The New Homophobia

Over the past fifteen years, the LGBT movement has vanquished sodomy laws, the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, and laws banning gay marriage. But celebration may be premature. For starters, though some contend that the Supreme Court’s recent endorsement of gay marriage heralds the Court’s acceptance of LGBT identity, a skeptic might argue that it merely signals the Court’s acceptance of the airbrushed, desexualized version of gay identity put forth by LGBT advocates. Moreover, outmoded stereotypes of LGBT people as sexually deviant persist, even in the policies of an avowedly pro-gay-rights administration. Such stereotypes are baked into Obama administration policies that ban “men who have sex with men” from donating blood and sperm, and that encourage even gay men who would not appear to be at risk of HIV infection to take preventative antiretroviral drugs. The administration’s policies presume that all gay men have risky sex, and lots of it. They provide few options for individuals to rebut that presumption. And incredibly, even many LGBT people have embraced the conception of gay men as inherently promiscuous.

This Essay paints a more complicated picture of the place of gay men in contemporary law and society. The law’s increasingly bifurcated vision of LGBT people as either desexualized or hyper-sexualized harms individual gay and bisexual men, and teaches people of all sexual orientations that gay sexuality is inherently risky and threatening. I seek tools for critiquing laws based on this monolithic conception of gay identity in the Supreme Court’s gender jurisprudence, where the Court grappled with similar laws based on a mix of outmoded stereotypes and statistical evidence about gender difference. Attacking stereotypes of gay sexuality is the next chapter in the struggle for sexual liberation. It will require confronting not only government policies, but also gay men who have internalized the view that we are “sexual deviants.”


Part of panel Constructing and Transcending Homonormativity
October 2, 2016, 14:15–16:00