Have you ever had a bizarre encounter and realised your WTF reaction to the cause of offence is an exceptional one?
I had one such experience recently when, in the wake of more jaw-dropping figures of child-victims in the sixteen-year-old Catholic Church clerical abuse scandal, I posted onto my social feed a cartoon of a bishop looking out his window and casting aspersions at a parade of gay people down in the street (featureless in the cartoon but for their top coats and high hats) while being sucked off by a child kneeling out of sight under his cassock. This cartoon made for troubling imagery, and one would think the visceral response to such an accurate representation of the politics, policies, and morality of the Catholic Church would be outrage at the Church’s hypocrisy and its studied culture of silence, silencing, and collusion, right?
A few hours after I posted the cartoon, I got a message on Facebook from someone who I only recently reconnected with after losing contact a few years ago. In his message, he took me to task for all the “gay ish” I post and wanted to know if I was “a gay”.
Hold on, what???
How does anyone skim over the paedophile bishop on a homophobic rant and fixate on “the gays” who are the targets of his hypocritical diatribe and are more insinuated than centred in the cartoon? Is this dude for real right now?
Weeks ago, Wizkid’s baby mama, Sola, put him on blast for being a deadbeat father, posted screenshot conversations between the singer and her onto Instagram, and blogs went with it: WIZKID DEADBEAT DAD DEADBEAT DAD WIZKID DEADBEAT. I found it interesting, if not troubling, where the blogs and news outlets chose to lay emphasis, seeing as the most bizarre revelation made was that Wizkid made his son fondle the breasts and butts of adult women for fear the little boy might be gay. The child abuse/sexual molestation element to the viral story was largely ignored by the blogs and mainstream media, and one has to ask why.
With instances like the one with the fellow in my inbox and the near-sighted headlines spurned by the Wizkid baby mama drama, there is, in the painting over and brushing aside of the obvious, a blatant denialism.
What would it have meant for the fellow in my inbox to focus on the bishop rather than the gay people in the cartoon I posted? What would it have meant for his worldview and his sense of rightness –and, inevitably, wrongness?
I want to believe humans are fundamentally decent despite differences in beliefs and political views, but the more brush-ins I have with the real world, outside my insulation of progressive friends, family, and acquaintances, the more I realise how short-sighted this is. The truth, I’m coming to find, is I live in a world where people genuinely want to believe being gay is worse than being a bishop –a man of authority, exemplified by his cassock and knockoff yarmulke –putting his penis down a child’s throat; a world where the sexual abuse of a toddler is casually brushed aside and inadvertently okayed as a pre-emptive tactic for stomping out any latent homosexuality in said toddler.
I wish I had handled the dude in my inbox differently. I shut him down, because I wasn’t in the frame of mind to engage him –my well-being before all else –but I wish I’d let him know the import of his message to me, what it said about him as a person. I wonder how he would have reacted if I’d laid his position bare in black and white for him to look at himself in his own words and (hopefully) be disgusted; how he would have reacted if I’d said to him:
You are a man who is vocal about your disdain for love, sex, and magic between people of the same sex, but, interestingly, you have nothing to say about a full-grown man in a position of power sexually abusing a child. You’re OK with a full-grown man such as yourself shoving his penis down a child’s throat, and it’s the possibility of love and –ohmigod! –sex between two or more consenting adults that offends you? Can you see who you are? Is this really what you want to keep being?
This shoddy morality has something to do with the nature of power and its consolidation. I think the homophobe instinctively knows his homophobia and his need for it is closely tied to the power structures that prop him. And that he will rather live in a world where male impunity is unchallenged and/ undisturbed; a world where homosexuality –and the ways it makes nonsense of the stupid notions and premises on which the linear toxic notions of masculinity and male superiority are based –is a threat to that power.
In taking me to task on “the gay ish” I post, the dude in my inbox was dubious and dishonest. His question to me was made in bad faith and was, more than anything else, a shifting of the goal post, because the truth is my post wasn’t a “gay ish”.
To sustain his prejudices and his worldview, this fellow had to misinterpret the cartoon, and it’s impossible I could have had any meaningful conversation with him based on his own skewed interpretation. Nothing I could have said would have made sense if I didn’t first right the premise of engagement, if I didn’t first correct the notion that my post was a “gay ish” when it was actually a “hypocritical child-raping bishop ish”. Only then could I have held the mirror to him and said: “This is who you are, but do you not want to change? Do you want to keep stanning child rapists and hating lovers?”
The truth is homophobia is stupid. But it serves a purpose, and is closely tied to lies men –and women –choose to tell themselves and internalise about their respective places in the world. Very few things challenge the notion of male superiority than the possibility that fuckability –the distinctive feature of womanhood in our woman-hating world –can be imputed on men.
Lies by their nature are self-replenishing. Tending one’s homophobia (sounds like bougainvillea, no?) requires constant watering with outright lies, half-truths, goal-post shifting, blind-spots, and omission. That’s why Wizkid is deemed a deadbeat father rather than a deadbeat father who, if the account of his son’s mother is true, sexually abused his son. That’s why the dude in my inbox was more interested in the disembodied gay people than the bishop who was front and centre in the cartoon I posted, with his penis in a child’s mouth.
To hold on to an irrational idea, one needs to frame events in a way that accommodates his prejudices and hatefulness, so he can go on thinking of himself as a good, decent human being –and he may in fact be, mostly. To sustain this image of himself he’ll be selectively blind, sparsely logical, eeney meenie miney mo with the truth, dance around facts, refer you to the bible while eating shell-fish and looking like an Argyle sock, and you’ll likely waste your time engaging him or being defensive. Either way, you’ll be playing a rigged game, meeting him on his turf, on his terms, at a lie.
To engage with a homophobe, one needs to, first and foremost, know what the issues are at the heart of the conversation, and they’ll never be what the homophobes frames them as. Holding the mirror up and exposing homophobia for the neurosis it is can never be done from a place of defensiveness or by meeting a homophobe on the shifting grounds of his/her “beliefs”.
When they go “ooh, deadbeat dad!” or “what’s up with all the gay ish you post”, feigning blindness or going for outrage like it’s going out of style, we give them the proper frames for what the issues are and let them see exactly who they are: people who sexually abuse toddlers on the suspicion they might be gay, people who have no reaction to toddlers being sexually abused on the suspicion they might be gay, people who hate the idea of sex between consenting adults but love, revere, protect, defend, worship, fund and idolise child rapists.
Let that sink, homophobes. THIS. IS. WHO. YOU. ARE.
Chiedozie is a lawyer, writer, and aspiring journalist. He is also the host of the The Minority Report Nigeria, an LGBT web show. He can be reached on all his social media platforms @therealchidike.