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Part 2: The Source of Hate

November 16, 2009

Where do our children learn to hate?

Like most heterosexuals, I will never completely understand homosexuality. But unlike most heterosexual males, I am very comfortable around gay men and women. More so than my general intrigue concerning the homosexual lifestyle, I think my comfort around those of a different sexual orientation than that of my own stems from my desire to show gay men and women that not all white American males are intolerant homophobes.

A few months back, while visiting a friend in Virginia, I found myself at an outdoor concert standing next to a female member of the LGBTQ community and her friend, a slender, openly gay man in his mid-forties. Just a few short seconds after taking our spots near the stage, the man, whose name I’ve now forgotten, leaned in my direction to voice his attraction for me. (I think his exact words were “Honey, you’re beautiful.”)

As I thanked him for his comment, I could sense a degree of surprise on his face that told me he was expecting a much different response, probably something more along the lines of “Shut up, you queer!”

The intersexual dialogue that followed was especially enlightening for me. Albeit crass, our discussion educated me on several elements of gay life that I was completely unaware of beforehand. I was taken aback, however, after hearing, perhaps for the first time, an overtly homosexual man use the word “fag.”

As someone who resents this term and has even instructed others not to use it, I immediately interrupted my new friend mid-sentence and requested an explanation: “Don’t you, as a gay man, find the term ‘fag’ offensive?” In a noticeably controlled tone, he replied, “Not really; men that call other men fags are ones themselves.”

A remark I initially dismissed as a juvenile, “I know you are, but what am I?” tactic, has, upon further consideration, proven quite insightful. Were his words hyperbolic? Absolutely. Detrimental to his cause? Somewhat. But the underlying claim is no less discernable: Hatred always says more about its subject than its object, more about the hater than the hated.

I suppose most of those who have learned this principle can point to at least one time in their lives when they found themselves on the receiving end of systematic hatred. As a straight, white, middleclass American male, I can’t say the same: I’ve never experienced what I would consider true hatred directed at me. Looking back at the past year of my professional life, however, I can say that I have observed several forms of hatred, systematic and otherwise, firsthand, and none more transparent and pervasive than that held for homosexuals. And like Cohen and my gay friend from the concert remind us, hate is never simply an impartial or detached response to the actions (or lifestyles) of others. Rather, whether it stems from subconscious insecurities, unfulfilled desires or some other psychological impulse hiding deep in the recesses of our minds, hate, in a Freudian sense, always stems from within.

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