In May, The Rustin Times published a story on how Denrele Edun was assaulted at a bar in Lagos because he was perceived to be gay. After reading the article, I checked out his Instagram page to follow up and see how others would react in the comment section.
A train of thought I came across a lot in the comment section from prominent LGBT people and well-meaning straight people alike was this idea that the abuser was some sort of homosexual stuck in the closet and battling with his identity, therefore, he was projecting and lashing out at Denrele. Someone said “only the suspects act out loud,” another said “that level of homophobia is denial… he is at war with himself,” and another said “that is clearly self-hate” amongst a host of others.
Let me say that it was lovely to see people show love and support to Denrele after what he had experienced as opposed to cheering the abuser on. However, it is quite dangerous to suggest that homophobic people, either the physically violent or non-violent ones, are just homosexuals stuck in the closet. We do not extend this train of thought to other bigots so why do we apply it to homophobia? When we think of sexist and misogynistic men we do not think of them as unhappy men who secretly want to be women neither do we think of racists as unhappy people who secretly want to be of another race. While there is no denying the fact that there are gay men who heavily internalise homophobia to the extent that they carry out that homophobia on other people, they are by no stretch of the imagination the majority.
In 2012, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology did some research to answer whether some homophobia is self-phobia. They found that homophobia is more pronounced with individuals with an unacknowledged attraction to the same sex. This is the supposed research that people who are familiar and even unfamiliar with it cite when they want to suggest that a homophobe is just a homosexual at war with himself. However, people seem to forget the part of the research that also links homophobia to culture, mental health and family upbringing. “The power of this idea as a cultural narrative seems hugely disproportionate relative to scientists’ cautious explorations into potential connections that have actually proven little…” writes Alex Macpherson for The New Humanist. Our reference to this idea is an over exaggeration of what the current data available actually tell us for now.
To immediately suggest that a homophobe is a homosexual stuck in the closet is to absolve straight people and blame homosexuals, the actual victims of homophobia. What it also means is that we reinforce the biases of people and magnify a small problem while ignoring the larger problem. Even for closet homosexuals who lash out at other gay people because of their internalized homophobia, we must interrogate the source of that internalized homophobia. Society has created and reinforced the system that allows internalized homophobia to thrive through discrimination and violence against community members. The problem is not LGBTQ+ people; the problems are homophobia and bigotry. We must come together and fight homophobia and challenge the systems that allow internalized homophobia to thrive so that we have way less gay people ‘at war with themselves.’
Culture, religion and family upbringing amongst others play a big part in the way we view our world and in the beliefs and values we hold, so they are a likely cause of influence to a homophobe. The truth is there are violent and evil people amongst us who do not like us or care about our existence. So when you see a homophobe, consider that it could be a straight person, homophobic for one of the reasons mentioned above and not just a homosexual with internalised homophobia. When we rush to make inaccurate conclusions, we are propagating a single story and the great Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie reminds us that the danger of a single story is not that it is untrue but that it is incomplete.
Anthony Jones (a pseudonym) is a graduate of Coventry University where he holds a Masters degree in International Business. He is very passionate about issues around social justice and equity.