Monday, July 11, 2011


As a historian who has done most of his studies in the Southern United States, I have studied a great amount about race relations and the Civil Rights Movement.  I think that the fight for GLBT equality has a few things it can learn from history of bigotry in America.  Nearly a year ago, I wrote on this blog about my theories of the origins of homophobia.  I still believe that the origins of homophobia boils down to at its base a need for a larger population.  Yet, there is still more that can be added to the equation.  Why do homophobes fear/hate us, when studies like the one I discussed yesterday state that homophobic behavior is associated with penis arousal to male on male sex?  So if you look at that study about homophobic behavior, what does it have to do with racism?  This is why I want to look at the origins of racism and bigotry.

In the South during Reconstruction and afterward, the greatest fear that white males had was that their women would be taken sexually or found sexually attractive by black men.  They feared black male masculinity.  A trait that slave owners had tried to breed into their slaves.  Once the Transatlantic Slave Trade was discontinued, slave owners realized that they needed to breed their slaves in the same way they bred livestock in order to perpetuate production.  The vast majority of slave holders, and by the laws of southern states, perceived slaves as property, just as they did livestock.  (I’m getting to my point here, just bear with me.)  How do you make sure that you have the best livestock?  You breed the best of the species together.  Many slave owners did the same thing with slaves, either using the women and breeding them with the slave owners themselves for stronger stock, or by forcing the strongest male slaves to breed with the strongest female slaves to get sturdier workers.  How do you choose the best livestock to breed?  When livestock is young, the size of the testicles are measured to see who is the most fertile, therefore it is not hard to deduce that slave holders would have also taken the most virile men (those with the largest private parts, those most fertile, and/or the strongest) to breed with women who had the widest hips and largest breasts.  So in the end, slavery had produced strong, well-built, and handsome black men. (See the announcement for an 1855 slave auction in Kentucky to the left; pay attention to the descriptions of the slaves.)

The result of this is a terrifying prospect for the former southern slave holders.  With already a belief in African-American inferiority taught to southerners,  they feared that women might look to that African-American virility.  Thus groups like the KKK and others were formed to “protect southern womanhood.” Not only were numerous atrocities carried out by these groups against recently freed slaves, but also they began a move toward African-American demasculation/emasculation to make them seem less virile.  The same strategy was used by the North against former Confederates such as Jefferson Davis and was essentially a homophobic strategy.  The need to take away masculinity has long been a political tool used since ancient times.

But what does all of this have to do with why the most homophobic men tend to be aroused more than non-homophobic heterosexual men by male on male sex?  Homophobia and bigotry, in general, at its core is a fear of something that you most want to be or afraid to admit that we are.  It is internalized hate.  White men feared the masculinity and strength of African Americans (also in the North the same fear cause discrimination against blacks because of a fear that newly freed slaves could do jobs better than white men).  Slave holders had feared that black men would take advantage of white women in the same way that slave owners had taken advantage of slave women.  Slave holders also feared that white women might take advantage of black male virility just as white men had taken advantage of to black female sensuality.  The same is true of homophobia.  Homophobic men are afraid to admit their own attraction to other men.  The penis can’t lie like their mouths can, and so when shown gay pornography blood rushed to their dicks while they tried with their internalized homophobia to block out that arousal with their minds.

Bigotry often derives from a fear of what we secretly want most.  That fear breeds hatred which leads to internalized and externalized bigotry.  This is by no means the only answer to this question, but it is a theory of mine based on other historical theories taken to a reasonable conclusion.  I’m sure that I will get a lot of flack about this post, but know that it is only a theory and that I laid out some of the arguments presented by hate groups and those who have studied hate groups in order to explain my theory.  I personally think that bigotry and hatred are plain stupid.  We hate what we fear and don’t understand, whereas we should strive to learn more and get beyond the fear of the unknown and thus overcome hatred.  Better education is one of the things that I see as a way to end hatred and create harmony and peace.


queer heaven said...

I do agree with most eveything you talk about in this and yesterday's post. But it seems to me the real big major reason for Homophobia is religions. There is more hatred and loathing in most religions than there is good.
How many wars and problems of the world are there because one group does not believe the way another group does?

Coop said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ipmilat said...

I agree with Queer Heaven about religion being a major contributor to homophobia. I don't live in the USA so I may well have a very distorted picture, but it seems a good many American Christians are brought up to believe that homosexuals are simply disgusting people who eat shit, drink piss, spread disease and die by age 40 - and all because God has given them up to a reprobate mind. I'm basing this on a few You Tube correspondences I've had and on Martha Nussbaum's 'From Disgust to Humanity'. I think it's probably more to do with the assumptions endemic in certain communities, unexamined prejudice and group identity than in suppressed homosexual desire, although that would certainly explains some cases, especially when backed up by those social factors.

David K. Popham said...

It has been said that one of the roles religion plays in society is to give formal creedance to those who are the scapegoats to societal ills. Thanks for sharing

Rebecca said...

very interesting post i am really learning alot thank you

Everyday Life

Anonymous said...

Religion certainly seems to give the bigotry voice. It constantly amazes me that so-called Christians (and yes, I'm one, too) can pick and choose and interpret and re-interpret the Bible to mean what they want it to mean.

These last two posts have been extremely informative. Thanks!

Peace <3

Joe said...

I think for too many that religion is the scapegoat for the blame of homophobia and other types of bigotry, hate, and intolerance. There are many factors that contribute to bigotry, and religion is an excuse used by many. I think that a lot of people use the Bible and other religious texts to condemn what they don't understand instead of looking at the heart of these religions.

Anonymous said...

That makes a LOT of sense...and as much as I hate to say it...isn't that the basis of all religions? Making sense of the incomprehensible?

Peace <3

Joe said...

Jay, thanks. Making sense of the incomprehensible is what I call faith.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Joe, it is...but so many just make it more incomprehensible!

Peace <3

Joe said...

Jay, I try my best to keep things simple. When we overcomplicated things in life, we make it harder than necessary.

Uncutplus said...

Joe, I had never quite understood your theory and explanation of racial bigotry having to do with creating the "best livestock." That really makes a lot of sense. And I think your comparisons of racial and homophobic bigotry also make sense.

And I think that for the above reasons, the bigotry and homophobia would exist anyway, again due to lack of education. But I certainly also cannot argue that religion has seen fit to "egg it on."

Thanks for the history lesson and for a better understanding of homophobia.

Joe said...

You're welcome, Uncutplus, and thanks for the comment. I do try to make sense, most of the time anyway, LOL.

Russ Manley said...

The "livestock breeding" theory has been brought up before - who was that sportscaster that got fired back in the '90s for saying that on air? - but you didn't grow up on a farm did you? It breaks down when you consider that you can breed a horse or a cow every year or two, and then pretty soon breed the offspring, etc. etc.

But human beings have a lot longer gap between birth and breedability, you follow me? But as an historian, have you found any contemporary sources to indicate that such a practice did in fact occur?

My inclination is to think not, not in any practical way. Though there was a lot more master-slave hooking up than most people realize, but that was because those old boys were men, and took the easy advantage - which happens in every slave culture.

But your point above about the religious motive bears more weight I think - although behind that is the simple fact that human beings if not enlightened have an instinctive dislike and fear of the Other, don't you think? Which our stumbling human race has not been able to eradicate even after all these millennia and countless wars and suffering.

Straight men use Scripture to justify their gut-level dislike of what is foreign to them - I really don't think the unreflective, unenlightened ones can conceive of male-to-male sex as anything other than rape, an assault, a humiliation. That's why they despise it so.

Though of course as you mentioned, there are those deeply closeted types who can't admit their feelings to themselves, let alone anyone else: probably they are the ones who scream the loudest, and need the biggest scapegoat they can find.

That's my take on it, anyway. Enjoyed reading your post, food for thought.

Joe said...

Russ, thanks for your comment. I actually did grow up on a small farm in rural Alabama. As for the "breeding livestock" theory, you have to consider how slaves were acquired and kept. It is more of a "survival of the fittest" theory. First of all, before the Atlantic Slave Trade was ended, only the strongest survived the very harsh trip across the Atlantic. Also, owners would not buy a week slave, they wanted to buy the strongest, again, I point to the slave auction advertisement. However, the South had a problem once it became illegal to import slaves, they had to perpetuate their population. Therefore, any slaves who did not live up to their potential, were sold. That is what I mean by the breeding selection, only the strongest would be bred because only the strongest survived. There was a natural selection that took place. Slave owners were not likely to put a strong man and woman in a room together and say "fuck and have babies." Women do not go into heat as many animals do.

As for contemporary sources on this, there are actually numerous sources on slaves owners selling weak or unproductive slaves. A stronger slave was worth more, and the southern economy was largely based on the value of slaves. Few plantations had many liquid assets, most of it was tied up in property, which included slaves. Those with the strongest, held the most value and thus made the plantation owner richer. But I digress.

There are so many different factors to why people are homophobic. You could write a library of books on the subject: religion, ancient laws, self-loathing, ignorance, greed, jealousy, etc. I would think that most people who are homophobic have several different "reasons" for believing what they do. Education could wipe out some if not most of that, but as a teacher, I know that we are not allowed to discuss such matters as openly as we should be able to. For me, ignorance is the worlds greatest enemy.

Thanks again for your comment. I'm glad that at least it was food for thought.

Russ Manley said...

Well yes, there was some "survival of the fittest" operating from captivity in Africa through the horrors of the Middle Passage, and on into slavery here, no doubt. And when you explain "selective breeding" as you did above, I can see your point. It's important, though, not to give people the impression there was any organized program going on - all depended on the individual whims of slaveowners, and antebellum accounts are full of complaints about the "lazy darkies" who had to be watched and prodded every minute to get their work done.

And only a relative few owned a large group of slaves; most slaveowners, we know from census records, owned only one or two or a handful.

Ignorance is certainly a great enemy of all that is good; but alas mere education, providing facts, is not enough in this or any other sphere. The seed has to fall on fertile ground to take root; without an upclose-and-personal emotional reason to change their minds, people can and do blithely ignore all facts and evidence to the contrary. Which is why the long story of the human race is often a dark and melancholy one.

BTW are you familiar with the fabulous collection "Documenting the American South," at Chapel Hill? ( An awesome resource for students and teachers alike, not to mention casual readers like me.

Joe said...

Russ, I did not mean to give the impression that selective breeding was an organized program. That is part of the reason that I love people to leave comments because when there is something that is misunderstood, then I can set it right or defend my position.

Yes, only a relative few owned large numbers of slaves, but I grew up in Alabama's Black Belt, and most of the farmers in this area were large plantation owners. I realize that it was not the case all over the South, only primarily in the Delta and the Black Belt.

I do think that if teachers and parents work to educate people and show them the error of their ignorance, then we can make progress. I realize that there are many out there, who willfully want to remain ignorant, and for those people little can be done. As a teacher, I do the best that I can to end ignorance.

Though Southern History is not my specialty (though because of where I have been a student, I have received a better than average education in it), I have heard of Chapel Hills "Documenting the American South." Some other great resources on the South are the Alabama Department of Archives and History website, the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture edited by Ole Miss, and The Univesity of Southern Mississippi's Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage. One of the great things about the South is our preservation of our history.

Thanks again for your comments.

Lonnie L said...

I think John D'Emilio and Sherry Wolf give a much better account of the origins of gay oppression:

Joe said...

Lonnie, I think that you and I would have one hell of an interesting political conversation if we ever were able to sit down and have a chance to do so. From what I can tell, you are apparently to the far left, and I am more of a moderate. As for the two articles you suggested, I think that if you believe in a Marxist interpretation of history, you would find them a much better account of the origins of gay oppression; however, Marxist ideology and historical interpretation has many flaws. There is really too much to go into in this comment, but I do hope that you will read my post for tomorrow which will more fully explain my position. Thank you for your interesting comment.