if you are female) or gay man (if you are male) is making sexual advances if she/he touches you.
- Feeling repulsed by public displays of affection between lesbians and gay men but accepting the same affectional displays between heterosexuals.
- Feeling that LGBT people are too outspoken about civil rights.
- Feeling that discussions about homophobia are not necessary since you are “okay” on these issues.
- Assuming that everyone you meet is heterosexual.
- Feeling that a lesbian is just a woman who couldn’t find a man or that a lesbian is a woman who wants to be a man.
- Feeling that a gay man is just a man who couldn’t find a woman or that a gay man is a man who wants to be a woman.
- Not confronting a homophobic remark for fear of being identified with or as LGBT.
- Worrying about the effect an LGBT volunteer/coworker will have on your work or your clients.
- Asking your LGBT colleagues to speak about LGBT issues, but not about other issues about which they may be knowledgeable.
- Focusing exclusively on someone’s sexual orientation and not on other issues of concern.
- Being afraid to ask questions about LGBT issues when you don’t know the answers.
Sexual orientation runs along a continuum. Alfred Kinsey, in 1948, established this theory with his historical Kinsey Scale. Within this continuum, we find that labels such as homosexuality and heterosexuality occupy opposite sides of the continuum with bisexuality occupying the middle.
Because bisexuality goes against the thinking that human sexuality is either one extreme or another, myths about bisexuality and those that identify as being bisexual have arisen with our society. Below, we have posted some of the myths we have about bisexuality within our society.
Myth: Bisexuality doesn’t really exist. People who consider themselves bisexuals are going through a phase/ confused/ undecided/ fence sitting. Ultimately they’ll settle down and realize they’re actually homosexual or heterosexual.
Reality: Some people go through a transitional period of bisexuality on their way to adopting a lesbian/gay or heterosexual identity. For many others bisexuality remains a long-term orientation. For some bisexuals, homosexuality was a transitional phase in their coming out as bisexuals. Many bisexuals may well be confused, living in a society where their sexuality is denied by homosexuals and heterosexuals alike, but that confusion is a function of oppression. Fence-sitting is a misnomer; there is no “fence” between homosexuality and heterosexuality except in the minds of people who rigidly divide the two.
Myth: Bisexuality doesn’t really exist. People who consider themselves bisexual are really heterosexual, but are experimenting/playing around/trying to be cool/liberated/trendy/politically correct.
Reality: Whether an individual is an “experimenting heterosexual” or a bisexual depends on how s/he defines her/himself, rather than on some external standard. While there certainly are people for whom bisexual behavior is trendy, this does not negate the people who come to a bisexual identity amidst pain and confusion and claim it with pride.
Myth: Bisexuality doesn’t really exist. People who consider themselves bisexuals are actually lesbian/gay, but haven’t fully accepted themselves and finished coming out of the closet (acknowledging their attraction to people of the same gender.)
Reality: Bisexuality is a legitimate sexual orientation. Many bisexuals are completely out of the closet, but not on the lesbian/gay community’s terms. (It is worth noting that many lesbians and gay men are not completely out of the closet and their process is generally respected; it is also worth noting that the lesbian/gay community whose “terms” are in question here has tended to be quite different for working class lesbians, gays of color, etc.) Bisexuals in this country share with lesbians and gays the debilitating experience of heterosexism (the assumption that everyone is heterosexual and thereby rendering other sexual identities invisible) and homophobia (the hatred, fear, and discrimination against homosexuals.)
Myth: Bisexuals are shallow, narcissistic, untrustworthy, hedonistic, and immoral.
Reality: This myth reflects our culture’s ambivalence over sex and pleasure. The “sex” in bisexuality gets overemphasized, and our culture projects onto bisexuals its fascination with and condemnation of sex and pleasure.
Myth: Bisexuals are equally attracted to both sexes. Bisexual means having concurrent lovers of both sexes.
Reality: Most bisexuals are primarily attracted to either men or women, but do not deny the lesser attraction, whether or not they act on it. Some bisexuals are never sexual with women, or men, or either. Bisexuality is about dreams and desires and capacities as much as it is about acts. Bisexuals are people who can have lovers of either sex, not people who must have lovers of both sexes. Some bisexual people may have concurrent lovers, but bisexuals do not need to be with both sexes in order to feel fulfilled.
Myth: Bisexuals are promiscuous hypersexual swingers who are attracted to every woman and man they meet. Bisexuals cannot be monogamous, nor can they or live in traditional committed relationships. They could never be celibate.
Reality: Bisexual people have a range of sexual behaviors. Like lesbians, gays or heterosexuals, some have multiple partners, some have one partner, some go through periods without any partners. Promiscuity is no more prevalent in the bisexual population than in other groups of people.
Myth: Bisexuals spread HIV to the lesbians and heterosexual communities.
Reality: The myth above allows discrimination against bisexuals to be legitimized. The label “bisexual” simply refers to sexual orientation. It says nothing about whether one practices safe sex or not. HIV occurs in people of all sexual orientations. HIV is contracted through unsafe sexual practices, shared needles, and contaminated blood transfusions. Sexual orientation does not “cause” HIV.
Myth: Politically speaking, bisexuals are traitors to the cause of lesbian/gay liberation. They pass as heterosexual to avoid trouble and maintain heterosexual privilege.
Reality: Obviously there are bisexuals who pass as heterosexual to avoid trouble. There are also many lesbians and gays who do this. To “pass” for heterosexual and deny the part of you that loves people of the same gender is just as painful and damaging for a bisexual as it is for a lesbian/gay. Politicized bisexuals remain aware of heterosexual privileges and are committed enough to lesbian/gay/bisexual rights not to just abandon lesbian/gay communities when in heterosexual relationships.
Myth: Bisexual women will always leave their lesbian lovers for men.
Reality: Although this does sometimes happen, one can also find examples of bisexual women who have good long-term relationships with lesbians. There are bisexuals for whom bisexuality is a phase; there are also lesbians for whom lesbianism is a phase. There are bisexual and lesbians who never really come to grips with their sexuality and internalized homophobia. Bisexual women who truly accept themselves and their sexuality will leave a relationship with a woman or a man when it no longer works for them. The same could be said of lesbians who accept themselves. As hard as it is to get clear about the reasons a relationship may end, and as many challenges as lesbian relationship in particular may face, the notion that bisexual women can’t handle lesbian relationships is just a stereotype.
Myth: Bisexuals get the best of both worlds and a doubled chance for a date on Saturday night.
Reality: Combine our society’s extreme heterosexism and homophobia with lesbian and gay hesitance to accept bisexuals into their community, and it might be more accurate to say that bisexuals get the worst of both worlds. As to the doubled chance for a date theory, that depends more upon the individual’s personality then it does upon her/his bisexuality. Bisexuals don’t radiate raw sex any more than lesbians, gays, or heterosexuals. If a bisexual woman has a hard time meeting people, her bisexuality won’t help much.
Myth: Bisexuals are desperately unhappy, endlessly seeking some kind of peace which they cannot ever find.
Reality: Like lesbians and gays who have been told that they will live awful lives, bisexuals can respond that much of the pain comes from oppression, so people concerned about the “awful lives” of bisexuals should join the fight against homophobia.
It is important to remember that “bisexual,” “lesbian,” “gay,” and “heterosexual” are labels created by homophobic, biphobic, heterosexist society to separate and alienate us from each other. We are all unique and don’t fit into distinct categories. We sometimes need to use these labels for political reasons and to increase our visibility. Our sexual esteem is facilitated by acknowledging and accepting the differences and seeing the beauty in our diversity.
Adapted from Vernon A. Wall and Nancy J. Evans “Using Psychological development theories to understand and work with gay and lesbian persons” in Nancy J. Evans and Vernon A. Wall (eds.) Beyond Tolerance: Gays, Lesbians and Bisexuals on Campus, American College Personnel Association, 1991.
This questionnaire reverses the questions that are often asked of gays and lesbians by heterosexuals. By trying to answer this kind of question, one can gain some insight into how oppressive and discriminatory a “straight” frame of reference can be to lesbians and gays.
- What do you think caused your heterosexuality?
- When and how did you first decide you were heterosexual?
- Is it possible that your heterosexuality is just a phase you may grow out of?
- Is it possible that your heterosexuality stems from a neurotic fear of others of the same sex?
- If you’ve never slept with a person of the same sex, is it possible that all you need is a good lesbian/gay lover?
- To whom have you disclosed your heterosexual tendencies?
- Why do you insist on flaunting your heterosexuality? Can’t you just be who you are and keep it quiet?
- Why do you heterosexuals feel compelled to seduce others into your lifestyle?
- Would you want your children to be heterosexual, knowing all the problems they would face?
- A disproportionate majority of child molesters are heterosexuals. Do you consider it safe to expose your children to heterosexual teachers?
- Even with all the societal support marriage receives, the divorce rate is spiraling. Why are there so few stable relationships among heterosexuals?
- Why do heterosexuals place so much emphasis on sex?
- Considering the menace of overpopulation, how could the human race survive if everyone were heterosexual?
- Could you trust a heterosexual therapist to be objective? Don’t you fear that the therapist might be inclined to influence you in the direction of her/his own learning?
- How can you become a whole person if you limit yourself to compulsive, exclusive heterosexuality and fail to develop your natural, healthy, heterosexual potential?
- There seem to be very few happy heterosexuals. Techniques have been developed that might enable you to change your sexuality if you really want to. Have you ever considered aversion therapy?
- Living without ever having to think twice, face, confront, engage, or cope with anything on this page.
- Legal marriage includes the following privileges:
- Public recognition and support for an intimate relationship
- Celebration of your commitment to another with gifts, cards, and congratulations from others.
- Supported activities and social expectations of longevity and stability for your committed relationships
- Paid leave from employment and condolences when grieving the death of your partner/lover (i.e. legal members defined by marriage and descendants from marriages)
- Inheriting from your partner/lover/companion automatically under probate laws.
- Sharing health, auto, and homeowners’ insurance policies at reduced rates.
- Immediate access to your loved ones in cases of accident or emergency.
- Family-of-origin support for a life partner/lover/companion.
- Increased possibilities for getting a job, receiving on the job training and promotion.
- Kissing/hugging/being affectionate in public without threat or punishment .
- Talking about your relationship or what projects, vacations, family planning you and your partner/lover are creating.
- Not questioning your normalcy, sexually and culturally.
- Expressing pain when a relationship ends and having other people notice and attend to your pain.
- Adopting children, foster-parenting children.
- Being employed as a teacher in pre-school through high school without fear of being fired any day because you are assumed to corrupt children.
- Raising children without threats of state intervention, without children having to be worried which of their friends might reject them because of their parent’s sexuality and culture.
- Dating the person of your desire in your teen years.
- Living with your partner and doing so openly to all.
- Receiving validation from your religious community.
- Receiving social acceptance by neighbors, colleagues, new friends.
- Not having to hide and lie about same-sex social events.
- Working without always being identified by your sexuality/culture (e.g. you get to be a farmer, brick layer, artist, etc. without being labeled the heterosexual farmer, the heterosexual teacher).