In the essay “Why are Gay Men So Feared?” Dennis Altman argues that homophobia is based on fears and sexual hang-ups that damage the entire society, not just gay people. Altman argues that the violent reaction to gay men comes from the fact they threaten the gender roles that are deeply ingrained in society. He says that certain hate crimes against gay men happen because men are insecure and threatened in their masculinity.
This makes logical sense. The argument is as follows: if men and women pair up together, the traditional set-up of a man needing a woman to dominate in order to have a full life and secure family is suddenly unnecessary. This puts men in a situation where they feel less powerful and fear losing the power male domination brings them. Men who hate gay men do so because gay men threaten their masculinity and this makes them feel vulnerable. Therefore, certain men are prone to react violently against gay men to assert their own masculinity.
This sort of attitude is obviously not a healthy one for men to have. Fear of vulnerability prevents these men from being comfortable with their emotions or truly comfortable with themselves. They are limiting themselves by trying to fit a very rigid role and that causes inner turmoil. So it is accurate to say homophobia damages the perpetrators of the violence in some sense.
The theoretical logic of the argument holds together, so the question is whether there is evidence to back it up. But there is real life data that indicates Altman is correct in his assertion that backlash against gay men comes from the fact these men threaten gender roles and masculinity. As Altman himself notes, the men who enact hate crimes often cite their honor as a man being threatened as reason for their violence.
There are those who would argue that religion is the reason people are homophobic rather than gender roles being threatened. It is true there are those who cite the Bible to back up their homophobia. However, that’s putting the cart before the horse a bit- assuming that part of the Bible isn’t actually “God’s Word” but the product of a human, that man had his own prejudices that were shaped by society when he wrote the verse.
Moreover, when one looks at countries that are predominately non-Christian, one still finds homophobia. Japan as a country in largely non-Christian and their religious texts do not forbid homosexuality. But gay marriage is illegal there. The root of that is that while Japan doesn’t have religious objections to homosexuality, they do have very strict gender roles in their society and homosexuality would threaten that. The logic of this holds up.
Gay men are also known for deliberately acting feminine in a way that blurs and challenges society’s gender roles. Drag queen shows are a huge subculture in the gay male community, instance. Not all of gay men play around with femininity, but enough of them do that it could make manly men feel uncomfortable and threatened.
My own personal experience backs Altman’s assertion up. My father has no problem with lesbians and bisexual women, but he often acts uncomfortable upon seeing gay men. He will look away when they kiss. He has expressed fear of one hitting on him. As a man, he is used to being a dominant one who sexually approaches women and therefore has no idea how to deal with a man doing the same to him. He fears being treated by a gay man like he treats women. He fears being put in a “female” position and gay men make him feel emasculated. I also often hear young boys saying “that’s so gay” in disgust if a boy does something faintly feminine. It is clear they equate male gayness with femininity and are threatened by it.
All in all, Altman’s argument holds up from both a theoretical standpoint and an observation standpoint. The logic is sound, it lines up with my own personal experiences and what can be observed in broader society. It is a sound argument.