‘Homophobia’ Is Normal and Harmless

Ben Affleck is not a hate criminal, and neither are you

Ben Affleck’s comments about kissing a man in the 1997 film ‘Chasing Amy’ have provoked controversy.

Ben Affleck is not my favorite actor. In fact, I actively dislike Ben Affleck. The one movie in which I enjoyed Affleck’s performance was Runner Runner (2013), in which he played an arrogant villain — perfect typecasting.

Despite my dislike for Ben Affleck, he doesn’t deserve the media crucifixion he is receiving because of something director Kevin Smith said at a special 20th anniversary showing of the 1997 film Chasing Amy. For anyone who hasn’t seen it — spoiler alert — Chasing Amy stars Affleck as Holden, a comic book creator who becomes infatuated with a woman who identifies as a lesbian but who, as it turns out, is actually bisexual. In a climactic scene, Holden tells his friend Banky (played by Jason Lee) that “he realizes that Banky is in love with him — kissing him passionately to prove the point.” Last week at the screening of Chasing Amy at Outfest, an LGBT film festival in Los Angeles, Kevin Smith recalled Affleck as saying that “a man kissing another man is the greatest acting challenge an actor can ever face.” Smith said that after filming the scene, Affleck declared, “now, I’m a serious actor.”


Amid shrieking denunciations from arbiters of political correctness, Kevin Smith went on Facebook to assert, “Of course, Affleck doesn’t feel that way today,” adding that the then-24-year-old actor was just saying “goofy shit.” Smith said he felt “terrible” about the resulting controversy, and that Affleck’s reaction to the gay kiss scene “wasn’t something he went out into the world and talked about. It was something he said to me.”

But why was an apology necessary? What was the outrage even about?

Tyler O’Neil of PJMedia is mystified:

The homosexual movement cannot accept that straight men are especially creeped out by homosexual affection.
This isn’t just opinion — it’s science. Straight guys are disgusted by guys kissing guys, and it was a legitimately big ask for Affleck to kiss another guy on screen.

Let me object here to O’Neil’s “especially.” Where is the evidence that straight men are more “creeped out” by homosexuality than are straight women? In fact, one reason why so many young men make a point of distancing themselves from any suspicion of homosexuality is because they know that women would never be romantically interested in them, if they were perceived as gay. When you see young fellows strutting around trying to out-macho each other, this public display of competitive masculinity is performed for a female audience. And one reason that anti-gay insults are so often part of such displays is because calling another guy a “faggot” is a way of marking him in the eyes of women as unacceptable.

Oh, sure, there are women who make a big show of having gay male friends, but when it comes to seeking a romantic partner, women generally disdain any man who they suspect to be less than 100% heterosexual. Does any woman ever want to be bothered by the suspicion that, when her boyfriend kisses her, he would rather have another man’s penis in his mouth? Of course not. She would be so revolted by the mental image that she could not tolerate even the shadow of a doubt about his heterosexuality.

Young men usually lack the kind of self-awareness necessary to understand their own behavior, and thus are not conscious of what feminist philosopher Judith Butler would call gender performativity. However, a young actor concerned for his reputation, as Ben Affleck was in 1997, would face a serious problem in playing a scene that called for him to “passionately” kiss his male best friend. Beyond the instinctive “yuck” factor, Affleck had to be concerned that his professional success — i.e., making a gay kiss seem authentic —might damage his personal reputation, causing prospective female romantic partners to wonder, “Was he really just ‘acting’?”

In liberal Hollywood, of course, a young heterosexual actor must walk a tightrope between maintaining his credibility as a romantic leading man while also avoiding the perception of “homophobia.” So many influential people in show business are gay —agents, casting directors, film critics, etc. — that an actor’s career can be damaged by any perception of prejudice against homosexuals. What some people in Hollywood refer to as the “Gay Mafia” is not to be scoffed at and, as the LGBT lobby has gained increasing power in the entertainment industry, they have become more militant and intolerant. This is why Kevin Smith felt the need to defend Affleck, even though (a) the “controversial” remark was something the actor said 20 years earlier, and (b) exactly why was it “”controversial”?

As Tyler O’Neil pointed out, the science is settled:

For straight guys, seeing images of two men kissing creates the same physiological stress as pictures of rotting flesh and maggots, according to research published recently.
Scientists found that straight men felt disgust when shown slideshows of gay men kissing. Researchers said this reaction was similar to the disgust straight men experienced when shown images rotting flesh or maggots. That was even true for straight men who reported no prejudice against homosexuals. . . .
The scientists also found that the physiological reactions of the straight men in the study couldn’t be explained by anti-gay prejudice alone.

Permit me to ask, what does the phrase “anti-gay prejudice” mean? This is the real problem in the Age of Political Correctness. There is a vast difference between a mere aversion to homosexual behavior, on the one hand, and what can fairly be called “prejudice” or “hate,” on the other hand. People have a right to their own opinions and “de gustibus non est disputandum.”

In a free society, no one can be required to approve of other people’s behavior. For example, I strongly disapprove of tattoos, even though my Army son has numerous tattoos, and many friends of mine are tattooed. When I was his age, my hair was shoulder-length, and my father did not approve of that, either. Someone will surely object that opinions about tattoos and hairstyles are trivial matters, compared to opinions about sexual behavior, but this raises the obvious question: Why? At what point in recent history, and for what reason, was it decided that everyone must have the same opinion about homosexuality? Who made that decision, and what is their basis of authority to tell us what we are allowed to think?

Every student who aspired to a career in journalism once knew to ask the famous Five W’s and an H: Who, What, When, Where, Why and How? Yet it seems that amnesia has overtaken my profession in recent years, because so many things in our cultural are off-limits to such questions. Exactly what does the word “homophobia” mean? Who coined this word, and when did it enter regular usage? Some bright young J-school student could do us a world of good by using Lexis-Nexis to research the frequency with which the word “homophobia” has been used on a year-by-year basis, going back to the 1980s when, as I recall, the AIDS crisis was accompanied by a lot of liberal denunciation of “homophobia.” My memory may be inaccurate, but it seems that it wasn’t until about 1985 or so that one encountered “homophobia” in general usage. The term was always political in its significance, and anyone who has read Randy Shilts’s AIDS history, And The Band Played On, knows how accusations of “homophobia” were wielded to obstruct public health measures to deal with the (at first, quite mysterious) epidemic.

What any astute reader of And The Band Played On must recognize is that, by the early 1980s, liberal journalists were expected to act as public-relations agents for homosexuality. Shilts, who was himself gay, was demonized by many leaders of the gay community because he accurately reported on researcher’s conclusion that AIDS was a contagious disease, and that it was being spread by the extremely promiscuous behavior of men in the gay bathhouse scene in San Francisco, New York and other major cities. In reporting the facts, Shilts was contradicting the gay-rights propaganda theme which sought to portray homosexuality as innocuous and not essentially different from heterosexual behavior. What was happening in those bathhouses, however, had no parallel among heterosexuals:

In 1982, the CDC reported that that the “median number of lifetime male sexual partners” for gay men diagnosed with AIDS was 1,160.
Repeat: One thousand one hundred sixty. . . .
This was the “at-risk” population among whom the epidemic was incubated in the late 1970s and early 1980s . . . Extreme promiscuity under conditions of almost complete anonymity (i.e., bathhouses, “glory holes,” nightclub pickups, etc.) had become so widely accepted in gay culture in the 1970s that when public-health officials first urged gay men to use condoms during the, uh, specific types of sexual behavior by which the virus was spread, these official recommendations were suppressed.

As someone who was trained to ask the Five W’s and an H, the question that looms large to me here is, Why? Beyond even wondering why health recommendations to stop the spread of a deadly virus would have been suppressed, we must wonder why anyone would think it acceptable to hook up with more than a thousand people. Is it “homophobia” to disapprove such reckless behavior? Of course, “phobia” means irrational fear, and whose attitude in this situation was irrational? Engaging in anal intercourse with a complete stranger strikes me as profoundly irrational, and I would dare say that anyone who would do this over and over again — with hundreds of different people — is self-evidently deranged.

This historic context, and the lessons learned (or at least, what should have been learned) from the AIDS crisis, have apparently been erased from our cultural memory, like Trotsky being airbrushed out of old Bolshevik photos during the Stalin era. Indeed, there is a distinctly totalitarian vibe about the way discussion of homosexuality is now controlled by the commissars of political correctness. Does anyone seriously believe Ben Affleck, well-known as a liberal, is a “homophobe” in any meaningful sense of that word? It’s like the Moscow Show Trials of the 1930s, where Stalin’s enemies were accused of wildly improbably plots against the Soviet Union, which the official state media reported as if they were both real and dangerous.

The vast majority of people are heterosexual, and are “homophobic” in the same sense that Ben Affleck is accused of being homophobic, which is to say that they have an aversion to homosexual behavior. Yet isn’t it equally true that gays and lesbians are similar averse to heterosexual behavior? Am I the only straight man on the planet who has heard gay male acquaintances make misogynistic remarks about women, i.e., as “fish”? Mark Steyn has written about his encounter with Gore Vidal, a gay liberal writer who, under the mistaken impression that Steyn was also gay, disparaged a woman who chattered about her newborn with the epithet “breeders.” And as for lesbian attitudes toward men, this was adequately summarized by the title of Professor Daphne Patai’s 1998 book, Heterophobia.

To be prejudiced in favor of our own personal interests is so common as to be well-nigh universal. When the forces of left-wing identity politics divide us into hostile groups — rich vs. poor, black vs. white, native vs. immigrant, men vs. women, etc. — we ought not be surprised that many people react by doubling down in defense of their own group. Does this mean, for example, that Black Lives Matter is an anti-white hate movement? Was the Hillary Clinton campaign based on anti-male prejudice? The Left is never required to defend itself against such accusations, whereas conservatives are relentlessly slandered as racist, sexist and homophobic, as though all 63 million people who voted for Donald Trump were guilty of a hate crime.

No American should ever let themselves be bullied into ideological conformity, compelled to forfeit their intellectual independence or intimidated into silence because their opinion might be deemed “offensive” by the self-appointed Arbiters of Acceptable Opinions. Nowhere is this regime of thought control more zealously enforced than as it regards homosexuality. As the conservative blogger Ace of Spades said, “Pretty soon you’ll have to give same-sex oral sex on demand or face legal punishment.” This scarcely exaggerates the vindictive spirit of intolerance that the LGBT movement has increasingly manifested. When a card-carrying progressive like Ben Affleck is demonized as an anti-gay bigot because of something he said in a private conversation 20 years ago, what chance does a conservative Christian have of escaping the punitive wrath of the Gay Mafia?

Who was harmed by Ben Affleck’s remark? No one. His aversion to homosexuality— the difficulty of a straight actor “passionately” kissing another man — is neither unusual nor dangerous to anyone. Kevin Smith shared an anecdote from 20 years ago in the naïve belief that gay people would sympathize with the challenge Affleck faced in that scene. Smith failed to comprehend the cruel spirit that LGBT activists have embraced in recent years, and thus felt the need to apologize for recounting Affleck’s experience as a young actor in the 1990s. What was once called “the love that dare not speak its name” has become the hate that won’t shut up.

Robert Stacy McCain is the author of Sex Trouble: Radical Feminism and the War Against Human Nature. A journalist for more than 30 years, he is a correspondent for The American Spectator and blogs regularly at The Other McCain. His ongoing research and reporting about feminism have been sponsored by blog readers’ contributions to the Shoe Leather Fund.

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