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Homophobia Lite

Simon Tedeschi
Published: February 12, 2013 - 12:00AM

It’s official - James Bond is bisexual. In Skyfall, when 007 snarls to Raoul Silva that he is well acquainted with boy-on-boy action, any pretentions of Straightdom – that unwavering state assumed by most Manly Men to be emblazoned in their DNA – was pounded into mulch, just like Bond’s ball-sack during the torture scene in Casino Royale. A simple Google search reveals that Bond’s partial outing has not passed muster in fan forums across the world. ‘The fa**ot agenda is destroying everything,’ one commenter called ‘M.C’ writes, amazingly without spelling errors. ‘Hector’ takes a pithier approach: ‘If this aint (sic) proof their (sic) is a gay agenda, i dont (sic) kno (sic) what is.’ But is it just the wingnuts whose manhood is threatened by sexual nuance?

The Kinsey scale is now a fixture in our collective consciousness. First published in 1948, it split the atom of sexual politics by proclaiming that humans were not just ‘straight’ or ‘gay’ but gradations along a line from zero to Tennessee Williams. Since Kinsey, we’ve come even further. It turns out that sexuality is actually more of a constellation than a continuum. Anyone who spews forth an ‘either/or’ scenario is either/or an ignoramus or a dolt. Where do us Nice Straight Guys fit in? We tend to regard ourselves as so firmly ensconced in Kinsey’s zero polarity that any attempt to disabuse us of this notion is tantamount to pincering our pink bits, or at least a forced sitting through Liza’s Minnelli’s ‘Balls to You’.

When I was 16, I congratulated a musical colleague of mine on a wonderful performance by embracing him. Later that night, my mentor took me aside and chided ‘Please don’t be gay!’ Ever the wicked bastard, I replied ‘OK, I’ll do it for you.’ My joke deflected a hurt that I have never forgotten. He had tapped into the same prejudice in me that flickered within him. Hard-wired in the nether-reaches of many a Hetero male is a frightening bipolarity: this idea that if we’re not one, we’re the other. And it’s this ‘other’ that violates the cardinal rule of manhood: that being anything other than straight means becoming a ‘woman in a man’s body,’ a model of male homosexuality consigned to the dustbin over 150 years ago. I call it Homophobia-Lite. 

An article by the acclaimed sports writer Jeff Silverman in the LA Times is a case in point. Born in starched-shirt 1950s America, Silverman’s was always going to be a bumpy ride. In the late 70s, when movies trumpeted hard men who dispensed violent justice against the scum of society, a chance barroom sighting of a brawny footballer - who also happened to be openly gay - forced the implacably straight Silverman to ask uncomfortable questions of himself. Men were men and women were women, right? This homophobia wasn’t the rabid stuff of toilet-block bashings – it was quieter, harder to pinpoint. But it was still there, etched in the fabric of his generation. This simple encounter spurned an avalanche in which every one of Silverman’s inner constructs was razed to the ground. He dealt with his own failure head on (where many would not have) and embraced his manhood for what it was, not for what it was expected to be. And shock, horror – after weening himself off Homophobia-Lite, he found he was still attracted to women.

Here’s what they don’t tell the recently converted – there are two types of landings: hard and soft. Mine was the former. It was a sobering moment when I realised that, with the best of intentions, I was a bit player in a game that discriminated against some of the very people I loved the most. Eventually, I came to learn something Feminists have been shouting from the rooftops since the Sixties: Patriarchy hurts straight men too. When we straight blokes hear the word Patriarchy, we usually don’t get it. To be fair, we’re not just being wilfully obtuse. Patriarchy itself – far from being a conspiracy - is a cultural stage with well-defined roles, a suspension of disbelief that rivals any theatrical stage. It’s so entrenched in our neural wiring that to understand it requires peeling off layers of cultural baggage, which is deeply threatening to the status quo that we benefit from. The role most straight men are vying for is also the cursed one: Masculinity. It’s Masculinity that says that Skyfall doesn’t pass the reality test: a gay man would never be interested in expensive suits, martinis and looking after his body.

We’re coming up to Mardi Gras season again and there’s still plenty of work to be done. I look forward to the day when heterosexuality is no longer the ‘norm’ so ‘coming out’ is no longer necessary. I will cherish the day that straight blokes don’t have to hug their mates with that customary back-slap that speaks volumes. Until then, Homophobia-Lite will continue to blind us to the glorious constellation that is human sexuality. Your turn, Mr. Bond.

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