Subject: Hate vs Fear: The Good Old Days
Date: Wed 21 Oct 1998 - 15:09:31 BST
Ah, remember the good old days when we were fighting fear and not hate?
There was a piece in the NYT this morning about how the Shepard murder and
Monday nights "Stonewall II" event in NYC are reinvigorating the gay rights
movement, getting young people outraged and reactivated. In other words, the
activists are reading this story as one of hatred against a group to promote
fear and inspire reactions from that fear.
Today, the focus seems to be on "hate crimes." In the same way that we see
the ex-gay movement as a way to imply that homosexuals are just people making
destructive and anti-social choices, like alcoholics or kleptomanicacs, we
seem to be using the term "hate crime" not just to refer to events of hate,
but to imply that all people who hold negative views of gender transgression,
including homosexuality, are somehow guilty of hate.
A sweeping view of hate crimes, that the real hate can be traced back to
religious fundamentalists, seems to be the implication of many of the
activists. The hate crimes become sweeping and all-encompassing, from any
murder of a gender-queer to people who mutter negative words to those who
create "a climate of hate" by using hate speech, people like radio talk-show
hosts and evangalists. It's all hate.
In the old days, we used to talk about "phobias." "Homophobia" and
"transphobia" and whatever else. We believed that the problem wasn't hate, it
was fear, and the way that fear acts out to silence and destroy the people and
ideas we fear that was the problem.
We believed that when people feared queers, feared rape or come-ons, feared
their children might come out as gay, feared that embracing homosexuality
would destroy the fabric, even feared that more homosexuality would bring down
Biblical wrath on the culture, that we had problems. We believed that
homophobic attacks were people acting out their own fears, attacking their own
homosexual desire. We knew that when people actually knew homosexuals the
fear would decrease and acceptance would increase.
In short, in the old days, we thought that they key challenge was minimizing
fears, and when the level of phobia came down, so would the level of hostility
Now, though, fear seems to be encouraged as we focus on hate. We want to
define hate crimes, make them illegal as much as we can, and this means
sweeping definitions of what a hate crime is, even the speech might foster
hate crimes. We tend to respond from our own fear in expressing hatred for
those who we feel hate us, no matter how much their hatred is just an
expression of their own fears.
What is the appropriate response to fear? Is it to try to get rid of the
things we fear, or to try to eliminate the fear?
For ourselves, many of us seem to want to eliminate the things we fear, the
religious right, the people who claim queers can change, people who might hurt
us, anyone who becomes violent. We think that's a good choice to deal with
fear, eliminating the things we fear, because our fears are rational and real.
But when homo-negative people say that they want to eliminate the things they
fear, the homosexuals they fear will cause problems, who will ruin society,
their children and themselves, we think that's a really bad choice to deal
with fear, because their fears are irrational and unreal.
Do we focus on fighting the fear or fighting the things that we fear? For me,
the answer is simple: fear is the problem.
Life is dangerous, sure, and we need to look to minimize the dangers.
However, fear is rarely the best response to danger, often being counter-
productive and creating more dangers. Fear is the danger.
We used to focus on this, on trying to eliminate fear. Now, for practical
reasons of motivating the troops to war, we seem to be trying to cultivate
fear, fear of hate, to create action to suppress behaviors we find dangerous,
using the same techniques that we find so abhorrent in the religious right
when they cultivate fear of queers to create action to suppress the behaviors
they find dangerous.
I miss the old days when we didn't think that fighting hate was the most
important thing, but rather believed in fighting fear. For example, we could
look to reducing the fear of being seen as homosexual for kids so they didn't
feel the need to act out against gays, rather than looking for laws that
punished them more harshly when they acted out of their fears.
For me, the goal is still to fight fear, not the things we fear. Make mature
and rational responses to dangers, rather than emotional and visceral
reactions to the fears we have been implanted with, the fears of being
separated and hurt that have kept us in the closet.
I guess that just makes me an old-fashioned neo-con.
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