That’s So Brokeback

In last week’s issue of the Cynic, there was an article detailing a hazing incident at FIJI, involving pledges dressing up as cowboys and being called homosexual epithets. While I don’t take a stance on that particular issue (I believe that other Cynic reporters handled it admirably), I believe that it raises a subtler, more dangerous issue in the student body; that homophobic language and behavior is pervasive in our college society. While there would be a generally negative response to me using a racial epithet, if I told my friend that studying on a Friday night is “gay” or that my friend’s love of poetry is “so brokeback,” most would laugh it off. Worse, most individuals would not register the visceral impact of the terms because of how seamlessly they have entered the college lexicon. The vast majority who read this article have either said something to that effect, or stood by while a friend used those terms. Although the visibility of gays, bisexuals, and transgendered individuals has increased in America, half of America still believes that homosexuality is a “sin” or “wrong.” While great strides have been made, this minority group is still treated as a pariah. Homosexual prejudice came from the source of all misunderstandings: ignorance. Homosexuality, by its very nature, attacks traditional gender roles. When most individuals attack homosexuality they are specifically targeting gay men. In contrast, lesbianism has an exotic quality to it that makes it acceptable to the male heterosexual community. What makes a man a man is no sissy stuff. This is the concept of hyper masculinity that straightjackets men into singular concepts, rather then a multitude of identities. In college, the general notion that a student will develop who they are only further exacerbates the struggle to be defined as normal. The movie Brokeback Mountain challenges that stereotype by having the epitome of American masculinity, the cowboy, turned into a homosexual lover. Therefore, when student use the term “brokeback” they are redefining “gayness” as loving a man, regardless of whether someone exhibit qualities that are defined as masculine or feminine. The usage of “brokeback” is a neologism. Neologisms are phrases that have been coined to reshape older terms to newer language form. While the gay community has been able to successfully able to recapture the word queer into a term for empowerment, the language of hate has shifted accordingly. When a male friend of mine tells me that something is “gay” it serves two purposes: first it gives a negative connotation to the concept of homosexuality. Secondly, it presents the speaker as someone inside the mainstream, someone who is able to use that language because they stand outside that term. Language creates reality. The way we use words shapes our understanding and explanation of the world around us. When we associate homosexuality as a destructive or harmful force we shape the way we understand it. Using homophobic rhetoric is used to ensure that individuals don’t cross invisible gender lines. Johnny wants to learn ballet, but his friends will tell him he’s gay, trying to discourage him from activities that would exhibit “feminine” qualities. This act of regulation by peers allows the perpetuation of these historic gender roles. Homosexuals live in dangerous times. The suicide rate for homosexuals is twice as high as heterosexual, national averages, although they only make up 10 percent of population. One out of 5 homosexual individuals have experienced a violent attack because of their sexuality. Most of this violence occurs at school. We as students at a progressive institute, in one of the few states that allows civil unions between same sex partners, have a responsibility to rise above this disgusting practice. This cultural heterosexism, where individuals believe that people should be attracted to people of the other gender has about the same validity as believing that you can survive a nuclear bomb by hiding under your desk. Both of these concepts were once generally accepted to be true. Both are now unsafe and archaic. The best remedy is positive social contact. Both heterosexual and homosexual individuals need to come together and dissect these prejudices that foster this vocabulary. If you actually care about diversity you will respect it. That takes hard work and constant self-vigilance. If language does shape reality, we are then masters of the world we create.