Homophobia Lite

Daniel Craig returns as James Bond 007 in <i>Skyfall</i>.

Daniel Craig returns as James Bond 007 in Skyfall.

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.

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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.

Follow Simon Tedeschi on Twitter.

50 comments

  • "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."

    My experience is completely the opposite. When we were kids "poofter" was an insult we barely understood or contextualised as sexual, when we were teenagers we understood what homosexuality was and saw it as an "other" behaviour but as adults it's hard to imagine caring less about anything than how two other people have sex with each other. It was just a natural progression of growing up and no kind of struggle or tearing down of masculinity or cultural norms.

    Commenter
    JDG
    Date and time
    February 12, 2013, 8:20AM
    • With all due respect JDG the experience is completely different when you ARE a young kid or teenager struggling with your sexuality and get called a "poofter"... because unlike what you just said you are KEENLY aware of the sexual connotation of the statement and also highly aware that for some reason you are different to everybody else.

      please don't try to downplay what was for some of us a massive struggle for many years.

      Commenter
      Adrian
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      February 12, 2013, 11:30AM
    • I guess the problem is that not everyone grows up and changes their prejudicial ways. I would hope most of us do. But a lot don't...

      Commenter
      Jen
      Location
      Earth
      Date and time
      February 12, 2013, 11:34AM
    • Adrian, with all due respect (except I actually mean it!) I understand what you're saying but when we were kids, and I mean little kids, we didn't call gay people poofters, we called each other poofters, we didn't even know what it meant in any real sense.

      Either way, the fact remains that it isn't a cold hard fact that it's entrenched in our neural wiring because many, may people just get past it and don't care.

      Commenter
      JDG
      Date and time
      February 12, 2013, 12:05PM
    • A sliding scale of sexual attraction seems as "normal" to me as a scale of political views, intelligence, ability to read maps, love of spicy food or sporting prowess. We all reside somewhere on all these spectrums and often move back and forth along them. What's the big deal?? I couldn't care less who you are attracted to and putting a lable on it seems moot. Move on people, nothing to see here...

      PS. Simon, the fact you had to reiterate so aften that you were "straight" makes one think that perhaps you also need to progress a little in your acceptance of "homophobia-lite".

      Commenter
      fairmum
      Date and time
      February 12, 2013, 1:02PM
    • You're wrong JDG. When we were children we may not have understood the the actual word, but we sure as hell understood the contextual meanings - "loathsome" "filthy" "unacceptable" "pariah" "evil". That's how I understood it when it was aimed at me, and all because I wasn't as strong or confident or able as others.

      In my middle age I have no doubts about my sexual preference or ability but I tell you I still feel the sting of that insult frequently. The patriarchs and their adherents use it to marginalise, intimidate and control any person that they perceive as "the other". The only evidence they need is your cultural taste, your possession of manners or your speaking voice. From there on the rest of your identity is deconstructed to a "logical" lowest common denominator. It's also a great party trick to to use whenever they encounter people with a different viewpoint on just about any subject. Unless the object of the insult responds with violence. You see, there's the difference - real hetero males never hesitate to indulge in violence, only poofters won't fight.

      Commenter
      s.shoe
      Date and time
      February 12, 2013, 1:13PM
  • Well written and thought provoking.

    Commenter
    ss2005
    Location
    Coffs Harbour
    Date and time
    February 12, 2013, 8:24AM
    • When I saw the film and heard that comment, I wasn't entirely certain that it was meant as a statement of truth. Bond is keen to 'save face' and not look intimidated by someone who had him captured. When he said it I thought 'perhaps it's true, but it's not something that you can believe for certain' which is the central story of Bond's character development in Skyfall.

      Commenter
      Chris
      Date and time
      February 12, 2013, 8:51AM
      • Completely agree with you Chris. I liked Bond's response due to its ambiguity to the viewer. To claim he is officially bisexual is taking things too literally, although it's a nice launching pad to discuss the very valid topic of homophobia in society. The quicker gay marriage can be legalised and normalised the better.

        Commenter
        Jungle Dan
        Location
        Melb
        Date and time
        February 12, 2013, 12:51PM
      • I agree that claiming Bond is bi is very speculative. His reaction in the film demonstrates that he's comfortable and confident in his sexuality, but it's also a contest of wills between the two characters.

        As a (very) straight male, I've had gay and bisexual men come on to me and have given a similar response to that of Bond, even flirting in return. Often the intent of the flirt has been to put me off balance and sometimes the easiest way to difuse the moment is simply to roll with it.

        Did anybody really think that the next scene would be that of the two men rolling around in bed? Oh James!

        Commenter
        M
        Date and time
        February 12, 2013, 2:57PM

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