Sexual Visibility and Tolerance


I’ve been thinking about the roots of homophobia, especially among people who aren’t conservative Christians, and I have a theory. Before “out” gay people and open discussion of homosexuality became routine in our culture, people could tell themselves that single-gender social environments were spaces where they could be free from the sexual gaze. Of course this was never true, but it was a comforting fiction that maintained a shield of privacy for those who wanted it.

Now that gay desire is no longer invisible, none of us feel quite so invisible, either. In my view, hysteria about male homosexuality is most prevalent in patriarchal subcultures (such as the evangelical church) because they can’t imagine male sexuality without dominance. God forbid some man should do to them what they feel entitled to do to women.

The same anxiety probably underlies radical feminists’ resistance to transgender presence in “female-only” spaces. They have a fear, ill-founded in my opinion, that male-born transwomen will carry over the predatory and dominating aspects of male lust for women, a kind of sexual gaze that’s different from how “true” lesbians would look at each other.

Now, I wonder whether the increasing support for GLBT rights among the younger generation (I can use that phrase now I’m 40) has anything to do with the disappearance of privacy in the era of social networking, reality TV, and camera phones. We are all being looked at, all the time. We break up with our partners via Facebook status reports. We give birth on YouTube. Movements like SlutWalk challenge the idea that limiting our sexual visibility is the proper way to protect ourselves from harassment and rape. The boundaries of our intimacy are undergoing huge shifts, and while not all the consequences are positive, I think sexual minorities have benefited from this trend. Your thoughts, readers?

One comment on “Sexual Visibility and Tolerance

  1. Andy Winternitz says:

    I think that when the superficial homogeneity of a group is revealed to be an illusion it helps people to feel more comfortable with their own characteristics and qualities which stray from the normative expectations we have. In other words, yes. It makes me think of the cultural impact of Peyton Place in which the superficially God-fearing town is revealed to be a place where things happen that the townspeople imagined to be foreign and dangerous. It is harder to maintain mores which correspond to the Japanese idiom: “The nail that stands up gets hammered down”, when there are more and more people standing up, through their self-expression facilitated by the social media environment.

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