I told a story to a friend:
“This past autumn, I went camping out by Bishop Pass: a rocky and inhospitable ridge in the Sierra Nevada whose landscape is as grizzly and striking as it is cold and indifferent. The autumn leaves were changing, and I had been yearning to escape my life in the suburbs, to flee that mundane routine of trivialities enclosed in a box we call home. As miserably lonely as I often am camping alone, I am just as lonely waking up in solitude night after night, in a bed meant for two, feeling the charms of the Earth slowly pass me by.
“Each and every person camping on any given night has made the conscious decision to sleep on the ground. Each person you see huddled by a campfire has chosen, out of their own free will, to be cold. When confronted with the choice between a warm night of
comfortable sleep and good food within the safety of one’s home, and a sleepless, miserable night tossing and turning on the cold hard ground beneath a volatile wilderness, something has compelled us to choose the latter. What force drives us to such lunacy? What emotional and spiritual unrest chases us away from the comforts of civilization into the very world against which we have fortified our lives? Have we all gone mad?
“The night at Bishop Pass was blisteringly cold, and I didn’t think to bring anything for a campfire. In my sorry mood, having once again regretted driving the six hours it takes to get to where I was from where I had been, just to stand by myself in the freezing moonlight, I decided to walk into someone else’s camp, if only to share his campfire for a brief moment to warm up. He was by himself, roughly around my age, and well-stocked with alcohol and other such delights of those who find themselves often in solitude, and welcomed me into his camp like a brother.
“As it turned out, we were none too different from each other. We both suffered from the same modern ennui that so often drives us out of our homes into the hills. We both shared similar anxieties, and a longing for a life beyond which was laid out for us by virtue of our era and our birth, and alternately doubt that perhaps maybe this is the best of all possible worlds after all, and our discontent is more out of foolishness than any sort of grounded reality.
“The two of us told stories and shared ideas late into the night, drinking whiskey and tending to the fire. Then, we parted ways. We knew each other’s first names, but we didn’t share our surnames. It was mutually understood that our friendship was for that one night only. No finding each other on Facebook. No shooting emails and getting lunch later sometime down the road. Our bond was born and died with the campfire, as well should that of two passing strangers on a mountain ridge.”
After I told my friend this story, I had to suppress an extremely strong urge to say, “No homo.”
Now, I’m not here to talk about the obvious derogatory and offensive use of the word, “homo.” You and I both know that the homosexual community has had to put up with bigotry and homophobia since the dawn of humanity, and they continue to face ridicule, bullying, and legislative roadblocks against self-determined happiness. Using “homo” to denote something you don’t want to be assumed, or saying something like “That’s gay” as an insult only propagates the idea that something is wrong with homosexuality. We all know this.
And yet, I still had the urge to end my story with “No homo.” In my defense, it would have been a joke. My friend would have been amused, and I would have enjoyed the juxtaposition of something so maudlin with something so vulgar. So what actually stopped me from saying it, if I felt so confident in the contextual harmlessness of my words?
In that moment, “no homo” revealed itself to me as an indicator of a deadly malaise deep within the masculine psyche, and I was disturbed by it.
For readers who have no clue what I’m talking about, “no homo,” whether sincere or in jest, is used to clarify to a listener that the speaker of a story or opinion of sexually ambiguous nature is in fact not gay, just in case there was any confusion. It was popularized by hip-hop and found its way into the mainstream lexicon of urban and now general youth.
“I love you, bro. No homo.”
“Dude, check out his killer abs. No homo.”
“I totally care about Princess Kate and Prince William. No homo.”
I had just told a story about connecting psychologically and intellectually with another man. “No homo,” because forging any sort of meaningful connection with someone is obviously pretty gay, right?
It’s no secret that the ideal American Man is a child of the strong, silent cowboy type of Western lore. A man who doesn’t talk about his feelings. A man who, like Teddy Roosevelt’s military, “speaks softly and carries a big stick.” Someone who can deliver justice from the barrel of a gun or the knuckles of a fist. These are our masculine heroes. They are the idols to which we model our identities as unambiguously straight, manly men.
Real men don’t laugh. Real men don’t cry. They are Indiana Jones. They are James Bond. They are Batman. Superman. The Man With No Name.
So what we have is a population of men who subscribe to the idea that to show emotion is weakness, that to communicate sensitivity is womanly, and to admit to enjoying someone else’s company is to admit dependency.
This model of the Ideal Man is hurting us. A large number of men would rather hit their wives than talk to them. Many are alienated fathers, unable to bond in a genuine way with their children, perpetuating an endless cycle of terrible parenting. Street violence, gun violence, and general psychopathy could be symptoms of the emotional constipation of ideal masculinity releasing itself like explosive diarrhea.
And where does this ideal come from? Where does this emotional constipation come from? What prevents us from comfortably bonding with our fellow human beings?
I believe it’s a deep-seated cultural condition of homophobia. Allow me to call it “linguistic homophobia.”
After all, we do not choose the language and culture into which we are born. Our brains operate within an endless and impersonal thread of idioms, expressions, and values that are imprinted from external linguistic and cultural forces and cannot be removed. “No homo,” an expression of wariness regarding homosexuality, is simply just part of the English lexicon now, and has entered my language according to no will of my own. You cannot choose what language infiltrates your brain, just like you cannot prevent certain mail from entering your mailbox.
And this is what suddenly disturbed me about the phrase, “No homo,” and why I felt the need to use it in this context: it demonstrated that, in general, straight men are petrified of being sincere and open with one another, and ultimately with anyone at all, lest it seem gay. Our intrinsic, linguistic homophobia creates within us an inability to accept our emotional vulnerability in front of others, and what results is a whole culture of men who can’t admit weakness, who can’t ask for help, who can’t forge meaningful relationships with anybody, and who ultimately resort to explosive displays of violence and abuse as outlets for being unable to communicate.
Homophobia isn’t just damaging to gays. It’s damaging to everybody.