Homophobia – a shortcut to (illusion of) power

When I was 14 years old, I used the term “faggot” for the first time. I did it in an attempt to “win” an argument with my younger brother. I don’t remember the cause of the argument, but I do remember a strong feeling that if I didn’t do something, I wouldn’t survive. The survival instinct is considered one of the basic instincts of most organisms.

Although my life wasn’t physically threatened in that argument, I felt what conflict often evokes in us – a sense of vulnerability. When we perceive something as a threat or when we are under any kind of stress, a part of our nervous system is activated to regulate our stress response. Specifically, when we need to decide whether to “fight” the situation/threat or to “escape” from it. This system is part of the evolutionary adaptation of human beings, developed to increase our chances of survival.

Since physical defence against someone during a verbal “clash” is not appropriate today, people found different ways to adjust their behavior to this instinctive need to “fight” for what they perceive as their survival, using various emotional weapons in these battles. And one of the tactics is attempting to establish psychological and emotional dominance over the other person. Thus, instead of physically fighting and determining who is stronger, we shift the battle to the psychological realm.

When I used the word “faggot,” I didn’t know what that word meant. I only knew that we use it in our society when we want to make the man, guy, or boy in front of us feel hurt, belittled, and irrelevant. I tried to scare him by making him feel smaller and weaker and I used the word as a weapon.

A logical question might be – Why that word? Why that particular identity?

Well, dear people, welcome to the patriarchal system of values. Well, dear people, welcome to the patriarchal value system. It is a system in which, over time, the identity of the man as the “head of the house”, i.e. “the one responsible for its survival”, began to be identified with many qualities, among which physical strength was prominent. Simultaneously, the absence of these characteristics is equated with weakness, which further associates us with fear, and fear with vulnerability. Although strength hardly guarantees anything today, except perhaps a physical advantage in specific and often unnecessary circumstances, the patriarchal system tries to maintain its value. People, out of the need to preserve the power they have in society, often refuse to acknowledge its uselessness and meaninglessness. In other words, they hold onto the comforting prizes – the illusion of security, while rejecting their growth and development toward fulfilling essential psychological and social needs, such as cooperation, respect, acceptance, love, intimacy, unity, belonging…

Patriarchy fuels fears that are disproportionate to the reality of the situation but also primitive, harmful, and inadequate ways of addressing those situations through violence and the struggle for (super)power.

The power struggle can be interpreted as another attempt by the human species to secure its survival when it feels threatened, even though the sense of threat may not be based on actual danger (just as it was not the case in my situation). Part of the struggle for power entails a clear understanding of one’s position in the social hierarchy. Although there is no universal answer to the question of the origins of homophobia, one line of thinking could be that homophobia is a form of resistance towards someone who does not fit into the image of what we consider to make a man adequate and that the mere “rejection” of the traditional male role (which necessarily implies heterosexuality) is what makes him weak – someone who will not survive.

The fact that survival and success in life do not depend on the characteristics that are nurtured and valued in patriarchal systems makes it clear that homophobia persists not because queer individuals pose any threat to others, but because of the function it serves for those who benefit from having them at the bottom while they remain at the top.

Homophobia is used to create a social order in which those in power profit from those who do not have it. On a psychological level, it creates the feeling that we are above someone, an appearance of superiority that induces an appearance of security that when we are threatened, maybe it is not so terrible because we “know” that we are not at the bottom, that someone is beneath us, that we are stronger than someone.

To summarize – when I called my brother a “faggot,” I wasn’t thinking about whom he loves and with whom he would like to spend his life, nor did that action have anything to do with hatred towards gay people. I was an immature child who acted according to primitive needs to “win” in a conflict to survive, using the available means of combat—a socially constructed idea of what it means to call someone a “faggot” in a desperate attempt to make him feel powerless because I felt powerless myself, I wanted to, superficially, win.

If I were to define what “winning” means to me today, I would say that victory is the act of successfully overcoming my long-standing and now useless impulse to fight against, and replacing it cooperation with, keeping a higher goal in mind. And if I were to define that higher goal, I would say it is the essence of our lives—pre(serving) love and those towards whom we feel it.

Marija Jovanović, a student at the Faculty of Applied Arts at the University of Donja Gorica and activist of Spectra

 This column is part of the project “Together Against Prejudice!” conducted by the Centre for Civic Education (CCE) with financial support from the Ministry of Human and Minority Rights. The views expressed in this column are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Ministry of Human and Minority Rights or the CCE.