Letter: Homophobia not a real phobia

Of recent date we have been word blitzed with the omnipresent “homophobia” — seemingly used with impunity and without any thought as to its derivation or meaning. To the less-punctilious, it is accepted without challenge or question. But to others, who believe that words mean something, it may appear to be a misnomer or, if you prefer, a neologism.

The word “homophobia” comes from combining the prefix homo, meaning “same” and suffix phobia, meaning “fear of.” As generally used today, “homophobia” implies an irrational fear or hatred of homosexuals.

It has been reported that this neologism was promoted in the 1960s by George Weinberg, a gay activist and psychologist, who attempted to define it in clinical literature shortly before the downgrading of homosexuality as a mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association in 1973. Weinberg claimed it was “the dread of being in close quarters with homosexuals.”

But is “homophobia” an actual fear? Is there a basis for the suffix “phobia” in a clinical sense? Should it be “pathologized” or treated as a disease would be treated — e.g., claustrophobia, agoraphobia, hydrophobia, etc.?

University of Arkansas researchers think not. Through statistical analysis they were able to demonstrate that the concept usually described as “homophobia” originates from feelings of “disgust” — that a true “phobia” is derived from fear or anxiety. In a separate 1984 study, in which people viewed images of homosexual sex and where their physiological responses were measured, researchers failed to find physical reactions consistent with “phobias.”

True “phobias” are often treated by forcing patients to confront their fears, as prolonged exposure to feared stimuli can weaken the fear response. But the researchers said such a procedure may not be effective in eliminating “disgust.”

Accordingly, if the so called “homophobe” is “disgusted” by what he considers the abnormality of the homosexual lifestyle, perhaps one could or should arrive at a more precise and meaningful word to replace “homophobe,” since it would seem we are not dealing with a true “phobia.” “Homonegativism” has been proposed.

Ron Rickerfor

subrogation manager, retired